Propaganda Review 2 Start,'Speak No Evil', by Michael Miley, (Part 1 of 3) MICHAEL MILEY,
Propaganda Review 2
Start,"Speak No Evil", by Michael Miley, (Part 1 of 3)
MICHAEL MILEY, former anchor for Radio Free Chicago on Loyola
University of Chicago radio station WLUW, was twice thrown off
the air for alleged indecency: once for airing the poetry of
Carolyn Forche from "The Country Between Us," and a second time
for airing an interview with a right-wing death-squad member from
"Speak No Evil" by Michael Miley
The history of FCC harassment of Pacifica has been unrelenting
during the nearly 40 years since the network was created. Today,
once again, Pacifica feels the need to undertake the
administrative and financial burdens of fighting this latest FCC
assault. And, once again, it seems entitled to prevail."
--Nicholas Johnson, former FCC Commissioner, Washington
Journalism Review, July/Aug 1987.
In April 1987, the Federal Communication Commission (FCC)
launched an assault on the airwaves, dramatically broadening its
definition of obscenity and indecency and withdrawing a 10 p.m.
"safe harbor" for adult broadcasting. The crackdown came on the
heels of a single complaint lodged against Pacifica Foundation's
KPFK radio station in Los Angeles, as well as complaints against
two other stations that had allegedly broadcast indecent shows.
The new restrictions stirred broad controversy in the media over
questions of constitutionality. But what the hullabaloo largely
ignored was an even more sinister subtext: evidence supporting
Pacificas claims of political harassment and of illegal collusion
between the FCC and right-wing evangelical groups in efforts to
engineer the crackdown. The first claim can be supported by a
glance at the long history of FCC, Congressional, and right-wing
harassment of the Pacifica Foundation, which operates five
progressive radio stations. (See sidebar.). The second is
substantiated by documents recently released under the Freedom of
Information Act (FOIA).
Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil
Pacifica's most recent trouble began in the evening of August 31,
1986, after 10 p.m., when an excerpt from the play The Jerker by
gay activist Robert Chesley was aired on KPFK. The excerpt, part
of a program geared for gays about safe sex, dealt with two men
with AIDS who share their fantasies over the phone, masturbating
to satisfy themselves without contact. The play is poignant and
graphic, its language explicit; nonetheless, it won high praises
from the New York Times and many other publications.
It just so happened--so the pro-censorship version of the story
goes--that while driving home from the airport that night with
his teenage son, the Reverend Larry Poland, president of the
Christian right-wing anti-porn mediawatch organization called
Mastermedia International, tuned into KPFK with his automatic
search radio. He was appalled, he says, by what he heard. He
noted all instances of four-letter words, and the next day sent
off an angry letter to the FCC urging action against Pacifica.
An ax was in motion. By April, the FCC issued its Memorandum
Opinion and Order warning Pacifica that The Jerker broadcast had
violated the indecency law, and that the broadcast was
"actionable under the indecency standard as clarified today."
That "clarification" amounted to a set of new guidelines. Future
violations, said the FCC, could lead to revocation of Pacifica's
license. The FCC also referred the Pacifica case to the Justice
Department for criminal prosecution.
Pacifica immediately arranged criminal defense attorneys for the
parties involved and hired others to appeal the ruling on First
Amendment and other grounds: KPFK had aired the show after 10
p.m., with all the requisite warnings, under the FCC guidelines
in effect at the time; any change in FCC policy could not be
applied retroactively. Furthermore, the changes in policy came
without prior public or private hearings--a violation of the
federal Administrative Procedures Act.
The appeal was largely successful. In December, the case for
criminal prosecution was dropped by the Justice Department and
the FCC announced it had removed legal sanctions against
Pacifica. The Commission took pains, however, to declare that it
considered the broadcast of The Jerker indecent, and it has not
backed down from its attack on adult broadcasting.
The Right Foot of the FCC
Meanwhile, Pacifica had begun to unravel secret maneuverings
between the FCC and the religious right that had preceded the
crackdown. In May 1987, Pacifica's lawyers and the American Civil
Liberties Union (ACLU) of Southern California filed FOIA requests
with the FCC for all papers surrounding the ruling and the
changes in policy. They specifically requested all memoranda,
logs, calendars, notes pertaining to meetings and phone
conversations, and correspondence to and from the FCC dated on or
after January 1, 1986.
The FCC is notoriously slow when it comes to fulfilling FOIA
requests, and its compliance with Pacifica's requests was no
exception. The delay, in fact, compelled Pacifica to file a
lawsuit. A few documents began to arrive and a picture of joint
efforts between the FCC and the religious right began to emerge.
