---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Sun, 03 Mar 2002 17:35:15 -0800
From: radtimes <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Ethics Problems at Alternet
"Alternative" Media Can Be Corrupted, Too
By Al Giordano
"He (Bob McChesney) suggests that I was flailing around with tin cup in
hand. This kind of thinking is very destructive and makes me apoplectic."
-- Don Hazen, Alternet, February 2002
News organizations have a special duty to abide by basic ethical practices.
That is just as true, perhaps moreso, for those of us who claim an
That's why Narco News and I have, from our first day of publication,
publicly disclosed any and all relationships, financial or otherwise, that
could create even the appearance of conflict of interest. That information
appears on our <http://www.narconews.com/nlinksbig.html>links page and is
been regularly updated when necessary.
Alternet, an "alternative" news organization, which according to statements
by its own director has received an estimated million dollars for editorial
product, has been less forthcoming. Some of Alternet's ethical lapses have
entangled Narco News, and so we feel duty bound to clear the air.
This is not a critique of the many good writers whose work has been
syndicated by Alternet. Au contraire. Alternet has systematically abused
its writers. Today, we publish this information in defense of writers,
readers and other publications that, like ours, have been swept up in
events regarding Alternet without our knowledge and beyond our control.
For more than a decade, I have been one of Alternet's syndicated writers.
My work in the <http://www.bostonphoenix.com/>Boston Phoenix and, in years
prior, the <http://www.valleyadvocate.com/>Valley Advocate, has
occasionally been resold through <http://www.alternet.org/>Alternet to
other periodicals. But the Alternet medium has begun to contaminate the
message and tars anyone associated with the same corrupted brush.
Today I explain for our readers why
<http://www.narconews.com/index.html>Narco News and I will no longer allow
Alternet to republish our work.
I have never been enthusiastic about Alternet's charging of a usurious 50
percent fee for the articles it resells. But until now, Alternet has been
the only game in town. It has had near monopoly status as a syndication
agency for a particular niche of "alternative" news. But, as with other
monopolies, Alternet has grown fat in abusing its position in a manner that
now causes more harm than good.
That monopoly status is about to end with the launch of a competing
alternative news syndication service, also based in San Francisco, titled
Pulp Syndicate, which will charge 33 percent of the writer's fee instead of
the outrageous 50 percent taken by Alternet. Pulp Syndicate plans to launch
later this Spring, but Narco News has obtained
<http://ommastudio.com/pulp/comp_3.html>the URL for Pulp's draft web page
as it prepares its inauguration, which, of course, we share with our
readers. Additionally, here is the prototype page revealing the real meat
for writers, explaining <http://ommastudio.com/pulp/about.html>details
about how Pulp will syndicate.
Neither Narco News nor I have any relationship, business or otherwise, with
Pulp Syndicate or its management. We are spectators to its project, kind
readers, just like you. Today we report on Alternet's ethical problems, in
part to encourage the new Pulp Syndicate group to scrupulously avoid the
errors that have destroyed the credibility of the Alternet project.
We hope that this long overdue competition between "alternative
syndication" groups will be healthy for all media, but particularly the
genre known as the alternative press.
The competition could also be healthy for the board of directors of
Alternet's parent company, the
<http://www.independentmedia.org/>Independent Media Institute. It could
force them to finally come clean and correct the ethics problems at
Alternet, and restore ethical practice to a runaway shop.
The most serious Alternet ethics problems involve its director, Don Hazen.
In that sense, the main problem that Alternet has is a "Hazen problem."
With its monopoly status about to end, the pressure is getting to
Alternet's Hazen. Last month, he engaged in what we see as Hazen's
money-driven attack on a media watchdog group:
<http://www.fair.org/>Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, FAIR. In the
past, Hazen has similarly attacked other nonprofit institutions that
compete with Alternet for donations:
<http://www.projectcensored.org/>Project Censored and even against
<http://www.indymedia.org/>IndyMedia, which, in our view, is to date the
pinnacle model of citizen participation in the media.
These organizations are unable to fully defend themselves because of that
competition for funds. They would risk looking as petty as Hazen and
Alternet if they did so.
