Democracy Now Is Coming to Town

Confronting the Censorship of Public Radio in Buffalo

By Michael I. Niman ArtVoice 11/6/03


Listen to the radio in Buffalo and you’ll pick up the oxymoronic lingo of National Public Radio, replete with celebrations of our new fiscal miracle, the “jobless economic recovery.”  The theory is simple.  The nation has lost millions of jobs over the last  two years.  But this is “downsizing.”  And downsizing is good.  Labor is an expense.  When expenses are cut, profits rise.  Profit is good.  By eliminating American workers, mostly through labor transfers to overseas sweatshops, we are eliminating the biggest drain on profits – that being expenses, as in workers earning a living wage.  Get it.  You might be unemployed, but don’t be selfish about it.  You’re contributing to our economic recovery.  Or you might be underemployed, electronically tethered to a cubicle – but you could be unemployed, so shut up.

America on a Four Buck High

This is the new Orwellian reality as presented on National Public Radio.  This jobless boom is fueled, according to NPR’s economic punditry, by “President Bush’s tax cut.”  According to Harper’s magazine, however, that cut will amount to less than $100 for the poorest 88% of Americans – with the average tax cut in that group being around four dollars. Now, I can party pretty hard with my four bucks – but my pint of stout ain’t going to jumpstart anyone’s economy.  No doubt, the folks in the nation’s top 12% income bracket might be partying a bit harder – but the notion of their excesses somehow raising the rest of us up, as we grovel for the opportunities to polish their Lexuses (or is that Lexi?), is the makings of Reaganomics, or what George Bush senior once called “Voodoo economics.”  The Reagan “trickle down” came more as a stream of urine – and America has never been the same, as evidenced by NPR’s workers-be-damned program lineup. 

Listeners tuning into Buffalo ’s two news and information oriented NPR affiliates will hear five regularly scheduled programs designed for investors – but not a single program presenting news from a labor perspective.  There’s the Marketplace Morning and afternoon shows, both broadcast on WBFO-FM and WNED-AM.  WNED-AM also airs the Nightly Business Report, Sound Money and The Motley Fool.  Tune into WNED-TV and you can watch the same Nightly Business Report whose audio track is also broadcast on WNED-AM.  And if you’re really clamoring for the absurd, PBS seems to have brought Vietnam ’s arch prince of death, General Alexander Haig, back from the crypts of Hell.  Propped up in a swivel chair, with rigor mortis-like finesse, he hosts The World Business Review, aired each weeknight on WNED-TV.

Hitting the Lottery at The Church of Warren Buffet

If you worship at the Church of Warren Buffet; if you have millions riding on the stock market; if you’re worried about labor expenses at your footwear factory; if you want to know about how to use offshore corporations to avoid paying your share of US taxes; or if you’re planning on hitting the lottery and need a pre-winning investment plan (I didn’t make this last one up – it came right off of NPR)  – Buffalo’s airwaves have a show for you.

If you’re a disabled welfare recipient facing termination under the new draconian “welfare reform” rules; if you’re a freshly downsized machinist worried about making your next mortgage payment on your new Wal Mart salary; if you have no health insurance and you’re wondering how to pay for prescription drugs without losing your home; if you’re concerned that toxic fumes in your workplace might slowly be killing you; of if you just plain want to think critically about the world around you – Buffalo radio and television outlets have little to offer.

To truly understand the problem, we need to revisit the Carnegie Commission’s original mandate for public broadcasting in America .  It was simple and to the point.  The challenge for public broadcasters in the United States , the commission said, was to provide “a voice for groups in the community that may otherwise be unheard, . . . a forum for debate and controversy.”

Public broadcasting, the argument went, was needed to counter the commercial domination of the public airwaves – in essence preserving an electronic ghetto where news and views that countered the prevailing corporate winds would be herded.

As the FCC abandoned its mandate to assure that the public airwaves (meaning all broadcast airwaves) would be used in the public interest, this smattering of noncommercial radio and TV stations became increasingly more important in maintaining a democratic political dialog in the presence of a corporate dominated media.

Alexander Haig Back from the Crypt

Now fast forward to today and zero in on Buffalo .  Public broadcasting, as it was supposed to be, is dead.  The Western New York Public Broadcasting Association (WNYPBA) is bought and paid for by some of the very groups they should be scrutinizing the most.  Starved of public funds since the Reagan era, they’re now funded by organizations such as Amica Insurance, HSBC Bank, M&T Bank, Pepsi, Rite Aid, Warren Buffet’s Buffalo News, Ciminelli Development, NFG, Verizon Telecom, etc.  The national programs they carry are bought and paid for by a host of multinational corporations active in, among other things, the energy, weapons, communication, chemical and bioengineering sectors of the economy.  Public broadcasting, as it was meant to be, is dead – bought, killed and buried – with the ghost of Alexander Haig haunting its festering corpse.

