CAQ purges workers


  • An open letter from the editors
  • July update: letter from Terry Allen
  • July letter from Sanho Tree
  • City Paper article on firings
  • Publishers' termination letter
  • Publishers' position paper

    An open letter from the editors

    Date: Thu, 14 May 1998 12:33:16 -0700 (PDT)
    From: terry allen
    Subject: CAQ Purges Workers

    May 14, 1998

    To: Everyone who has supported CAQ

    Last week the publishers fired the entire staff on payroll at CAQ (CovertAction Quarterly), a prize winning magazine of investigative journalism. We'd like you to know how and why.

    On Sunday morning, May 10, a courier makes the rounds to three apartments in Washington, DC. He slides a plain white envelope under the front door and scurries away.

    At the same time, a few blocks from the White House, owners of a small corporation watch as the security company they hired changes the locks on the door of a workplace. Their employees across town are now bending down, placid with weekend sleep, to pick up the intrusive white oblong by the door. As the workers tear it open, the owners, back at the office, begin to search systematically through all the drawers and files of each of the employees. They go through the letters the workers wrote to old friends, colleagues, writers, and lovers; they search through phone logs, old medical bills, photos, e-mail, as well as through the company records. They own the business and they have the right, under law.

    We are the three people who opened the envelopes last Sunday morning and read that we were summarily fired without cause.

    For the last eight and a half years of the magazine's 19-year life, we are the people who have brought you credible, solid news reporting and articles that have consistently added to the historical record and fueled social change. Terry Allen (editor) and Barbara Neuwirth (staff) have worked at the magazine for almost nine years, along with Sanho Tree (associate editor) who joined the staff last year. We, are the people who did the work, who produced the magazine. They have a piece of paper that grants them legal ownership; our ownership in sweat equity was earned.

    Louis Wolf, based in Washington and Ellen Ray and William Schaap, who operate out of New York, are the people who fired us. These publishers/owners consider themselves socialists, leftists, progressives, whatever. All have done some good work in the past. But all of them acted on that rainy Sunday morning like corporate thugs. They did not try to discuss problems with our collective; they did not lay us off with notice and dignity. They cowardly hired others to sneak an envelope under our doors; they seized the contents of desks and computers and sorted through personal information. "Arrangements will be made," their letter noted, "for you to remove from the office under our representatives' supervision, any personal property currently there."

    Why this sordid little covert action? Why the firing of three employees whose job performance was consistently excellent? Well, here are the reasons they gave in the letter: "Your employment is terminated...effective immediately" because of "interpersonal relations and work styles ... creating a hostile and unproductive environment for all of us."

    Two weeks before, Wolf sat in the audience smiling and applauding with seeming pride as CAQ, for the second year in a row, swept Project Censored's prestigious journalism awards. Only a few days before the purge, the other two publishers wrote to us praising the latest issue as "terrific. One of the best. A really fine job and one to be proud of. No nitpicking even."

    As for interpersonal relations: they were fine among the three people who actually produced the 64-page magazine four times a year. We did it on time, on budget, and on target with annual costs under $200,000. Interpersonal relations were admittedly less good between management and workers, but no worse than at many workplaces. In any case, they were not the real problems.

    As to how we were fired, there can be no explanation. The method speaks for itself. As to why, there are two basic reasons. The first and most important was our refusal to be bullied by Wolf, Ray, and Schaap into publishing whacko-conspiracy theories and articles that served their agenda but failed to distinguish between facts and political fairy tales. While we accepted some of their suggestions, we rejected inferior or polemical material proposed by them and their friends. Among those championed by one or another of the publishers was a proposal to expose Hitler's current hideout in Antarctica, an undocumented piece on alleged US release of screw worms as a weapon of war, a story presenting Serbia as the blameless victim of Bosnian aggression, and a reference by Schaap and Ray to President Aliev of Azerbaijan as a model of progressive governance. Some of these we were able to stop immediately and others took endless discussions before they were dropped. We also received a letter from Schaap and Ray berating us for a humorous piece because they said embarrassed them in front of their friends. The story quoted a long-time solidarity worker affectionately calling Fidel Castro "a nice old fart."

    In all cases where we disagreed with the publishers, we documented our logic snd discussed our reasons at length, often circulating the articles and soliciting the opinions of experts. We looked for common ground always, but always we refused to compromise on basic principles and journalistic standards. This commitment to maintaining the firewall between owners and editors did not sit well with management. We allowed no special treatment, no cronyism, no party lines. We insisted on publishing solid, well-written, rigorously documented progressive journalism. And we did.

    Our second unpardonable sin was that we also refused to condone unethical behavior and challenged the publishers whenever they stepped over legal and moral lines.

    Throughout these difficult times, the CAQ staff has refrained from airing the individual crimes and misdemeanors of the publishers. We are already hearing reports that Wolf, Schaap, and Ray are starting a smear campaign against us.

    We prefer to confine ourselves to the real issues: the exercise of raw power by employers against workers and the violation of the principles of independent journalism. There are, however, some work related issues we should put on the record. As is often the case in corporations, the owners were almost wholly irrelevant, not only to production, but to administration as well. Aside from interference into editorial matters, in the last eight years, Schaap and Ray shirked almost all the responsibilities of publishers. They did not raise one cent--either in donations or grants. They did little to promote the magazine and they met with staff on average less than once a year. Wolf did a little fact checking and proofreading and some occasional research. But except for contributing a small portion of his inherited wealth to CAQ, he plaid a minor role. And worse, his admitted unethical behavior and dishonesty repeatedly endangered the credibility and viability of the magazine.

    The way they fired us speaks eloquently to what these people stand for. Wolf, Schaap, and Ray "terminated" us in a manner that smacks of monstrous arrogance. They did it with a smarmy exploitation of the legal niceties of capitalism that would make the Dulles brothers blush.

