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March 8, 2002
With a March 9th Update from the
Student Underground (scroll down)
Narco News Wins Victory for Freelancers:
Money Withheld by Alternet "will be paid"
Narco News '02
Authentic Journalism on the "War on Drugs" in Latin America
"The Name of Our Country is América" - Simón Bolívar
Alternet Responds, a
Correction, & More
Publisher's Note: When, a week ago, we published our White Paper on Ethics Problems at Alternet, we invited Alternet to respond on these pages.
We printed your letters to the editor about the issues raised.
Other journalists weighed in: the San Francisco Bay Guardian published an editorial, Dan Kennedy analyzed, Ken Layne lamented "the same dirty dealings as Big Evil Media," Danny Schechter asked questions of both sides and reaffirmed his respect for our "courage and tenacity," the Student Underground cleaned up its links section, and Barry Crimmins put it all in perspective. Obviously, the issues have touched a chord among authentic journalists.
Although Alternet did not, at first, respond directly to us, its director did send a letter to various readers, forwarded to us by Owen Jones, whose letter appeared last week on our letters page. Today we publish Alternet's response to Mr. Jones, and our response to various claims made by Alternet director Don Hazen in that letter, and our documentation that demonstrates that Hazen made knowingly and demonstrably false statements that any serious journalist would now correct.
That response, which we posted to Alternet's message board, provoked a letter to the editor from Alternet staff member Emi Kane, which we also publish today in full. Kane sent us a copy of a September email from Kim Alphandary, the author of a September 2001 Narco News story, that contradicted our original report. We had reported, based on Alphandary's statement to us, that Alternet had taken that story without permission, when, it turns out, Alphandary had given permission.
That part of our report was not accurate, and thus we correct it: We regret the error.
In the spirit of the full disclosure and responsiveness that is necessary to authentic journalism, we also publish, below, Kane's letter to us, and the related Alphandary correspondence with Alternet and Narco News, including a letter he sent us last night offering an apology to all involved and explaining what happened. We thank Alphandary for giving an example of how journalists, when we are in error, should honestly confront and correct ourselves. After all, that is one of the points we have stressed throughout this ongoing story: the importance of transparency and honesty by journalists when alerted by others of ethics problems.
We also received a letter from Alternet Online Project Director Leda Dederich. We have asked Dederich if she intended it as a letter to the editor, and await her response. This space is open to all. We publish, here, our letter responding to some points she made in that letter and on Alternet's message boards.
We publish today five of the original Alternet Papers, in their full text, which directly document the facts relevant to the aforementioned letters.
We also celebrate a victory: As a direct result of our March 1st report, freelance writers who are owed money by Alternet from its previously undisclosed "bounty" funding deal "will be paid."
That's why we do journalism. Sometimes we have to anger people to do it, but we get results.
Since we await more results, our story continues, spoken by the various sides in their own words....
-- Al Giordano, Publisher
Hazen Writes to a Reader
The following is the full, uncensored, text of Alternet director Don Hazen's letter to reader Owen Jones and others, including his responses on dankennedy.net and mediachannel.org, followed by our own response to demonstrably false claims made by Hazen.
No , the allegations against AlterNet are not true. DH
Here are my responses to ther Giordano attack. including a Q & A with the Media Channel. DH
Thank you for asking for a response regarding Al Giordano's attack on AlterNet and me. Al has great skill at the art of propaganda writing -turn a positive into a negative; exaggerate facts beyond recognition; create conspiracies where there aren't any. It's virtually impossible to answer such an off the wall attack.
I'm going to trust that my more than 30 years of activism, my style of speaking my mind and my support of many dozens of progressive causes means much more to any reader than this kind of senseless attack wrapped in self righteousness. I'm very confident in my relationships with thousands of writers, advocates, board members, colleagues, funders and friends. I know they trust my work, my values, and my judgement. They are lefties, liberals, progressives, radicals, but most of all they are independent thinkers and have no qualms about challenging my work, or my opinions, if they think it necessary. The people of this community are who I answer to, not Al Giordano.
For the record, AlterNet has committed no ethical lapses. We have never knowingly used content without permission, nor have we or will we ever shortchange any agreement with a writer. We do not have a blacklist, but given our previous experience and attacks, have decided not to run material by Al Girodano. If anyone has any specific questions for me, based on what they have read, I'm happy to try and answer them. Please e mail me at Info@alternet.org
Q & A.
Danny Schechter at the Media Channel:
Al was predictably unhappy with Hazen's response to his "expose", calling it vague and PRish. I was unhappy by what I see as an overly personalized attack here, and an underlying tone that SEEMS more interested in scoring points than getting answers which he could have attempted without a big public hoo hah. But such is not his style. Nevertheless, I went back to Don raising Al's issues. AlterNet's Hazen agreed
to answer my questions -and his. (This ends this matter for me but not, I am sure for Al who may add me to his enemy's list. I hope not. )
D.S: So what's going on here with you and Giordano?
" I've tried to be zen about this gonzo attack on me by Al Giordano. The vast majority of readers have zero interst in this self- appointed, self rightous journalism. I feel sorry for your readers who stumble upon this. There are far more important issues to address.
" Nevertheless, as an admirer of the Media Channel, I'm happy to respond to your questions to put this distraction to rest. But this response needs to be the end. Al spent 4,000 plus words atttacking me on his web site. I responded. He wasn't happy and whined that I didn't answer his questions. So I'm answering.
D. S. What can you tell me about the drug bounty issue that Giordano keeps referring to.
D.H. The funny thing is that this project was brought to AlterNet by two friends of Al's who had the so called "bounty idea." They helped raise a modest amount of money, then bolted out of San Francisco when they couldn't control the project. It's pretty obvious they were Al's source on this. There is nothing untoward about the concept however. The funder simply wanted to see articles written about the drug war placed in papers and would pay a bonus when our marketing efforts payed off with results.
"However, because of 9/11 and other things, we never really implemented the project. We collected a measley couple of thousand dollars. Of course, whatever money was earned by writers for content that is not owned by Alternet, will be paid. Our contracts call for 50% payment to writers and we always adhere to that.
D.S. Are you black listing writers?
