Gene Bruck and the old guard resigned soon after I arrived. I became Acting Station Manager and Program Director of an
increasingly well know, controversial radio station. I was invited everywhere. Dinner with Norman Mailer at his editor/s house in Westchester County, lunches with hopeful broadcasters. One party stands out in sharp relief.
The host was a prominent, wealthy liberal supporter of WBAI, but one of those who had great reservations about our focus on nuclear disarmament, poverty in America, civil rights and the war in Vietnam … all things that communists were talking about. He liked our classical music and film reviews. He told me that Russel Kirk and Irving Howe would be at his party.
Neo conservative professors, intellectuals and their wealthy patrons filled the lavish apartment. The host, a real estate broker, had purchased two adjacent apartment buildings on Amsterdam Ave just off Broadway. He had combined the top floors into a gigantic block long apartment and roof garden, wood lined study, walls of paintings, windows cascaded with drapery, his wife’s exercise room with foot square black and white marble tiles, living rooms with little tables surrounded by chairs, views over Lincoln Center, his own Yoga room, his restaurant kitchen, his wine cellar and pool room, the roof garden and discreetly hidden hot tub. The performance reminded me of the sherry parties at Columbia University. Was he offering me a brief vision of the life that could be mine if I played my cards right?
Conversations were constrained. When it came to things I had experienced directly — migrant laborers of the Central Valley, young civil rights activists, peace marchers, working class people, even communists — my empirical evidence bore no relationship to their theoretical wisdom. Anti-communism colored their view of the world. Every situation was evaluated on whether or not it abetted the Communist cause and any criticism of the American way of life was unpatriotic.
The people at this party seemed to me to have huge brains with awesome computing skills but little knowledge of the actual world in which most people lived. Their ignorance seemed profound and completely unacknowledged. They were, after all, successful. It was all the self validation they needed. As Americans liked to say in those days, “if you’re so smart why aren’t you rich?”
I found myself defending the station’s programming policies. At this time in my life, I was an aggressive debater with a naive belief in facts. I won the debates and lost the war. I was never invited to another party with anyone from that neo-liberal crowd.
Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) founders had similar struggles with their liberal funders. The Port Huron Statement was written that June. Tom Hayden, its main writer, clashed with Michael Harrington over criticism of labor unions, support for participatory democracy, dislike of formal offices, direct action and SDS’s anti-anticommunism. To the horror of its liberal supporters, SDS even welcomed the participation of a few members (or former high-profile members) of the Communist Party.
At WBAI, we aggressively expanded coverage of civil rights and the war in Vietnam. On July 10th Martin Luther King began a prison sentence in Georgia. In September Kennedy sent troops to protect James Meredith, the first African-American to enter the University of Mississippi. The troops stayed for almost year, until Meredith graduated.