Narco News, however, does not compete in any way with Alternet, and
certainly not for funds. We are not presently engaged in any fundraising
campaigns (Narco News doesn't even have a bank account). We have recently
won <http://www.narconews.com/warroom.html>the Drug War on Trial case in
the New York Supreme Court - that established First Amendment protection
for all Internet journalists - and so we're not soliciting money for our
defense fund, either. Thus, we are able to speak, cleanly and responsibly,
about the problem that Alternet is causing for the alternative media and
the causes it claims to support.
The Alternet Papers
Narco News has obtained internal documents authored by Alternet director
Don Hazen and other Alternet staff members that reveal serious violations
of the most basic ethical standards for journalists.
Those violations include:
-- The collection of what Alternet calls "bounty" fees for each story it
sells on drug policy issues.
-- Alternet's refusal, when asked, to disclose the nature of those reprint
-- Alternet's hiding the existence of those "bounty" fees from the writers
of those articles, when Alternet claims to pay the writers 50 percent of
all reprint fees.
-- Alternet's consequent non-payment of funds that, according to its own
website, rightfully belong to the writers.
-- Alternet's blacklisting of writers (similar to
Times<http://www.villagevoice.com/issues/0139/ladd.php> blacklist banning
work by leaders of the National Writers Union), including when Hazen
fantasizes, inaccurately, that a writer has been the source of information
leading to a legitimate labor complaint by another writer.
-- Alternet's cavalier theft, on two occasions, of stories from our own
publication, and Alternet's dishonesty in having later claimed that it did
not offer one of those stories for sale, when, in fact, it did.
-- Alternet's request to staff members that they use false identities to
post "positive reviews" of an Alternet product that is for sale on Amazon.com
By violating these ethical standards, Alternet has abused the trust of
readers, writers, funders, client newspapers and the public at large.
In doing so, Alternet is giving a bad name to "alternative journalism" and
the causes it claims to support.
In other words, it is time for the alternative journalism community to
clean house. As always, we favor sunlight as the best disinfectant.
At Narco News, we have frequently written about ethical problems by news
organizations. Inauthentic journalists from
<http://www.narconews.com/mcfarrenstory1.html>Associated Press to the
<http://www.narconews.com/dillonstory1.html>New York Times whose unethical
actions were first reported here are no longer working in the jobs they
once held. It is important that the press reports about the press. To do so
is the only check and balance that the public has in its search to know the
truth about power relationships of media in our society.
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.
In any case, Alternet should be the last institution to complain about
criticism of its actions, given director Don Hazen's serial attacks on
other alternative press organizations. Alternet/IMI's board of directors -
whose membership is not disclosed on its website - have known of "the Hazen
problem" for years. Alternet should not cry now.
"Bounty Hunting" as Journalism
Narco News has obtained an internal memo authored last year by Alternet
staffer Michael Kreidler that reveals "bounty" hunting by Alternet, for
matching funds on stories related to drug policy. In other words, 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. This constitutes a serious corruption of the journalistic
First, the readers had a right to know that Alternet's "Drug Reporter"
program was a mechanism for Alternet to receive specific funds targeted on
a "per story" basis.
Second, the client newspapers not only had a right to know this: They had a
duty to disclose it. On an entire series of articles by different authors,
Alternet compromised the ethics of its subscribing newspapers. It denied
them the knowledge they needed to make their own full disclosure. This is
an example of how Alternet tangles other parties in its web of deceit.
It is no crime that foundations and donors sometimes fund a particular
story. Indeed, that practice should be encouraged. However, the practice,
when it happens, must be disclosed. The ethical violation occurs if that
funding is not disclosed to the readers, the writer, and/or the publishing
Serious news organizations always disclose the funding for a specific
story. This is an inviolable rule for journalism. (For example, when I
on the March for The Nation magazine on April 9, 2001, the article was
accompanied by a text that disclosed: "This article is part of the Haywood
Burns Community Activist Journalism series, sponsored by the New World
Foundation and the Nation Institute.")
Third, there is another sector in this chain of abuse that has suffered
even worse: The writers.
Many citizens and activists may not know the indignities that freelance
journalists must endure, beyond the low pay they receive for their work. In
the caste system of journalism, we freelancers have scar tissue upon scar
tissue. (This is not to suggest that staff writers for newspapers and
magazines don't also suffer indignities. I've been there, too. But nothing
compares, in the media industry, to the abuse that freelance writers endure.)