" DH Totally not. We've published many thousands of writers. But based on his total inaccuracy on many things, I would not publish Giordano's writings on AlterNet because they are not trustworthy. There is one other writer who recently veracity I can't trust either. But those are editorial judgements, not black lists. No editor in their right mind would publish material they can't trust. So not publishing Al has nothing to do with idelogy, which is what black lists are about.
DS Did you steal Al's stories?
" DH I have to laugh at Al's audacity. His hero Abbie Hoffman's Steal this Book is being reissued, and Al is trying to say I stole his content. Al, what happened to that old Abbie spirit?. Information yearns to be free, right? Why mediate it? I know one thing for sure, Abbie would never be wasting everyone's time with this
" AlterNet has never "stolen" content from NarcoWatch, doesn't want Al's content, and doesn't need it. Aside from one momentary mistake months ago that was rectified immediately, there is nothing. Al did complain about one other writer, but we have an e mail from her giving us permission to use the article. But to be safe, we've removed that as well.
" As best we can tell, a former employee may have hacked into the AlterNet e mail system, using an old pass word. Giordano complains about ethics, but has no qualms accepting or acquiring stolen e mail messages from the computer of a 20 year old AlterNet employee. I find that a little contradictory.
DS: What about the even split with writers on AlterNet? Is that out of whack? DH: Hardly. Fifty percent has been the AlterNet policy for 15 years. Until Al, no one has ever complained. Since we do all the work in searching, reviewing, securing, formatting, marketing and collecting the money for the the content, writers consider 50% a fair deal. Some of the big syndication and aggregation companies groups like Screaming Media, Lexis, etc. take 80 and 90%.
"What about fake reviews for Amazon.com? DH: That was a joke. Since the info. came from a stolen e mail, there was no way for the recipient to grasp its tongue and cheek quality. Nobody from AlterNet sent reviews to Amazon for our book. But nevertheless AFTER 9/11: SOLUTIONS FOR A SANER SOCIETY is a great book and people can order it from WWW. ALTERNET.ORG
Any final thoughts?
Just that my board of directors knows full well the source and motivation for this attack, having seen more than five years of similar senseless efforts by Bay Guardian owner Bruce Brugmann, Giordano's supporter in this escapade. The same day Giordano's article appeared, Brugmann's staff called AlterNet demanding information. I can guarentee you that there will be a hit piece in the Bay Guardian in the next week or two. This is coordinated, like the right wing does it. Fortunately for all of us, Brugmann isn't taken seriously. He has cried wolf too many times. And now Al is heading down the same slippery slope.
Executive Editor: AlterNet.org
Independent Media Institute
415-284-1420 Ext. 302
Our Response to Hazen's Letter
Sent to reader Owen Jones and others, and posted to Alternet's bulletin board.
Thank you for forwarding Alternet's response to you, and for getting our email address -- Narco News -- correctly, because I've never heard of this "Narcowatch" that the ever-confused Hazen keeps referring to.
Now that I'm back from interviewing Comandante Marco León Calarcá of the FARC in Mexico City, I will provide you with the real facts, which is, equally, part of my duty as a journalist: to respond honestly to readers.
I will also copy this email to others who have forwarded Hazen's same "response" to them, and, of course, anyone may feel free to quote from my words in their follow up stories.
Once more, Hazen and Alternet are being less than honest to you in their responses.
In fact, he is being knowingly dishonest.
Basically, he pasted together a press release he had already sent out, plus his interview with Danny Schechter -- for which Schechter ran a correction the following day, undisclosed by Hazen's email, which appears on his lengthy weblog and also at Dan Kennedy's site:
Kennedy filed a follow-up titled "Ad Hominem", and observed:
MONDAY, MARCH 3, 2002 | MediaChannel.org executive editor Danny Schechter, in his weblog today, makes an important point that I want to second. Schechter, too, has been giving space to Narco News Bulletin publisher Al Giordano's charges of unethical behavior against AlterNet and its executive director, Don Hazen. And Schechter, like me, published Hazen's response on Saturday (see below).
Schechter correctly notes that Hazen "question[s] Al's bonafides as a journalist. I should have dissented from that unfair characterization, and reaffirmed my respect for his courage and tenacity for reporting from the front lines of the drug war." Schechter's right. Giordano's brief against AlterNet is harsh, but it's also very specific. Hazen's response is ad hominem.
Watch this space for further updates on this developing story.
Thus, Hazen's obfuscating ad hominem responses are obviously not putting the matter to rest. If he truly wishes to "end" the story, he should be honest. But the story keeps growing longer in tandem with the proverbial length of Pinocchio's nose.
Because we always respond forthrightly to readers, I give you here specific responses to demonstrable untruths in Hazen's statements he sent you.
If anyone has any specific questions for me, based on what they have read, I'm happy to try and answer them. Please e mail me at Info@alternet.org
It was precisely my writing to Hazen in October 2001 with questions that got me placed on the blacklist, as documented by his own internal emails. His claim to be "open" to questions now is absurd, particularly because he still obfuscates on the key ones.
Hazen quotes Schechter here:
I was unhappy by what I see as an overly personalized attack here, and an underlying tone that SEEMS more interested in scoring points than getting answers which he could have attempted without a big public hoo hah.
Again, I did attempt to get answers without "a big public hoo hah" four months ago. This was stated very clearly in my original article:
"There may be those who say that we should look the other way from Alternet's unethical practices; that we should first raise the issue "in the family" of alternative journalists. Last fall, we did bring some of these issues to the attention of Alternet. The response by Alternet's director, Hazen, was less than serious. Alternet stonewalled, failed to answer questions that any competent journalist must answer to meet the standard of full disclosure, and made statements that - as we document today - were knowingly false and dishonest. This is not role model behavior for any business venture. For journalists, it is unconscionable, and casts doubt upon the integrity of the entire operation."
I think that Danny Schechter acknowledged that he overshot on that and other points when he published his clarification the following day, as quoted by Kennedy above.
