Response to Removal of Dan Coughlin as News Director at PNN

  • Oct. 27, 1999: Text of 30 second report leading to Coughlin's removal
  • Oct. 27, 1999: RealAudio of 30 second report leading to Coughlin's removal -- the story on Pacifica begins at minute 3:48
  • Nov. 1, 1999: KPFA News Report: Pacifica national news director fired after refusing censorship
  • Nov. 2, 1999: PNN Coverage of Pacifica Crisis "Questionable" Says KPFK's Marc Cooper
  • Nov. 3, 1999: Pacifica Press Release announcing removal of Dan Coughlin
  • Nov. 3, 1999: Letter from Democracy NOW! and PNN Staff
  • Nov. 4, 1999: Letter from Democracy NOW! and PNN Staff
  • Nov. 4, 1999: Norman Soloman discussion on Flashpoints
  • Nov. 5, 1999: Letter from KPFA and WBAI News Staff
  • Nov. 6, 1999: Letter from Ralph Engelman, former chair of LAB, author of Public Radio and Television in America : A Political History
  • Nov. 6, 1999: Letter from Nan Rubin, Member of Pacifica Task Force on PNN
  • Nov. 10, 1999: Open Letter to Pacifica Management from WBAI Union
  • Nov. 10, 1999: Letter from Pacifica historian Matthew Lasar on history of gag-rule and the removal of Dan Coughlin
  • Nov. 10, 1999: FAIR Press Release: CounterSpin Once Again Censored by a Pacifica Station
  • Nov. 10, 1999: FAIR Press Release: Pacifica Radio in New Crisis: News Director Ousted, News Anchor and Pacifica Staffers Protest
  • Nov. 11, 1999: Media Alliance Press Release: THE BATTLE FOR FREE SPEECH ESCALATES AT PACIFICA RADIO PRESS CONFERENCE FRIDAY ON NATIONWIDE CENSORSHIP OF PACIFICA NETWORK NEWS
  • Nov. 19, 1999: Letter from Jo Ann Kawell, former director (1983-85) of Pacifica's National News Service
  • Nov. 11, 1999: Open Letter to Pacifica Managementfrom WBAI Union

To Pacifica Board Members
November 4, 1999

We appeal to you as members of the Pacifica Board of Directors to stop the reassignment of Pacifica Network News Director Dan Coughlin.

What has transpired over the last few days has shaken our confidence in Pacifica to the core. The chain of events could come straight out of a George Orwell novel:

Dan was removed from his job as Pacifica Network News (PNN) Director this past Monday. He learned of his ouster via a brief e-mail from Pacifica Executive Director Lynn Chadwick. It read: "As of Monday November 1 Dan Coughlin is reassigned to developing the plan for PNN in 2001. Mark Bevis will be the acting news director. These changes were made during the Pacifica National Board meeting in Houston this weekend." No further explanation was provided.

In a conversation on Tuesday, November 2, Dan asked Chadwick why he was being ousted. She blasted him for his decision to air a story about a Pacifica protest on PNN last Wednesday, October 27. She called it "bullshit news" and told him that "it's not working out." When he asked what his new duties would be, Chadwick said "we'll have to work on that piece." End of conversation.

When a local news director called Dan's replacement, Mark Bevis, to ask about what had happened, Mark said that Dan was ousted for his news judgment, citing his airing of the Pacifica story.

Dan responded to Chadwick with an e-mail explaining that he was in compliance with the Pacifica Board directives on reporting a Pacifica-related story, as well as with sound journalistic principles and the Pacifica handbook.

We weighed in with a letter to Dr. Berry expressing our outrage over the retaliation against Dan for airing the story. We urged her to reinstate Dan in his position. In an e-mail responding to our requests, Berry dismissed our concerns and told us to take the issue up with Chadwick.

What followed next is hard to believe. Several hours later, Dan received an e-mail from Chadwick saying he "did not understand" their brief conversation and that "appreciation is the only basis for your reassignment, not a disagreement over news content." She explained that he had been named" Development Specialist for News Operations for Pacifica" and would consult on a newly-created Task Force on Programming and Governance.

Minutes later, Dan received a news release that had gone out to the press announcing his new appointment. No consultation. Chadwick had never discussed this with him.

It is clear that Dan was punished for his decision to air the Pacifica story, and that we are now witnessing Chadwick's shoddy attempts at covering up his ouster.