Thus, since Alternet traffics in the issue of "human rights" with its
"Human Rights USA" program, what about the human rights of labor? What of
Alternet's working class, the writers who produce its product? (Is
Alternet's "Human Rights USA" page another fundraising-driven operation?
How would we know? Alternet doesn't disclose its backroom financial deals.
But given the reality of its dishonest "drug reporter" program, it is fair
to ask whether the same kind of arrangements lurk beyond its other "issue
According to the memo authored by Alternet staff member Michael Kreidler
last year, a donor who supported its "drug reporter" program "gave $25,000
sometime in early May/late April." Alternet's Kreidler wrote, "and the only
'bounty' that I'm aware of came in recently, and was for $1,400."
Kreidler wrote: "I see 2 thank you notes saved electronically, plus
countless other packet of clippings, memos, etc. that Don has us whip
together in advance of his meetings" with the donor.
"Getting an exact figure for this is nearly impossible," Kreidler lamented
in his memo. "I don't know what he has/hasn't received. Generally, each
package contains the most current Drug Reporter stories spotted, some color
screen shots of the Drug Reporter page, and a bit of general info about
(Obviously, I am not dragging the donor's name into this story, an
individual citizen who probably had the best intentions and committed no
ethical violation at all. I will keep this report focused on the actual
wrongdoing in a way that, to the best of my ability, doesn't harm innocent
Alternet staff member Emi Kane sent a memo to Kreidler, asking about the
donor: "Has he agreed to the new 'bounties' set by Don?"
Kreidler replied: "As far as I know, yes. I've only seen one check myself
resulting from this agreement, and it was last week."
Kane asked Kreidler, in a written memo, "basically - what is up with this
guy, what is the status of AlterNet's relationship with him?"
Kriedler replied: "Don (Hazen) meets with him practically every time he's
in DC& Alternet's relationship with him is Don's relationship with him& Now
you know, and knowing is half the battle."
According to an October 22, 2001 memo by Alternet director Don Hazen, the
following writers' works were submitted to the donor for "bounty" payments:
Jim Hightower, Maia Szalavitz, Rich Lowry, Martin A. Lee, Carla Spartos,
Dean Kuipers, Marc Schanz and Nicholas Eyle. Alternet sought specific
"bounty" payments of up to $150 per story, depending on what "class" of
story was involved.
Because Alternet did not disclose whether it in fact received these
"bounty" fees, the writers, until today, have had no idea if Alternet owes
them their fifty-percent share of those fees.
Alternet's own web page explaining its syndication policies states: "Half
of each reprint fee goes directly to the writer or the originating
By any reasonable standard, these "bounty" payments constitute additional
reprint fees received by Alternet for stories on drug policy. The writers
have been ripped off.
Alternet Dollars for Dummies
In October 2001, Narco News edited and published a three-part series by
Catherine Austin Fitts, titled
<http://www.narconews.com/narcodollars1.html>Narco Dollars for Dummies.
Imagine our surprise to have discovered that Alternet stole that story and
offered it for sale to its client newspapers.
Alternet lifted the story without seeking nor obtaining permission from
either Ms. Fitts or Narco News.
On October 29th, I wrote a memo to Don Hazen of Alternet informing him of
"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 category."
By October 2001, Hazen was hardly an unknown quantity to me. I first met
him in 1984, in Nicaragua, when Abbie Hoffman hired me as a tour guide for
a group of North Americans visiting that country, and Hazen was one of the
60 tourists on the tour. In the 1990s, I would infrequently bump into Hazen
at alternative media conventions. He was never my cup of tea, but neither
did I have any conflicts with him. When I learned in October 2001 that
Fitts' story had been stolen by Alternet, I added a half-dozen colleagues,
plus our legal counsel and the author, to the CC list on my email to Hazen,
to make the correspondence transparent.
And I stated in that October 29th email to Hazen:
"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 has been
shared with the authors of drug-war stories syndicated by Alternet. It was
certainly never disclosed to Ms. Fitts or Narco News. I ask for
clarification of how this matching-grant-type service works for Alternet&."
I further requested that 100-percent of any such funds go to the author,
"It is sometimes said that the 'alternative' press is the biggest abuser of
freelance journalists and authors," I wrote to Hazen on that day.
"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."
Hazen's reply, which he titled "response to false allegations," claimed
that Alternet had published the Narco News story due to a "mistake, by a
And Hazen wrote: "Your allegation that we are in the business of exploiting
and abusing journalists is libelous."
