Purple Berets


Courthouse Steps


Home Page
About the Purple Berets
Breaking News
Violence Against Women
Tools For Working Your Own Case
Other Law Enforcement Issues
Contact Us




KPFA's "Elephant in the Room:" It's Sexism

In August, the KPFA Local Station Board (LSB) met just days after the press had reported the board's vote to keep Roy Campanella on as general manager. The vote came in the wake of the firing of two women programmers for daring to report sex discrimination by Flashpoints producer Dennis Bernstein, and the news that eight new complaints of sexual harassment and discrimination, this time against Campanella himself, were being filed with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing and the National Labor Relations Board. Stunningly, it also came despite the recommendation of the board's own investigator that Campanella should be fired.

At the previous LSB meeting in July, the room was filled with women, detailing their experiences with Campanella both before and after lodging formal complaints against him. Those complaints include Campanella's repeatedly asking the women for dates and, when they refused, publicly denigrating and retaliating against them, slandering them, and threats of termination and funding cuts. They also outlined eight months of attempts to get their grievances addressed by station management, the LSB and the Pacifica National Board, all to no avail.

It was a powerful show of strength, bolstered by firsthand accounts of incidents of male violence at the station (none of which resulted in disciplinary action), and a statement of "no confidence" in Campanella, signed by more than 70 paid and unpaid staff. In an unrivaled act of courage, Maya Orozco, administrative assistant to Campanella, publicly described her working environment as a "toxic cesspool."

Sitting there in July, it was hard to believe the LSB would be able to weasel out of their responsibility to ensure a safe and equitable work environment for women at KPFA. But weasel they did.

Sex Discrimination: It's Against the Law
Let's be clear . . . what all these women have complained of is illegal behavior. Every act of retaliation is another illegal act, exposing KPFA to another completely avoidable lawsuit.

A number of people we've spoken with have said, "It's not gender discrimination; Roy asked guys out too! Bernstein is abusive to everybody, not just women." This is an oft-used defense to claims of sexual harassment and gender discrimination. But it just doesn't fly.

Just last week in a similar case, the 9th Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that sexual harassment doesn't have to be motivated by sex or sexism to be illegal, as long as the harasser abuses one gender more than the other. Under this ruling, even if KPFA uses this "defense" to the claim of illegal conduct by Campanella and Bernstein, it doesn't get them off the hook. KPFA still has a huge liability because, not only were women most-often targeted, only they were disciplined and fired. And they were fired, not for illegal or unprofessional behavior, but for reporting illegal and unprofessional behavior. That's against the law.

The situation that's been created here gives every one of these women grounds for a lawsuit against the station. In fact, under another recent court ruling, even women not targeted directly have a right to sue on the basis of the hostile working environment created by the abuse of their coworkers.

So the LSB is violating the law in order to cover up for their cronies, who just happen to be serial perpetrators. In the process, they're exposing the station to an ever-increasing number of legal actions, all of which could have been averted had the complaints been properly handled. What kind of petty power struggle is worth that?

Kangaroo Board Meeting
Sitting in an LSB meeting is like watching 20 unsupervised kindergartners, dressed as adults and high on sugar, fighting over toys. The hostility is palpable; the manipulation of the process transparent. Their inability to run a meeting would be comical if it weren't so Machiavellian and time-consuming. So when Purple Berets put out a call for people to attend the August board meeting in support of the targeted women, we knew it was a lot to ask. But we had no idea just how ugly it would get.

Unlike at the prior meeting, for the most part the female staff members who'd been victimized were absent. Meanwhile, the "other side" had organized and strategized exactly how to confront this first-ever concerted effort to confront head-on the long-running sex discrimination at the station. And with the women absent, the men had a field day.