    And it is not the first time. Nine years ago, they changed the locks on a previous editor while she was at lunch. They then launched a rumor campaign to smear her character. Her major crime was trying to publish an article critical of Stasi, the East German intelligence agency. She, like many people they treated like expendable serfs, kept quiet--for the good of the left.

    But we believe that injustice is injustice no matter what ideology is cynically used to justify it. And like all workers--whether their bosses are gloating capitalists or self-righteous leftists--we live under a system that uses labor and then dismisses the laborer at will. We also now understand in our guts that it is the people who own the presses who have freedom of the press.

    The irony is painful and the experience has left us angry and profoundly disappointed. But at the end of the day, it will only strengthen our commitment to good independent journalism and social justice. We go public with great reluctance, but out of a belief that the damage to CAQ the publishers have wrought will not be mitigated if we go quietly.

    We have invested a lot of sweat and pain, tears and time and are very proud of eight years of powerful muckraking; we do not wish it to end with a battle of internal mudslinging. Neither will we be shut up or bought off with promises of severance pay or other compensation. In some ways we are relieved to be finally and irrevocably separated from people whose vision and practice of journalism differs so greatly from our own. We worked hard to establish the magazine's editorial quality and integrity, and to increase graphic quality and circulation and now we are ready to wipe off the bottoms of our shoes, take a long shower, and move on.

    What we will miss most--what it is most painful to have been robbed of--is the opportunity to work with the generous, smart, committed, and talented writers, photographers, artists, computer experts, copy editors, and valued advisors who have been our friends and colleagues. We are doing our best to make sure that anyone owed money by CAQ will be paid.

    To all of you who have shared this decade and helped make CAQ the fine, credible magazine it has become, we cannot express how grateful we are for your help and support. We are so deeply sorry at this turn of events, and we hope profoundly that, together or separately, we can continue to fight the good fight.

    Please keep in touch and we will try to do the same as events unfold. Feel free to pass on this message.

    In solidarity,

    Terry Allen (802-434-3767) tallen@igc.org
    Barbara Neuwirth: (202-232-6863) barbaran@igc.org
    Sanho Tree (202-234-6854) stree@igc.org


    July update: letter from Terry Allen

    July 13, 1998
    FROM: Terry Allen (editor of CAQ, 1990-May 1998)

    Thank you to everyone who wrote or phoned with support for the fired CAQ workers. We got more than 1,000 e-mails and phone calls of support.

    I have held off sending out this letter, but, after reading Agee's personal attack, I think the whole story needs to come out. I'll respond first to the letter/"position paper" that CAQ corporate officers, Louis Wolf, Bill Schaap, and Ellen Ray, have distributed in response to the CAQ staff letter announcing the firings. (I have appended this position paper, their termination letter to us, and the CAQ staff original letter.)

    The "position paper" by Wolf, Ray, and Schaap contains distortions and lies that are potentially damaging to our reputations and demeaning to the work of not only the staff, but of the hundreds of writers and artists with whom we worked. Even a brief examination of this letter will give you some idea of how they bend and break facts to fit their agenda.

    At the core of their position paper is a vague defense of the firings of all three pay rolled CAQ staff members: "We can only assure you," they wrote, "that we believe we were fully justified in taking the action we did."

    Nowhere, however, do they explain why they hired couriers to deliver termination letters to our houses early Sunday morning -- only days after praising the staff for its exemplary work. Nor do they justify hiring a security firm to change the office locks on employees, two of whom had worked for CAQ for eight years. They "*only* assure" that they *believe* they were justified in firing us as they did.

    Then they present "a few facts":

    WOLF, SCHAAP, AND RAY (writing in their May 19 "position paper"): "The discharges were not without notice, both long-term and short-term..."

    FACT: Neither I nor Sanho Tree was ever at any time threatened with firing. Never, not once, not long-term, not short-term. Not verbally and not in writing. No warning. Never. Nor was any disciplinary action ever taken against any of us. Barbara Neuwirth was given one warning over a minor incident--putting up a poster that offended the publishers.

    WOLF, SCHAAP, AND RAY (continue) " . . . and, indeed, even in our final communication, we offered to sit down and discuss `anything' with any of them. None accepted this offer."

    FACT: The "offer" in this "final communication," (see below) came AFTER we had already been fired "effective immediately." The "anything" they were prepared to negotiate referred to post- termination affairs only.

    WOLF, SCHAAP, AND RAY (in their May 10 termination letter a.k.a. "final communication" to the CAQ staff): "We are prepared to discuss individually, with each of you, compensation due, severance pay, facilitating unemployment insurance payments, the forwarding of personal mail and messages, the transfer of health insurance and any other matters you wish to discuss."

    WOLF, SCHAAP, AND RAY: "None accepted this offer."

    FACT: Their implication that they had made an offer "to sit down and discuss "`anything' " BEFORE we were fired was not only a misquote of their own "final communication," it was untrue. Since the firing, however, the staff has tried to negotiate for return of our things and payment of money due. The publishers still have not returned much of the material. In the meantime, not one message or piece of mail has been passed along to me. We all await news of the severance pay they mentioned.

    WOLF, SCHAAP, AND RAY: "It is also totally disingenuous to describe the conflict as a management-worker dispute ..."

    FACT: They were management, we were workers, they had, and used the power to fire us.

    WOLF, SCHAAP, AND RAY: "[It] was deeply insulting to be called "capitalist thugs."

    FACT: For the sake of accuracy, we actually wrote that they "acted ... like *corporate thugs.*" Their defense that they didn't make money from the magazine is irrelevant. We never said they extracted a profit, only that they used the tactics of corporate thugs. They did.

