21 March 2002
DID CORNELL CENSOR CRITICISM OF ITS BIOTECH WORK?
"...I did take ten minutes to strongly criticize Cornell and its satellite, the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva, for their biotech work. This was hardly unusual. Over the final two years of my show, I had devoted many hours to this topic, including, at one point, almost the entirety of three broadcasts in a row. And, as has been widely reported, I am currently suing Cornell to force the university, under New York's Freedom Of Information Law (FOIL), to release documents related to the corporate sponsorship and safety of its biotech research... I made that final broadcast on October 4th... on October 9th, I was told I was being taken off the air."
from: Nobody Show <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Contact: Jeremy Alderson, 607-546-2084
THE CANCELLATION OF "THE NOBODY SHOW": Did Cornell Convince A Clinton Colleague To Censor Criticism of Its Biotech Work?
A Statement by Jeremy Weir Alderson aka "Nobody"
From August 5, 1992 to October 4, 2001, I was the host of "The Nobody Show," a politically-oriented talk show that aired on WEOS in Geneva, NY. I had what I thought was an excellent relationship with my station manager, Mike Black. He had given me my start in broadcasting and helped me get "The Homelessness Marathon" off the ground (it is now the largest broadcast in America focusing on issues of poverty and homelessness). In my nine years at WEOS, neither he nor anyone else had ever had occasion to reprimand me, and at one point, he had even recommended me to Pacifica Broadcasting as a possible national talk host (I didn't pursue this because of Pacifica's troubles, but that's another story).
This harmonious situation ended abruptly when Mike informed me, out of the blue, that I was being taken off the air effective immediately. I did not protest. I did not want to make waves for Mike to whom I feel indebted, and I did not (and do not) feel that, in the great scheme of things, the loss of "The Nobody Show" was of any particular importance. I said I would only speak out if I learned there might be some broader issue involved in my termination. That time has come.
When I was taken off the air, I was told it was because my time slot was needed for student programming (WEOS is owned by Hobart and William Smith Colleges). That was the official story. But it has become clear that there is also an unofficial story. The four points below summarize the evidence, as best I know it. I will make no allegation but will leave it to the public to decide which story is true.
1 - THERE IS NO CORROBORATION FOR THE OFFICIAL STORY. When I was taken off the air, WEOS ran "The World Cafe" for one hour in the morning and two hours in the evening. One of those evening hours duplicated one of the morning hours. Obviously, those duplicative hours -- five per week -- could have been offered to students or to me.
I was told my slot, and not others, had been taken away because students
had insisted on having those specific hours. But when I called up
one of the students who took over my slot and asked her if she had requested
it, she answered, "I have no idea what you're talking about."
I was told that I might be allowed to broadcast during school breaks, when students weren't on the air and, thus, there could be no pressure for time slots. When the winter break approached, I e-mailed Mike Black to ask if I would, indeed, be allowed to do my show again. On December 16th, he e-mailed me, "this is still on hold, at least until after the first week in January." When I e-mailed him again, on New Year's day, he replied, on January 7th, "The break is over on Monday," and would not let me back on the air. When, a little more than two months later, I asked to be permitted back on for the spring break, he turned me down again, saying, as he has said repeatedly, "my hands are tied."
I was told that the duplicative hour of "World Cafe" would eventually be eliminated as more students came on the air. In fact, on Oct. 23, Mike Black wrote, "In about a week, all the time slots from 7-10 [p.m.] will be taken up by local programs." That didn't happen. Instead, "World Cafe" eventually ran for two hours in the morning with both hours being repeated in the evening, making for up to ten hours of duplicative programming a week (there was probably some student programming during these hours that I'm not aware of, but, in any case, the amount of duplicative programming was substantial).
Now, more than five months after I was taken off the air, WEOS is still repeating "World Cafe." In other words, there seems to be nothing whatsoever that confirms the official story about why my show was singled out for cancellation or that explains why I was informed, without warning, on October 9, 2001, that I had already made my last broadcast.
2 - THERE IS TESTIMONY DIRECTLY CONTRADICTING TWO CRUCIAL ELEMENTS
OF THE OFFICIAL STORY. One such element is Mike Black's repeated
assertion that he had never discussed my dismissal with Mark Gearan, the
president of Hobart and William Smith Colleges (HWS). The other element
concerns a complaint that was allegedly made about "The Nobody Show."
When Mike Black first told me I was being terminated, I asked if there had been any complaints about the show. He mentioned that a letter of complaint had, indeed, come in, but that it had been received only after the decision to take me off the air had been made. I asked him to send me a copy of this letter, and he said he would, but he didn't. A month later, I called to see where the letter was, and he said it wasn't a letter but an e-mail, which he would send me that afternoon. He didn't.
A month after that, I inquired again about this complaint, and, on Dec. 3rd, he e-mailed back, "I no longer have it on my PC. I had a hard disk get trashed and lost everything I had saved..."
However, according to HWS Professor of Political Science Iva Deutchman, Mike Black told her a different story. Deutchman is not a supporter of mine, and she did not sign the HWS faculty petition requesting my reinstatement (with which I was not in any way involved).
However, soon after my show was cancelled, she was kind enough to offer to talk with Mike Black about it. At that time, I was speculating about several possible reasons for my termination. I had no evidence to lead me to believe that one explanation was more likely than another, and so, I did not and could not have steered her toward any particular theory.