There is an alternative in the form of cutting edge critical news programs, the most notable of which is Pacifica Radio’s “Democracy Now.”  Hosted by award winning journalist, Amy Goodman, Democracy Now is currently heard on public radio stations in over 150 American cities – but not Buffalo .  In the past, usually around public radio’s pledge weeks, I’ve asked in vein why people in places like Auburn and Binghamton can tune into Democracy Now, but listeners in Buffalo , with three public radio stations, can’t. 

Over the years, people made contingent pledges to both WBFO and WNED, promising to support the airing of Democracy Now. The response from both stations has been a consistent No! –  No Democracy Now.  Instead, they continue to waste airtime running the same politically loaded and ethically bankrupt investor oriented programs on both stations.

Point of View Censorship

The latest attempt to bring Democracy Now to Buffalo comes from a grassroots group of public radio listeners, The Buffalo Coalition for Progressive Media.  The coalition had hoped to work with WNYPBA to raise money to support both WNED-AM and Democracy Now. Coalition member, Brian Brown-Cashdollar, however, reported that his discussions with local public radio officials were fruitless.  One WNYPBA Vice President, for example, told Cashdollar that the name of the group, Coalition for Progressive Radio, “scared the hell” out of him.  He went on to explain that WNED would never carry Democracy Now, since it is, in his words, “point of view journalism.”

This argument against “point of view journalism” seems to be at the heart of WNYPBA’s rhetorical argument rationalizing their continued censorship of Amy Goodman. Invoking this catch phrase would seem to lend an air of academic credibility to an otherwise embarrassing policy.  All journalism, however, encompasses a point of view, or various points of view – with the more propagandistic pieces attempting to hide the author’s bias.

Business Week magazine, ironically, uses this same term to describe themselves, and hence, the investor-oriented programming that dominates WNED-AM.  In a promotional piece describing their magazine, Business Week’s publishers explain, “we call this point-of-view journalism because it goes beyond routine analysis to give our audience perspective on the ever-changing world of business.”  This “point of view journalism” doesn’t seem to bother the honchos at WNED.  When Amy Goodman applies the same theory to covering the ever-changing world of war, political corruption, environmental degradation, labor abuses and corporate politics – in essence challenging the dominant point of view presented by WNED’s other programs, a wall of censorship arises.

Support Real Public Radio – Not WNED & WBFO

Democracy Now, however, is coming to Buffalo despite this censorship!  The Progressive Media Alliance, in response to a new market demand for hart hitting news, is raising money to buy commercial airtime to run Democracy Now – WNYPBA be damned.

The group, currently in negotiations with various local radio stations, has budgeted $20,000 to air Democracy Now for one year, hoping to have the program up and running by January.  The program itself will then function as a fundraising tool to both sustain itself and to raise money to run other hard hitting news programs from Pacifica Radio, the Free Speech Network, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, etc.

Here’s where Buffalo ’s local public radio bureaucrats need to listen up.  This money is not going to materialize out of thin air.  Nobody expects Buffalo to be able to support a fourth public radio station -- there is only a finite amount of money that this community can afford to give to public radio.  Hence, whatever money is raised to support airing Democracy Now will in all likelihood come straight from the coffers of the organizations who have refused to run people-oriented news programming –  WNYPBA and WBFO.  Listeners support public radio because they want an alternative not otherwise available. And we begrudgingly give to our local public radio stations hoping to encourage them to be that alternative.  They’re not fulfilling that role. 

Amy Goodman Coming to Buffalo

Democracy Now is the real deal.  It’s what public radio can and should be.  It’s criminal that the Buffalo community is being forced to raise money to buy commercial airtime to run public radio programming.  But this is the reality we now face – and we’ll rise to the challenge and overcome the censorship imposed upon us by the people who control our local public radio assets.  

On December 3rd, Amy Goodman is coming to town to speak at an afternoon fundraiser at the Hallwall's Contemporary Arts Center (time between 4 and 6 PM is yet to be announced) in the Tri Main Center , 2495 Main Street .  This will be a good time for public radio supporters to ante up next year’s pledge dollars, not to the censors at WNTPBA and WBFO, but to The Coalition for Progressive Media.  People interested in getting involved with the Coalition or donating money to the drive to bring Democracy Now to Buffalo should call Brian Brown Cashdollar at 716-833-5416 (M-F during business hours).


Dr. Michael I. Niman’s previous columns are archived at  Democracy Now can be streamed from the web at

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