Hazen also quotes Schechter:
(This ends this matter for me but not, I am sure for Al who may add me to his enemy's list. I hope not. )
I thought that "enemy's list" thing was strange, since there's never been any pattern of behavior here that would suggest that one exists or ever did. For example, even after Schechter confused the true facts the other day, his Media Channel still counts with Narco News as an affiliate and still enjoys a big fat link and logo on our front page. We don't play that log-rolling game. Contrast our spirit of mutual respect for differing opinions with Alternet's blacklisting response to me and others for simply having asked questions last October.
" I've tried to be zen about this gonzo attack on me by Al Giordano.
I thought this was funny on two counts. First, because Hazen had attacked FAIR for being stuck in the 1960s and "out of step with the times," and, here, Hazen gets his back against the wall and turns immediately to these 60s definitions like "Zen" (which, as a religion, should be capitalized) and "gonzo." Second, because as Kennedy pointed out, he was not "Zen" at all, but "ad hominem." It's a small point but it underscores the difference in what Hazen says and what Hazen does.
The vast majority of readers have zero interst in this self- appointed, self rightous journalism. I feel sorry for your readers who stumble upon this. There are far more important issues to address.
He doesn't know readers very well. More than 50,000 came to our site on the first day we published our Alternet story, and most of them were interested enough to read it. I think readers are very interested in how the media really works. Yes, there are many important issues to address (we've spent far more time this week reporting on Plan Colombia, the Bolivia drug wars, the DynCorp lawsuit and related issues) but ethical misconduct by alternative news organizations is also an important issue. The "alternative" press will have no credibility criticizing the big boys unless we clean our own houses first.
There's a marked hypocrisy to Hazen saying this, because he has publicly attacked IndyMedia, FAIR, Project Censored and other alternative media projects at length and through his Alternet published columns. There is a profound hypocrisy to him, in particular, saying, "this isn't important" only when his institution is under the magnifying glass. Again, to pick up on his claim to Zen behavior, his mantra must be "Do as I say, not as I do." Or, with apologies to that 60s singer Donovan: "First there was an unethical practice, then there wasn't, then there was."
I'm happy to respond to your questions to put this distraction to rest. But this response needs to be the end.
Notice how he tries to shut down the story. He hasn't succeeded. Just yesterday the San Francisco Bay Guardian wrote an editorial about it. See "Don Hazen's Sleaze," at www.sfbg.com . Journalists Kennedy and Ken Layne both wrote about it after Hazen's response. The Student Underground Newspaper at Boston University and Barrycrimmins.com both posted explanations that they have removed their links to Alternet because of the unethical practices there. There's a lot of public criticism of Alternet on many IndyMedia sites as a result of our story, and we've published a good number of letters to the editor about it, including yours. Did Alternet publish your letter to the editor? Of course not. Again, contrast who is being open and honest, and who is not.
But Hazen says "this needs to be the end" because he really has very little defense, and still hasn't come clean on basic matters that all true journalists must disclose. He sounds like Gary Condit, who also once said "this needs to be the end" -- and was, this week, unseated by the voters.
D.H. The funny thing is that this project was brought to AlterNet by two friends of Al's who had the so called "bounty idea."
I had never even met these people that he mentions when they and Hazen worked out the bounty deal in April/May 2001. Hazen tries to make this sound like it is about personalities and cliques -- that's how he works, not me -- when it is about journalistic ethics.
They helped raise a modest amount of money,
$25,000 plus commitments for more bounty funds is a "modest" amount? It's more than the average annual budget for the first two years of Narco News, and, I would venture, for most of the effective authentic journalist websites out there.
Imagine what you could do with $25,000. Alternet, as we see below, pissed it away on its bureaucracy and Hazen's own salary, which, according to Alternet's 1999 tax forms, was $79,000 before expenses. We are currently analyzing Alternet's tax filings -- made available to us by a reader as a result of our filing that first story -- and will file a follow up report. It's very interesting how little of Alternet's budget goes to placing the small number of articles it sells, and how much of it goes to a useless bureaucracy.
There is nothing untoward about the concept however. The funder simply wanted to see articles written about the drug war placed in papers and would pay a bonus when our marketing efforts payed off with results.
The Narco News White Paper on Ethics Problems at Alternet specifically stated that there was nothing untoward about the concept, except for Alternet's refusal to disclose it to readers, writers and client newspapers. I wrote on March 1:
"Alternet set up an arrangement with a donor in which, for every story on drug policy issues sold, Alternet would receive a "bounty" payment from that donor.
"Remember that Alternet claims to give 50 percent of the proceeds on any story to the writer of the article or column. Alternet has not done so with a great many stories for which it received these "bounty" payments.
"The unethical behavior, in this case, is that Alternet did not disclose this arrangement."
Basically, Hazen tried to misstate the real issue -- lack of full disclosure -- by inferring that we suggested the bounty deal itself was untoward when we specifically stated it was not, EXCEPT that it wasn't disclosed, which caught a lot of innocent parties in Alternet's web of deceit.
"However, because of 9/11 and other things, we never really implemented the project. We collected a measley couple of thousand dollars.
Again, he now admits that he pissed away $25,000 plus what he calls "a measley couple of thousand dollars." Imagine what most grassroots activist groups or authentic journalists could do with "a measley couple of thousand dollars." This is what we meant when we wrote that Alternet has grown fat and inefficient, and become a drain on the overall resources of the movement.
Of course, whatever money was earned by writers for content that is not owned by Alternet, will be paid. Our contracts call for 50% payment to writers and we always adhere to that.
Note the future tense of Hazen's statement, when he says the writers "will be paid" for stories published last Spring and Summer and with funds received by Alternet more than 4 months ago. I think this suggests very strongly that Alternet never had any intention of paying the writers what was owed them until we exposed the existence of these funds.
Thus, the real summary of this story, to date, is:
Narco News Wins Victory for Freelancers: Writers "Will Be Paid" Undisclosed Money Withheld Unethically by Alternet.
Institutional types are understandably made uncomfortable by our aggressive form of journalism. But it gets results!
I would not publish Giordano's writings on AlterNet because they are not trustworthy.
Hazen is so full of it here that the sewage system of his East Bay real estate is coming out of his ears. Hazen and Alternet published Giordano's writings for more than a decade, cashed the checks and pocketed their fifty percent. Alternet even republished and resold my 1999 Boston Phoenix story about Banamex to three or four other newspapers -- and that was the story that led to the lawsuit by Banamex that Hazen later tried to use against us.
