News

Supporting Documents from ex-CAQ Staff

CONTENTS: -- 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. Fascist Lefties 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. Sincerely, 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 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, are searching through all the drawers and files of each of the employees, the letters 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 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) 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 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 ------END OF DOCUMENT--- Terry Allen 44 Old Brook Rd. Richmond, VT 05477 802-434-3767 voice 802-434-3767 fax (call first) [email protected]