World War 4 Report editor Bill Weinberg’s purge from WBAI makes Daily News

An editorial from the New York Daily News, May 31:

Noncommercial, counterculture icon WBAI radio spirals into self-destructive 9/11-conspiracy madness

Lefty radio station WBAI-FM sure ain’t what it used to be. No, it has gone off the dial as a peddler of vile 9/11 conspiracy theories.

In its heyday, this beacon of counterculture aired the likes of Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs, Philip Glass and John Cage.

Its envelope-pushing 1973 broadcast of George Carlin’s “Seven Dirty Words” routine led to a landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the limits of on-air free speech.

Now, the listener-supported station has been sending donors thank-you giveaways that have included DVDs of wackadoo pseudodocumentaries such as “Loose Change 9/11.”

That claims that the destruction of the twin towers was an “American coup” that included deliberately planted explosions. Also proffered as come-ons were rants against international bankers and the New World Order.

Meanwhile, the station disseminated the ravings of 9/11 conspiracy theorist David Icke, who—according to his own website—”exposes the reptilian bloodline that rules the world.”

WBAI’s descent into 9/11 paranoia comes to light thanks to a standup guy by the name of Bill Weinberg. A longtime host on the station, Weinberg protested on the air that the station was propagating offensive and unfounded theories. Guess what came next?

A one-time bastion of free speech—a station that actually calls itself “free speech radio”—booted Weinberg from the air. Unspeakable.

The editorial follows a recent story in the New York Times on the matter.

See our last posts on the politics of 9-11 and the media culture wars.

  1. Mitch Cohen finks hard on the DN site
    Sadly, Mitch Cohen has a comment on the Daily News site asserting that Weinberg wasn’t tossed for speaking out. He gives no alternate reason, but does tout BAI as a place where for people “who question the official government conspiracy tale about what happened on 9/11…”

  2. Response by WBAI Board Member to NY Daily News editorial
    As a member of the WBAI Board of Directors, I am aware that the New York Daily News does not approve of our left-progressive radio station. But I never thought the News would stoop to defaming our station by printing an abusive (as well as false and misleading) editorial about it based solely on the testimony of a single resentful ex-employee, Bill Weinberg, who had recently been fired from the station for violating both his professional ethics and his fiduciary responsibilities.

    The facts are these.

    Recently, WBAI’s program director revised the schedules for some of its long-running radio shows, whose listening audiences – sizeable 30 years ago – had now dwindled away to near invisibility. Weinberg’s program, on the air since 1988, was one of those programs lacking sufficient listeners to justify its air time.

    However, instead of eliminating Weinberg’s program entirely from WBAI’s lineup, as some recommended, the program director only moved it to a later slot, and reduced his air time by a half-hour. Weinberg protested both the time shift and the time cut (understandably), but the program director stood by his decision.

    For a time, Weinberg nursed his resentment in silence. Then, suddenly, he began using his program as a forum from which to launch a campaign of disparagement and harassment against management, as well as against other WBAI broadcasters, whose shows he felt (unjustifiably, as it happens) had personally benefitted from the air time he had lost.

    Weinberg’s on-air rants took away significant amounts of time from his regular programming, and were as embarrassing to his audience as they were to the station. Growing increasingly venomous, Weinberg heaped scorn upon management as incompetent and malicious; railed against WBAI’s other shows as worthless and deceptive; denounced as trash the premiums that we give away as thank-you gifts to station donors; and attacked other staff programmers by name – on the air! – as “hypocritical,” “homophobic,”“anti-Semitic,” and “murderers.” (I know that, as editors, you know that those terms are libelous, per se.)

    Not only were Weinberg’s rants alienating listeners, they were also harming the station’s public image, and detracting from its ability to sustain the donations that enabled this listener-supported station to survive. (For as you are aware, WBAI accepts no advertising, and is funded primarily by voluntary donations from listeners, who believe in its mission and in its commitment to fairness and honesty, which Weinberg was undermining.)

