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Sex Discrimination at KPFA
Another Woman Forced Off Flashpoints

In late May, Solange Echeverría was forced out of her job as associate producer of Flashpoints, community radio station KPFA's drive-time news magazine. In response to the station's cover story that she had quit voluntarily, Solange distributed an "Open Letter to the Local Station Board." In it she states:

Eric Drooker, www.drooker.com
Free Speech

" . . . I was FORCED OUT. I was left with no choice – I reported unfair treatment, favoritism, abuse and hostile working conditions on the Flashpoints program – perpetrated by Executive Producer Dennis Bernstein and I was met with complete disrespect, and disregard when I reported the abuse to the General Manager, Roy Campenella."

Echeverría's letter goes on to state:

". . . Bernstein has been allowed for years to run unchecked with his abusive behavior towards former and current producers, programmers, volunteers, with absolutely no consequences whatsoever. When I reported his most recent abuses – to be clear and fair, I approached Mr. Bernstein first – I was met with the vilest of screams, curses and out of control behavior.

"When I reported this to Roy Campenella Jr., KPFA general manager, I was told under no uncertain terms that . . . [n]othing could be done about Dennis Bernstein because — and these are Mr. Campanella's direct comments – He (Dennis) brings in the money, and therefore "Creative Personalities" like his need to be put up with. He then told me that I should just go look for another job. He went so far as to tell me THAT NO ONE HAS EVER COMPLAINED ABOUT MR. BERNSTEIN before . . ."

Campanella made it clear he was not going to take any effective action, telling Echeverría not to come back for three weeks because it would make Bernstein uncomfortable! With no other recourse, Solange left her job at KPFA, becoming just the most recent of a long line of women producers to be forced off Flashpoints.

Not the First Complaint Against Bernstein
Contrary to Campanella's claim of "no prior complaints," within days of Solange's departure, KPFA, Pacifica Foundation (KPFA's parent organization), Bernstein, and ex-general manager Jim Bennett were served with a sex discrimination lawsuit filed by Noelle Hanrahan.

Hanrahan was "banned" from KPFA after filing complaints of sexual harassment and gender discrimination by Bernstein and insisting that they be fairly investigated. (The full text of the complaint can be seen here.)

Many of you know Noelle from her radio segments on Purple Berets' work, including pieces on Teresa Macías, Claire Joyce Tempongko, and Debi Zuver. Noelle also directs Prison Radio, producing the commentaries of Death Row inmate Mumia Abu-Jamal, heard weekly by more than 1 million listeners around the world.

Hanrahan is a three-time winner of the Golden Reel Award, one of public radio's highest honors. She was first hired as co-host of Flashpoints in 1997. At that time, in the middle of an on-air interview, Bernstein muted her microphone and screamed, "Don't you dare ask another fucking question." Soon afterward, Noelle stepped down as Flashpoints co-host.

She was re-hired in July 2000 as a temporary producer, then elevated to Flashpoints co-host a year later. Bernstein's harassment began almost immediately. According to the lawsuit, in October 2001 Bernstein informed her, "I'm going to torture you until you quit or I force you to leave." Previously, the complaint goes on, Bernstein had warned that he had been coached by KPFA lawyers on how to "beat" any sexual harassment complaint. Hanrahan informed General Manager Bennett of the incident, attributing the actions to sexual harassment and sex discrimination.

Management's Cover-Up
Over the next five months, Noelle repeatedly requested that KPFA and Pacifica management investigate her allegations and take disciplinary action. Instead, according to the complaint, Hanrahan was exposed to an escalating pattern of harassment and retaliation from Bernstein, who refused to talk with her, refused to give her information necessary to perform her job, and locked her out of editorial meetings.

In one incident, a master tape of an interview Hanrahan was preparing to air on the Tempongko case was erased, apparently in order to sabotage her work and force her to resign.

Throughout this period, Bennett and others conducted no investigation and took no effective disciplinary action against Bernstein, despite repeated requests. At one point the complaint states that Bennett informed her, "If you file a grievance it will only get a lot worse." "There are no disciplinary complaints against you," Bennett continued, "but if you persist in your grievance, there will be."

On November 20, 2001, Bernstein verbally attacked Hanrahan on the air, informing listeners she had made false allegations against him and was trying to take over the radio program, encouraging listeners to call KPFA and call for her

Soon afterward, management demoted Hanrahan, allotting her only 40% of the Flashpoints program. Less than three months later, she was placed on involuntary leave and banned from the KPFA building.

Since that time, Noelle has exhausted every avenue open to her for redress. Finally, despairing of any action by KPFA, her lawsuit was filed.

How Many Women Will It Take?
Prior to Hanrahan's hiring, a number of other female employees had complained of Bernstein's sexual harassment, discrimination and workplace violence. According to the lawsuit and my own recent conversations with past and present KPFA employees, all of those female employees resigned or were forced out of their positions as a result. (Interestingly, Campanella confirmed to me that Bernstein's personnel file had been "destroyed" so many of those complaints are missing).