It is also an insult to us as journalists, and to those well-intentioned board members who proposed the creation of the task force, to pass off this cynical attempt to censor Dan as a genuine job opportunity for him.

We take issue with Chadwick's denial that she tried to oust him for his coverage of Pacifica.

If punishment was not the motive for Dan's removal from his position, then what is the rationale for having reassigned him so abruptly, without prior notice, and without any explanation? Why not reassign him to Bureau Chief/National Program Director, jobs that have been vacant for a year and desperately need to be filled?

It is actions like these, often erratic, arbitrary and painfully dishonest, that have shaken our faith in Chadwick's management to the core. Thus, we are appealing to you, Pacifica's higher body, to intervene swiftly in this matter.

In addition, we appeal to you because in Chadwick's e-mail to Dan, she ended by saying "these changes were made during the Pacifica National Board Meeting in Houston this weekend." This clearly implies that you had something to do with this decision. Whether you did or not, we ask you to step in.

We are not questioning whether Lynn Chadwick as a manager has a right to make staff changes, but whether she is right to do this. This decision has grave implications for our future as a credible news organization. Our integrity and independence are at stake.

Pacifica cannot afford to be rocked again by another scandal.

Attached please find the letter that we wrote to Dr. Berry before Dan's "new job" was publicly announced.

Thank you for your consideration to this matter, and we look forward to your prompt response.

Verna Avery Brown, Pacifica Network News anchor,
Amy Goodman, Democracy Now! host.
Maria Carrion, Democracy Now! producer.
David Love, Democracy Now! producer.
Juan Gonzalez, Democracy Now! co-host.

November 3, 1999
To Dr. Mary Frances Berry,

On Monday morning, November 1, Dan Coughlin was informed by Executive Director Lynn Chadwick via e-mail that he was no longer in charge of the Pacifica Network News, but "reassigned to developing the plan for PNN in 2001." No further explanation was provided. In a follow-up phone conversation on Tuesday, November 2, Lynn informed him that his ouster was due to his decision to include a report on a protest against Pacifica on PNN.

The story at issue was a thirty-second item that aired on Wednesday, October 27. It reported that sixteen Pacifica affiliates had staged a one-day boycott of Pacifica national programs in protest of management's handling of the KPFA crisis.

We agree with Dan's decision to air Wednesday's report. If a quarter of CBS affiliates did not run the CBS Evening News, we see that as newsworthy. If a quarter of NPR affiliates did not run All Things Considered, it is newsworthy. A quarter of Pacifica's affiliates did not run Pacifica Network News or Democracy Now. We think that is newsworthy.

But even if management disagrees with Dan's decision to air the story, the actions against him lack all proportionality. No discussion of the incident. No warning to him. This is no way to treat an employee who has demonstrated his commitment and professionalism to the network for years - first as producer of Democracy Now!, which he helped to build into the successful program that it is today, and then as news director of PNN.

In addition to the daily demands of producing a national news program, Dan has also successfully held Pacifica National Programming together as the only senior manager in a unit where once there were three. With the executive director consumed by the Pacifica crisis, the posts of National Programming Director and Bureau Chief have both been vacant for almost a year. Despite this critical staff shortage, he has produced a high-quality newscast, rooted in the grassroots tradition of Pacifica Radio.

In the last months, Dan has also weathered the Pacifica crisis, fielding hundreds of calls of concerned listeners, and providing technical and moral support to the scores of affiliates that did not know whether Pacifica national programs would continue, in light of the crisis and near collapse of the Ku satellite system, which delivers national programs to radio stations around the country.

Dan is known for insisting upon the editorial independence and balanced reporting at PNN, even during the Pacifica crisis. He courageously defended the right of Pacifica journalists to report on the ongoing controversy, even when some Pacifica stations excised those stories from their broadcasts. For a time, we reported on the Pacifica crisis at the risk of losing our jobs. Then, on June 27, 1999, the Pacifica National Board affirmed that Pacifica National Programming has the right and the responsibility to cover the issue.

This past July 14, the morning after KPFA was shut down, Lynn Chadwick participated in a Democracy Now! discussion on the crisis, a program that was aired by some Pacifica stations and censored by others. Then Lynn gave some inexplicably confusing signals by having the program removed from the Pacifica archives.

In September, at Dan's initiative, he and Lynn tried to clear up the confusion and come up with national guidelines on the coverage of the Pacifica crisis. Now, without prior warning or reprimand, he is removed from his job.

