Null sues WBAI

Gary Null has just initiated a lawsuit against Bernard White, USOC,
WBAI and Pacifica. Bernard White and WBAI have already been served at
the station. Pacifica has not yet been served and may not yet know of
the suit. However, although the suit is of public record (it was
filed in NY State Supreme Court), neither White nor WBAI has yet
informed members of this suit.

Therefore I have read a copy of the complaint and have attached the
enclosed report, which summarizes the complaint and what effect it
may have on WBAI. The opinions expressed in this report are mine
alone, and do not (necessarily) reflect those of other LSB members,
whom I believe have not seen nor been informed of this lawsuit.

This is a shame. This lawsuit did not have to happen.

Regards, Steve Brown

Free-Speech Radio Activist Gary Null Sues Free-Speech Radio Station WBAI For Violating His Free Speech Rights

Award-winning radio reporter speaks out for the right to speak out

By Steve Brown

NEW YORK– Gary Null, host of “The Natural Living Show,” America’s
longest-running radio program on health and nutrition, has just filed
a lawsuit against radio station WBAI-FM in New York State Supreme
Court. Null’s complaint charges violation of his right to free
speech, breach of contract, and “wrongful, deceitful and fraudulent

Also named as defendants are the Pacifica Foundation of California
(WBAI’s parent corporation), Bernard White (WBAI’s program director),
Don Rojas (WBAI’s former general manager), and USOC (a WBAI staff

Null seeks reinstatement of his radio program and compensatory
damages against the station of $32,500. He also alleges a prima facie
tort against WBAI’s program director, Bernard White, for “intentional
infliction of harm” and “wrongful, deceitful and fraudulent actions.”
Null is seeking punitive damages against White in the amount of
$65,000 together with interest costs and disbursements.

Both WBAI and Mr White were served on Thursday, December 21, in the
station’s offices at 120 Wall Street, in Manhattan.

Mr Null alleges that his radio show, which had been broadcast
continuously on WBAI for nearly 27 years, had been cancelled
improperly, and that Mr Rojas and Mr White illegally had deprived him
of air time to which he was contractually entitled under the
station’s operating agreement with its staff union.

Null further alleges that the station has violated the principles of
free speech embodied in its own corporate charter and bylaws – by
imposing a “gag-rule” on his radio broadcasts and attempting to
censor the information he was allowed to share with his listening

WBAI has long been revered as a model of “free-speech radio” by the
progressive community. Unlike commercial radio stations, it does not
accept advertising. Instead, it relies for its income on voluntary
contributions from its listeners, who believe in, and support, its
free-speech principles. That is why Mr Null’s testimony about alleged
free-speech violations by the station could have considerable impact
on future listener support.

According to internal station documents, and the statements of former
management personnel, Null’s audience used to donate up to one-third
of the station’s annual operating revenue. (Null continues to be one
of the top fund-raisers for other Pacifica radio stations, in Los
Angeles and in Washington, DC.)

That is why Null’s abrupt firing on December 1, 2004, was such a
shock to station staff and listeners. Many viewed the manner of
Null’s firing as unprofessional, not to mention discourteous and
humiliating. According to the lawsuit (and in violation of the union
contract), Null was given no legal notice, nor was any reasonable
explanation for his firing ever made to Null himself or to his audience.

The reasons for Null’s firing still remain a puzzle – especially when
the termination of its most popular program (and best fund-raiser)
has cost the station so dearly. One WBAI insider estimates that the
ongoing revenue loss from Null’s departed audience may be as high as
$1 million per year, and that the total revenue loss, to date, may
approach $3-$4 million. Indeed, since Null’s departure, the station
has been plagued by declining revenues, budget deficits, and the need
to lay off personnel. According to Arbitron, audience ratings for
Null’s former time slot have plummeted, and many of the station’s
other programs, including its flagship public affairs program,
“Democracy Now!,” are off by as much as 60%.

The station’s ability to raise money from its listeners – basically
its only source of funding – has also deteriorated, with daily
average contributions continuing to fall. The station must now
preempt regular programming for 95 to 100 days a year in order to
conduct on-air fund drives.

After Program Director White (a defendant in Null’s lawsuit) had
fired Null, he told WBAI’s governing board that Null’s audience did
not actually contribute significant revenue to WBAI. But this was
contradicted by internal station records and the testimony of present
and former station personnel.

