Reporter Colin Moynihan writes for the New York Times’ City Room blog, May 26:
At On-Air Haven for Dissent, a Dissenting Voice Is Silenced
For nearly 20 years, an East Village journalist named Bill Weinberg has been a familiar late-night voice on the left-leaning radio station WBAI-FM (99.5), ruminating about radical politics, global turmoil and life in New York City.
In mid-March, however, the station canceled Mr. Weinberg’s program, the Moorish Orthodox Radio Crusade, after he accused WBAI of promoting fringe right-wing commentators and conspiracy theories claiming that the United States government was behind the destruction of the World Trade Center.
Mr. Weinberg, who runs a blog called the World War 4 Report, has reported for The Nation and The Village Voice and written a book about the Zapatistas in Mexico called “Homage to Chiapas.” Since his ouster, he has hardly withdrawn—he has posted the Radio Crusade’s “Statement of Continued Resistance—In Exile” on World War 4 Report, and has spoken at any number of political forums. But on the airwaves, Mr. Weinberg’s insistent, raspy voice has fallen suddenly silent.
Mr. Weinberg said that though it was disappointing to lose the program, he did not regret speaking up. “It was ethically necessary,” he said. “I absolutely thought I had a responsibility.”
The station refused to comment on his departure.
In Mr. Weinberg’s two decades at WBAI, he connected peace activists from Belgrade, Zagreb and Sarajevo on the air during Balkan wars and more recently interviewed secular Iraqis who oppose both American soldiers and the religious jihadis who attack them.
Mr. Weinberg said the disagreements that led to his departure began in 2009 when he questioned gifts sent to people who had donated money to the station. The gifts included documentary-style DVDs like “Painful Deceptions” and “Loose Change 9/11,” which presented the destruction of the World Trade Center as “an inside job” orchestrated by the Bush administration or by foreign governments with ties to it.
Although the DVDs were popular with some listeners, Mr. Weinberg said they were intellectually lazy productions full of falsehoods and speculation, unworthy of a station that aspires to produce serious news.
Given WBAI’s history—the station went to the Supreme Court in the 1970’s to battle the federal government over the broadcast of satire by George Carlin, and bears the motto “Free Speech Radio” on its Web sit—Mr. Weinberg decided his program provided the perfect forum to broadcast his dissent.
Management, however, disagreed and called him on the carpet. Mr. Weinberg said he told a program director, Tony Bates, that he would refrain from issuing criticisms on his program. But when the station later broadcast comments from the Sept. 11 conspiracist David Icke, who is also known for his interest in “shape shifting” humans who may turn into reptiles, Mr. Weinberg could not hold his tongue.
“The output of the lugubrious mini-industry which has sprung up around 9/11 conspiranoia has become increasingly toxic over the passing years,” Mr. Weinberg said on the air. “The most innocent of the DVDs and books are just poorly researched, merely exchanging the rigid dogma of the ‘official story’ for another rigid dogma, no more founded in empiricism or objectivity. But, not surprisingly, lots of creepy right-wing types have got on board, using 9/11 as the proverbial thin end of a wedge.”
A few weeks later, his program was moved from midnight to two a.m. and shortened from 90 minutes to an hour. Mr. Weinberg called the change “an act of censure for political dissent” and declared the Moorish Orthodox Radio Crusade to be in a “state of resistance.” He openly criticized ideas expressed by other producers.
In mid-March, Mr. Bates wrote a letter to Mr. Weinberg saying that he had broken “a cardinal rule” by “denigrating other programmers on the airwaves,” and added: “We have decided to sever the relationship between you and WBAI.”
Berthold Reimers, the general manager of WBAI, could not be reached at the station and did not respond to voicemail messages left on his cellphone.
Mr. Weinberg, who has supported himself as a freelance copy editor, has not yet formulated the next chapter of his radio career but is considering the idea of doing his program on an Internet station.
On a recent evening, he showed up at a lecture series in Chelsea called the Anarchist Forum. Mr. Weinberg weighed in on the dilemma facing leftists who deplore Western intervention in the Middle East but who must acknowledge that many in Libya have welcomed the help of foreign armies.
“Without NATO, the rebellion would likely have been crushed,” he said. “That is a point we cannot shirk from; we have to grapple with it.”
After the forum, he stood outside, chatting with fellow participants. Then, hearing that visiting activists from Egypt were speaking at the Brecht Forum in the West Village, Mr. Weinberg pedaled his bicycle downtown, hoping to hear part of the discussion there.