    But – what if Weinberg’s disagreements with management and other WBAI staff members were justified? Was the station still right to fire him?

    The station did not fire Weinberg because he disagreed with management. Clearly such disagreement is his right. The issue is how Weinberg should have expressed that disagreement on the air, in a way that honored both his commitment to free speech and his no less important responsibility to cherish and protect the station.

    It does not matter (for this discussion) whether management – or the other broadcasters – were actually guilty of the of the charges that Weinberg hurled at them on his program. The issue is that he repeatedly libeled them, with no opportunity for them to respond or defend themselves. This is not broadcasting; it is bullying. It also constitutes an unprofessional and irresponsible abuse of our airwaves.

    Such behavior was clearly grounds for a warning, and the program director did, in fact, issued several. But Weinberg ignored them, and continued to attack management and libel other programmers. The station then fired him. Weinberg is now contesting his firing via the media, in self-justifying blogs and, most recently, in your editorial of May 31.

    One would think that the News would be savvy enough to suspect that perhaps the account of an unhappily fired ex-employee might be a wee lacking in objectivity, and that proper journalistic practice would have required the paper to solicit a defense or alternate viewpoint from some of those whom Weinberg had attacked.

    Certainly Weinberg himself offered no air-time or opportunity for his targets to defend themselves. When the WBAI Local Station Board Chair, Mitchel Cohen, requested time to debate Weinberg’s issues on the air, Weinberg (according to Cohen) did not reply.

    Weinberg was not fired for disagreeing with management and other staff members. Such disagreement and its free expression on our airwaves is a long-standing WBAI tradition. Clearly, Weinberg had a right to disagree with station policy, and use his program to express that disagreement. The issue in contention is how Weinberg should have expressed his disagreement on the air, while at the same time honoring both his commitment to free speech and his no less important responsibility to cherish and protect the station.

    Bill Weinberg has not been honest with you – or with his audience – about why he was fired. Unfortunately, the station, as Weinberg’s former employee, is legally restrained from discussing the reasons for his firing, or it would risk a lawsuit for violating his “employee privacy.” Consequently, Weinberg has been free to spout all sorts of nonsense about his termination, while the station has had to remain silent.

    But I am under no such restraint.

    Although I am a member of the WBAI Board of Directors (aka Local Station Board or LSB), my comments about the reasons for Weinberg’s firing come from me as a WBAI listener, not as a member of the board. None of the facts set forth in this piece are either private or “privileged”; they are known and freely available to any WBAI listener.

    The disparaging and provocative nature of Weinberg’s accusations required that those whom he accused be given an opportunity to respond, on the same program and at the same time that the accusations were made, so that the responses can be heard by the same audience that heard the accusations. But Weinberg was not interested in debate, or dialog, or the possibility of changing management’s mind. He was angry at having his program moved from the time slot he had occupied for more that 20 years, and which he had evidently come to feel belonged to him as of right, not to the station or its listeners. Therefore, he used his air time to pursue a personal vendetta, to slash and burn without responsibility or restraint (known to adolescents as the joy of getting one’s rocks off).

    Airing each side of an argument about station policy is not only fair; it also preserves both the freedom of the broadcaster’s forum and the obligation of management to explain and justify its actions to the staff (and, no small matter, to the WBAI audience). That this was not glaringly obvious to Weinberg – and to the media whom he has gulled into disseminating his one-sided account of his firing – is a chilling demonstration of how little understanding of, and sympathy for, true free speech still remains in mainstream media.

    Weinberg, by his behavior, abused his power as a broadcaster and betrayed his audience’s right to hear both sides of an argument. That was an ethical failing – perhaps meriting no more than censure and a warning to do better. But Weinberg also disobeyed his administrative superior, failed to meet minimum professional standards of fairness and civility, and exposed the station to the danger of legal prosecution for libel. That, in my opinion, was a professional failing –fully meriting termination.