Mr White also told the board that Null’s program was not popular, and
that the listening audience wanted a change. This, too, was
contradicted by the records, which indicate that Null’s program was
the most popular on the station – rated No. 1 (according to Arbitron)
for all of its 27 years on the air. Nor was its quality ever in
dispute – Null is the recipient of 11 Silver Microphone awards (”the
Pulitzer Prize of broadcasting”) as well as numerous other awards for
investigative journalism and broadcasting excellence, and his recent
documentary on the Iraq War, “Friendly Fire,” was selected for
special viewing at the last Cannes Film Festival.

According to Null, “this lawsuit did not have to happen.” He said he
had made every effort to avoid it, but the behavior of General
Manager Rojas and Program Director White had left him no other recourse.

Null’s lawsuit might not only saddle the station with substantial
legal bills, but could also give it a major publicity black-eye – as
mainstream media entertain their audiences with the spectacle of a
self-proclaimed “free-speech radio station” being sued for violating
the free-speech rights of one of its own broadcasters.

One Response to “Null sues WBAI”

  1. Nick Martielli Says:

    Dear Mr. Henwood,

    First, let me say that I love your show. I consider you a brilliant and effective journalist. “Behind The News” is #1 of my favorite shows on WBAI. I am also a big fan of “Explorations”(Michio Kaku), “Democracy Now”(Amy Goodman), “Wake Up Call”(All present and past hosts), “Radio Free Eireann”(McDonagh), and “On The Count”(Ellis/Harrington.)

    I am of the opinion that WBAI, just as it is, is THE BEST Radio station in the world.
    I have no illusions… I have seen the place. I know that there is very little money for equipment and other essential radio operations. I know that “mistakes” are made on the air and off. I hear “dead air” from time to time, stuttering, stammering, mis-cues, and such. Mistakes for which a program director at NPR or a commercial station would chastise, or possibly fire, a programmer or engineer.

    What most people don’t understand is that WBAI is the best precisely because it is human, natural, spontaneous, genuine, and free. There is NO radio station in the world that I would want WBAI to emulate rather than be itself as it is, for any reason.

    WBAI is the only true sound of freedom and wisdom in this deeply dysfunctional country.

    I would die of grief if ever WBAI were to become a gutless, ignorant state/corporate tool like NPR. Nonetheless there is a huge group of misguided listeners who welcome exactly that… or perhaps they feel the management of “The Nation” magazine should run it.

    I understand that many listeners were fond of Gary Null. Many people are fond of Coca-Cola also. I suppose it tastes good, but nobody dies of a coca cola deficiency. I don’t drink Coke and I no longer listen to Gary Null.

    I used to enjoy Gary Null’s show (many) years ago. The longer I listened, the more I thought he was arrogant. As time went by, it seemed to me that he was also egotistical, and did not function well with listeners who did not agree with him completely, or admire him openly. Later still, I learned that he did not work well with many of his fellow programmers, and also that his credentials were somewhat questionable. I know science. Many of his theories seemed sound, but some of them were obviously and tragically wrong.

    And the fact that he became extremely wealthy thanks to Pacifica in general, and WBAI in particular, made me a bit uneasy. I began to feel that he was merely a businessman, who used the Pacifica network as an advertising tool, and who used fear- mongering about health to sell his products and make him wealthy.

    And finally, I hated and despised his rants against the station and Don Rojas. I was disappointed with his obvious complicity and support of the “Christmas Coup”. I always thought he’d rather WBAI sounded more like NPR. I found him an annoying and divisive character, so I stopped listening to him. I am personally very glad that Gary Null is off WBAI, because he doesn’t belong there. He belongs on his very own planet, with clones of himself to admire. I don’t miss him at all. He still broadcasts around here. You can hear him in a lot of places. I think Don Rojas did the right thing. We don’t need him at WBAI.

    Since then, I think the health-programming slot has improved, thanks to folks like Majid Ali and Corinne Furnari. In fact, I just donated a bunch money to keep them on, and hopefully, keep Gary Null off the WBAI air.

    I notice you’ve posted the comments of Steve Brown. Another guy I know who donates a bunch of money. The difference between Steve Brown and I is that I am not a control freak and don’t expect to influence programming with my dollars. I hope for it, but don’t expect it.

    So now Gary Null is suing the station. Maybe he’ll get himself reinstated… If he does I’ll have to live with it.

    But I do write letters to my friends to try and influence them. So, I think it might be very journalistic, an “Doug Henwoodish” of you to present the other side. To publicly question how much his supporters love Pacifica since they call for a boycott. And how much Gary Null loves Pacifica and WBAI, if he has the dark, poisonous gall to bring a lawsuit against it- at best merely to heal his massive, injured ego, and at worst, to reestablish his radio advertising presence.

    I certainly hope they lose their case.

    your pal,

    Nick Martielli

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