CPB Office of the Ombudsman

Fundraising Ethics and WBAI

Joel Kaplan

June 11, 2013

One of the first warnings I received when I assumed the position of CPB ombudsman two years ago had to do with the Pacifica Foundation-owned and operated radio stations across the country.

It seems like those stations did not play by the same set of rules that most public radio stations adhered to, particularly when it came to issues of objectivity and balance.

But so far during my tenure as ombudsman there have not been a significant number of complaints about any of the Pacifica stations—until now.

Louis Bedrock, a retired science teacher who lives in Roselle, New Jersey, says that WBAI, the Pacifica station in New York City, is engaging in ethically-challenged fundraising activities.

“It used to raise money by offering memberships to its listeners and by soliciting donations in addition to membership fees,” Mr. Bedrock writes. “For many years, this formula worked.

“In recent years, because of changes in management and programming, the station's tactics for fundraising has changed. With a payroll that has swollen to approximately $1.5 million, 'marathons' now last over a month and are held every three months. Sometimes they are held more often and for longer periods.

“In what I believe is a violation of the station's non-profit status, WBAI raises money be selling books, CDs and DVDs at greatly inflated prices.” He goes on to say that among the items for sale are materials produced by employees of the station.

“As a recovering cancer patient, I am offended by the hawking of materials that offer outlandish 'alternative' cures for cancer. Curing cancer by diet, and special programs that the government and medical establishment repress is the theme of many of the station's premiums,” Mr. Bedrock added.

For more than a month, we have tried to contact the general manager and other employees at WBAI to no avail. They have not responded to either email messages or phone calls.

Chris Albertson, a former general manger at WBAI in the 1960s, agrees with Mr. Bedrock that the station has strayed from its mission and says it has become unlistenable. He agreed that WBAI may have “stepped over their legal bounds” when it comes to fundraising.

“It's getting worse and worse with more and more fundraising,” Mr. Albertson said. “I started the marathon in 1964 because we needed funds. We weren't offering any premiums; WBAI was the premium.

“Now it's like constant fundraising, months at a time. The things they are offering, they are actually lying to the listeners. One or two fundraisers ago they were offering something called Double Helix water that they said would cure not only cancer, but leukemia and autism. All you needed was a drop or two in a bigger container and it would cure it. It was outrageous.”

It would be nice to hear from WBAI but since they have declined to respond to any overture for comment, it has been impossible to get the station's point of view. Neither station general manager Berthold Reimers nor public affairs director Kathy Davis has responded to any inquiries.

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