Professor Deutchman reported back that Mike Black had told her that he had met with President Gearan and that during that meeting, Gearan had told him that there had been a complaint (or complaints) about my most recent broadcast about Cornell. It is, of course, impossible to directly quote Gearan's remarks, but according to Deutchman, Black told her that Gearan had said something to the effect of, "He's not part of the community, so let's cut our losses and get rid of him."
3 - THOUGH THE OFFICIAL EXPLANATION DOESN'T EXPLAIN WHY I WAS
TERMINATED ON OCTOBER 9TH, THIS DATE TURNS OUT TO BE THE DAY AFTER A POLICE
INCIDENT AT CORNELL'S GENEVA AG STATION. Almost the entire two hours
of what turned out to be my final broadcast was devoted to the events of
September 11th. But I did take ten minutes to strongly criticize
Cornell and its satellite, the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station
in Geneva, for their biotech work. This was hardly unusual. Over
the final two years of my show, I had devoted many hours to this topic,
including, at one point, almost the entirety of three broadcasts in a row.
And, as has been widely reported, I am currently suing Cornell to force
the university, under New York's Freedom Of Information Law (FOIL), to
release documents related to the corporate sponsorship and safety of its
biotech research (thanks to my lawyer, Diane Campbell of LoPinto, Schlather,
Solomon and Salk in Ithaca, N.Y., I have won the first two rounds in court).
I made that final broadcast on October 4th. On the night of October 7-8th, there was an alleged tire-slashing incident at Cornell's Ag Station. On October 8th, that incident was reported to the Geneva police department, and on October 9th, I was told I was being taken off the air.
For the record, I have never, on or off the air, encouraged anyone to destroy property at Cornell, But that did not stop Cornell from asserting in court that releasing freedom-of-information documents to me might encourage ecoterrorism. The judge did not find in Cornell's favor on this claim.
4 - IN MY DISPUTE WITH CORNELL, HWS WAS OFFICIALLY ON CORNELL'S
Central to my criticism of Cornell was my opposition to the proposed expansion of the Ag Station by the addition of a multi-million dollar Agriculture and Food Technology Park (Ag Tech Park) next door, where genetically modified organisms might be field tested by multinational corporations (Asgrow, a division of Monsanto, was early on considered a likely tenant). In order to stop this project, I wrote a letter to the Higher Education Committee of the New York State Assembly, which had to clear enabling legislation before work on the park could proceed.
The letter contained a summary of hidden information I'd learned through
FOIL requests of the City of Geneva, and a like-minded listener had faxed
it to every committee member. I would like to believe that that letter
and the many calls my listeners made to Assemblyman Marty Luster helped
to delay the Ag Tech Park project for at least a year longer than many
had anticipated. But whatever the cause, the Higher Education Committee
surprised observers by refusing to clear the crucial bill for a vote by
the full Assembly.
Cornell was not about to give up, however. Four key Assembly members were invited to tour the Ag Station and hear a presentation on how wonderful the proposed Ag Tech Park would be. Hank Dullea, the Cornell vice-president through whom all inquiries about my law suit have been funneled, was in attendance as was one of Cornell's Albany lobbyists.
Also in attendance, according to a 10/10/01 press release from the Ag Station, were "local educational PARTNERS at Hobart William Smith [sic] Colleges" [emphasis added] who "addressed the benefits of the Park to local colleges and student populations as a potential employer and intern site." In other words, HWS was apparently lobbying for the passage of the very bill I was trying to stop (and the bill did eventually pass).
Could an official delegation from HWS have been sent to lobby the Assembly without the approval of the HWS administration? Could it have been sent without the direct involvement of President Gearan? Gearan, it should be noted, was formerly the communications director for Bill Clinton and campaign manager for Al Gore, both of whom are big boosters of biotech.
In order to accept the official story, one must, at the very least, believe that pressure to provide students with time slots became so severe that I had to be terminated suddenly on a day that was, just coincidentally, the day after an alleged tire-slashing incident at Cornell's Ag Station; that, simultaneously, "The World Cafe" became so important that even its repeats had to be given priority over other programming on WEOS's schedule; that Mike Black's hard drive crashed and ate a complaint that had nothing to do with my termination anyway; and that Prof. Deutchman somehow fabricated, misunderstood or otherwise misreported comments by Mike Black about a meeting with Mark Gearan.
If, on the other hand, one just connects the dots of the available evidence,
one comes up with the unofficial story. This story, too, is not without
its problems, because there are only so many dots, and just connecting
them requires one to make some assumptions for which there is no evidence
at all. Nonetheless, the unofficial story goes something like this:
Cornell had long considered me a thorn in its side and so seized on the
tire-slashing incident as a pretext to demand I be taken off the air.
Someone from Cornell complained to Mark Gearan and said something that
motivated him to call Mike Black into his office and issue the order to
get rid of me. "The Nobody Show" was targeted for termination where
other shows were not, because only "The Nobody Show" ever criticized Cornell,
and I had to be gotten off the air right away, because the whole point
was to keep me from making any further comments about Cornell's work.
There was an obvious problem with this, though, in that I hadn't actually
done anything wrong, and admitting that Cornell was being given control
of the news, even during a war, might not sit well with the public.
So Mark Gearan (or someone) came up with the big-time political ploy of
creating a cover story. There were, indeed, more students seeking
time slots, so the story was put out that this was the reason I was being
taken off the air.
If the official story is true, it will not be the first time that truth has proven stranger than fiction. If the unofficial story is true, it raises obvious questions about Mark Gearan, Cornell and control of the media. But which story is true? You decide.
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