And Hazen claimed: "This story has not been offered for syndication and
will produce no revenue."
Hazen's claim, that the stolen article had not been offered for
syndication, turned out to be a lie.
I asked a source in one of his client newspapers to check on this claim.
The newspaper editor checked the part of Alternet's online syndication
pages that can exclusively be accessed by the client newspapers. The editor
reported back to me that, in fact, the Fitts story had been offered for
sale, and even had a price attached to it (which varied according to the
size of the newspaper purchasing the article.)
Thus, in his claim that the "story has not been offered for syndication,"
Hazen lied. His claim that I had made "false allegations" and "libelous"
statements went beyond dishonest. They were downright sleazy.
With that dishonesty, Hazen committed yet another violation of ethics: He
failed to respond honestly to a writer's request "for clarification" on the
issues stated above.
Recently, I discovered that the theft of Catherine Austin Fitts' series had
not been an isolated incident. On September 19, 2001, Alternet had stolen a
Narco News story by Kim Alphandary, about the war on terrorism and "Plan
Colombia." As of today, it is
<http://www.alternet.org/story.html?StoryID=11542>still on Alternet's website.
Alternet had sent me an email, last September, requesting permission to
reprint the story. That permission was never granted. Our policy is that
writers own their stories, so I forwarded the letter to Alphandary.
"I responded to them by asking about the terms," says Alphandary, "and
never heard from them again. Only recently did I discover that they had
Hazen still has not responded to my October request for clarification on
how the "bounty" fees deal worked, an explanation that he owes to every
writer whose work appears on Alternet, and every client newspaper.
Instead of meeting his ethical obligation to disclose the facts, Hazen went
on the counter-attack.
Hazen vs. Press Freedom
At the time of Hazen's dishonest email last October, Narco News and I were
still being sued by the National Bank of Mexico in the New York Supreme
Court, for reports that have subsequently been vindicated by the court in
what all now view as a landmark decision for press freedom on the Internet.
The last time I had seen Hazen was in June at a drug policy convention in
Albuquerque, where Hazen truly was "flailing around with tin cup in hand."
I had been invited to the convention to deliver a presentation on the drug
war in Latin America. On the first day of the conference, I had
successfully avoided Hazen, and he had successfully avoided me. But on the
second day, something very revealing occurred.
At a luncheon featuring a speech by the governor of New Mexico, I was
seated at a table with some friends, one of them a philanthropist who
supports small human rights projects in Latin America, who has supported my
own work as a journalist. The support of that philanthropist's foundation
has always been disclosed on our links page. Suddenly, and predictably,
Hazen was heading toward my table, putting on an embarrassing show as if to
give the impression that he was my dearest friend in the world (what is it
about these guys like Hazen and
<http://www.narconews.com/letters0102.html>former White House press
secretary Bob Weiner who think it convenient to be seen as pals of mine?)
It was clear that this act of theater was aimed not at me, but at the
philanthropist at the table.
Fortunately, every seat at the table was already filled. Hazen kneeled down
behind the philanthropist's chair and asked me how my lawsuit was going. He
made a loud point of claiming that "we want to do something in support of
your defense," and I politely suggested that he could send me an email. Of
course, he never did anything, nor did I ever ask him for any help.
story of the narco-lawsuit was very well reported already by scores of
authentic journalists. And Hazen and I both knew that he never intended to
do anything in support of this press freedom case. It was just chatter,
with the hidden agenda of wooing a friend of mine who happens to be a
philanthropist. I was embarrassed for him and for me
Fast-forward to October, and Hazen, for the first time, opened his mouth
about our legal battle. As a result of my emailed inquiry seeking
clarification of his undisclosed secret funding deal, Hazen, the
self-proclaimed promoter of alternative media, was now using the Banamex
lawsuit as a rhetorical point against me. He wrote, "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." His knowingly false use of the word "libelous" in his counter-attack
speaks volumes about Hazen's weakness of character and unreliability as a
self-proclaimed "ally." When trying to keep his unethical activity secret,
he was capable even of siding with Banamex.
I responded to Hazen's obfuscating email, saying:
"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 about
whether writers share in those proceeds, or even know about them&. 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 beyind what it 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!"
Only because Narco News has obtained the aforementioned internal
communications by Hazen and Alternet staff members, do the readers, writers
and client newspapers now have access to the truth.
