Sanho Tree (by way of on Wed, 27 May 1998 02:23:25 +0200 (MET DST)

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>From 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.


The Village Voice, May 20, 1998

Press Clips by James Ledbetter

          Overt Actions

CovertAction Quarterly (now usually called CAQ) has been on quite a tear for
the last several years. Having grown beyond its earlier, sometimes overly
obsessive focus on U.S. intelligence naughtiness, the magazine now regularly
publishes original, first-rate material on a wide variety of
subjects--including the environment, white-collar crime, and nuclear
proliferation--which has won CAQ much recognition in the last two years from
the people at Project Censored.

Now all of that is at risk: on May 10, CAQ's three paid staffers found
letters slipped under their household doors, informing them that they'd been
canned by the publisher. The only explanation given was that ''interpersonal
relations and work styles . . . [had created] a hostile and unproductive
environment for all of us.''

That, according to now former editor Terry Allen, is a crock. She says that
the principal reason was the staff's ''refusal to be bullied [by CAQ's
owners] into publishing wacko conspiracy theories and articles that served
their agenda but failed to distinguish between facts and political fairy

Allen told the Voice last week that CAQ's founders--the publishing trio of
Bill Schaap, Ellen Ray, and Louis Wolf--tried to push through stories that
showed the Serbs as ''blameless victims of genocide,'' that would call the
current leadership of Azerbaijan ''a model of progressive governance,'' and
that purported to expose Hitler's bunker in Antarctica, ''which is being
supplied by the U.S. navy,'' Allen recalled with derisive laughter.

Allen also said that Wolf was guilty of ''unsavory journalistic behavior,''
and had been called on it. She declined to elaborate, saying, ''I don't want
this to descend into mudslinging.'' Apparently interoffice relations sunk to
the point where a photograph of a man with his head up his ass was hanging
in the CAQ office, with the caption ''publisher'' on it.

Reached for comment on Monday, Schaap declined to respond to Allen's
specific charges. In a prepared statement, he and his copublishers said the
dismissals ''had nothing to do with the extremely high-quality content and
presentation of the magazine,'' and were due ''solely to interpersonal
relations and conduct that had, over time, become absolutely intolerable.''
Schaap added that the magazine does intend to continue publishing, and that
hiring a new editorial staff is ''in the works.''

It's unclear whether CAQ can put out its next issue on time. As for Allen
and her two fired colleagues: ''We are ready to wipe off the bottoms of our
shoes, take a long shower, and move on.''

Sanho Tree                     
1801 16th St., NW, #505                  202/234-6854 (Voice)
Washington, DC  20009                    202/234-7952 (Fax)
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