    WOLF, SCHAAP, AND RAY: "Can anyone who knows us and our histories believe, "for example, the absurd charge that we `championed' an article suggesting Adolf Hitler was alive in Antarctica?"

    FACT: Wolf did. I was there when he held up production of the magazine during deadline for several hours while he discussed the theory with its promoter as they examined a giant wall map of Antarctica spread out on the desk in Wolf's office. When I went into his office to try to get him to continue proofreading, he greeted me enthusiastically, telling me that we should print something about the story. (Note, by the way, their careful wording; they don't deny the episode happened, but rather, ask if it is believable.)

    FACT: And yes, it turns out that many who know Wolf, Schaap, and Ray remember their long history of championing questionable conspiracy theories--and of smearing numerous innocent people, without proof, as CIA-connected.

    At the same time as they backpedaled the Hitler nonsense, they ignored the other more substantive political disputes. They do not deny that they aggressively pushed publication of stories championing Serbia as victim of Bosnian aggression, of Azerbaijan as innocent target of Armenian villainy, or an undocumented story on US biological warfare.

    WOLF, SCHAAP, AND RAY: "Not only have we never, in its twenty year history, taken a salary from the magazine, we have, year after year, to the present, contributed the entire shortfall-not an insignificant amount- necessary to keep it from folding, and to meet its every obligation."

    FACT: Although Schaap and Ray try to give the impression that they contributed to "the shortfall," in fact, the publishers' financial contribution to CAQ, such as it was, came exclusively from Wolf's inherited wealth. And as for their making up every shortfall, that's news to the staff. We provided our own software and training, paid our way to conferences and award ceremonies, and even bought various essentials, including reference books and office furniture. Staff members also missed salaries so that writers and printers could be paid when money was short. Ray and Schaap, on the other hand did virtually no work for the magazine for the last 10 years.

    WOLF, SCHAAP, AND RAY: "for more than a decade [we] wrote, edited, and produced the magazine virtually on our own."

    FACT: This statement (which refers to the magazine's first decade) dismisses out of hand the contributions of past editor Bill Vornberger and of all the support staff and writers who gave generously of their work.

    INTERPERSONAL PROBLEMS
    Their position paper is correct in one thing, however. Interpersonal relations between employees and owners were strained. But these interpersonal difficulties had a context. They began several years ago and were rooted in two distinct, but often intertwined tensions. The first was the publishers' repeated attempts to violate the agreed on firewall between editorial content and the owners' personal and political interests (referred to above). More generally, they sympathized with a conspiratorial world view and despite the strictures it would have imposed on reporting, argued against critical analysis--or even gentle humor-- on certain topics, e.g. Fidel Castro. (FYI, I have appended a memo I wrote to them after they took me to task for allowing Benjamin Treuhaft, a longtime Cuba supporter to be quoted calling Castro "a nice old fart.")

    CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS
    The second area of dispute was the staff's' refusal to become complicit in or to tolerate unethical and illegal behavior on the part of anyone connected with the magazine. Tensions rose only AFTER the staff discovered that Wolf had been caught on surveillance camera at the Associated Press archives in New York stealing scores of photos and negatives while doing CAQ "research." He had apparently been stealing photos from AP for years and telling the staff that they were legally obtained. We found out about his thievery only a few days before going to press- - with pilfered AP photos laid out in the magazine--and had to redo the desktop publishing at the eleventh hour. We explained to Wolf that such theft not only endangered the magazine and the credibility of all associated with it, but was a terrible disservice to the photographers and to the historical record--even one owned by a corporation. We also insisted that he not had to stop lying to the staff about his activities. He appeared to understand and was contrite.

    But his behavior continued to be secretive and duplicitous: Wolf took otherpeoples' personal correspondences, initiated strange projects without informing anyone, and continued to lie to his co- workers and to steal. He also negligently misplaced large amounts of CAQ money. The situation reached a climax a few years after the AP incident, when we found out that Wolf had slashed pages out of bound volumes at the Library of Congress and had been stealing prints from the Martin Luther King Library in DC, a desperately underfunded public library that is one of a handful of resource centers for African American studies in the country. He agreed that his lying and stealing a problem and he would take a year leave of absence. He wrote a letter to the staff confessing to "stealing/borrowing photos and graphics [...and] my willingness to lie to coworkers" and asked us to explain his leave with "a general reference to medical problems." For his sake, we agreed.

    These offenses by Wolf are perhaps what Agee refers to when he notes my inability to "forgive human failings." In fact, we forgave Wolf over and over, for years. The staff did its best to help him and finally forced him to get therapy. Schaap and Ray admitted that they had known for a long time of Wolf's pattern of dishonesty and understood the danger it posed to the magazine. They agreed to his year's leave, only to insist later that he return after nine months. The staff concurred and welcomed Wolf back, hoping that things would be better. They were not. But although interpersonal relations were strained, we continued to work together.

    AGEE'S PROXY ATTACK
    Throughout that period, Agee-- one of the magazine's founders who now lives in Germany-- never communicated with the staff about either political or interpersonal problems. His current letter is an out-of-the-blue undocumented, ad hominem attack, full of insults and devoid of facts. He accuses me of being a monster but he offers no examples, no evidence. He accuses me of being a woman who used foul language. (I plead guilty). In the end, the letter simply makes McCarthyesque charges of unnamed "unbelievable outrages."

    Agee's sudden stand raises some important questions:

    * Why, if Agee saw serious problems, and felt a stake in the magazine, did he never try to mediate or talk to me or other staff members? In eight years, I and the other current staffers spent less than an hour with Agee, and only then as part of a social group. He never asked or heard our side of the story and so, while we were keeping quiet to protect Wolf and the magazine's reputation-- the publishers were spreading their version of events.