It's pretty sleazy of Hazen to suggest that his October 31 blacklisting of me after my October 29 letter to him seeking "clarification" about this bounty funding deal has to do with the quality of my reporting, which has been praised publicly by almost every serious media critic in the country. The Nation editorialized recently, "Narco News has broken many important stories about the drug war in Latin America." Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting has offered similar analysis. Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz has referred to "Giordano's journalistic bullseye" on one story. Nobody says these kinds of things about Hazen or Alternet's original reporting, because it doesn't rise to that quality. There are many journalists who are as good or better than me, but Hazen is clearly not one of them. Consider the source.
" DH I have to laugh at Al's audacity. His hero Abbie Hoffman's Steal this Book is being reissued, and Al is trying to say I stole his content. Al, what happened to that old Abbie spirit?. Information yearns to be free, right? Why mediate it? I know one thing for sure, Abbie would never be wasting everyone's time with this bullshit.
As Hazen well knows, Abbie Hoffman was my best friend, and I, his. That's been widely published in various works by and about Abbie by others. Do you sense, perhaps, some jealousy there in his "hero" dig? How dare Hazen purport to claim to know what Abbie would say from the tomb. (To put this in perspective, Abbie never trusted Hazen. Abbie used to refer to Hazen as "a fifty dollar haircut on a five dollar head." And those were 1980s prices.) But back to the merits:
Hoffman's Steal This Book (full disclosure: I authored the new introduction to the new edition about to be published by Four Wall Eight Windows Press) was NOT about urging commercial entities like Alternet to offer information for sale. To the contrary, it was about making information free, and eliminating the financial transactions that harm human relations. Steal This Book was about stealing FROM institutions like Alternet. Which is why it's interesting that while Hazen tries to claim to know what Abbie would say, he later goes apoplectic with accusations that his internal documents were "stolen," which they were not.
Al did complain about one other writer, but we have an e mail from her giving us permission to use the article. But to be safe, we've removed that as well.
Well, if Hazen has that email he hasn't made it public. The author, Kim Alphandary, sent me an email stating that he did not grant permission. If Alternet has proof otherwise, of course I would publish a correction on that point. But, on this and all the other claims by Hazen, if they are true he should show us the evidence. I have cited the facts and documents that back up all my allegations. He has not. Nor has he "removed" the article, as he dishonestly claims in his response to Schechter. The link in our original story still leads to the Kim Alphandary article on the Alternet website. Oh, and one small point, but Kim is a "he," not a "she."
Publisher's Update: Thanks to Alternet staff member Emi Kane's response to us, we did receive the evidence we requested on this point, publish it below, and issue our correction above. Continuing with our response to Hazen...
" As best we can tell, a former employee may have hacked into the AlterNet e mail system, using an old pass word. Giordano complains about ethics, but has no qualms accepting or acquiring stolen e mail messages from the computer of a 20 year old AlterNet employee. I find that a little contradictory.
There was no hacking by anyone into Alternet's system. Alternet, in its customary institutional sloppiness, continued sending copies of those unsolicited emails to at least one source outside of the Alternet organization, at a private email address outside of Alternet. Now Hazen wishes to blame his own organization's boneheaded error -- committed by a staff member named Leda Dederich who, as I understand it, is older than 20 -- on others. We received copies of those documents, and found them newsworthy. That's what journalists do: Publish factual information, including documents from institutions.
It is particularly unbecoming for Hazen to hide under the skirt of "a 20 year old employee" here, because one of the issues we raised in our report is our concern over what young staff members at Alternet are being taught about journalistic ethics.
In any case, with that statement, Hazen confirms that the documents we quoted are authentic.
"What about fake reviews for Amazon.com? DH: That was a joke. Since the info. came from a stolen e mail, there was no way for the recipient to grasp its tongue and cheek quality.
Here's the full text of that email. You tell me if it at all has a "tongue in cheek quality" or can be considered a "joke.":'
From: Judy Hong <email@example.com>
Subject: our book on Amazon.com
our After 9/11 book is on the Amazon.com web site. We've already sold 4
books through them. Although we want online sales to go primarily through
the AlterNet.org website, Amazon is good for reaching people outside of our
If you get a chance, please go to the site and write a review for the book.
Please sign a "pen name," ie, one not associated with AlterNet. Also,
Amazon asks for your city and state. Maybe you could mix it up a bit, so
that we look like we are all over the place.
I'm still in the process of updating our information on Amazon. I should
have our cover art on there soon, and a more detailed discription of the
So, as you can see, Hazen has been quite dishonest in that and other explanations offered above, further compounding and adding to his unethical behavior by, now, lying to the press about what really occured.
Finally, Hazen wrote:
Just that my board of directors knows full well the source and motivation for this attack, having seen more than five years of similar senseless efforts by Bay Guardian owner Bruce Brugmann, Giordano's supporter in this escapade. The same day Giordano's article appeared, Brugmann's staff called AlterNet demanding information.
The idea that the Bay Guardian publisher, whom I've never met nor done any business with, or anyone else was behind my report is dishonestly stated by Hazen. Hazen knows full well that nobody tells Giordano what to do. (A friend of mine told a member of Hazen's forum staff who made a similar suggestion that trying to control Al was "like herding cats.") Indeed, that's part of his problem, he said so himself in his Halloween Blacklist email: "Giordano... is brilliant but feels no constraints."
In sum, while Alternet and Hazen apparently feel journalists should "feel constraints" about reporting the facts, it is Alternet that feels no *ethical* constraints -- the only constraints that belong in journalism -- and is even willing to lie to you and others in response to legitimate questions.
In any case, I'm happy that as a result of our report and the developing story that ensued that the writers "will be paid" -- finally! -- the money that was secretly withheld from them since last Autumn.
That's a victory for freelance writers and for authentic journalism.
May there be many, many more.
salud y abrazo,
The Narco News Bulletin
Emi Kane's 3/7/02 Letter to Us
Please post the following e-mail to your "letters" section of NarcoNews. I would suggest editing Kim's personal information to protect his privacy.