Hazen and Alternet, four months later, have still not responded publicly to
Their once-private memos, though, tell the truth that Hazen sought to hide.
The Alternet Blacklist
Almost a month after that email exchange, I went to Boston to deliver a
lecture at Boston University. I visited my journalistic alma mater, the
Boston Phoenix, and signed a new freelance contract. The generic contract
had language protecting the newspaper from any disputes that might arise
from Alternet's resale of articles in the Phoenix. I explained to the
management that I would like the Phoenix to amend my contract so that my
work would no longer be resold to Alternet in the future. I no longer
wanted to compromise my own credibility by allowing Alternet to syndicate
my work. This would mean less income for me, but principle comes first in
authentic journalism. The folks at the Phoenix, always responsive to my
concerns as a writer, obliged me and we changed the wording of the contract.
Little did I know that I had already been placed on Alternet's blacklist of
writers whose work Alternet has banned.
Narco News has obtained a "confidential" memo authored by Alternet director
Don Hazen on October 31, 2001 - two days after I wrote Hazen seeking full
disclosure on these important matters of journalism.
The Halloween Blacklist memo, authored by Hazen, was titled "confidential."
"Giordano," Hazen instructed his staff, is "a propagandist in the grand
tradition of (San Francisco Bay Guardian publisher Bruce) Brugmann& 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."
And Hazen delivered a new order to his staff, to "stay far away from Narco
Watch (sic) - no links, no syndication, nada. If questions, let me know. DH."
An irony here is that the only "bad information" that I had been fed turned
out to have come from Hazen himself, when he denied having offered the
stolen Narco News story for sale. Rather than answer my request for "a
clarification," Hazen placed me on the blacklist.
Since I had decided not to allow my work to by syndicated by Alternet
anyway, the blacklist has no personal impact one way or another. It's the
existence of a blacklist - and its infantile kill-the-messenger mentality -
that should concern all writers, readers and client newspapers who do
business with Alternet.
Narco News has also learned that Giordano is not alone on that blacklist.
A January 18, 2002 memo authored by Hazen to an Alternet staff member -
obtained by Narco News - reveals that Hazen is very quick to place writers
on Alternet's blacklist even in cases where the writer's alleged offense
merely springs from Hazen's fantasy world.
<http://www.motherjones.com/>Mother Jones magazine had published an
excellent article about the failures of the war on drugs.
When Hazen saw that Alternet was about to syndicate that article, he
freaked out, instructing his staff: "Absolutely DO NOT use (the Mother
Jones writer's) article - very bad vibes he was the source for Al Girodano
Note that I have not dragged that writer's name through Alternet's mud here
by repeating Hazen's falsehood about him. That writer was definitely not
the source of any information in my emails to Alternet. I swear that under
the penalties and pains of perjury, not for Hazen's benefit, but for the
writer, who without evidence has been scapegoated and blacklisted based on
nothing more than the troubles and traumas that lurk in Hazen's brain.
(Note, kind reader, my use of the legal language of a sworn affidavit. If
Hazen wishes to persist in his dishonest and false claims of "libel"
against him, I suggest that he sue me, or stand naked in his deceit. The
truth, now as always, will be our sword.) It's not the quality of one's
work that apparently determines whether Alternet syndicates it, but,
rather, the degree of undignified ring kissing by a writer toward Don
Hazen. This is not serious journalistic practice on the part of Alternet.
"Paranoia" is one of Hazen's favorite accusations against anyone who raises
legitimate questions about his unethical activity. One of the documents
obtained above shows him using that word to describe me. He also recently
accused respected media critic Bob McChesney of "paranoia" in a similar
situation where the facts did not back up Hazen's characterization. The act
of blacklisting a writer based on Hazen's - now documented - paranoid
fantasies ought to cause grave concern among members of the Alternet/IMI
board of directors about the mental stability of their agent. Innocent
writers are now being blacklisted based on Hazen's stunted imagination. In
the end, the readers and client newspapers are harmed, too, for they are
denied the opportunity to read the good works of the Mother Jones writer -
and how many other writers?
Alter-Fraud and Book Sales
A February 2002 memo from Alternet staff member Judy Hong to other Alternet
employees, obtained by Narco News, provides a scintillating glimpse into
the ethics of the corporate culture at Alternet.