    * Why, if the publishers didn't like the job I was doing, couldn't they just give me notice, severance pay due after eight years of employment, and ask me to train new editor to ensure a smooth transition?

    * And if I was the problem, why does Agee support firing the whole staff?

    Agee then defends the publishers by misquoting the staff letter. He writes that "Terry's [sic] charge that [the publishers] had done practically nothing for years is ludicrous." But our letter, written by all three fired staff members, did not disparage Wolf, Schaap and Ray's provenance as long-time activists, only their lack of involvement in the magazine in the last eight years. Most of the publishers' achievements in Agee's list precede our tenure at CAQ and in any case had little or nothing to do with actually putting out the magazine.

    But more importantly, Agee fails to confront either the manner of the firing or that fact that it was not just I who was fired, but the whole staff.

    THE ONES WHO OWN THE PRESSES
    As it stands now, the fired staff members are still missing a significant portion of our stuff--including software, files, letters, and even art work-- that was in the office when Schaap, Wolf, and Ray locked us out. Wolf admitted that he, Ellen Ray, and Bill Schaap had gone over all my personal belongings and had taken whatever they wished to claim as magazine property. Blum, the bookkeeper, who came in a few hours a month, chimed in that he, too, had looked through all my things. In June, they allowed us to go "individually" and collect some things. I packed up while Louis Wolf, the corporations' lawyer Jim Drew, Bill Blum, and a man they hired to carry the heavy items as far as the office door looked on. Wolf and the lawyer rooted through my things again as I put them in boxes.

    Despite the fact that we were paid monthly, they sent us only the one third of a month's pay. I am still waiting for the routine reimbursement for business calls made while I worked out of Vermont. Unfortunately I have already paid the $2,600 owed by CAQ to the phone company.

    The publishers also confiscated all my reporters notebooks. I have contacted sources who might be compromised, but if you feel that any confidential information you gave me is threatened, please notify me and I will do what I can.

    Fortunately, I was in Vermont, from where I sometimes telecommuted, with the CAQ computer when we were fired. The day I received their fax demanding return of the computer, I faxed back arrangements for shipping it via Mailboxes, Etc. The next morning, I got a call from a Vermont lawyer. He announced that he had been retained by the publishers and was sending someone to my house to seize the computer. I had an hour to remove my personal computer files and all the software that was not licenced to CAQ (leaving the rest intact). If I have not responded to any e- mails of support, it is probably because some material was lost when I hurriedly switched computers.

    In the weeks since the firing, many people have sent messages of support and shown their outrage by, canceling subscriptions, and sending back renewal notices with notes condemning the firings. Others have declared that they will not write for, or contribute art to CAQ.

    It means a lot to know that so many people cared about the magazine and the principles of journalism and the practices of fair labor we fought for. Please keep in touch. I miss so many of you already.

    Please, pass this letter on.

    Best,
    Terry

    Terry Allen

    ------------
    MEMO ON FIDEL AS A "NICE OLD FART"
    Dear Bill and Ellen,
    ...And now to your comments on the reference by Treuhaft to Castro as "a nice old fart." Barbara and my first reaction was, quite frankly, that you were joking. When we realized you were serious, I was taken aback that even such a mild and affectionate remark by someone (I refer to Treuhaft) who has devoted much to Cuba was outside the realm of what you and your Cuban friends considered an acceptable comment. That kind of hagiography turns a admirable world leader into a tin god and serves neither progressive movements nor good journalism.

    And last issue--journalism--is what has stuck. Imagine, if you will, that the publishers of, say, the New York Times wrote chastising the editor because she quoted someone offering an affectionately disrespectful description, of, say, Bill Clinton. Perhaps she called him "a charming old reprobate" in an otherwise supportive article. Now imagine the publishers said that the reason they objected to the description was that they were embarrassed by the remark. They felt very close to the administration, visited Washington often, and have many Democratic friends whose fine opinion of the New York Times might be compromised by such lack of courtesy. Now imagine that the publishers advised the editor that they prefer that this not happen again.

    Please, be reassured that I no more equate Castro with Clinton than I do CAQ with the Times, but the analogy, as far as journalistic independence is concerned, is more or less apt --although I must admit that taking a position of principle over this issue seems Quixotically absurd. It's a bit like defending to the death someone's right to eat lime jello.

    I will be glad to hear you out on the subject and would be happy to publish your letter in the magazine along with this reply.

    Terry

    Terry Allen
    44 Old Brook Rd.
    Richmond, VT 05477
    802-434-3767 voice
    802-434-3767 fax (call first)
    tallen@igc.org


    July letter from Sanho Tree

    July 14, 1998
    FROM: Sanho Tree, Former Associate Editor of CAQ

    To all those who have received email from Phil Agee, Bill Blum, or the publishers of CovertAction Quarterly:

    Over the past two months, I have watched as people marginally associated with CAQ magazine have smeared the reputations of my colleagues and defended the publishers' decision to lock-out and summarily fire the staff. The publishers' letter attempted to cast political and editorial differences at the magazine as purely personal problems. Agee follows this official line and his email can only be interpreted as an attempt to smear Terry Allen's reputation.

    As my response to Bill Blum below reveals, there is more to this story than has been made public. There were indeed interpersonal conflicts. And like most interpersonal conflicts -- in both highly politicized and employment-related situations -- here too they had roots far deeper than mere "personality" differences. The publishers have cautiously abstained from mentioning the source of the discord. As they well know, these conflicts originated in a pattern of lying and theft (see below) by one of the publishers and had a serious impact on CAQ's staff who had to deal with -- and protect the magazine from -- the consequences of those illegal acts. Rather than dealing with (e.g., retiring) the one person (Louis Wolf) who was the source of difficulties at the office, Schaap, Ray and Wolf fired the three staff people who actually produced the magazine. Such are the prerogatives of ownership.

