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OFF-AIR TAPE SHOWS NATURE OF CONFLICT AT WBAI
Posted 28 Aug 2001 06:46:17 UTC

In the wake of firings and program disruptions at WBAI, a rather remarkable bit of audio has surfaced that paints a vivid picture of some of the behind the scenes turmoil that went on in the early months of the crisis.

The audio has appeared on several web sites over the past week and has also been played over the air on several occasions. 2600 has obtained an unedited version of the tape and it is available here.

The release of the tape at this point in time is significant as it comes in the midst of yet another battle at WBAI, this time concerning the most widely listened to program on the Pacifica Network, "Democracy Now!" Since Tuesday, August 14, the program has been originating from an alternate location after host Amy Goodman determined that the station had become a hostile environment. While "Democracy Now!" has aired over the Internet and on some radio stations, the Pacifica Network has been airing repeats.

A grievance was filed by Goodman to the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA). While initially it appeared as if AFTRA had sided with Pacifica by urging Goodman to return to the station, they issued a new statement within the last few days saying that they were "no longer satisfied that the WBAI studios are a safe and appropriate working environment for the 'Democracy Now!' staff." It's widely assumed that the above mentioned tape found its way into their hands and helped to change their minds.

On the tape, which takes place inside the studio during a music break on the now cancelled "Wakeup Call" of February 6, 2001 (the on-air portion of which is also included here), an argument between co-hosts Amy Goodman and Clayton Riley was captured. Newsman Robert Knight (recently thrown off the air by WBAI management) is also heard on the tape defending Goodman. Riley is heard to be shouting at the two of them and using obscenities as well as racial epithets. According to statements issued by Goodman, this kind of repeated behavior had made the WBAI studios into an unsafe environment. Pacifica has yet to issue a comment on the audio captured on this tape. But their website does contain a statement claiming that they have reached an agreement with AFTRA which requires that Goodman return to the station immediately. However, John Connolly, AFTRA's president, says that this is outdated information that doesn't reflect their current position and that "We have instructed them that they do not have the right to use any statements from AFTRA that are not current and are not reflective of our current policy."

On Monday, another repeat of "Democracy Now!" was aired over Pacifica along with headlines from Feature Story News, a syndicated news service that originates outside of Pacifica.

 

 

ON-AIR SEGMENT WHICH LED TO OFF-AIR TAPE

ACTUAL BROADCAST
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[Stream Real Audio] [Download Real Audio]

During a contentious call-in segment where callers are challenging Riley's defense of the station's takeover, a caller utters a racial epithet at around 12 minutes into the segment. Riley accuses Goodman of being responsible for such statements. At around 16 minutes into the segment, Robert Knight begins his newscast by defending Goodman and is cut off. It is immediately after this that the off-air argument was captured on tape.

TRANSCRIPT OF TAPE

OFF-AIR ARGUMENT
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[Stream Real Audio] [Download Real Audio]

WBAI / WAKE UP CALL
Feb. 6, 2001 ~7:15am
Audio begins with listener calls and on-air exchange between Amy Goodman [AG], Clayton Riley [CR] and Robert Knight [RK].

After a crank caller blurts a racial epithet, Riley blames Goodman, whom Knight subsequently defends during customary greeting and chit-chat. Engineer Mark Linton [ML] then cuts off studio microphones as "conservatory quality jazz" plays in the background.

According to Robert Knight:

"Two hours later, in the office of Interim General Manager Utrice C. Leid, and in the presence of members of her core staff, I was accosted, assaulted, and/or menaced by Riley, who stood over me as I was seated. He gripped my knees between his legs, rendering me immobile, while gesticulating in a wild and threatening manner."

These events are referenced in a 8/20/2001 letter from the staff of "Democracy Now!" who stated:

"Several months ago, Clayton physically moved in on WBAI reporter Robert Knight for coming to Amy's defense, shouting repeatedly 'Stop kissing the ass of that white bitch.' Minutes later, he assaulted Knight..."

[IN-STUDIO AUDIO TRANSCRIPT FOLLOWS:]

CR: If you want to kiss white ass, you can do it somewhere else besides this job, I guarantee you that.
RK: Are you saying that she told somebody to call up and say that?
CR: I'm saying that you and she have sought to create an atmosphere in this place where people feel comfortable doing that. That's what I'm saying. Now do you want to do the news --
RK: I think that's absolute madness.
CR: Do you want to do the news -- you can think whatever you like. Do you want to do the news or not?
AG: Clayton, did you just call me a white bitch?
CR: I don't think so.
AG: Then you didn't hear --
CR: I don't think so.
AG: Clayton, I want an apology right now.
CR: [inaudible]
AG: Clayton, I want an apology right now.
CR: [inaudible]
AG: Clayton, I want an apology - right now.
CR: Are you demanding one?
AG: Yeah.
CR: Is this your plantation personality to say, "NIGGER, I want an apology"?
AG: No, Clayton.
CR: Is that what you're saying --
AG: Clayton, you called me --
CR: -- "BOY, I want an apology"?
AG: -- You want, you called me a "white bitch."
RK: She didnt say that!
AG: And I want an apology now.
CR: What are you gonna do, Robert?
AG: I want an apology now.
CR: What are you gonna do, Robert? You want to continue in radio? -- I was talking to him!
AG: About me, and you called me a "white bitch."
CR: Did you hear me use your name? Maybe I was talking about "her," maybe I was talking about HIM. Maybe I was talking about somebody who was out in the reception area. I didn't use your name. I'm not that stupid. I know you're used to using, dealing with your "Nubians" in here, I'm not one of them. You know -- you, THIS SLAVE, and the rest of your "NUBIANS" --
RK: SLAVE?! You call me a "slave"!?