From: "Kim Alphandary" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Reply-To: "Kim Alphandary" <email@example.com>
Date: Tue, 18 Sep 2001 22:12:38 -0600
Subject: AUC and Taliban: US Policy Backfires from Colombia to Afghanistan
Absolutely you can reprint the article!!
I would like to mention that the article say "this story originally appeared in The Narco News Bulletin (www.narconews.com <http://www.narconews.com> )."
Payment is 50% of whatever you get from alternative weeklies that reprint it? That would be fine with me.
P.S. Narco News spelled by last name incorrectly. Alphandry instead of 'Alphandary'.
>>From: "Omar J. Pahati" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
>>Subject: Kim Alphandry
>>Date: Tue, 18 Sep 2001 13:38:39 -0700
>>Can you tell me how to get in touch with Kim Alphandry? I'm interested in
>>reprinting her article "AUC and Taliban: U.S. Policy Backfires from
>>to Afghanista" that narconews published this week. I would like to
>>syndicate it on AlterNet.org.
>>Can Narconews give me permission to do that or should I talk to Kim?
>>Omar J. Pahati
Independent Media Institute
77 Federal Street
San Francisco, CA 94107
(415) 284-1420 ext. 321
Alphandary's 2/25/02 email to Us
From : "Kim Alphandary" <email@example.com>
To : "Alberto M. Giordano" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject : Re: Alternet
Date : Mon, 25 Feb 2002 09:27:53 -0800
Alternet contacted you first, and upon your advice -- I responded to them by
asking about terms of payment, and never heard from them again.
-- only recently did i discover that they had published it --
If that helps....
Our 3/7/02 Request to Alphandary
Our Publisher, upon receiving the letter from Alternet staffer Emi Kane, above, wrote to Alphandary:
The following is a letter sent to us by a member of the Alternet staff.
I am going to publish it, along with your February 25, 2002 email to me, which also appears below.
The two letters authored by you have contradictory statements. I would like you to clarify, for our readers, first, whether both letters are authentic (I know the one you sent to me was, and the September 18, 2001 letter to Alternet from you also seems authentic).
At Narco News we try to promptly publish corrections and clarifications, and our report of March 1st included quotes from your February 25th letter. Thus, I ask for your comment.
Kim, we all make errors from time to time. The important thing, as authentic journalists, is that we correct them with the utmost transparency. It is particularly important that we do so on this story, because we must lead by example given the stonewalling and dishonesty by Alternet director Don Hazen in response to the many issues raised by our March 1st Narco News White Paper on Ethics Problems at Alternet.
Thus, I beg your most rapid response to share with our readers.
Because you are one of our volunteer correspondents, I also ask, as the publisher responsible for our content, that if the September 18th email is authentic, that you offer, as part of your statement, an apology to Alternet and to our readers along with any explanation you may wish to make.
Hopefully, by setting an example of how news organizations should respond to criticism -- rapidly and honestly -- it might help get more forthright answers out of Alternet on the larger ethical issues raised by our White Paper.
un saludo cordial,
The Narco News Bulletin
Enclosure #1: Emi Kane letter to Narco News, March 7, 2002
Enclosure #2: Kim Alphandary letter to Narco News, February 25, 2002
(Both appear above)
Kim Alphandary, 3/7/02, Writes to Our Readers
Dear AlterNet, NarcoNews and to Whom It May Concern,
I would like to offer an apology to AlterNet, NarcoNews and their respective readers. I hope that any damage that may have been done because of my hazy memory can be reversed by this public apology !!
I just received a copy of the two contradictory letters authored by me. Yes, they are authentic. What I had remembered about my correspondence with AlterNet was incorrect.
Reexamining my letter to AlterNet, I see that the letter that I wrote to them was very straight forward and clear. And from their perspective, no further correspondence was necessary.
If anyone is interested in knowing how I could have gotten confused about what I wrote. I offer the following explanation: From my perspective, I was expecting to receive a response; notifying me when and where the article would be published, and some kind of information about the type of financial agreement we would be making. And having no idea that my article was published led me to think that they had published it without my consent. I only learned that AlterNet published it some four months after it was published, when I happened to type my name into the google search engine and discover the link to AlterNet.
Again, my humblest apologies for any harm done.
3/9/02: Ouch! Our Publisher Makes a Boneheaded Error!
Kim Alphandary writes on Saturday:
Sorry to bother you with details. For the record.... I am a woman.
I have a low voice, and am often mistaken for being a man (over the phone).
Al Giordano Replies: Ouch! I am very sorry. That was a truly boneheaded error on my part, particularly after correcting Alternet's text which had the gender right to begin with! My most embarrassed apologies to Kim and all.
Our Letter Friday to Leda Dederich of Alternet
To: Leda Dederich
Director, Online Projects
Independent Media Institute
March 8, 2002
First, I thank you for having written to me with your views. I repeat my offer to publish your letter if you wish. In reporting this ongoing story, I have heard good things about you from people in the know. They say you are, for many, the preferred go-to person at Alternet because you speak your mind within the institution and do not suffer from the avoidance issues that define your director's reputation. They say that you are direct, and are not intimidated like others from trying to steer the organization right when you feel it has been in error on various matters. Those are good qualities. I hope they will be applied rigorously to the matter at hand.
Perhaps if you had been the director of Alternet when I first wrote with my questions and concerns on October 29, 2001, the institution would have responded honestly, disclosed the practices that serious journalists routinely disclose, and the matter would have come to rest. But, alas, you were not.
I attach to this letter the full texts of my October email exchanges with Alternet director Don Hazen, as well as the full text of his October 31, 2001 "confidential" blacklist memo, which also included that same correspondence.
I wrote twice, on October 29 and on October 31, seeking what I called "clarifications" from Alternet with requests for information that any ethical news organization must disclose. In lieu of answering with honest responses, Alternet's director Don Hazen falsely accused the messenger of "libelous" activity and blacklisted an Alternet writer in good standing for almost a dozen years, namely me.
That now famous October 31 "confidential" memo has been posted in full, along with the rest of our October correspondence, so that you and others may be better informed:
"You and I both know who was responsible for getting those emails to you."