The memo reveals that Alternet has encouraged its staff to use false
identities in posting positive "book reviews" for one of its products on
the <http://www.amazon.com/>Amazon.com website.
The Alternet staff member wrote to all Alternet staff: "Our After 9/11 book
is on the Amazon.com web site. We've already sold 4 books through them& 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."
A memo like this one does a disservice to the good writers whose work was
featured in that Alternet product. It implies that Alternet doesn't have
faith that real readers will give the book of essays positive reviews on
its own merits. It also places Alternet staff members in a difficult
position, in that to comply with the request they must jeopardize their own
credibility as journalists by engaging in a kind of fraud. A news
organization with a staff has a responsibility to breed ethical
journalists. If there are young journalists starting their careers at
Alternet, I shudder to think what they are being taught about how to
succeed in a troubled industry.
This memo, encouraging fraud, resonates with the emerging view of how
business is conducted at the Alternet news organization, where the
obsession with money and sales consistently triumphs over the most
important journalistic principles& like honesty.
Millions For Middlemen
In his October email to Narco News, Alternet's Hazen boasted, "Over the
past ten years or more, we have provided free lance journalists with well
over one million dollars in payments."
Kind readers, do the math: Alternet collects a usurious 50 percent of the
fees for the stories it sells. If it has paid "over one million dollars" to
writers, it therefore has collected an equal amount for itself.
Add to that million dollars the foundation grants that Alternet receives.
We, the public, don't have access to the details of Alternet's financing.
The issue of Alternet's secrecy in its financing has long been the subject
of controversy in the circles of alternative media.
<http://aan.org/gbase/Aan/index>The Association of Alternative Newsweeklies
(AAN), which once sponsored and subsidized Alternet, disassociated itself
from Alternet in in part based on these ethics concerns. The
<http://www.sfbg.com/>San Francisco Bay Guardian - and this explains
Hazen's uneasiness with its publisher Bruce Brugmann - has reported on its
attempts, as a former Alternet subscriber and a member of AAN, to gain
answers to the same kinds of questions that we have posed about
<http://www.sfbg.com/News/34/27/edhazen.html>the relation of money to
editorial content at Alternet
(There is a pattern to Hazen's attacks on Brugmann, FAIR, Project Censored
and others that concerns me as an investigative journalist: Hazen's naked
hostility to investigative journalism -- something that Hazen himself does
not produce, but, rather, selectively reproduces. Take Brugmann, for
example, a veteran investigative reporter who is now a publisher, and
recently vindicated on his 30-year journalistic crusade to expose the
electric power monopoly of PG&E in California, for which he has recently
been recognized by <http://www.cjr.org/year/01/2/laurels.asp>Columbia
Journalism Review and
Add to the million dollars and the unknown dollar quantities of foundation
grants the undisclosed "bounty" fees for Alternet's drug policy stories,
and our questions about whether other "issue programs" by Alternet on
themes from Human Rights to the Environment may similarly involve
undisclosed funding mechanisms.
Alternet, although it is, technically speaking, a non-profit organization,
deals in reproductive capitalism. Unfortunately, "non-profit" status does
not cure the corruption of finance in too many ventures, nor make it a
"non-commercial" operation. Commercialism rules the day at Alternet. The
majority of its product is not produced by Alternet, but, rather,
reproduced from the work of other publications and writers. In sum,
Alternet's main role in the industry is that of Middleman. It has
collected, by Hazen's own admission, more than a million dollars simply by
placing itself between writers and publications. There is nothing
inherently wrong with that - Alternet began with a mission that many of us
supported. It is how Alternet has abused its Middleman status that has
spoiled the project and now causes more harm than good.
From our perspective at Narco News, Alternet should have accomplished more
- much more - with its millionaire budget over the past decade. We prefer
our own "small is beautiful" model, and we don't just talk about it: We
live it. Hazen, if past is prologue, may respond to this report in a
non-responsive manner, merely boasting alleged statistics of Alternet's
"success." We simply note that our tiny operation of two journalists, two
laptops and a web page has proved more productive than the entire
million-dollar bureaucracy of Alternet by Hazen's own oft-boasted
yardsticks of "hit counts" and original stories produced. If he wishes to
play dueling stats, we're ready. We've earned the right, through our
low-budget accomplishments, to question the bureaucratic inefficiency of
Bureaucracy, of the Alternet model, is extrinsic to successful Authentic
Journalism on the Internet. The story of "the dot.com boom-and-bust" is a
story of the failings of bureaucracy. (That maxim, clearly, applies to
.orgs, too.) Not only are big budgets unnecessary. The Alternet story shows
that big budgets can become inefficient drainage pipes for the overall
resources of social movements, and lead to Alternet-style abuses with many
harmful and counter-productive results for all.
