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The impending pro-war Democratic Party takeover of Pacifica Radio

Originally published: The Grayzone on July 1, 2023 (more by The Grayzone)  |

I can’t imagine the New York Times, flawed as it is in many ways, would be part of some grand conspiracy to implicate Assad.

-Sonali Kolhatkar, A Syrian Speaks Out on Trump’s Latest Bombing, on Pacifica Radio’s KPFA-Northern California, KPFK-Los Angeles, and KPFT-Houston in April 2018

When Pacifica host Sonali Kolhatkar aired an interview with Syrian regime change activist Robin Yassin-Kassab, her guest was adamant about one point in particular: that President Trump had not bombed enough in response to unproven allegations of chemical attacks in Syria.

According to Yassin-Kassab, Trump had likely only struck a few “probably empty chemical weapons sites” and his refusal to be drawn more fully into the conflict meant that he was effectively guilty of collaboration with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad:

The actual policy in Syria, with regard to the West, is not regime change. It’s appeasement or perhaps collaboration. There’s no evidence that the United States or the West or the Europeans have actually tried to get rid of Assad.

Kolhatkar agreed, and together the two spent much of the hour-long interview chastising leftists who’d objected to the bombing.

“Sadly, on the left here in the United States, and I believe in the UK as well, we’re hearing a lot of people saying, ‘there’s no way Assad had any responsibility for this chemical attack because he had nothing to gain,” she complained, although she never made clear how the Syrian government would benefit by inviting U.S. airstrikes.

“But clearly he did have something to gain, and he gained it,” she insisted.

By not embracing a more aggressive policy in Syria, they agreed, Trump had shown his cards to Assad and demonstrated that the Syrian President could get away with using chemical weapons with little resistance from the West. She cited Reuters, a UK intelligence-linked news agency:

Reuters just put out a piece in the last couple of days… saying ‘Syria attack triggered Western action, but on the ground Assad gained.’

“Under pressure from beleaguered residents and facing Russian threats of further such attacks, the rebel group Jaish al-Islam finally agreed to surrender Douma and leave for the Turkish border,” she quoted, seemingly agreeing that the loss of territory by the Saudi-backed jihadist militia represented a disappointment for Syrians.

Another source frequently cited by Kolhatkar is Bellingcat founder Eliot Higgins, whom she introduced to her audience in a 2021 segment thusly:

In an age of disinformation and misinformation, where right wing authoritarians are on the rise, an unlikely institution battling such dangerous trends has emerged: in the form of an international collective of citizen journalists and computer sleuths. Bellingcat, founded by my guest Eliot Higgins, is the force behind bombshell revelations centered on the Syrian war, Russian political persecutions, and pro-Trump white supremacists in the U.S.

In the course of her sympathetic interview, Kolhatkar goes on to contrast Higgins’ establishment-friendly output with the work of jailed Wikileaks publisher Julian Assange, whom she characterizes as a kind of rogue information warrior hellbent on releasing state secrets.

You also write in your book about Wikileaks, which enjoys a lot of support on the left in the United States, and often when we think about, y’know, sort of citizen-led accountability of intelligence agencies and governments, Wikileaks often comes up, but you say that Wikileaks was about leaking classified information, which is different from what your organization, what Bellingcat does. Can you expand on that a little bit more in terms of the difference between accessing information and making it public versus actual sleuthing, actual investigation, y’know, connecting dots through evidence-based research?

Throughout the interview, Kolhatkar defers to Higgins on virtually every matter he turns his attention to–despite the fact that Bellingcat is widely considered to be a tool of U.S./EU/NATO foreign policy and is funded by “private and public foundations” including U.S. and UK intelligence contractors that profit from Western interventionism. While the group’s website insists it doesn’t take money “directly from governments,” it’s received grants from the National Endowment for Democracy, a U.S. government-funded CIA cutout known for promoting destabilization and regime change in states targeted by the West.

Why review Sonali Kolhatkar’s Pacifica programming now?