I'm glad we've now moved beyond the first wave of suggestions - one that went uncorrected by you and others on Alternet's own message boards for days - that the documents were somehow not authentic. Obviously, they are.
However, you seem to be missing a bigger lesson here for your organization: Alternet's email system has leaked like a sieve. As I understand the situation, emails that staff members thought were personal were sent, unsolicited, to other staff members and to individuals outside of the organization, triggered by the machinery of your own system. It's practically on the level of "spam," since individuals have received simultaneous copies of those emails unsolicited over a long period of time. This appears to me to be the result of errors in how Alternet failed to update its email systems in a climate of rapid staff turnover among other factors. As the Director of Online Projects for Alternet, this has occurred on your watch.
I am convinced that the cause of the leaks is mechanical and human error, not "hacking" as has been falsely implied by Mr. Hazen in his dishonest statements to the press and others. Instead of identifying the problem and correcting it, Alternet has engaged in a witch-hunt, seeking to blame the perceived messengers and cast innuendo that is knowingly false. The question is not who are a reporter's sources. That's a surprising obsession coming from a news organization. The question ought to be, for you as Online Projects Director, how could "confidential" documents have gotten into the hands of people outside of the organization if due diligence had been exercised? Can you honestly tell me that no errors were committed?
If you truly believe Mr. Hazen is correct in his aspersions claiming that your system has been "hacked," you have a duty to explain how. For that is an accusation of illegal activity, of which none has occurred here. (I take Hazen's reluctance to name the accused parties, while vaguely describing certain individuals in his public statements, as an admission that falsely accusing people of a crime is an actionable offense with serious potential legal and economic consequences for Alternet, the institution he represents.) The "hacking" innuendo should never have been made. It is knowingly false, malicious and made with reckless disregard for the truth.
If you truly believe that your email system has been "hacked," I challenge you to offer specifics. Since you've used language with me that asserts that "you and I both know" certain information, I suggest that you and I both know, Leda, that there were no "hackers" on the path between those Alternet documents and my published reports.
Since you repeated Mr. Hazen's false assertions by posting them to Alternet's public message boards, and then claimed to have personal knowledge that those assertions are "correct," you are now a party to this false accusation. You further compound it by accusing me of "flat out lies" without specifics as to what those lies might be. That's a very serious situation for you to have entered, Leda, and I urge you to retract it.
Statements have been made full of crocodile tears for a "20 year old staff member" whose professional and personal emails arrived in other mailboxes, unsolicited, for a long time now. If I were that individual, I'd be upset, too. But as our report shows, more than one Alternet staff member's communications found their way outside of the organization. This is not about one person's email, but a systemic problem. The blame for that lies not with the messengers, but with human and/or mechanical error in Alternet's own communications systems.
I hope you will note that our reports published only those communications directly relevant to the important ethical issues raised by the Narco News White Paper on Ethics Problems at Alternet. I think we've been more than responsible in our scrupulous avoidance of publishing potentially personally embarrassing information that is not relevant to the issues at hand.
Your statement to me that "we need to be working together and not attacking each other" is touching, but would be better addressed to others in your own organization where you have authority.
How do you recommend, for example, that a blacklisted writer "work together" with an organization that has, in place of answering his legitimate questions, issued a supreme decree banning his work and that of others associated with him?
Is your laudable sentiment backed up by the director of your institution's actions in falsely claiming, after the fact, that the October 31st blacklisting memo (enclosed) had to do with the quality of this writer's journalistic work, as opposed to a botched effort to retaliate against this writer for the October 29th and 31st inquiries I sent to him?
You ask, "What good will possibly come from what you are doing?"
I answer happily that some good has already come of it. Alternet has now acknowledged, for the first time, the existence of the "bounty" funding system for drug policy reports, and has promised that the writers "will be paid" what should have been paid to them months ago.
Missing paychecks will now go into the pockets of the writers who earned them. I hope we can all define that as good.
And there is another public good that has occurred: an educational process in full view of readers and writers that offers different visions of how authentic or "alternative" journalism should be practiced. The airing of these visions, and the very public discussion by many parties that has ensued, has been healthy for all concerned, and of general public interest on important issues for journalism.
Finally, you wrote to me, "Clearly you have some old ax to grind with Hazen. Please leave AlterNet and the rest of us out of it." That's just not true, Leda. I urge you, since I presume that Hazen answers your questions (whereas he is on the record stating that he refuses to answer mine) to state specifics as to what you think that "old ax" might be, because prior to my October correspondence with Mr. Hazen every single one of my dealings with him and with Alternet had been conflict-free and professional.
If you see wood chips littering your organization's floor, put down the ax, grab a broom, and start sweeping. Better yet, hand the broom to the man who made the mess and insist that he clean up after himself. If he can't do that competently, then he's not pulling his weight around the house.
If you are going to accuse me of hidden motives, when I have been absolutely forthright about what are more-than-sufficient motives as stated in my March 1st report, you have an obligation to either offer specifics or withdraw that unfair and vague accusation.
I was truly surprised that instead of answering my October inquiries honestly, your director blacklisted me, one of your writers for more than a decade, in a "confidential" memo. That he has further compounded that misconduct by making knowingly false statements to the press and others constitutes no more than self-mutilation by his own ax. If Mr. Hazen had an ax, and I really don't know where he might have picked it up, should he have involved Alternet and the rest of you by using the institution to grind it? His October 31st memo is quite clear: He barked an order to Alternet staff members to ban all work by Narco News and me. And the staff obeyed that order. So I ask you: Who has involved the institution? The institution, Leda, has involved itself.
That the "confidential" memo, and others showing ethical misconduct, found their way here was not the result of "hacking" nor theft nor any other illegal act. It was, I repeat, the result of sloppy business practices at Alternet. Yes, you have systemic problems and mechanically driven leaks in your organization. Yes, you have serious ethics problems at Alternet. Yes, your director has made a bad situation worse for himself, for you, and for other staff members, by the indefensible and dishonest manner in which he has responded to these revelations. As with America itself, the fault lies not with outsiders. The cancer is within.