"A Legal Lynching"
The first prong of the attack took me back to the Clarence Thomas Supreme Court confirmation hearings. When you're caught red-handed being a sexist pig, make it a discussion about race. Though it worked long enough to put Thomas on the Supreme Court (with dire consequences for African-Americans), it also catapulted sexual harassment onto the front page and into the courts.
Here the tactic was encapsulated in one speaker's vitriolic rant that the charges against Campanella were brought by "a very few white women" who can't stand to see a good African-American man in a position of authority.

Now let's take a good look at this. First of all, I'm not sure if I'd call 10 women's complaints "a few." More importantly, the vast majority of the women targeted are not white women. Solange Echeverría, Ranjita Geesler, Lemlem Rijio, Maya Orozco, Amelia Gonzalez - these aren't white women attacking Campanella because of his color. These are women of color refusing to be victimized by a man, whatever his color.

(If anything, I'd venture to say the color of his skin may be one of the two things keeping Roy in the general manager's chair. I can promise you, if a female manager, whatever her color, had 10 complaints of discrimination and retaliation against her and a vote of no-confidence by [now] 92 staff members, she'd be outta there!)

And finally, undoubtedly the most loved, respected and effective general manager KPFA's ever had was Nicole Sawaya, a Lebanese-American woman who ran the station up until the takeover by the right-wing-packed Pacifica National Board in 1999.

Make no mistake: this isn't about the color of Roy Campanella's skin - it's about his illegal and unwelcome sexual misconduct, discrimination and retaliation. An attempt to reframe the debate into an issue of race rather than gender is worthy of Carl Rove, but not of progressive activists trying to solve a problem in one of our own institutions. It won't fix the problem, and it just won't work.

Less publicly stated, but an insistent background whisper in the crowd and on the internet is the charge that the complaining women are "tools of the state," trying to bring down the station because of its radical politics.

This seems to be transparently orchestrated by Dennis Bernstein, martyr extraordinaire, who greets each new complaint against him with on-air calls for his cult following to defend him against a mythical Right-wing cabal bent on silencing him, the last bastion of "free speech." Another woman gets fired, another whiney, on-air claim by Bernstein that he's getting death threats. (To Bernstein, a piece of toast in his mailbox is a death threat!) It's as predictable as it is infantile.

I've no doubt the Right would love to bring KPFA down. But to call these women (and by implication, the Purple Berets and other community women who support them) the right-wing is absurd! At this point the greatest danger to KPFA comes, not from the Right, but from within its own "Left." Any institution that tolerates this level of discrimination - against women, against young people of color, against workers - should expect to be held accountable by people of conscience.

"It's the Sexism, Stupid!"
But while calls of racism and attacks from the Right are used as rallying cries, complaints of gender discrimination by eight women, retaliation against a number of other women witnesses to Campanella's behavior, and the firing of two women programmers for their reports of bias and abuse, are ignored. Even worse, they ignite, not calls to action, but smear campaigns portraying the women as racist, right-wing FBI goons!

It's way past time to tackle sexual harassment and gender discrimination at KPFA head-on. The LSB members need to take a good look in the mirror and either resign or do the legal duty their position on the board imposes. Their tolerance of this kind of rampant discrimination unnecessarily exposes the station to huge financial consequences. They need to take care of it! If they don't, they should be voted out.

It's time for women inside and outside the station to organize, and to refuse to be silenced by slander, hate-speech and intimidation. This has gone from a blatant display of sexism and privilege by a few men at the station to an all-out attack on women by the KPFA community. The women inside the station are on the move. As outside women activists, we need to put aside our fear that we'll never get air-time on KPFA again and support our sisters at the station.

And it's time for listeners to demand that KPFA's new "democratic process" doesn't continue to sacrifice the new voices of the female half of the population in order to keep in power the tired old voices of male privilege.

For more info go to: www.kpfaworker.org

September 2005
© Tanya Brannan, Purple Berets
You can copy and distribute this information at will
if you include credit and don't edit.

Copyright © 2001 Purple Berets

Web Site by S. Henry Wild