This action once again sends a chilling message to the entire Pacifica staff -- that individual judgments on whether to air a story about the on-going crisis should not be based solely on whether we consider the issue newsworthy, but also on whether we will be ousted or summarily transferred for that decision. Dan's removal fundamentally weakens the independence of national programming, and it violates the board's own directive.

In addition, his replacement by Mark Bevis-a vocal critic of the KPFA staff and community-sends yet another discouraging message: side with management and you'll be promoted, maintain independent and professional coverage of the crisis and you will be pushed aside. As you know, several months ago, in the midst of the KPFA closure, Lynn Chadwick attempted to make Mark Bevis, Bureau Chief. After fierce internal opposition, you revoked that decision.

That opposition stemmed from the belief many of us hold that Mark Bevis, when it comes to discussions of race, gender, and sexual orientation, belittles rather than broadens the debate. Pacifica Network News anchor Verna Avery Brown has made it clear to Lynn Chadwick and to successive news directors that she will not work on days Mark is producing the newscast. Three of Mark's immediate supervisors had repeated showdowns with him over his failure to include voices of grassroots activists and women in his reporting, something they felt was directly contrary to long-held Pacifica principles. Democracy Now! Host Amy Goodman has had many similar experiences with him. In short, each have found him to be a divisive individual who ridicules those with a deep desire for social change.

We strongly believe that Dan Coughlin's ouster can only undermine the editorial content and direction of Pacifica. It is a violation of the most basic journalistic standards at a time when those standards are being increasingly corrupted and debased within the commercial broadcast media. Pacifica's mission, we have always told our listeners, is supposed to be different. We cannot stand idly by while this network becomes a pale version of what it was intended to be.

In summary, we urge:

  1. An immediate meeting with you to discuss our concerns.
  2. The return of Dan Coughlin as News Director, or his promotion to Bureau Chief, the job he has been performing de facto for almost a year
  3. The reassignment of Mark Bevis out of management
  4. No retribution against any of us for writing this letter

We the undersigned represent the public voice of Pacifica around the country. Many of us have invested our working lives and our creative energy in helping to build this network. We believe Pacifica is the only true home for journalists with a passion for social justice. We want to continue working here but find it increasingly difficult to do so given the current situation.

We look forward to your immediate response.

Verna Avery Brown, Pacifica Network News anchor
Amy Goodman, Democracy Now! host
Maria Carrion, Democracy Now! producer
David Love,Democracy Now! producer
Juan Gonzalez, Democracy Now! co-host

November 5, 1999

Dear Dr. Mary Frances Berry and Members of the Pacifica National Board:

We, the undersigned Pacifica News Directors and news staff write you to protest the reassignment of Pacifica Network News Executive Producer Dan Coughlin. He should be reinstated immediately.

We understand that Dan was removed because of a brief news spot that aired on Pacifica Network News on October 27, reporting a one-day boycott of Pacifica programming by affiliate stations. That boycott was timed to occur before the Pacifica National Board meeting to protest the actions Pacifica has taken at KFPA during the seven month long crisis.

Upholding a news director's right to make independent editorial decisions is a fundamental journalistic principle. That a Pacifica News Producer could be terminated for running a story that might be embarrassing to Pacifica is deplorable. Pacifica's on-going attempts at censorship have failed to quell the crisis. Removing Dan has fanned its flames.

The protracted controversy is news which has been covered by the New York Times, the Washington Post, National Public Radio, CNN, Salon, U.S. News and World Report, the Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle and Le Monde in France. Countless commercial and non-commercial radio stations and radio networks have covered the crisis. Many of them covered the story before Pacifica Network News ever aired a single report.

Last weekend, the Pacifica National Board took a number of steps in the right direction. You pledged not to sell any Pacifica station. You declared that listener funds will not be used to pay for the security guards and public relations firms employed during the 21-day lockout at KFPA. You seated Tomas Moran, a man supported by KPFA staff and the Pacifica listening community.

But these positive developments have been countered by the sudden dismissal of Dan, which has deepened the crisis at Pacifica.

We demand that you reinstate Dan Coughlin as Executive Producer of Pacifica Network News.

Sincerely,

KPFA News Directors and news staff:
Aileen Alfandary,
Mark Mericle,
Wendell Harper.

WBAI News Directors and news staff:
Jose Santiago,
David Sears,
Leslie George.