    Similarly, the publishers in their letter have studiously avoided all discussion of editorial and political disputes with the magazine staff. I have appended a recent memorandum I wrote to them as an illustration of the kind of pressures they placed on the editorial staff to publish undocumented conspiracy theories.

    I am also appalled at the sexist attitudes embodied in Bill Blum's attacks on "the women" (as he repeatedly refers to my female colleagues) at CAQ and in Phil Agee's rant against Terry Allen. Why is it that women who hold to their principles are characterized (mostly by men) as "difficult," "intransigent," "unable to forgive human failings," or charming "monsters" while male editors who similarly stand up for their views are described as "principled," "incorruptible," or "scrupulous"? Moreover, would Agee have scolded a *male* editor for using "foul language" and "crude" behavior? Fuck no!

    Agee apparently relied on one primary source for information regarding office affairs (Louis Wolf, the only publisher who worked in DC) to malign editor Terry Allen (whom he barely knew). But, Wolf has admitted to having serious problems regarding his "willingness to lie." Agee concluded his diatribe by warning us that "the folks at Langley are surely laughing their heads off" at events at CAQ. Perhaps what they're really laughing at is how one sticky-fingered, prevaricating publisher and a couple of ideologues managed to bring down one of the best investigative journalism magazines around. Once again Agee and the publishers give the CIA too much credit and, more disturbingly, paint those who disagree with them as somehow helping the agency. In so doing, they miss the point: The real misfortune here isn't whether the spooks are getting a laugh from this, but that Schaap, Ray and Wolf have deprived progressive, thoughtful people of what used to be a great magazine. The next issue would have reached the newsstands tomorrow.

    -- Sanho

    *************************************************************
    Attached is my open letter to Bill Blum. For fact checking purposes, both Terry Allen and Barbara Neuwirth have corroborated the events and characterizations outlined in this email: *************************************************************
    A REPLY TO BILL BLUM:

    July 14, 1998

    Dear Bill,

    I read your posting with great sadness. I wish you had taken your own advice to find out more than what "one side" was telling you before making such a public statement. There are many facts about interpersonal relations at the magazine from which we have deliberately excluded you. Because of a commitment -- in retrospect not necessarily the right one -- the staff gave to Bill, Lou, and Ellen to protect Lou and the magazine, we have gone to great lengths to refrain from airing internal "dirty laundry." I, too, did not discover much of about these facts until I had been at CAQ for many months and witnessed Lou's behavior firsthand.

    You should know that the source of Terry and Barbara's "contempt" (as you put it) toward Lou derives from Lou's habitual lying and his thievery. The following three paragraphs were in the original draft of our initial letter announcing our firing, but we decided to omit them out of the "sense of proportion, balance and simple human kindness" that you say we lack. Your public posting, however, now makes me reconsider our decision. I wish that you -- and Phil Agee -- had known about the following facts prior to your very public denunciations of the CAQ staff:

    "Our second unpardonable sin was that we also refused to condone unethical behavior. Lou Wolf, while acting as CAQ researcher, endangered the magazine repeatedly by stealing photographic negatives from Associated Press offices in New York. He then lied to the staff that the photos were legally obtained. Thinking they were legal, we printed them in the magazine and were made to appear complicit. AP agreed not to prosecute after Lou, caught on surveillance camera, confessed and paid thousands in restitution. But it was years before AP agreed to deal with us again. Lou swore he was sorry, said he understood how dangerous his actions were for the credibility of the magazine and the reputations of all associated with it, and promised never to repeat the behavior.

    "A few years later, we discovered that Lou had been stealing material from the Martin Luther King Library in Washington and had razor- bladed-out bound pages at the Library of Congress. Again he insisted to us that the material was legitimately acquired. Understanding that he had a problem, the staff, with the support of Schaap and Ray, insisted that Lou return the material, and take a leave of absence, and seek therapy. Lou admitted he had a serious problem and agreed to seek help to stop what had become a pattern of uncontrollable lying and theft.

    "After the Library of Congress and Martin Luther King thefts--he asked us to let him save face by putting out the cover story that the leave of absence was precipitated solely by illness."

    I suggest that you ask Lou, Bill, and Ellen about these incidents and finally make them come clean to you. Lest you think we are fabricating or exaggerating this material, consider these direct quotes from Lou's four-page apology/confession letter written to the staff in 1996:

    "(1) First, I apologize. This is a serious and heartfelt apology-- to each of you, and to you all collectively.

    "(2) I shall be seeing a therapist. My chosen objectives in this are to: (a) help me deal with and stop stealing/borrowing photos and graphics; (b) stealing office supplies; (c) to address my willingness to lie to my co-workers;; (d) to work collectively with my co-workers, and (e) dealing with money-related issues,...

    "(6) We must decide exactly whaat [sic] to say to people who ask why I am on sabbatical. I believe it would be best to make a general reference to medical problems (without leaving any space for someone to conclude I am having a mentaal [sic] or physical breakdown, but we can pin this down. I think it is not acceptable to me if anyone feels they can either mention to or discuss with CAQ outsiders either (a) klepto- mania or (b) my therapy. I think references to very high blood pressure and stress are okay, but I should be the only one to tell anybody about kleptomania or therapy.

    Well intentioned though our decision to go along with Lou's cover story was, it left us vulnerable to just the kind of allegations you are now making. As the old saying goes, "No good deed goes unpunished."

    I know you have a great deal of respect for Lou--as did I, when I first came to CAQ. In fact, during my first few weeks at the magazine, I spoke to Terry or Barbara on several occasions when I thought they overreacted to Lou's repeated screw-ups. I had only known about Lou through the excellent reputation of CAQ's editorial content, but my respect for him plummeted after witnessing his duplicity and utter incompetence firsthand. "The women" did not turn me against him, as Lou would have it -- I lost my respect for him based on my own observations and interactions. I don't presume to know why someone who has inherited such wealth would stoop to such petty thefts, except that I think he doesn't know in his heart why it's wrong to lie, cheat, or steal. I believe he knows what society expects from him, but he either doesn't understand *why* or believes that the nobility of the cause he fights for justifies any of his actions.