"The fact that women's voices are being silenced by gender-based harassment and intimidation is cause for deep concern," Noelle stated in an interview. "My every attempt to have my grievances addressed was met with retaliation and a wholesale cover-up. Sadly, I was left with no other option but to turn to the courts for redress."

Unfortunately, Solange Echeverría isn't likely to find General Manager Roy Campanella any more responsive than Jim Bennett was to Hanrahan's reports. Hired by KPFA last November, Campanella already has a number of sexual harassment complaints against him.

Violent, Hostile Environment
This type of tyrannical, male behavior creates a hostile working environment, not only for the women it's directed against, but for all the women in the station. That hostility has been inflamed by anonymous e-mail and leaflet campaigns attacking the victims.

Just days after Echeverría left, a flyer from "Anonymous to Anonymous" was posted all around the station. The leaflet attacked Solange and the co-workers who have defended her.

Hanrahan too has been the target of venomous e-mails and web postings, which escalated recently when news of her lawsuit hit the press.

But while women who complain of harassment and abuse by Bernstein are fired or forced out, male KPFA employees who are physically violent are not.

  • 2001: Dennis Bernstein and Aaron Glance, reporter for Free speech Radio News, get into a bloody altercation in the station.

  • March, 2002: Angie Karran and Kristen Thomas, producers of Sunday Salon, document host Larry Bensky's angry tirade of yelling, throwing things, and abandoning his show in the presence of General Manager Jim Bennett. Though the women demand that Bennett do something, no action is taken.

  • 2004: JR Valrey, Flashpoints segment producer, punches Hard Knock producer Davey D in the face in front of dozens of witnesses at a music industry event . . . and then comes back and punches him again. Valrey not only confirms, but brags about this incident in the April 2005 edition of "Booty Crack,"a predictably sexist rap music rag. Valrey is still on the air, and reportedly negotiating with Roy Campanella for his own show.

  • June 2004: long-time KPFA programmer and Flashpoints producer Miguel Molina and Vini Beacham, Interim Program Coordinator, get into a near-violent verbal confrontation in the station parking lot. This incident has sparked outrage at the lack of investigation or discipline. (I have to ask: Where are the outrage and demands for discipline for Bernstein's documented actions against the numerous women on Flashpoints?)

  • May 3, 2005: Deverol Ross, senior engineer, angrily throws metal chairs across the room in a program council meeting, hitting one listener representative on the council. He then slapped Stan Woods, another listener rep.

  • May 4, 2005: In response to that incident, general manager Roy Campanella II issues a "zero tolerance" memo on workplace violence.

  • May 5, 2005: Just one day after his "zero tolerance" memo, Campanella gets into a verbal confrontation with Weyland Southon, producer of Hard Knock Radio. According to multiple witnesses, Campanella got in Southon's face and spat, "You punk-ass, we can take this outside right now muthafucka!"

This tolerance of male violence in and around the workplace only heightens the hostile environment for women at the station, especially when one of the perpetrators is the general manager! Add to that KPFA's refusal to investigate and discipline acts of sexual harassment and discrimination, and it's no wonder many talented women producers have left.

Revolutionary Radio?
KPFA (94.1 FM) has long been the voice of the "Left" in the San Francisco Bay Area. The first public radio station in the country, it was started by anti-war activists more than 50 years ago and has been a ground-breaking and innovative force in radio ever since. As one of the few non-corporate media outlets in the Bay Area, its value to the activist community is irreplaceable.

Loyalty to the station goes deep. In 1999, KPFA was shut down in mid-broadcast, then padlocked as corporate raiders and the organized right-wing staged what can only be called a coups d'etat. Thousands of KPFA listeners (Purple Berets among them) picketed, got arrested, and organized for more than two years to wrest the station back into community hands.

Unfortunately, that attack by the right has caused supporters and station insiders to "circle the wagons" in the face of any criticism of the station, no matter how legitimate. No doubt, the concerted political attack has contributed to the air of secrecy that permeates KPFA affairs, and fostered flaming hate-campaigns against anyone who dares to criticize.

But if we can't hold "The Left" accountable, what hope do we have for accountability in more mainstream institutions? If progressives are willing to tolerate harassment, discrimination and retaliation so virulent that dedicated women broadcasters are hounded from the air, where will we hear the voices of feminists and women in struggle?

Demands for Change
On June 11th, Purple Berets proposed to the Local Station Board that the following actions be taken at KPFA:

  • Immediately launch a search for a new general manager to replace Roy Campanella. Target the search to attract women applicants.
  • Fire Dennis Bernstein. Whatever idea you may have that he raises more money than he costs will prove incorrect.
  • Reinstate Solange Echeverria and Noelle Hanrahan to Flashpoints.
  • Establish an ombudsperson position, staffed by someone from outside the station, who receives and investigates complaints of gender and racial discrimination.
  • Hire an outside professional to do an in-depth, organizational assessment of the station emphasizing gender and racial issues.

The current tolerance of violence and abuse is destroying women’s careers and only weakens KPFA. We urge women to join with us to make it stronger.

Together, organizing inside and outside the station, we can make our community radio station a safe and productive place for women to work and create.

Flashpoints Producer Dennis Bernstein

July 2005
© Tanya Brannan, Purple Berets
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