We will now apply our unconstrained eye to Hazen's recent attack against
Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, the media watchdog organization known
Pot, Kettle, Hazen
On January 31, 2002, Don Hazen wrote a column, published by Alternet,
purportedly about the 15th anniversary celebration, in New York, by
Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR). It was a garbled, poorly written
screed that attacked the media watchdog group FAIR as, in his view, "out of
touch with the times."
Like much of what Hazen writes, both under his own name and under the
pseudonym of "Masher," the column was pointless, boring, and, well& out of
touch with the times. There should be a support group for people like
Hazen, where they can go and get the attention they seek but don't have the
talent nor passion to obtain in a meritocracy.
Occasionally, Hazen's personal frustration boils over. He has this big
bureaucracy, Alternet, with access to more than 100 client newspapers and
magazines, but he can't seem to crack through the datasphere in any
meaningful way, at least not with any original work of his own. The most
attention Hazen has gotten in recent years, he has found, has been when he
attacks competing organizations. He's done it to Project Censored and to
Indymedia, and now he's done it to FAIR.
I write this out of a sense of personal duty to my trade of authentic
journalism. It is interesting to note that more than one week has passed
since the Colombian government declared all-out war on the rebels on
February 20, in what even the major dailies acknowledge is the next big US
military campaign. Major news stories have exploded regarding the
US-imposed Plan Colombia, in each of Alternet's "issue areas" of "drug
reporter," human rights, the environment and the so-called war on terrorism.
But during these nine days that shook everyone in the world except
Alternet, what has Hazen's tired bureaucracy done to "be in step" with the
biggest story of the immediate times?
Narco News, with our tiny little operation, has in this same short time
period, published the following stories:
<http://www.narconews.com/boom.html>Drug War Goes Boom in Colombia; and
also <http://www.narconews.com/dyncorpterrorism1.html>DynCorp Charged With
Terrorism (Part I); and also
<http://www.narconews.com/narcocorrido1.html>The Ballad of Ramón Arellano
Félix. In this same week, we translated the
<http://www.narconews.com/farc0202.html>communiqué of the Colombian rebels
and also the <http://www.narconews.com/mexcolombiasolidarity.html>Call to
Action of the International Solidarity Gathering for Peace in Colombia into
English (we'll be covering it from Mexico City beginning on Monday), and;
<http://www.narconews.com/letters0102.html>we jousted with a former White
House press secretary who acts a lot like& Don Hazen. Today and tomorrow,
we continue in our mission to break the information blockade from Latin
America, and we do it on a Third World budget.
Alternet has already missed the first week's deadline for its weekly
newspapers on the very kind of story that Alternet claims to champion. So
who is, to borrow Hazen's phrase, "out of step with the times?"
Whereas Alternet went AWOL on the Drug War on Trial case and so many other
of the big battles that have made Narco News indisputably "in step" with
the times, we feel a responsibility to point out that two of our biggest
recent victories would not have been possible without the hardworking and
effective aid and participation by FAIR.
Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting - alone among institutions - took the
lead role in promoting <http://www.narconews.com/mcfarrenstory1.html>our
October 2000 report about corruption at the Associated Press bureau in
Bolivia. It was precisely the phone calls from FAIR's Steve Rendall that
forced AP to dismiss its bureau chief of 18 years. And it was FAIR - not
Narco News - that
Post<http://www.mapinc.org/drugnews/v00/n1601/a08.html?14816> media critic
Howard Kurtz of the story. In this case, Narco News got credit for a huge
victory that is equally shared by FAIR. So we find Hazen's claim that FAIR
is "out of touch with the times" to be nonsensical. Alternet was AWOL and
FAIR was fantastic.