    As for your assertion that "journalism, politics, and ideology" were "completely irrelevant" to our firing, how did you come to that conclusion? Based on what Lou told you? Please see my message below regarding the most recent episode: the "screwworm" controversy. My letter to Bill & Ellen is but one message in a long exchange over an article that should NEVER have been seriously considered for publication and that the author *himself* admitted to me was "a conspiracy theory." This article is only one of a series of ideologically driven stories that the publishers tried -- unsuccessfully -- to push us to print. I hope this will at least give you a taste of what it was like dealing with publishers who avoided their responsibilities but demanded that we satisfy their editorial dictates. Had the staff members neglected their duties, displayed such incompetence, or committed such criminal acts, they would have been fired on the spot long ago. Because they are the owners, however, Schaap, Ray, and Wolf remain at the magazine while we were the ones who were fired.

    As for your accusation that one of "the women" took out her hostility on Lou's 13-year-old-child "at a moment of emergency for the girl," it is an outrageous distortion. As I have explained to you privately, Lou twisted an honest misunderstanding into a weapon in his private little war.

    Because you come in only a few hours a month to do bookkeeping and have not been privy to either the editorial decisions or the inner workings the office, I do not associate you with the publishers' negligence, incompetence, or criminal acts. I do understand, however, how you might have so seriously misinterpreted the situation and am willing to discuss with you any aspect surrounding the controversy over our firing. I do not, however, have anything to say to either Lou, Bill, or Ellen regarding their despicable behavior. They have known full well what you are now just learning.

    With no ill will,
    Sanho

    *************************************************************

    Bill, this is my response to Bill and Ellen's repeated demands that we publish an article on the screwworm outbreak in Iraq. Terry wrote her own memo which can be sent upon request.

    March 11, 1998

    Dear Ellen & Bill,

    Per your request, here are my comments on [name deleted]'s article. After reading the original submission that Lou gave me and this current updated version, I believe that this article is neither intellectually rigorous nor methodologically sound. Please contrast this piece with Jim Hogshire's article on the Fusarium fungus that I faxed to you yesterday: you can see the difference in methodology. They both deal with biological warfare, but one is argued with well-researched evidence and the other is a jumble of facts fueled by suggestive phrasing.

    Hogshire has marshaled his evidence vertically and stacked one argument on top of another. His evidence is complementary, not coincidental. Furthermore, Hogshire has been able to find documentation on both intent and method. He has built a case where each piece of evidence leads into the next and by the time he arrives at his conclusion, the objective is within reach. [name deleted], on the other hand, has assembled a number of coincidental facts and arranged them laterally. They are puddles on a field and the only thing that forces the argument to flow in the direction of his conjecture is the overuse of inflated and unprofessional rhetoric: "It is not hard to IMAGINE"; "THIS IS CLEAR when several facts are taken into consideration"; "ONE COULD SPECULATE that such a plague"; "they often SEEM TO FOLLOW the preferences of US foreign policy"; or, "IT WOULD SEEM that Iran COULD AS WELL HAVE..." I could go on ad nauseam, but I think you see my point. When such speculations are removed from the article, the argument falls flat. He has attempted to stack coincidental facts on top of one another, perhaps hoping that the sheer height of the structure will disguise the fact that its foundation is shaky.

    I could go on for many pages documenting the article's methodological errors but we are on deadline so I will cite only a few. First, the author must address some basic flaws in his assumptions. As the UN's FAO has pointed out, Iraq's livestock market has been depressed since the Gulf War and farmers routinely take their herds to neighboring countries for sale. Why would the US infect Iraqi livestock when there has been a pronounced "outflow" of animals to US regional allies such as Saudi Arabia and Jordan? Next, the author points to a recent "explosion" screwworm infections to suggest a biological warfare connection. He incorrectly assumes that the natural progression of the infestation should follow a linear or arithmetical progression when, in fact, it follows an exponential or geometric progression. This basic error worries me. After seven years of following this story, the author has not grasped the basic epidemiology of screwworm infestation.

    I do believe this article suggests a conspiracy, but without sound evidence -- it remains a theory. This lack of hard evidence would allow one to replace the phrase "US" with "Israel" and still arrive at substantially the same argument -- difficult to disprove while impossible to substantiate. Instead of well-marshaled evidence, the article relies on a heavy-handed rhetorical style to advance its thesis.

    The author's use of evidence is just as disturbing -- and, from a legal standpoint, quite dangerous for CAQ. [The writer] accuses Dr. [name deleted], who was expelled from Pakistan in 1982, of being the director of a CIA-backed biological warfare research center. I asked [the writer] if he had considered issues of libel when writing this article and he said no. He faxed me his evidence concerning this charge and it revolved around a poorly documented accusation published in *Literaturnaia Gazetta* and a ham-fisted, two paragraph accusation in the *Daily World* ("The University of Maryland has started a program of bacteriological experiments in Lahore, Pakistan, to find how to contaminate, most effectively, large numbers of people in a bacteriological war..."). I researched Dr. [name deleted]'s background and found that he is most famous for his work on the sinister subject of Oral Rehydration Therapy for children's diarrhea. In light of recent events, I think you'll see the severity of this situation: Any attempt to defend ourselves in a libel suit using this standard of evidence would destroy our hard-won reputation for responsible journalism.

