Supporting Documents from ex-CAQ Staff
-- WASHINGTON CITY PAPER ARTICLE "FASCIST LEFTIES"
-- PUBLISHERS' TERMINATION LETTER
-- CAQ STAFF'S 1st LETTER TO SUPPORTERS AND READERS AFTER FIRING
-- PUBLISHERS' LETTER/POSITION PAPER
NEWS ARTICLE IN THE WASHINGTON CITY PAPER,
MAY 22-28, 1998, P.12.
by Amanda Ripley
"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.
--end OF CITY PAPER ARTICLE ON FIRINGS--
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.
Ellen Ray, President and Director
Loui$ Wolf, Vice-President and Director
William H. Schaap, Secretary-Treasurer and Director
--end OF PUBLISHERS' LETTER FIRING CAQ STAFF--
CAQ STAFF'S FIRST LETTER TO
SUPPORTERS AND READERS AFTER FIRING
May 14, 1998
CAQ Purges Workers
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
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, are
searching through all the drawers and files of each of the employees, the
they wrote to old friends, colleagues, writers, and lovers old 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
and 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
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
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
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
Please keep in touch and we will try to do the same as events unfold. Feel
free to pass on this message.
Terry Allen (802-434-3767) email: [email protected]
Barbara Neuwirth: (202-232-6863) email: [email protected]
Sanho Tree (202-234-6854) email: [email protected]
--END OF CAQ STAFF FIRST LETTER--
PUBLISHERS' LETTER/POSITION PAPER RELEASES 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
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
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
------END OF DOCUMENT---
44 Old Brook Rd.
Richmond, VT 05477
802-434-3767 fax (call first)