(Updated 11/2012) Steve Brown is a member of the WBAI Local Station Board who in July 2012 began to openly push for the sale of all the Pacifica radio licenses “while they still have value” (see text of his letter here) and who is now using the “Big Lie” theory to falsely accuse the Justice and Unity Campaign of wanting to sell WBAI. Note that Brown’s appeal for selling the licenses is not some reluctant, lesser-evil mention of a dreaded hypothetical, but an option on which he expounds optimistically for eight paragraphs, with 2 variations – converting to an all-Internet network or donating the proceeds of the 5 sales to another organization. Brown concludes by singing the praises of the latter, saying that if it was adopted, “History would truly be able to say of Pacifica, as Malcolm said of the Thane of Cawdor, that ‘“Nothing became his life like the leaving it.’”
In 2009, during his previous stint on the board, his conduct was found by an outside attorney retained by the Pacifica National Board to warrant the recall petition signed by more than 400 WBAI members – more than enough to put it on a ballot (see petition text here . However, his allies were a majority on the national board and stalled the petition until Brown was off the local board due to term limits. The bylaws state “A Delegate removed…shall not be eligible for election as a delegate for a period of three (3) years.” If the recall had been voted successfully, Steve Brown would not be on the board now.
What is “ACE”
Brown is the creator of a paper organization called the “Alliance for Community Elections” (ACE), which postures as an independent authority on qualified board candidates, but actually uses its expensive, slick mailers to voters to aggressively promote his chosen slate. He is also the purveyor, with board member Carolyn Birden, of the myth of a violent WBAI filled with out-of-control Black people. (For a compilation of racist and racially stereotypical statements by ACE members and endorsees, click here. ACE’s campaign mailings to voters, like his mass emails sent to thousands of listeners, have been filled with unfounded, unsubstantiated allegations against political opponents in management and staff. The mailers regularly use highly deceptive tactics, such as showing the faces of respected progressives, misleadingly implying their endorsement of the ACE slate.
Steve Brown’s Direct Mail Career
Steve Brown is also a multi-millionaire with a history of being one of the biggest direct mail marketers in the US. According to the Seattle Times, at one point Steve Brown claimed to be responsible for four percent of all the junk mail in the country. According to the New York Times, in 1986 alone he earned $500,000 in salary and up to $13 million in dividends.
The businesses Steve Brown owned engaged in questionable practices that caused the Attorneys General of seven states, including New York, to step in. They “investigated, filed suit or forced the company to halt various business practices.” (NYT) The Times notes, “The F.T.C. in 1986 issued a consent decree under which Raffoler [one of Brown's business names], without admitting guilt, paid a $150,000 penalty and agreed not to violate mail order rules.”
In 1988, Elizabeth Bradford, an assistant attorney general, said in a complaint filed in State Supreme Court, “Having shown themselves incapable of making an honest sale or a consistently timely delivery, they should not be permitted to conduct any further mail order business in the state of New York.” (NYT) According to Crain’s, “In January , DME [Direct Marketing Enterprises, another business name of Brown's] settled a five-year-old lawsuit with the New York state attorney general. DME, while admitting no guilt, agreed to changes in advertising, complaint resolution and its refund procedures. It also paid the state $175,000 in investigation costs.”
Brown’s company’s plan to go public was scuttled – in part because investors’ confidence was shaken by a US Postal Service probe. “Investors apparently won’t get their once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to buy stock in Direct Marketing Enterprises Ltd., the Long Island mail-order company known for its low-priced, hyperbolically promoted merchandise.” (Crain’s)
Incidentally, Steve Brown as of 2010 also owned an 18th century French Chateau, called Chateau des Thons, which had been disassembled in France and brought to the US and reconstructed in Long Island.
Steve Brown’s Controversial Actions in the WBAI Community
At WBAI Steve Brown has been a member of a group that has opposed affirmative action in the governance of Pacifica, and has attacked and vilified progressive African American former Program Director Bernard White. The attacks have been on a number of fronts. Brown has regularly exaggerated, distorted and even fabricated stories about the program director and has used e-mail for several years to spread his stories.
Steve Brown has issued clear, unequivocal calls to turn the station’s main focus away from oppressed communities and in the direction of serving the white middle class – the same kind of audience that NPR serves and Air America had served. In 2003 on a public email list he wrote: “… There is not just ‘one’ WBAI audience – but ‘two.’ The first of these audiences, we have always sought to attract – it comprises the voiceless, the downtrodden, and the oppressed. But we must be careful not to indulge in an orgy of misguided nobility and political correctness by convincing ourselves that this should be our ONLY audience, or even our ‘main’ audience.”
Steve Brown relentlessly used racist and violent imagery to attack Black station staff. At one point after making unsubstantiated charges against Bernard White, Brown wrote: “If you were there, you should have been at her [Interim General Manager Indra Hardat's] side whacking Bernard with a baseball bat and then calling the police.” At another point he wrote: “One witness describes coming to the station these days as like living in the South Bronx, where rival gangs are shooting at each other and all you can do is keep your head down to keep from getting beaten up, knifed, or shot.” This was not only a patently and outrageously false depiction of the station, it is also designed to play on the racial fears of white people. (For a history and analysis of Brown’s history of Karl Rove-style accusations and racial code language against opponents, click here.)
As a result of these attacks, in 2006, the Local Station Board adopted a motion that it “disapproves of, and disassociates itself from” Brown’s stream of abusive and racist comments. (For a copy of the motion, click here.)
Now, after calling for the sale of WBAI’s and the other four Pacifica stations’ radio licenses, like a certain wealthy candidate in the second presidential debate, he is adopting our no-sale position and pretending it is his own. And like that candidate in his now infamous post-election teleconference, Brown will soon revert to his true self. Indeed, on Nov. 20, Brown purported to shift yet again, this time to publicly “agree with” two dangerous propositions for Pacifica – “start Chapter 11 bankruptcy, or go into receivership” – proposed by a former Houston station board member. Either step would put the network at the mercy of a court-appointed outsider who could easily decide to liquidate one or more broadcast licenses or to drastically change programming to appeal to a different audience.
What Does This Mean for the WBAI Elections?
Steve Brown is the leader of ACE, the Alliance for Community Elections. ACE is the makeover of List-Prog, the 2004 slate in which he also played a leading role. List-Prog members discarded the name following widespread criticism of their role in pushing out Don Rojas, the General Manager of WBAI, attempts to remove Program Director Bernard White, and an attempt to remove Father Lawrence Lucas from the WBAI Local Station Board after he became hospitalized, saying he had “unexcused absences.”
Steve Brown brings to WBAI the kind of tactics that made him a wealthy but legally embattled king of the direct mail business. And now WBAI is paying the price.
For an alternative to the lies and distortions of Steve Brown and friends, visit the Justice & Unity website: http://www.justiceunity.com/