PACIFICA FOUNDATION NEWS RELEASE

For immediate release: November 3, 1999

For further information, call 510 843 0130 x 461

DAN COUGHLIN TO HEAD PACIFICA TASK FORCE ON PROGRAMMING AND GOVERNANCE

(Berkeley) - November 3- The Pacifica Foundation announced today that Dan Coughlin, News Director for Pacifica National News, has been named Development Specialist for News Operations for Pacifica. In this new role, Coughlin will work with the newly created Task Force on Programming and Governance. Coughlin, who has been with Pacifica for several years and has held positions such as producer of Democracy Now, Pacifica's daily national

public affairs program, will continue to work from the Pacifica Washington DC bureau.

The creation of the Task Force was announced at the Pacifica Board meeting held October 30 - 31 in Houston. Its goal is to develop a shared programming and governance vision throughout the organization. The Task Force will begin at the grassroots level and provide recommendations on how to best advance Pacifica's mission.

The Board hopes the Task Force will begin work as soon as possible, said Lynn Chadwick, Pacifica's Executive Director. "Because we are dedicated to including opinions from every spectrum of our audience and want a shared programming vision, we wanted someone with Dan's news experience to consult

with the Task Force. The success of the Task Force depends on participation

by stakeholders throughout the organization and Pacifica community and we know Dan will bring his understanding of the entire organization to the work," said Chadwick.

Mark Bevis, a longtime reporter for the Pacifica National News, has agreed to step in as Acting News Director. Bevis, who also works out of the Washington DC Pacifica bureau, has been with Pacifica for several years and has served

as a reporter for Pacifica and other news organizations. "We know Mark will continue to make Pacifica National News the strong voice of progressive radio, and see that voices from East Timor and other under-reported areas of the world will continue to be heard on our stations and affiliates," added Chadwick.

The Pacifica Foundation, founded in 1946, owns five radio stations and has dozens of affiliates throughout community radio. Pacifica's goals are to "promote cultural diversity and pluralistic community expression, to contribute to a lasting understanding between individuals of all nations, races, creeds and colors, to promote freedom of the press as a forum for various viewpoints, and to maintain an independent funding base."

###

Letter of Ralph Engelman to Pacifica Board Chair Mary Frances Berry and other Board members:

I am disturbed that the recommendation for the creation of a Task Force on Governance and Programming is being used to obfuscate and rationalize the removal of Dan Coughlin as news director of Pacifica National News (PNN). As you know, the recommendation was contained in a document co-authored by four of us with long histories with Pacifica entitled "Pacifica's Crisis: Underlying Causes and Prescriptions for Renewal."

As I understand it, what prompted Dan's removal as news director was coverage on PNN of a one-day boycott of Pacifica national programming by 16 affiliates. He and the public were told that he was merely being reassigned to serve as a consultant on the newly created Task Force--despite the fact that he was never consulted about the change. These measures are not only a blow to PNN, but threaten to taint the work of the Task Force before it gets off the ground.

The treatment of Dan violates the letter and the spirit of our manifesto on Pacifica's crisis and future. We wrote it to encourage the renewal of Pacifica's mission as the most important progressive voice in American broadcasting. We called for fostering greater democratic structures inside Pacifica and increasing our dialogue with the constituencies we serve. Our desire was to help provide a mechanism for establishing a renewed sense of purpose and unity, not a fig-leaf for arbitary and divisive action.

As both an activist and a professor of journalism, I can attest to Dan Coughlin's high standing as a journalist among progressives and community radio broadcasters across the country. The recent crisis has complicated Pacifica's relations with its affiliates. I know for a fact that Dan's removal now as news director of PNN--if not reversed--threatens to create irreparable harm to national programming and the affiliate system that many in Pacifica have worked so hard and so successfully to build.

I am very pleased that the Pacifica national board has voted to launch the Task Force. The way it is constituted will prove critical to its success. The reinstatement of Dan Coughlin as news director of PNN will remove a shadow over the Task Force and over the national board's efforts to lead Pacifica into the new millennium.

With best regards,
Ralph Engelman

November 6

To Mary and members of the Pacifica Board -

I understand that at the Board meeting, you moved to create a Task Force on Programming and Governance based in part on a proposal I prepared. This could be a critical step for the organization - if there is integrity behind it. At the moment, that seems to have been lost.

