KNKX, Cliff Mass, & The Undermining Of American Democracy

Authored by Cliff Mass,

Our democracy is threatened.

It is threatened by rioters using violence as a political tool, by individuals intimidating politicians through aggressive home visits, by Presidential debates where name calling and incivility rule, by the loss of a sense of physical safety that is a necessity for a civil society, by destructive hyper-partisanship, and by the suppression of freedom of speech and diversity of viewpoints.

There are few better examples of the suppression of freedom of speech and viewpoint diversity than the recent partisan actions by the management of KNKX, and this blog will review this issue.  I will discuss the termination of my weekly weather segment because of KNKX management’s unhappiness with my personal political free speech in social media.  And I will demonstrate the extreme hypocrisy of their actions, with their leadership’s use of nearly identical language for their own political advocacy.

Freedom of speech and respect for viewpoint diversity is the foundation of our democracy.

Only in a free society where differing ideas can be offered and compete, can citizens consider all sides of important issues and make wise decisions.

If advocates of one side of an issue can silence the speech of others, the inevitable result will be poor decision making and the undermining of our democracy.

The founders of our nation and subsequent political leaders recognized the central role of free, unfettered speech for the maintenance of our democratic system:

“If men are to be precluded from offering their sentiments on a matter…. reason is of no use to us; the freedom of speech may be taken away, and dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep, to the slaughter.”— George Washington

“If there is any principle of the Constitution that more imperatively calls for attachment than any other it is the principle of free thought — not free thought for those who agree with us but freedom for the thought that we hate.”

- Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., U.S. Supreme Court justice

The management of public radio station KNKX made a decision in August that directly conflicts with the above principles. 

Brief Summary of the Situation

On August 5th, I posted a blog (A City in Fear Can Be Restored) that talked about the boarded up City of Seattle and the irresponsibility of our city’s leaders; a blog that was also highly critical of violent rioters who were, and still are, destroying property, hurting people and their livelihoods, and intimidating individual political leaders.  I talked about the damage being “reminiscent” of 1930s Germany (broken glass and more) and that the violent rioters were acting in several ways like the “brownshirts” of the last century. 

The day following my blog post, KNKX leadership received a number of messages from partisan individuals who called for my dismissal, and without discussing the situation with me, KNKX management immediately canceled my weather segment. Joey Cohn and Matt Martinez (station manager and program director) called me after the decision was made….no debate allowed, no conversation…my segment was cancelled. 

There are few more obvious examples of cancel culture. 

In a note on their website  they called my blog “misleading” and that it  “did not reflect what we stand for.”    I emailed both Joey Cohn and Matt Martinez, asking what I “got wrong”.   I asked them what was misleading.  They refused to answer.  They refused to interact in any way. 

Whether my blog was accurate was beside the point.   I was expressing my political viewpoint in social media completely outside of my contributions to the station.  And a public radio station, of all places, should not be in the business of suppressing free speech and limiting ideas. Imagine if your employer fired one of your coworkers for such a reason, and the chilling effects it would have on YOUR freedom of speech.   You would quickly become fearful of expressing your viewpoint on anything controversial.

And after reading a half-dozen books on 1930s Germany, I believe the analogy I made is both compelling and reasonable, and I am ready to defend my comparisons.  Both the rioters in Seattle (and Portland) and the 1930s brownshirts were organized thugs with a violent anti-capitalist political agendas.   The revelations and continued violence of the past two months have provided substantial corroboration of my analysis, documenting the organized nature of the violence and that the goals of the rioters are far different than the peaceful protestors concerned about protecting black lives.  In fact, the rioters detract and obscure the valuable messages of peaceful protestors.

Not only did KNKX’s actions contradict the essential principles of our democracy, but they also contradict Seattle civil law (Seattle Municipal Code Ch. 14.04) and the published principles of National Public Radio (NPR), something highlighted in the NPR Ethics Handbook:

“Our journalism includes diverse voices that reflect our society and divergent views that contribute to informed debate…We aggressively challenge our own perspectives and pursue a diverse range of others”

There are few more important roles of a public radio station than to foster diversity of viewpoint, and KNKX management acted to reduce diversity, not increase it. Destroying freedom of speech, not enhancing it.

For more details about the situation, please see a previous blog on the matter.

