Chastisements

Polemicist hereby chastises...

"If, when a man has fallen into habits of idleness, of daydreaming, and of sloth, putting off his most important duties continually til the morrow, another man were to awaken him one fine morning with the heavy blows of a whip, and were to whip him unmercifully, until he who was unable to work for pleasure now worked for fear - would not that man, the chastiser, indeed be his benefactor and truest friend?"

-Charles Baudelaire
 Intimate Journals

 

February 1991; page 18; Volume 2, No. 4
Polemicist

Because of space constraints created by endorsements this issue, we could not produce a full slate of chastisements. This chastisement, written by the former editors, Tom Philpott and Scott Henson, will have to suffice until our next large issue.

Louis Black
Apologist, Chronicle Editor

After the former editors of Polemicist published last Spring an article in the Austin Chronicle exposing UT ties to Barton Creek Planned Unit Development developer Freeport McMoRan, and detailing the company's atrocious environmental record, Chronicle editor Louis Black offered to publish articles by the editors on the PUD as quickly as they could be generated. At that point Freeport had just been defeated at an all-night city council meeting, and articles in the Chronicle by Polemicist editors and by Chronicle Politics Editor Daryl Slusher were widely credited, along with the organizational expertise of Earth First!, with generating the mob of citizens who showed up to oppose the PUD.

But on the night of the city council meeting Freeport CEO Jim Bob Moffett had threatened the Chronicle with a libel suit over the articles. In a letter to the editor that threatened to pursue the libel threat, a Freeport PR hack charged the Chronicle with inaccurate reporting, in particular referring to charges made by Polemicist editors. In a rebuttal, we responded point by point to the charges of inaccuracy, catching the Freeport executive in bold lies about his company's record. At the time, Black bragged that if the magazine were sued, he would hire a team of investigators to comb through Freeport's company records and expose even more corporate scandals.

After the incident, we took Black up on his offer to print PUD related articles, and undertook an extensive examination of the company's environmental and human rights record in its Indonesian mining operations. Freeport's history in Indonesia includes complicity in the extermination of indigenous peoples and the mass dumping of toxic waste into drinking water supplies. But Black refused to run the article - along with its detailed footnotes from impeccable sources - declaring that "all corporations do that," and why should the Chronicle single out Freeport? He even went as far as to say that Freeport was "running scared" after its council defeat, and bitterly rejected any suggestion that the threatened lawsuit influenced his decision.

In a meeting with the authors to justify his apologetics, Black growled, bellowed and literally chewed his fist in anger at us for publicly discussing his lameness (although in fairness, he did declare himself a "prick" for his vile behavior). Black told us he canned the story because Freeport's history in Indonesia had nothing to do with the Barton Creek PUD. Ultimately Polemicist produced a pamphlet at our own expense to get the information out. In addition, The Daily Texan and The Texas Observer weren't afraid to reprint the article.

Since that time, Black's stance, apparently, has altered. Polemicist sent its information to a London-based human-rights group, Tapol, which distributed it to various international environmental organizations. Among those was Rainforest Action Network, which went as far as to launch an international letter-writing campaign to UT President "Dollar" Bill Cunningham, asking him to bring home a team of UT geologists that is currently surveying a new mining concession for Freeport Indonesia. Word of the campaign hit the Chronicle desk, and Black allowed environmental columnist Robert Bryce to publish an informative, if late, version of the story on December 14. Then Bryce ran a longer piece quoting Rainforest Action and the Environmental Defense Fund accusing Freeport of environmental and human rights violations on December 28. Apparently the story wasn't newsworthy until it had traveled to London and back, and had been processed by "respectable" international organizations.

We suspect that the real issue involved was Black's fear of a lawsuit - he only hid behind his bluster out of shame and embarassment for his true motivations. Black evidently thinks that by publishing Daryl Slusher's solid, critical reportage on city issues, he can afford to bend his other editorial decisions to the whim of his profit margin. But that editorial policy fits much better at a Chamber of Commerce rag like the Austin American-Statesman than it does at the Chronicle, which makes much of its image as an "alternative" news source.