Although Pacifica Radio established its pro-peace bona fides largely by countering efforts to promote imperialist wars and regime change operations, when it came to Syria, different considerations seemed to be at play. Instead, Kolhatkar represents a new generation of Pacifica hosts who enthusiastically embrace establishment media narratives.

A faction within the Pacifica audience and its elected governance structure put forth Kolhatkar and another Pacifica host, Ian Masters, as prominent endorsers on their website, New Day Pacifica. If New Day wins the internal elections, listeners are likely to hear a lot more of them at the five major metropolitan stations (KPFA-Northern California, KPFK-Los Angeles, KPFT-Houston, WBAI-New York City, WPFW-Washington, D.C) in the run-up to the 2024 U.S. presidential election.

Ian Masters left KPFK’s airwaves angrily in August 2021, urging his audience to stop supporting the station because he’d been told to stop ranting about Pacifica’s internal politics on the air. But his show, Background Briefing with Ian Masters, now airs on KPFA in the early mornings and afternoons four days a week, with Kolhatkar’s show Rising Up taking its place on Fridays. They have KPFA’s weekday 3:00 to 4:00 pm slot sewn up between them.

Of Masters’s last 25 shows, 15 have been focused on the alleged perfidy of Donald Trump–more often than not as the lead story. He frequently rails against the sins of Republicans and Vladimir Putin, insists that Russiagate was real, advocates for Joe Biden and his son Hunter, defends the U.S. role in the US/Russian proxy war in Ukraine, and calls for evermore advanced weapons for Ukraine.

According to a Pacifica manager who preferred to remain anonymous, New Day Pacifica “are aiming at having Pacifica be an adjunct of the Biden re-election campaign by as early in 2024 as possible.”

New Day Pacifica came to prominence in 2021 when it launched a failed referendum which would have radically altered the bylaws for governing Pacifica democratically. This year, the group is endorsing staff and listener candidates in the upcoming elections for the Local Station Boards. Those elected to the Local Station Boards will in turn elect representatives to the Pacifica National Board (PNB), which ultimately runs the show.

The PNB hires an Executive Director who hires General Managers who hire Program Directors at each station, but ultimately, these elections are about two things: financial strategy and programming.

But the decisions made in this fall’s elections will ultimately echo across the airwaves of five major U.S. cities.

A recent Roots Action Education Fund mailer quotes Kolhatkar saying,

We are in a battle for the heart and soul of Pacifica… At stake is whether Pacifica represents the highest standards of journalistic integrity, or a mix of snake oil quackery and fake radicalism.


Voting in Local Station Board elections at Pacifica’s five metropolitan stations is open to anyone who contributed at least $25 to one of the five in the past year.

Candidate literature will be mailed and e-mailed to eligible voters and distributed at community events.

Balloting will take place between August 15 and September 20, with results announced on October 1.

The antiwar, anti-imperialist campaigns resisting the Democratic Party takeover are represented on the website Rescue Pacifica.

In a recent statement, Rescue Pacifica evokes the station’s long legacy of peace advocacy, explaining that “since 1949, KPFA has stood up to Joe McCarthy and HUAC and opposed the wars in Korea and Vietnam as well as nuclear armament.”

“This remarkable radio network has survived many perils, but not all,” the message continues.

It’s never, ever been out of danger.

The corporations and their government agencies, the CIA etc., which subvert the media, overthrow democratically elected leaders and impose dictatorships around the world, are a standing threat to all independent media–including Pacifica.

The group noted that there’s a precedent for the liberal campaign to capture the stations. “During the 1990s operatives of the Bill Clinton White House took over KPFA/Pacifica,” they write, in reference to Mary Francis Berry, a Clinton appointee to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission who served on the Pacifica National Board until she was ousted in early 2000. Her departure came amid accusations that she used her connections at the Justice Department to deploy police against ‘Free Pacifica’ protestors during a protracted internal dispute.

Urging the station’s contributors to have their voices heard in the upcoming elections, the statement added:

We need to restore and defend Pacifica’s antiwar voice and defend grassroots social justice programs.

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