While KNKX management removed my segment because they disagreed with my viewpoint, KNKX leadership used social media with the same analogies, but in support of a  different political narrative.  A stunning example of hypocrisy and partisanship.

Hypocrisy

Although it was problematic to KNKX management that I noted the similarity of recent violent rioters with 1930’s brownshirts, they are content for station leadership and on-air contributors to compare President Trump and his administration to Nazis and fascists.  In fact, there was a veritable Fuhrer-fest going on in the social media of KNKX leaders.

Consider leading members of the KNKX advisory board.   Joan Tornow, a longtime member, climate activist, and one of the key advocates (for several years) of getting me ejected from the station because of my science-based communication on climate change,  posted many Trump-Nazi tweets such as:

Ms. Tornow has posted more tweets with references to “brownshirts” in the Trump administration.

Another KNKX advisory board member and the moderator of the KNKX community facebook page, John Woltjer, constantly railed about Trump and that Trump voters were fascists (see below), and even called for the death of Republican Party.

In his leadership role as director of the KNKX community forum Facebook page, John Woltjer decided to prevent any additional comments about my situation or support for my retention on KNKX.  Absolutely contradictory to free speech (see below).

Or consider KNKX Board Member Scott Alhsmith, who has compared Trump and conservatives with Nazis. A few examples

Goebbels was Hitler’s propaganda minister.

And the wonderful Art Thiel, KNKX sports commentator and in exactly the same position as I was as an outside contributor, tweeted about Trump being a Hitler-like goose-stepping character.

I could show you many more examples of KNKX leaders using Nazi references, but you get the message.  KNKX management believes it is ok to use Nazi, brownshirt, and fascist analogies if one is attacking Trump and Republicans, but a terrible offense and cause for expulsion if one uses these same analogies for violent rioters who are destroying the fabric of civil society with wanton property damage, malicious personal violence, and intimidating political leaders with different viewpoints.

This not only reveals a disturbing political bias but profound hypocrisy in KNKX management.

Partisanship has entered the KNKX “leadership circle,”  with tolerance for the viewpoints of only one side of the political divide.  KNKX management believes that those with differing viewpoints have no place at the station. 

KNKX management might consider the situation in the late 1940s and early 1950s when media fired commentators with “communist sympathies” in their outside writings and speech.  

Freedom of speech and honoring of diversity of viewpoint protects individuals of ALL sides of the political spectrum, and KNKX’s actions were deeply destructive to that protection.

Next Steps

KNKX leadership, in giving in to the cancel-culture mob, has undermined basic democratic principles that serve as the foundation for our society.  They did not show the tolerance for intellectual diversity that should be in the DNA of any public radio station.

KNKX was saved for one reason:  to preserve diversity of viewpoint in our region.  KNKX leadership, acting as they did, rejected the station’s reason for existence.  Its birthright.  And they showed disregard for KNKX listenership that lost a valued program.

I have asked KNKX leaders to reconsider their decision.   Unfortunately, they have not been willing to engage.

It is now up to all of you.

If you believe KNKX management made a terrible mistake, one inconsistent with fostering freedom of speech/diversity of viewpoint, and contradictory to the essential role of a PUBLIC radio station, there are a few things you can do.

If you are a financial supporter of KNKX, you can ask them to reverse their decision, and in the meantime put your contributions on pause

You can write their leaders (see below) requesting that they pay more attention to the core values of our democracy, such as freedom of speech and protection of diversity of ideas.

Or you can complain to the national leaders of National Public Radio (see contacts below).

I do ask that in your interactions with KNKX leadership,  you do so in a civil, measured way. An intolerant mob stampeded KNKX to make a terrible mistake; hopefully, coherent reasoned arguments will persuade them to reverse their decision and to reclaim the ethical foundations of the station.

And if you’ve missed my weekly segment, I’m now doing an even better weekly forecast podcast every Friday. You can find it on my blog and all major streaming services.

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Contacts

Joey Cohen:  KNKX General Manager: jcohn@knkx.org

Matt Martinez:  Program Director: mmartinez@knkx.org

Claire Grace: Chair, KNKX Board: info@knkx.org

If you’d like to express your feedback via phone, I’ve included their contact number below:

877-677-5659

NPR Public Editor:  link here.