I was genuinely alarmed to learn about Dan Coughlin's summary dismissal from the National News Bureau on Monday, followed 2 days later by his "assignment" to this Task Force -- where Andrea Cisco and Lynn Chadwick "will be working with Nan Rubin...on the TF effort."

You must remove my association from this action. I will have no part of it.

As I write this, I am NOT working on the TF effort. I have no agreement with Pacifica about my involvement, and I have not even had any conversations with anyone about the project - staffing or otherwise, including my own participation.

Dan's summary dismissal, without even a conversation, appears punitive and unjustified. It has outraged the national news staff and threatens to cripple the Bureau. Dan's shabby treatment is exactly the kind of hostile action that has been destroying the credibility of Pacifica for years, demoralizing staff and supporters alike and feeding the growing league of critics.

Equally problematic is this forced reassignment to the TF without his consent. It taints the entire TF concept before it is even started, giving

the appearance of a manipulated procedure and discrediting its integrity before it has even been formed.

If you have any commitment to your own decisions, you cannot allow this to happen. If you want this TF to work, I urge the Board to reverse this situation immediately. If not, the glimmer of progress that was created will be lost and the cynicism of the critics will seem to be completely justified.

The most serious obstacle facing the TF is widespread and deep mistrust of the national staff and board, based on many decisions and actions over the past year. Without a strong affirmative gesture demonstrating that THIS process will be genuine, any TF will be a futile and wasteful exercise.

This action poses just such a threat. When I was asked to draft a plan, I made it clear that, unless the process was conducted honestly and openly, my own involvement would be in question. If this decision is uphel d, I will have to withdraw from whatever role I might have had. I am sorry, but I cannot be part of any effort that has been corrupted before it even had a chance.

Most Sincerely,

Nan Rubin
Community Media Services
122 W 27th St. 10th Fl
NYC NY 10001

Here's the text of the October 27 item that prompted the ouster of Pacifica's news director:

"Sixteen affiliates of the Pacifica Radio network today boycotted Pacifica programming to show their concern about the handling of a labor-management dispute at Pacifica station KPFA in Berkeley. This summer more than 100 people were arrested and thousands took to the streets at the oldest listener sponsored station in the country to protest Pacifica staffing decisions. Hurt during the dispute was Pacifica satellite distribution system which provides programming to some 63 stations nationwide. The sixteen Pacifica affiliates in eleven states called for the network to adopt new open accountable governance, and to continue to support community-based journalism which, they said, had made Pacifica great."

 

Date: Fri, 19 Nov 1999 15:31:22 -0800
To: mbevis@Pacifica.org, donrush@Pacifica.org, jgill@Pacifica.org, liiyama@Pacifica.org, amyg@Pacifica.org, mfberry@sas.upenn.edu, lynnchad@aol.com
From: JoAnn Kawell
Subject: Coughlin Case

Cc: savepacifica@peacenet.org

As a former director (1983-85) of Pacifica's National News Service, I was appalled to see that one of my successors, Dan Coughlin, had been removed from his post for doing his job: putting a newsworthy story on the air. I cannot, however, say that I was surprised. Perhaps my stock of shock, outrage, and disbelief was used up this summer when I saw KPFA padlocked and taken off the air by a Pacifica board and managers who seem to have lost all conception of what *listener-sponsored COMMUNITY radio* means.

However this latest action, Coughlin's removal, shows definitively that those in charge of Pacifica have also lost touch with the basic ideals of journalism as it is taught (if not always practiced) everywhere in this country. As someone who reported for a big city paper and wire service and was also employed as an editor at National Public Radio (1981-83) before coming to Pacifica, I can tell you that the type of direct censorship of news personnel and programming which Pacifica management has been engaging in throughout the recent "crisis" would be reprehensible at *any* U.S. media outlet, not just one which claims to present an alternative.

It behooves *all* current Pacifica staff members to support Coughlin and to call for his reinstatement as well as the return to the air of the steadily increasing numbers of Pacifica staff and volunteers who have been fired or eased out of their on-air posts for breaking the so-called "gag order." If you cannot see the importance of opposing censorship at Pacifica, of all places, perhaps *you* are working at the wrong network.

I also call, once again, on Lynn Chadwick and Mary Frances Berry to, simply, resign. You have so far lost perspective on the goals and purpose of the network you claim to run that there is no other remedy.

Jo Ann Kawell
Berkeley, CA