Salud y abrazo,
The Narco News Bulletin
Full Text of Narco News Publisher's October 29th Email to Hazen
Full Text of Hazen's Return Email to Narco News
Full Text of Narco News' October 31st Follow-up Email to Hazen
Full Text of Hazen's October 31st "confidential" memo to Alternet staff
10/29/01: Narco News to Hazen
October 29, 2001
Your company, Alter-net, and its website, has published a story by Catherine Austin Fitts lifted from Narco News without seeking or obtaining permission from either Ms. Fitts - former managing director Dillon Read and former assistant secretary of Housing and Urban Development - titled "Narco Dollars for Dummies."
You did this without asking nor obtaining permission from Ms. Fitts, nor from The Narco News Bulletin where it was published.
You should have known better, Don. You know that Narco News accepts no advertising, charges no payment from readers, and offers no commercial service at all. Our policy is that if truly non-commercial websites -- such as, say, indymedia.org or non-commercial email lists -- wish to republish our stories and commentaries, Narco News has no problem with that. But your organization, Alternet, although it has a stated "alternative" mission, is a *commercial* syndication service, and does not fall into that catagory.
In addition, I am deeply concerned with reports we've received that Alternet receives specific contributions *per story* that Alternet publishes regarding the war on drugs, from at least one philanthropist, and that, in my understanding, this has not been disclosed to the authors of these stories. Nor has, to my knowledge, the normal Alternet percentage of 50% of those monies that should go to the authors from that source been shared with the authors of drug-war stories syndicated by Alternet. It certainly was never disclosed to Ms. Fitts nor to Narco News. I ask for clarification of how this matching-grant-type service works for Alternet, and whether, specifically, Alternet expects to receive outside funding for a story lifted from Narco News. And I ask that 100% of those funds go to the author, Ms. Fitts.
It strikes me, simply, as poor ethics on the part of Alternet to rob stories from other publications without seeking permission. Although placing links to stories throughout the internet constitutes fair use, lifting and stealing those stories to place on your website -- as you did with the very popular "Narco Dollars for Dummies" story by Ms. Fitts that appears at http://www.narconews.com/narcodollars1.html -- without obtaining permission from the author is something I expect from ventures that do not traffic in social change, but not from those that do, as your venture does.
It is sometimes said that the "alternative" press is the biggest abuser of freelance journalists and authors. Unfortunately, Alternet has provided us with another example of this shameful adage and the behavior of Alternet, in this case, harms the reputation of the entire alternative press.
Please strike the story from your internet site immediately and post an apology to Ms. Fitts and to Narco News. And be advised of what you should already know: that as a commercial entity, you cannot steal stories from other news providers without obtaining expressed permission.
The Narco News Bulletin
10/30/01: Hazen to Us
Receiving this e mail makes me sad and questions your judgement.
I was in New York for our IMI board meeting and just returned today.
AlterNet's strict policy is we don't post material to our site -- either the main site, or the Drug Reporter sub site, without permission ( which as you know other sites do. ) There is a brand new person working on Drug Reporter sub site and she may not have realized what the ground rules are in this case and put this article into our system instead of simply linking to it.
If that is the case, and you were not contacted, my apologies. We'll remove the article immediately. But at the most this was a simple mistake, by a young person, with the best of intentions. A simple e mail regarding this, not this off -the-wall correspondence, would have produced this simple answer. Our goal is to help the public get access to good drug war reporting and information, which I would think would be important for you too, especially since many thousands more peopel saw this article than would have which was completly credited to the author and Narco Watch.
Your allegation that we are in the business of exploiting and abusing journalists is libelous. Over the past ten years or more, we have provided free lance journalists with well over one million dollars in payments, including checks sent to and cashed by you. Putting content on our public site doesn't necessarily have anything to do with syndication and produces no revenue, nada. This story has not been offered for syndication and will produce no revenue.
You would think that after being sued, you might be more thoughtful about making inaccurate attacks on your colleagues and allies, who have been supportive of your work. Please check your uninformed sources in the future, and not make allegations about which you know very little and then cc the correspondence around to media writers. I would also check on the motivation of your sources too, since that would be the mark of a good journalist, and not help spread bad karma.
I've worked with you over many years. I appreciate the work you are doing and the risks involved. But this e mail is simply beyond the pale. It doesn't move the fight against the drug war forward one iota, instead regresses everyone it touches. Next time I would appreciate the courtesy of first checking before you jump to conclusions.
For the record, IMI is a non profit organization. The public web site, where content is posted and seen by an average of 200,000 visitors a week, does not produce revenue for us or the writers.
10/31/01: Narco News to Hazen
Don't obfuscate and distract from the facts. The only "allegation" made by my letter to you were that Alternet took a story by Catherine Austin Fitts from Narco News and published it on your website without seeking or obtaining permission.
In your letter, you confirmed the truth of that allegation.
Then you spun off on an awkward and distorted mischaracterization of my inquiry as being "libelous" -- I understand the meaning of that term very well, and your response raises the possibility that you do not -- while you avoid answering all but one of the *questions* posed about whether writers are receiving the appropriate 50-percent of the reported "per-story" grant, which although you attack the question, you did not provide a full answer to it.
You have clarified, and I thank you at least for one answer, that the Alternet website is not connected to any such income stream. You still
have not answered the question about whether Alternet's syndication service does indeed receive "per-story" additional funding for drug-war
stories that it sells to periodicals, and the question of whether the writers share in those proceeds, or even know about them. It is absolutely true -- and I stated -- that I have no knowledge of that; I was, and continue, asking you to inform me. Instead of answering straightforwardly, you jumped into Ari Fleischer mode and simply attacked the questioner and impuned his possible sources of information (your very answer implies that there is something to the unanswered question.)
As a writer who reports on the drug war and has had stories syndicated by Alternet in the past, I think I deserve a more honest answer to that
question. I will state it again: Does Alternet receive additional funding on a "per story" basis beyond what is paid by the periodical that purchases the story? And if it does, what are the details of that arrangement? And what percentage, if any, goes to the author?
Do the writers have a right to full answers to those questions or not? Don't evade them with bombast. Just provide whole answers!
I remind that this correspondence was made necessary by Alternet's lifting, without permission, of a story from our website. You have admited to that and I accept your explanation that it was an error, and I believe that in addition to removing the lifted article you should, ethically, post an apology and correction in its place.