    Frankly, we would embarrass [the writer] by running his article in the same issue as the Hogshire piece. Also, it simply isn't fair to our readers, who pay for and expect high-quality investigative journalism. Equally importantly, it isn't fair to our writers, whom we have asked to document, substantiate, and reevaluate their articles. It is *hard* work, for which they are underpaid, and I respect their efforts too much to print their work next to such a poorly argued article.

    After years of effort and very little money, CAQ is becoming a widely respected magazine that attracts writers of the highest caliber and wins awards for journalistic excellence. One article, such as [name deleted]'s, could marginalize us to the realm of conspiracy theory. Please don't misunderstand me -- I do not shrink from the threat of marginalization *if* it is because we make a stand based on principle and intellectual integrity. We have earned the grudging respect of some of our adversaries -- not because we pulled punches to "soften" an article -- but because of hard work and sound reasoning. It would be a mistake to waste our hard earned capital on this deeply flawed article: It is a suspicion built on an assumption, buttressed with a hunch, hinged on a suggestion, and concluded with an intimation.

    I don't mean to be obstinate in pointing out the differences between the two articles, but I think Lou has given you a very inaccurate impression of how we select articles for the magazine. We do not kill articles simply because they come from Lou or his friends -- he has given us many good story ideas in the past. It was he who suggested an article on Cambodia and two weeks ago, he gave me an excellent story by [name withheld] on the CIA's contra/cocaine report. I recommended to Terry that we should publish it and she agreed. Unfortunately, we learned that David Corn had just published the same information in the *Nation.* As I see it, the purpose of the magazine is not to publish articles because they are written by friends, but to publish articles because they are thoughtful, well-researched, innovative, and intellectually rigorous. [The writer's] article, in my professional opinion, does not meet this standard. It was good to talk with him about the article and he agrees that this would be a terrific article *if* he could document the missing parts.

    Best,
    Sanho

    cc: Lou Wolf


    Fascist Lefties

    By Amanda Ripley (Washington City Paper, May 22-28, 1998, p.12)

    "They who work in the mills ought to own them," Noam Chomsky wrote in a high-minded rant against corporate propaganda in the fall 1995 issue of CovertAction Quarterly (CAQ). That's the kind of pink tinge that characterizes many stories in the D.C.-based publication, which started out as a CIA watchdog newsletter but has evolved into a quietly respected, if tendentious, investigative magazine. For the past 19 years, CAQ has been an unapologetic champion of the worker and merciless critic of corporate tyranny. In a nation of Niketowns, it's a pretty lonely franchise.

    But last week, the publishers of a magazine that has built its reputation on exposing corporate malfeasance fired its own workers with no notice, sliding crisp envelopes under the doors of their homes early on a Sunday morning and changing the locks to the 1500 Massachusetts Ave. NW office. So those who worked in the mills not only do not own them, but they can no longer even show up to toil there. Publishers and founders Ellen Ray, Louis Wolf, and Bill Schaap yanked the press from the hands of the proletariat in one quick grab. Their timing sucks by any objective standard -- the magazine swept this year's Project Censored Awards for undercovered stories for the second year in a row. Other investigative journalists say that Terry Allen, the (now unemployed) editor of CAQ rescued the publication from fringedom and turned it into a credible outlet for investigative journalism through a stern reliance on actual facts.

    "Frankly, I think it's indispensable," says writer Jason Vest, who occasionally cursed CAQ for beating him to print on investigative projects he was working for U.S. News and World Report. "[For the staff] to be terminated in this manner is really, really, really ironic," Vest says.

    In a May 14 e-mail memo to various writers and affiliates of the magazine, editor Allen, associate editor Sanho Tree, and support staff member Barbara Neuwirth said the personnel change "smacks of monstrous arrogance."

    "They did it with a smarmy exploitation of the legal niceties of capitalism that would make the Dulles brothers blush," the banished threesome wrote. Allen, Neuwirth, and Tree say they repeatedly clashed with the publishers over journalistic ethics. They maintain that their reluctance to put ideology before facts was what ultimately brought down the axe. "The first and most important [reason] was our refusal to be bullied by Wolf, Ray and Schaap into publishing whacko-conspiracy theories and articles that served their agenda but failed to distinguish between facts and political fairy tales," wrote the three staffers in the May memo. "Among those [ideas] championed by one or another of the publishers was a proposal to expose Hitler's current hideout in Antarctica."

    But the troika of publishers claim the firings had nothing to do with the content of the magazine. In a terse statement released on Monday, the publishers insist the schism grew out of interpersonal clashes and "absolutely intolerable" conduct.

    The incident that both sides agree sparked the meltdown was hilariously petty, as is often the case with office brawls. On her cubicle wall, Neuwirth had tacked up a picture of a man with his head up his ass. Underneath, she had added the concise caption "Publisher." When the real-life publishers strolled into the office, they took the joke rather badly and that day pretty much marked the demise of friendly relations. "This is so yucky and silly and absurd," concedes an embarrassed Allen.

    In their termination letter, the publishers, say the poster incident "is in no way the cause of this action. It was, however, the catalyst that caused us to review the situation seriously and in great depth."

    Now that Allen is out of the picture, look for CAQ to head back to the margins of public discourse. "CAQ was long considered to be sort of a nutty, conspiracy-mongering magazine," says Ken Silverstein, co-editor of CounterPunch newsletter, who's been reading CAQ on and off for about a decade. "If you look back at some of the old issues from 10 years ago, it was just the most simplistic, stupid, immature magazine around," he says. But Allen, who Silverstein admits is a friend of his, "has made it a very respectable magazine. " And he says she did it with no help from publishers Ray and Schaap, whom he calls "the most dogmatic, idiotic, left-wingers you're ever going to find."

