Terry Allen Answers CAQ Attacks

[also see Response to the messages posted by former employees of Covert Action Quarterly: Bill Blum Mon, 21 Sep 1998]
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 other peoples' 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)