Their censorship campaign, involving meetings, letters, and phone
calls, was planned before Poland's complaint and continued after
it--significant because the FCC is prohibited by its ex parte
rules from receiving private transactions from a complainant
after a complaint has been lodged.
End, "Speak No Evil," (Part 1 of 3)
Next, Response 21, "Speak No Evil," (Part 2 of 3)
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** Written 10:13 am Nov 9, 1991 by ppaull in cdp:propaganda.rev **
Propaganda Review 2
Start,"Speak No Evil, " (Part 2 of 3)
Several key letters were among the documents pried loose by the
FOIA request. The first, dated July 9, 1986, was sent to FCC
Chair Mark Fowler by Brad Curl, National Director of the National
Decency Forum (NDF). Curl thanks Fowler for his time at past
meetings and states that the NDF will discontinue opposition to
his tenure "in hopes that your assistants might have time to
thoroughly research the law and the arguments in favor of our
position on FCC decency enforcement."
He goes on to tell Fowler that he has "had a good talk with your
General Counsel, Jack Smith, and he seems willing to cooperate on
some decency actions;" he then agrees to give the FCC what Fowler
apparently asked for: "I will take action to publicize the need
for more documented citizen complaints. Jack Smith said he would
be more than willing to cooperate on a few Tsend a message'
cases." The letter winds up revealing past pressures: "If we are
satisfied that there is significant response to our deep concerns
about the material reaching our children, we will abandon our
growing campaign to secure new FCC leadership."
The second letter, dated July 23, was written to FCC General
Counsel Jack Smith by Paul McGeady, General Counsel for Morality
in Media, one of the National Decency Forum's subsidiary
organizations. In it, McGeady lays out his case for a more
pro-active role for the FCC in enforcing community standards (and
in determining these standards itself). He urges action against
violators in the form of fines, revocation of licenses, and civil
sanctions, since civil suits are so much easier to win than
criminal ones. McGeady advises Smith to stop passing the buck to
the Justice Department, especially since criminal convictions
require that "a transgressor be found guilty Tbeyond a reasonable
doubt,'" while civil sanctions only require "preponderance of the
evidence" and "clear and convincing" evidence. He notes that the
notion of community standards could be applied "without
specification as to what community was referred to."
A third letter mentions Smith's reply in September 1986 to a
letter from Donald Wildmon, executive director of the National
Federation for Decency, another NDF progeny. Wildmon had wanted
FCC to take action against independent station WPTY-TV in Memphis
for its broadcast of the R-rated movie The Rose. Smith's response
was, "I do not believe this presents the kind of airtight case
that you want to push at this time. We are inquiring into a
couple of other cases which we think may be more clear
violations. I think you should agree with our reasoning on this
matter." Smith later defended this action, saying that "one of
the obligations [of the FCC staff] is to inform citizens as to
how to file complaints."
A fourth letter, particularly damning, was sent by Curl to the
then out-going Fowler on February 23, 1987. Curl thanks Fowler
for initiating three inquiries and states that "we will be
especially grateful if you can complete these three cases before
you leave, as you promised me in our last phone conversation."
Since this letter was received privately after the complaint for
The Jerker broadcast, it too, violates ex parte rules.
Though the Reverend Larry Poland has yet to be directly
implicated in these behind-the-scenes maneuverings, it's hard to
imagine that Mastermedia was exempt from the NDF's call in July
1986 to make documented complaints. Mastermedia would certainly
not have left the monitoring of the airwaves to chance; it would
target potential offenders. Regardless, Jack Smith phoned Poland
a couple of weeks after receipt of his letter to tell him "he's
going to be famous," almost commending him for his efforts. The
call, another violation of ex parte, certainly suggests that the
FCC and Mastermedia were engaged in a joint censorship effort.
The Left Foot of the Broadcast Industry
After the FCC issued its new restrictive guidelines in April
1987, a petition for reconsideration was filed by the national
ACLU, the People for the American Way, and three public
television networks (NPR, PBS, and APR). On December 29, the FCC
issued an opinion refusing to modify its position and withdrew
the notion of a safe harbor altogether.
As a result, on January 28 of this year, public television
networks and twelve media reform groups joined together to file
an appeal of the denial. With Action for Children's TV as the
lead appellant, the coalition is charging that the guidelines are
"in violation of the First Amendment," "arbitrary and
capricious," and "otherwise contrary to the law." Pacifica--which
cannot be a formal party in this appeal--is watching it closely.