[THE ENGINEER LEAVES STUDIO]

CR: Mark, hey Mark!
AG: He's not a part of this. He's not a -- Clayton, he wouldn't participate in that.
CR: What?
AG: He would not participate in that. He's a man of dignity and he would not participate.
CR: Ohh, NOW he's a man of dignity. When have you told him that? When have you said that to him? Ever?
AG: Clayton... Apologize for calling me a "white bitch."
CR: Hey! Hey! Hey! What are you gonna do, herd me over and cut my head off?
AG: Clayton, apologize for calling me a "white bitch."
CR: Hey, you don't make demands of me! [inaudible] Might've been her, might've been somebody else in here. If I wanted to talk about you, I'd use your name, cause there's plenty to say about you. Why'd your staff kick you out of Washington? How did you get here in the first place?

[STUDIO "HOT LINE" PHONE STARTS RINGING]

CR: We can play music for the rest of the hour if you like.
AG: When you use racial epithets you have to go to music.
CR: He used the racial epithets.
AG: Uhh, YOU used...
RK: The caller, the caller said "nigger in the woodpile" and you said, "That's one of your people, Amy!"

["TAKE THE A TRAIN" PLAYS IN BACKGROUND]

CR: Then why did you have to pick up on it?
RK: Because it was unfair, and I'm ethical.
CR: Well, hey, you didn't have to use the term on the air just because the caller did.
RK: YOU didn't have to blame AMY for that either.
CR: That's none of your business, man.
RK: Of course it's my business.
CR: Why?
RK: Because we're colleagues.
CR: You don't defend me on anything, do you?
RK: What?!
CR: [Voice rising:] You have never defended once what people have done -- You wanna read this CRAP? You want to READ THAT? What it says about YOU AND HER? THERE'S A SACK OF SHIT IN THERE THAT TELL US IT'S ALL RIGHT FOR EVERYBODY IN THIS MOTHERFUCKER TO INSULT ME AND YOU DON'T OPEN YOUR MOUTH!!
RK: I HAVE opened my mouth!
CR: BULLSHIT!
AG: We have condemned --
CR: BULL - SHIT!!
??: Actually, I'd like to read that if you don't mind. Can I read it, Clayton?
AG: Clayton, I want you to apologize for calling me a "white bitch."
CR: I dont care WHAT you want. [inaudible] We can DIE right here in this room.

[Knight delivers newscast]

 

AFTRA STATEMENT

On August 13th, AFTRA was informed by the AFTRA members employed on Democracy Now! that they could not continue to report to work at the WBAI studios because they were afraid for their physical safety. Because of the seriousness of the allegations and AFTRA's strong concern for the members' safety, AFTRA was in immediate contact with Pacifica management, and together with the AFTRA members involved, attempted to reach a resolution to the matter. In the course of these negotiations, Pacifica agreed to take affirmative steps to address the concerns raised by AFTRA, including the issuance to all personnel -- management and non-management, paid and unpaid -- of a clear statement affirming that Pacifica commits to maintaining a workplace that is safe, secure, and free of discrimination, harassment, intimidation or physical altercation. AFTRA informed Pacifica that grievances would be filed, but Pacifica agreed to immediately begin an investigation into the events that led to the members' decision not to return to the WBAI site. Based upon Pacifica's representations and written assurances of the steps that would be taken to guarantee worker safety, AFTRA directed the Democracy Now! staff to report to work in order to fulfil AFTRA's contractual obligations under the no-strike clause of the collective bargaining agreement

Nevertheless, AFTRA has continued to monitor the situation, and because of certain events that have subsequently occurred at WBAI, which AFTRA considers inconsistent with the steps that Pacifica had agreed to take to ensure the safety of the Democracy Now! staff, AFTRA has notified Pacifica that it is no longer satisfied that the WBAI studios are a safe and appropriate working environment for the Democracy Now! staff. AFTRA is in constant contact with the Democracy Now! staff and Pacifica and the situation is still developing,

This situation has involved volatile, emotional and complex issues, and as such, the potential for confusion and misinformation is high. AFTRA's primary concern during this time has been, first, the safety of its members and second, the pursuit of their rights under the AFTRA collective bargaining agreement. Any information which has circulated indicating that AFTRA has not, or will not, vigorously pursue the rights of its members to a safe workplace free of discrimination, harassment, intimidation (physical or otherwise) is simply inaccurate. AFTRA has not, and will not tolerate unsafe working conditions for its members.

**********************************************************************

AFTRA

WBAI 99.5 FM in New York

WBAI Listener Network

Pacifica Foundation

The Pacifica Campaign

Friends of Free Speech Radio

Free Pacifica

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