Public Comment

How KPFA Hides its Corporate Ties

Doug Buckwald
Friday June 14, 2019 - 04:27:00 PM

One of the frequent promises made by the program hosts on KPFA Radio (94.1 FM) is this: "We don't allow corporate advertising on our airwaves, so corporations have no influence on the issues we cover." If that were true, it would certainly justify KPFA's claim to be a "fiercely independent" radio station – but unfortunately, it is not. 

KPFA's paid programmers actually welcome a great deal of corporate involvement in their broadcasts, by consistently featuring guests on their shows who are supported by think tanks or foundations that are funded directly or indirectly by corporations. 

The Center for American Progress (CAP) is a Democratic Party think tank that has sponsored a significant number of guests who have appeared on KPFA's airwaves over the years. The name of this think tank makes it appear that it is liberal and socially responsible in its activities.  

Actually, CAP is funded by some of the most socially irresponsible corporations in the world, and they exert considerable influence on its positions and actions. In short, whenever KPFA features a guest from CAP, it promotes the interests of the global business community. 

Initially, CAP kept its list of corporate donors secret so it could obscure their influence. CAP was criticized for this by the Sunlight Foundation and other open government groups because it wields considerable influence over legislation in Washington DC. It has recently been revealed that CAP's corporate donors include:  

Walmart, CitiGroup, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, Blue Cross/Blue Shield, Pfizer, Eli Lilly, America's Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), Comcast, General Motors, and PG&E, as well as military contractors Boeing, Lockheed-Martin, Raytheon, Northrop Grumman, General Dynamics and BAE Systems.  

This is only a partial list. CAP has many other corporate donors as well. Many of CAP's corporate members contribute thousands of dollars per year to be part of its exclusive "Business Alliance" – which guarantees them special access to important officials in Washington DC.  

However, this clear corporate connection does not trouble KPFA's management or program hosts. Apparently, it is sufficient that the positions taken by CAP slant decisively towards establishment Democratic Party policies.  

During Obama’s tenure as president, from 2008 to 2016, the Center for American Progress was so beholden to Democratic Party interests that it became known informally as “the second White House.” It is unlikely that this characterization was ever mentioned on KPFA radio. After all, KPFA must maintain its fiction of being "non-partisan" in order to maintain its nonprofit tax deduction. 

You may have heard that the CAP recently sponsored a number of hit pieces that were critical of Bernie Sanders – because he is decidedly not a centrist corporate Democrat. In response, Sanders issued a statement about CAP's disingenuous actions: 

“The Center for American Progress is an organization whose massive annual budget is bankrolled by billionaires and corporate executives that profit from finance, pharmaceutical companies, fossil fuels, and sending American jobs overseas ... I worry that the corporate money CAP is receiving is inordinately and inappropriately influencing the role it is playing in the progressive movement.”  

The fact that these insidious corporate influences may effectively undermine legitimate leftist movements does not seem to concern any of the KPFA hosts who feature CAP spokespeople on the air.  

Why does this matter? 

Kris Welch, a 45+ year radio host on KPFA, recently claimed on one of her programs that the station provides its listeners with the "free flow of information that the public needs so people can be informed and make up their own minds." That sounds good on its face, but the "free flow of information" should certainly include informing listeners of the affiliations of guests who are interviewed and indicating their potential conflicts of interest. Otherwise, how can a listener reasonably evaluate the information that is being presented?  

Later on during the same program, Welch declared that KPFA is "different from the Koch brothers, because they don't trust the intelligence of the American people." Yet David Brock, the Democratic Party strategist who helped start a number of the corporate-dominated think tanks that provide guests to KPFA, openly stated his desire to be "just like the Kochs" in his fundraising and advertising practices. Apparently, Welch and others at KPFA regard certain activities to be unacceptable if they are done by the right wing but entirely acceptable if they are done by the left wing. 

We can judge how much KPFA trusts the intelligence of its listeners by paying attention to how callers are treated when they phone in during the public affairs broadcasts. If a caller expresses agreement with the guest and the program host, he or she is typically treated politely and respectfully and is allowed ample time to comment or ask questions.  

But woe to the callers who are brave enough to try to challenge a statement that is made on the air -- or draw attention to hidden financial ties. Such callers rarely have an opportunity to finish their remarks because they are often cut off before they conclude. If they do finish, they are typically treated dismissively.  

And after their calls have been dropped and they cannot respond, they are sometimes even insulted. This is a disconcerting practice of programmers such as Philip Maldari, who hosts "Sunday Show" every weekend. His condescending approach is an insult to the community. Why should Maldari be the self-appointed gatekeeper of the ideas that KPFA's listeners are permitted to hear? 

The disrespectful and dishonest behavior that KPFA's program hosts sometimes exhibit is exactly the opposite of trusting the intelligence of the listeners. This issue has been brought to the attention of Quincy McCoy, KPFA's general manager, many times, but he either fails to respond or simply backs up the actions of the hosts. It appears that McCoy, too, fails to trust the intelligence of the listeners. 

By featuring guests who are members of organizations like CAP, KPFA actively promotes the interests of the corporations standing behind these guests. But don't think CAP is unique. Other corporate Democratic think tanks and foundations whose spokespeople have appeared on KPFA include Campaign for America's Future, New America Foundation, and numerous others. 

Is KPFA free of direct corporate advertising? Yes. Is KPFA free of corporate influence? Certainly not. But the station goes to great lengths to hide this from its listeners. 

Worst of all, listeners who try to point out these hidden corporate connections are silenced on KPFA’s airwaves and summarily dismissed by management. It seems clear that a radio station that resorts to censorship and stonewalling to hide the conflicts of interest of the guests on its programs is not operating with integrity. 

KPFA claims to be a beacon of free speech; the "flagship of the Pacifica Radio Network"; and a model for community radio stations across the country. Shouldn't it place its highest value on integrity, rather than considering this approach a last resort – to be tried only if all else fails? 

Listeners who have concerns about KPFA's unacknowledged corporate connections, consistent Democratic Party bias, and chronic lack of transparency – should share their thoughts with Quincy McCoy, KPFA's general manager.  

Listeners may also want to ask Mr. McCoy why he felt justified in deleting more than 16 years of archived programs for one of KPFA's most popular programs, "Guns and Butter", formerly hosted by Bonnie Faulkner. Community donations paid for the permanent preservation of these programs in KPFA's archives. McCoy's unilateral decision to destroy these recordings was a violation of the public trust. 

Of course, it should have been the community's choice – and not McCoy's – to determine the disposition of these valuable historical records. Instead, he flushed them all down the "memory hole", just as happened in the Ministry of Truth in George Orwell's dystopian horror novel, 1984.