News Hostage

You're a liberal national organization that needs to abandon all its free-speech principles and shut down a historic radio station you own in California. Who you gonna call to do the dirty work?

Your local hatchet man in Houston, of course.

The Pacifica Foundation apparently grew tired in July of a months-long battle with staffers at KPFA, its Berkeley station, over the direction and content of the operation.

KPFA staffers and volunteers were resisting the national board's efforts to broaden the station's listener base. Depending on whom you believe, the dispute involved (according to station supporters) abandoning 50 years of giving a voice to the oppressed in order to play sappy mainstream music; or (according to those backing the national board) removing the station's head from its pot-addled hippie ass and dumping shows heard only by the host's 14 best friends in order to reach a wider audience, raise more funds and survive.

The board decided to take over the station. Trouble was, according to sources, they couldn't find any lackey willing to do the dirty work. Until they asked the general manager of Houston's Pacifica station, KPFT.

KPFT's Garland Ganter went to Berkeley and threw out the current staff — tossing one reporter who was in the middle of a live broadcast on the troubles — and padlocked the doors, triggering a series of demonstrations outside the station. He brought a fellow Houston employee with him, and they played taped shows for two weeks until the national board backed down July 28 and let the old crew back in.

Pacifica fans and employees here in Houston aren't surprised that Ganter was the man. KPFT is one of only five Pacifica-owned stations (besides Berkeley, the others are in New York, L.A. and Washington), and it has led the way in what critics see as the dumbing-down and mainstreaming of the once-radical media outlet.

In Ganter's dozen or so years here, KPFT's news operation has been axed, along with several local talk shows and ethnic music programs. A recent afternoon drive-time found the station playing Chris Isaak, Ziggy Marley and Radney Foster, which is dangerously close to VH-1 territory. Fund-raising and listenership are up, though. (Ganter did not return phone calls.)

Ganter's role in the KPFA fiasco has drawn some protests here, but nothing like KPFA news co-director Aileen Alfandary had hoped for during the height of the incident.

"We certainly hope the progressive community in Houston will make known that they don't appreciate paying Garland Ganter's salary to shut down KPFA," Alfandary said as the lockout was on.

She shouldn't have gotten her hopes up, said one current KPFT staffer: "The reason there were no real big local protests is that they've lost all those people. No one gives a shit about the station anymore. It doesn't stand for anything. It's just music."

Prefab News

Fox station KRIV-Channel 26 recently became the latest news operation to perform a journalistic blow job on Joe Arpaio, sheriff of Phoenix's Maricopa County. KRIV joined a long list of lazy media outlets eager to report on how Arpaio makes inmates wear pink underwear (snicker, snicker) and live in a no-frills tent city.

"He's the toughest sheriff in the West," enthused KRIV reporter Jim Hill on July 27, who also provided pictures of an inmate asking for Arpaio's autograph.

Allegations of brutality were mentioned and dismissed in passing. Not showing up at all was information that our sister paper, Phoenix New Times, has taken the lead in breaking: that the FBI is looking into allegations that Arpaio has mishandled inmate money and has fired or illegally intimidated the growing number of sheriff's department employees who think he's a joke. And that many of Arpaio's publicity-seeking "innovations" have failed to reduce recidivism.

It's just easier to talk about pink underwear, we guess.

The Saga Continues

Star Houston Chronicle columnist Thom Marshall is at it again. And again.

Few writers can squeeze more words out of a lame idea than the Chron's Metro columnist, but the man is outdoing himself lately. Ask yourself: How many 800-word columns could a mere mortal get out of the angle of counting how many cops work in Harris County?

Guess again. Higher. Then learn the answer and marvel at all that is Marshall: He has produced four columns on the subject in the last two months, and is threatening more.

How does he fill up the space? Well, Marshall has apparently never made a phone call to gather information without writing about how he made a phone call to gather information.

And then there was this on July 28. The top one-fourth of the day's effort was devoted to these knee-slapping high jinks:

"It was no doubt unintentional, but something funny happened when I called the FBI to ask how many agents are assigned to the local office.

"It was when the person who answered asked me to hold while being transferred to the agent assigned to handle media questions. Like many other offices you might call and be put on hold, the FBI lets you listen to music while you wait.

"An oldie was playing and I picked it up at the point in the song that goes, 'I won't be afraid, no I won't be afraid, just as long as you stand by me.'

"Under normal circumstances that might qualify as only mildly humorousŠ."

Oh, don't sell yourself short, Thom.

And, it turns out, he didn't, adding later that "[b]ecause of the song, that FBI call was one of the most entertaining I have made while conducting my cop inventory."

Next up: Marshall gets fascinated by shiny objects (a three-part series).

The intrepid columnist wasn't content to leave us chuckling, though, opting instead to end with a chilling threat: "For the next cop inventory report, I'll try to complete the list and total the results."

We'll be there, babe. Be sure to let us know if you used the phone.


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