    Weinberg has had a long and distinguished career as a journalist, media personality, and activist. His many accomplishments cannot be taken away from him. But this incident adds no luster to them. The station has been hurt by this behavior. But Weinberg’s intention to continue hurting the station, now that he is no longer a part of it, does him little credit and may ultimately do him much harm.

    Nor will the News gain any credit, either, for choosing to publish Weinberg’s spiteful allegations without bothering to verify them, or even confer with any knowledgeable sources who might offer an alternative view.

    1. Lying propaganda
      The above post from Steve Brown is in clear violation of our Posting Policy. However, as a gesture of good faith and in view of the sensitivity of the issue, we will let it stand. I will reply at length to these disingenuous distortions when I get back from my little dinner get-together with some friends to celebrate my recent media coups. Buen provecho.

    2. Bill Weinberg responds to WBAI misleader
      Let’s see, how many ways is Steve Brown full of beans?

      1. “based solely on the testimony of a single resentful ex-employee”? Oh? The News editorial was based on the Times story. Times reporter Colin Moynihan left repeated messages on Berthold Reimers’ cellphone. The station manager that the current ruling faction put in power couldn’t even be bothered to return a phone call to the New York goddam Times and now they complain of biased coverage. Utterly pathetic.

      2. “lacking sufficient listeners to justify its air time”? Did MORC do appreciably poorer than other shows in midnight weekly slots in the fund drives? No, it did better. In my penultimate show of Feb. 8, during the fund drive, I raised over $1,000 for the station—in 60 minutes, starting at 2 AM on a Tuesday night. What’s more, I did it while explicitly not pitching the premiums, while urging the listeners to forget the idea of premiums altogether, and while strongly dissenting from WBAI’s recent direction. (As previously stated.)

      3. Is it mere coincidence that MORC was exiled to the wee hours and shaved by 30 minutes after I had dissented from the snake-oil premiums—indeed just weeks after my anti-Icke rant? I have a bridge to sell Mr. Brown in Brooklyn, real cheap.

      4. “Weinberg nursed his resentment in silence.” Lie. I spoke up against the conspiracy jive under Utrice, under Bernard, and under Tony. I spoke up stridently and relentlessly from the moment MORC was exiled till the moment it was cancelled, without question or pause.

      5. The only other shows or programmers I “railed against” were Gary Null and George Galloway. Both are recent additions (or, in Null’s case, a recent returnee) who are deeply inimical to the Pacifica mission. I make no apologies for calling them out.

      6. I never called any other programmer a “murderer.” This (unlike anything I said) is libel. Mr. Brown should be careful.

      7. Those who peddle “reverse the aging process” elixirs and reptilian overlord fantasies accuse me of “harming the station’s public image”?

      8. “not interested in debate, or dialog [sic]”? I repeatedly made my demands clear to management, and expressed my hopes for a de-escalation. I even softened my initial demands (e.g. a “premium amnesty” instead of a “premium moratorium” until the backlog is cleared; a “reconsideration” rather than an “apology” for promoting a crypto-Nazi). Management responded to my overtures with contemptuous sarcasm and then silence—while aggressively promoting Gary Null, George Galloway and the Zeitgeist.

      9. “Right to hear both sides of an argument”? You mean maybe the world is run by reptilian overloads? Maybe WBAI should be promoting xenophobic John Birch Society fear-mongering about a “North American Union”?

      10. Nothing I said was libelous. Gary Null and George Galloway are public figures who must take responsibility for their words and actions.

      OK, ten.

      Mr. Brown is not invited to respond. He may feel free to get his own blog, and diss me there to his heart’s content. However, if he feels that he must respond here, I do ask that he comply with our Posting Policy.

      1. PS: Spare us the bogus legalisms
        If the station “is legally restrained from discussing the reasons” for my firing, Berthold could have said that to the NY Times. And if management had asked me, I would have immediately waived my right to litigate (if even I have one, as unpaid staff). As I do so now, as long as we are on the subject.

        I am not the one who is stifling free speech here.