But don't bandy about legal terms like "libelous" so gratuitously -- you even mischaracterized my correspondence in order to back up your misuse of the word -- when there has been no libel nor falsehood of any kind. That is a very strange and self-defeating misuse of words coming from someone in journalism, who ought to better understand the double-edge of that sword. I sense you misused the term out of anger because my email was CCed to other fine reporters, some of whom have also been syndicated by Alternet. Don't all of your writers deserve a full answer to the questions, rather than an awkward offensive-as-non-response that seems only meant to distract from the fact that you didn't fully answer the questions?
If you think I've "libeled" you, Don, I simply call your bluff by responding in the immortal words of Marshall Mathers: "Yeah, Sue Me!"
10/31/01: Hazen Blacklists Giordano & Narco News The Full Text of "Confidential" Memo to Alternet Staff Members
Date: Wed, 31 Oct 2001 14:30:42 -0800
From: Don Hazen <email@example.com>
Giordano is tettering on the edge of something off the wall.. ( see
below) he's a propagandist in the grand tradition of Brugmann -- take a
tiny narrow fact and blow it into something completely self serving and
distorted ....it's bizarre, discouraging, whatever. Lesson learned here
Tate and Emi ....we never know when someone is jealous, is being fed bad
information and wants to lash out and as in this case is fundamentally
paranoid, but nevertheless brilliant and feels no constraints.
So once more, No content on our site without permission and a writer
agreement e mailed.....even if after the fact, but no exceptions. Are we
clear? Nevertheless, we stay far away from Narco Watch -- no links, no
syndication, nada. If questions, let me know. DH
Update: 3/9/02 The Student Underground Weighs In and Clarifies
Publisher's Note: We mention above that the Student Underground newspaper at Boston University, one of the most impressive projects in Authentic Journalism we've seen, had "cleaned up its links page." Initially, the Student Underground had dropped its link to Alternet, supplying a link to our White Paper on Ethics Problems at Alternet as explanation.
Alternet wrote to the Student Underground, sending the same text that its director Hazen sent to others (which is published, in full, above) and an Alternet staff member asked the Student Underground to reconsider the issue of the link. As explained in the Student Underground webmaster's own words below, the statement that it "cleaned up its links page" remains accurate in the sense that it has now done so twice.
We'd like to make it clear that, at Narco News, we haven't urged anyone not to link to anything (nor have we scoured our site for the probable links to Alternet-syndicated stories among thousands of links we've placed in more than 500 of our original stories and translations about the drug war; if we have any links to Alternet stories we intend to leave them in place because if the content was worth linking to in the first place, we're not going to behave like Don Hazen, Joe McCarthy or Joe Stalin by engaging in censorship over a political and ethical disagreement. Again, we choose to lead by example.)
Student Underground webmaster and journalist Dan Feder, who has obviously read all the statements by all sides of this story, has written a very coherent and sensible analysis and explanation of how his media has responded to this story, which we share, in full, with our readers. It also leads by example, and confirms our view that the Authentic Journalism Renaissance is alive and well, coming up from below, and is more compelling than that of the tired "alternative" Middlemen who produce nothing and simply try to make a buck by reproducing the original work of others and collecting a usurious percentage.
In the meritocracy of online journalism, authentic media like the Student Underground are on the rise while others, like Alternet, are hanging on to illusury and discredited "turf" by their fingernails. This thoughtful essay by Dan Feder helps demonstrate why.
Dan Feder Writes...
After initially removing the link to Alternet from the website I run, www.thestudentunderground.org, I have reconsidered the changes I made. I have decided to put a link to Alternet back onto our side panel, but keep the link to Narco News's "attack."
My reasons have nothing to do with the statements Don Hazen has posted.
I linked to various forums recently. I think that visitors to our website - mostly college students unfamiliar with progressive journalism, benefit more from having access to the generally high-quality material on Alternet.
I was upset to read about what is going on at Alternet, and my reflexive reaction was to remove the link from our site. Much of the material on Alternet has been inspiring to me as a young journalist. When I was interning at the Campus Alternative Journalism Project two years ago, I enjoyed the brief conversations and correspondences I had with Alternet's staff. It was therefore very disappointing to read about the attitude Don Hazen seems to take towards his colleagues in the independent press.
I haven't read anything, however, that has convinced me that Al's "charges" are untrue or meaningless. Alternet emailed me and asked me to reconsider the removal of the link based on the facts Don has presented in recent days. I have in fact seen very few new "facts" in any of Mr. Hazen's responses.
I think Al's initial inquiries were completely justified, and that Don's hyper-defensive response to his inquiries is what got the two of them into this mess.
Alternet has seen tremendous financial success over the years, success which should be shared with the journalists who made that possible. The fact that the 50/50 share has been in place for 15 years, or that most freelance journalists are to used to being screwed to complain, doesn't justify it.
The short version of this is: I think Al's right, but I think the stuff Alternet reprints, and some of its original content is, for the most part, good enough not drag readers of the Student Underground into this argument.
It's obvious to me that Don Hazen has what I call "white male executive director syndrome." It's this hyper-defensive, super-emotional, overly aggressive, and fairly repugnant trait that seems to affect a lot of white men in positions of power at nonprofit groups. It's people like this who lead to most of the problems within the progressive movement - they're highly effective but turn large numbers of people off from the movement at the same time. It comes from taking ones self and ones work way too seriously. It's a trait I recognize sometimes in myself and work to suppress.
Writer, Layout Delegate, and Webmaster
The Student Underground Collective
MediaGeek.org Comments: How Alternative is Alternet?
"Al Giordano, the publisher of the excellent and crusading investigative news site Narco News, has published a scathing critique of Alternet, the largest syndicator of "alternative" news content, and its executive director, Don Hazen. Giordano takes Alternet and Hazen to task for charging a "usurious" fee of 50% of net for authors whose work is republished, and for allegedly taking "bounty fees" for finding and distributing certain stories without sharing that money with the authors. And that's just the beginning of things. Giordano lays out a litany of ethical problems with the non-profit syndicator that taken as a whole really seem damning. Fundamentally, he identifies a root problem being Alternet's actual mode of business..."
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