    Vanity Fair columnist Christopher Hitchens expressed a similarly odd mixture of ho-hum surprise in response to the firings. He saw no reason to alter what he found to be a perfectly tidy little rag. But knowing what he does of its publishers, Hitchens says of the firings, "I'd have to say I find it believable and depressing."

    In Washington, dismissive treatment of low-paid editorial types is nothing new--it's endemic to many publications' MO. In CAQ's case, the irony is just all the more raw. "It always depresses me when so-called leftists act like people from the Fortune 500," says Alexander Cockburn, columnist for New York Press and co-editor of CounterPunch. "CAQ isn't the only one."

    Publisher Schaap says he and his colleagues will not comment in detail on the firings. He denies that the terminations were as outrageous as the staffers describe but refuses to elaborate. "It's making a mountain out of a molehill, really," he says.

    At home in Vermont, ex-editor Allen is left to contemplate the ruins of the molehill she spent nine years of her life cultivating. She has yet to make sense of it. "We believed that things had to be documented," she says, sounding dazed. "We believed that articles had to make sense." But so much for that. Now Allen's just one of the masses, and her future plans are vague. "I think I'm gonna mow my lawn," she says.


    Publishers' termination letter

    Covert Action Publications, Inc.
    1500 Massachusetts Avenue, Room 732
    Washington, DC, 20005

    May 9, 1998

    Dear Terry, Sanho, and Barbara,

    We have determined, after considerable deliberation, that the interpersonal relations, the work styles, and the manner of functioning of the office have become intolerable, creating a hostile and unproductive environment for all of us. As the founders of CovertAction magazine, we have decided that it is in the best interests of the company, the magazine, and all concerned that your employment be terminated.

    We, as the officers and the entire, unanimous, board of directors, must, therefore, advise you formally that your employment by Covert Action Publications, Inc. ("CA"), is terminated effective immediately. You are also advised that, to the extent any of you may hold any corporate office of CA for any purposes, you are removed from such office or offices effective immediately. To the extent any of you may have been signatories to any CA accounts, you are removed from same effective immediately.

    You are also advised that you may not hold yourself out to be employees or officers of CA, or to speak on its behalf, nor may you purport to bind CA to any agreements or understandings whatsoever. You are also advised to return forthwith to the CA offices any property belonging to CA currently in your possession. Under no circumstances are you to use any CA mailing list for any purpose. Arrangements will be made for you to remove from the offices, under our representatives' supervision, any personal property currently there. We will provide you with a printout of the file name of every file on each computer. You may indicate on the list all those you believe to be personal files, and return it to us. Our computer consultant will copy for you your personal files, give you them on disk, and erase such files from the CA computers.

    We appreciate the hard work you have put into the magazine. We are therefore all the more disappointed that personal relations and communications have deteriorated to such a point that this action is necessary.

    We are prepared to discuss, individually, with each of you, compensation due, severance pay, facilitating unemployment insurance payments, the forwarding of personal mail and messages, the transfers of your health insurance, and any other matters any of you may wish to discuss.

    We wish to stress that the recent incident between Bill and Barbara is in no way the cause of this action. It was, however, the catalyst that caused us to review the situation seriously and in great depth. We believe it would serve no useful purpose to confront each other over details.

    You may each contact Bill to facilitate the removal of your personal belongings and files, and the return of CA property. Bill and Ellen will be in town all weekend, and Monday, if necessary, staying at Lou and Dolores's. Bill will also have his cell phone, the number of which is: 917-975-4789. His office number in New York is 212-448-0366.

    Sincerely,

    Ellen Ray, President and Director
    Loui$ Wolf, Vice-President and Director
    William H. Schaap, Secretary-Treasurer and Director


    Publishers' letter/position paper released after firing the staff

    May 19, 1998

    To Friends and Supporters of CovertAction Quarterly:

    We are saddened that three former employees of this magazine have chosen to disseminate widely a lengthy diatribe presenting their side of the long- standing dispute that led to their recent discharge. We do not believe that any useful purpose will be served by responding point by point to their e- mail, even though we consider it misleading, incomplete, and substantially untrue. Indeed, to respond in detail would only lead to further exchanges and, most importantly, exacerbate the damage to the magazine that has already been done. We can only assure you that we believe we were fully justified in taking the action we did.

    On the other hand, we know that many well-meaning friends and supporters are disturbed by these events. We wish, first, to stress that it had nothing to do with the extremely high-quality content and presentation of the magazine, and, second, to confirm that it was due solely to interpersonal relations and conduct that had, over time, become absolutely intolerable.

    We wish only to advise you of a few facts. The discharges were not without notice, both long-term and short-term, and, indeed, even in our final communication, we offered to sit down and discuss "anything" with any of them.

    None accepted this offer. It is also totally disingenuous to describe the conflict as a management-worker dispute, and deeply insulting to us to be referred to as "capitalist thugs." Not only have we never, in its twenty year history, taken a salary from the magazine, we have, year after year, to the present, contributed the entire shortfall--not an insignificant amount--necassary to keep it from folding, and to meet its every obligation.

    In 1978, we founded CovertAction and for more than a decade wrote, edited, and produced the magazine virtually on our own. Those were dangerous times to confront the U.S. intelligence agencies, and to appear, as we did, before Congress to defend the right to expose the illegal activities of the secret government. Can anyone who knows us and our histories believe, for example, the absurd charge that we "championed" an article suggesting Adolf Hitler was alive in Antarctica?

    We do want you to know that we intend to continue to produce CovertAction and to maintain and improve its high quality and standards. We have exciting plans for new and expanded coverage and for additional and excellent people to help us achieve this. We will be publicizing the details shortly.

    We look forward to your continued friendship and support.

    Ellen Ray, Louis Wolf, and William H. Schaap

    Back to Street Librarian's alternative media page or home.

    Mail me: streetlibrarian@bigfoot.com

    Do it yourself: gEoCities