The biggest battle we've lived in the history of Narco News - our victory
in the Drug War on Trial case against Hazen's apparent narco-heroes at
Banamex - would also not have been possible without FAIR. When we were sued
by the billionaires, Alternet was not the only "alternative media"
organization that went to hide under the nearest rock. Many self-proclaimed
"press freedom" organizations did nothing.
into our defense early and often, sent out alerts to 15,000 activists,
contacted reporters who later wrote about our case and featured us on its
Counterspin radio show that appears on 70 stations nationwide. FAIR broke
the ice in a way that allowed other organizations to feel more comfortable
supporting our defense. Alternet was cowardly. FAIR was fearless.
If I were a foundation sincerely concerned with funding effective national
projects to free the media, I would forget Alternet and give the grant to
FAIR. Of course, that is why Hazen felt the need to attack FAIR. He can't
compete with them on the merits. And let's not pussy-foot around the
reality: alternative media organizations do compete for a very small niche
of foundation funds.
Prominent media critic Robert McChesney wrote of Hazen's attack piece on FAIR:
"I assume Don Hazen was in a grumpy mood the day he wrote this piece. Maybe
he was looking at a pile of bills or some grant fell through. Maybe some
hotshot at a big foundation told him to take a hike, and then mentioned how
much she liked to read <http://www.fair.org/extra/index.html>Extra! Perhaps
he is bothered that FAIR and Chomsky are held in such high regard --
generating huge crowds, like the one at the event he wrote about -- while
he toils in relative obscurity. I have no idea."
Hazen, again on Alternet's website, responded to McChesney sheepishly, as
indicated by his recommendation that readers "please feel free to move on
and read something else."
"I expected a spirited debate," Hazen said, revealing his attention-seeking
motives for the attack on FAIR. ."But I'm taken aback by McChesney's
vitriol and personal attack& Apparently even nice guys like McChesney can
get caught up in paranoid fantasies."
When it comes to the corruption of that which claims to be "alternative"
journalism, we don't claim to be "nice guys" at Narco News. We live a daily
battle to reclaim authentic journalism before it becomes extinct. Our form
of journalism is like one of those rare rainforest plants under DynCorp's
helicopters in the Amazon. We have no diplomatic words for false poseurs
who traffic in "alternative" but don't demonstrate it with their actions.
Hazen, in his response to McChesney, made a strange but revealing admission
when he said, "The economy of scarcity in terms of media funding really
makes people crazy."
Well, crazy is fine. But unethical is unethical.
10 Questions for Alternet/IMI
Alternet should clean its own house before deigning to critique others.
Hazen's modus operandi suggests he will, in place of standing tall and
facing the music, instead conduct a witchhunt to try and plug the leaks.
(Good luck to him in that.) Regardless, Alternet still owes answers to the
following questions. We offer Alternet and Hazen, as we offer all the
subjects of our reports, uncensored opportunity to respond. We suggest that
Alternet answer, one by one, these inquiries:
1. What is the nature of the "drug reporter" deal for "bounty" fees?
2. Why has it not been disclosed to the writers, readers and client newspapers?
3. When will the writers be paid their 50% of this reprint fee?
4. Isn't the other 50% charged by Alternet for story placement unreasonably
5. Are there any other "bounty" fees paid on other issue areas?
6. Why does Alternet maintain a blacklist against certain writers?
7. Who else is on the Alternet blacklist, and why?
8. Does Alternet's board endorse Hazen's dishonesty in response to Narco
News' legitimate questions last October about the theft of our articles?
9. Why does Alternet urge its staff members to engage in fraudulent sales
techniques for Alternet products?
10. In sum, when and how will the Alternet/IMI board of directors regain
control over the reckless and harmful activities of Don Hazen?
And a bonus question:
11. Who are these undisclosed members of IMI's board of directors, and what
are their email addresses?
Until these questions are answered to our satisfaction, Narco News and I
will continue to boycott Alternet. We will not be associated with unethical
We wish Pulp Syndicate - the new syndication service - good luck in its
launch next month. We point our readers and writers toward
<http://ommastudio.com/pulp/comp_3.html>its draft website, it's
<http://ommastudio.com/pulp/about.html>draft explanation page, and offer
the email address of its director Ron Curran at
Of course, if the new service ever behaves like Alternet has, we'll
question it too, as labor -- in this case, the writing class -- has the
right to question management. But we hope competition will be a good thing
for all involved. We very much hope that the landscape will improve.
From somewhere in a country called América,
The Narco News Bulletin
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