To this date, the FCC has never clarified just what it considers
indecent. Journalists never know which words might offend the
FCC. Phrases like "up the gazoo" are generally considered
candidates for obscenity by broadcasters who are polled; they're
also convinced their stations would be shut down if anyone said
"eat it" or "stuff it" on the air.
When the April rulings went into effect, reporters from the Los
Angeles Times asked FCC spokesperson Rosemary Kimball how a
station could discern in advance whether its programming was in
violation of the FCC's indecency rules. Her response, noted in
the June 16, 1987 issue of the Village Voice: "We have nothing to
tell them--that TThis is OK' and TThis is not OK.' Basically,
we're going to react to programming when there's a complaint [and
each situation] will be considered on a case-by-case basis." The
result of this arbitrary application of "law" has been an
across-the-board chilling of the airwaves.
In the meantime, the Pacifica Foundation is building its own
case. Despite the fact that it has spent over $100,000 in legal
and related fees since The Jerker case began, future battles are
on the horizon. "Pacifica sees a fight gearing up over the
unconstitutionality of the new FCC guidelines and we're doing all
we can to publicize the cultural issues involved," Executive
Director David Salniker told Propaganda Review. "In the meantime,
we're continuing our investigation surrounding the illegal
maneuvers of the FCC and right-wing morality groups that led up
to the new rulings."
On the other side, Poland has implied in a recent letter to
Mastermedia supporters that his organization needs funds for a
potentially protracted legal battle. But Salniker doesn't rule
out a preemptive legal attack of his own. "Regardless of which
strategy we pursue--political or legal or both--we intend to show
that the Pacifica Foundation is not a convenient whipping boy for
right-wing groups who set about pressuring the FCC."
Research assistance for this article was provided by Annette
Doornbos, Nanette Leuschel, and Mary Tilson.
End, "Speak No Evil" (Part 2 of 3)
Next, Response 22, "Speak No Evil" (Part 3 of 3)
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** Written 10:14 am Nov 9, 1991 by ppaull in cdp:propaganda.rev **
Propaganda Review 2
Start, "Speak No Evil" (Part 3 of 3)
SIDEBAR: Highlights from a Chronicle of Harassment
The Pacifica Foundation has long been under fire from the FCC,
Congress, and conservative religious organizations. Since it was
created in 1949, by journalist Lewis Hill, Pacifica has been
pressured, harassed, threatened and even bombed. A full chronicle
of its battles would fill pages. Here are some excerpts.
1954: The US Attorney General impounds the tape of a Pacifica
broadcast after a program in which four people describe the
effects of marijuana.
1960 - 63: The House Un-American Activities Committee and the
Senate Internal Security Subcommittee investigate Pacifica
programming for signs of disloyalty. Suspected artists included
Norman Cousins, Carey McWilliams, W.E.B. Dubois, and Herbert
1962: Pacifica's New York station, WBAI, fights back with the
first radio or television broadcast ever to present a sustained
attack on the FBI and its director J. Edgar Hoover. The program
is followed by threats of arrests and bombings, as well as
pressure from the FBI, Justice Department, and major broadcast
1964: The FCC renews the licenses of WBAI, KPFA, and KPFK
after a three-year delay caused by the investigations. In a major
victory for Pacifica, the FCC issued a policy statement barring
censorship of "provocative" programs, probes of leftist ties, and
1969: Pacifica's application to build a new station in Houston
is challenged by the Christ Church Foundation on the grounds of
anti-Semitism and obscenity. The application is finally granted
in March 1970, and KPFT begins broadcasting. Three months later,
the station is bombed. After months of inactivity by federal
agents and Houston police, Pacifica mounts a massive media
campaign. In October, KPFT is bombed again. Federal agents arrest
a former red squad employee and Klansman. He is charged with
plotting to blow up KPFA and KPFK, as well as with the KPFT
dynamiting, and is sentenced in October 1971.
1975: The FCC challenges a WBAI broadcast of George Carlin's
"Seven Dirty Words That You Can't Hear on TV." No sanctions are
imposed, but the Carlin case sets the limits of broadcasting for
over a decade.
1980: A complaint is filed with the FCC against KPFA for its
"indecent" programming of a four-part series on sex therapy. The
FCC dismisses it, after extensive legal arguments, primarily
because the series was aired after 10 p.m.
1987: The post-10 p.m. safe harbor is withdrawn in The Jerker
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