Journalists Sacked Over Norwich Coverage | Inside Track | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

News » Inside Track

Bernie Sanders

Journalists Sacked Over Norwich Coverage

Bernie Watch 2000 - Sanders to announce if he will challenge Jeffords for Senate seat or seek re-election in the House; Freyne predicts the latter.


Published November 24, 1999 at 1:00 a.m.

The recent firing of Barre-Montpelier Times Argus writer/editor Terry Allen has boomeranged across the Internet since it broke last week in the Boston Globe. And her dismissal has spotlighted the comfy-cozy relationship between Times Argus Publisher R. John Mitchell and America's oldest private military academy.

Yes, indeed, folks, there's a whole lot more going on in Northfield, Vermont, these days besides the quest for a championship ice hockey season.

Ms. Allen's scoop about Indonesian military officers and undergraduate cadets attending Norwich University first saw the light of day in the Boston Globe on October 4. That's because the editor in Barre, Vermont, didn't consider it newsworthy at first. Really?

Six days later the story finally ran in the Sunday Rutland Herald/Times Argus. By then it was national news, prompting calls for a congressional investigation.

Not only were there connections to the Indonesian military, which was carrying out its duty by barbecuing East Timor and its citizens, but Allen found a direct link to the military unit described by Human Rights Watch as "unquestionably the most feared, most hated and most abusive of all Indonesian units in East Timor." The unit's name is Kopassus. Allen describes it as an Indonesian version of Hitler's SS.

Surely you remember East Timor?

It is the latest human butcher shop to hit the international news screen. East Timor is a faraway place where tens of thousands of people have paid the ultimate price for freedom’s quest. Democracy always requires a blood sacrifice.

We’re lucky. We’re the Land of the Free. The beacon of democracy. Why, just last week, the Pentagon finally announced it’s closing down the controversial School of the Americas it has operated at Ft. Benning, Georgia. The School of the Americas is where many of Latin America’s most notorious war criminals and death squad commanders learned the tricks of their trade. And you better believe having their east Asian counterparts “studying” in Vermont is big news!

Allen told Seven Days that when she asked Norwich officials for the home addresses of the 13 Indonesian cadets, she found 11 listed the headquarters of Kopassus in Jakarta as home sweet home. Then a Norwich official told her Kopassus was just the “billing address.” One week later, she said, the official corrected himself once more and told her Kopassus was only a “mailing address.”

Journalist Allen also found out their Norwich tuition was paid through the Indonesian Embassy in Washington with funds wired by the Indonesian military attaché.

And Allen noted the cadets currently enrolled at Norwich are not the first Indonesian military men to visit Vermont. Two years ago, she said, a group of 10 commissioned Indonesian army officers attended Norwich's graduate school program. She said Norwich's president and the head of the graduate program had personally visited Indonesia to set up the program. Two generals associated with Kopassus even visited Vermont.

When Allen's story hit the front page of the Boston Globe, you can be certain that wasn't snow hitting the proverbial fan back in Vermont. The article struck like a 2000-pound smart bomb, dead center in the heart of a genuine Vermont sacred cow — Norwich University. Norwich responded with a public relations blitz, placing full-page ads in Vermont newspapers. There were also favorable editorials backing the school in the Times Argus and The Burlington Free Press.

Mitchell told Seven Days Tuesday, "By our standard, there was never a substantive link between the students at Norwich and Kopassus." He said "the only link" he's aware of is that the cadets have "the same mailing address" as Kopassus. Mitchell cited the example of an American civilian living oversees who receives mail at a military "APO," or postal address.

"If I'm an American civilian and I have the same APO as the Green Berets," he asked, "does that make me a Green Beret?"

If Publisher Mitchell sounds like a Norwich defensive lineman, it's because he practically is. Mitchell served in the U.S. Army Reserve from 1969-1977. He was assigned to a military intelligence unit based in Boston. He currently serves on the Norwich University Board of Fellows. .".and this good fellow refuses to even acknowledge that Journalist Terry Allen was "fired" by his managing edit on the 15th of October.

“We’re not acknowledging she was fired,” Mitchell told Seven Days. “She was a temporary part-time copy editor with the Sunday paper doing weddings,” he said dismissively. “Her situation was spelled out clearly by her editor.”

Managing Editor Scott Fletcher told us he “made it crystal clear to Allen why we needed to part company.” He declined to give details.

Allen said Fletcher informed her “he didn’t trust me, the paper didn’t want to have anything to do with me, including laying out weddings.” She said Fletcher said she had an aggressive, in-your-face style, and told her writing “belonged in the alternative press.”

Ouch! Mr. Fletcher sounds like a mainstream press slug with a steep learning curve.

How ironic it was last Thursday, the day the Boston Globe reported Terry Allen’s firing, Mitchell’s paper, the Times Argus contained a 10-page special supplement section highlighting the glories of — you guessed it — Norwich University. Among the warm and cozy relationships between the paper and the university is the annual “Times Argus Invitational” Hockey Tournament coming up at Norwich the end of December.

As far as journalistic ethics go, Mitchell refutes suggestions of crossing the line in his rela-tionship to Norwich University. You can bet no reporter would be permitted to cover Norwich while serving in a similar capacity on a university board. "It's very hard to be pure in a small community," the publisher said. "We are trying to get more involved in the community."

Great. What's next? Indonesian army paperboys at the Times Argus?

Just kidding. The fact remains, however: Mitchell and his newspaper appear to be in the tank on this one.

Allen, meanwhile, tells Seven Days she plans on continuing her investigative reporting both in the mainstream and alternative press.

Good idea.

BernieWatch 2000 — The anticipation is about to end. On Monday Independent Congressman Bernie Sanders will hold a press conference to announce his decision. Will he run for re-election to the House or challenge Republican U.S. Senator Jim Jeffords for the Senate?

"We have gotten a lot of calls over the last few weeks," said Sanders' new communications director, David Sirota, "with the overwhelming sentiment, 'Do whatever you feel is right, but we don't want you to lose.'"

It's a biggie. And we've learned that the bidding war between the House and Senate Democrats for Ol’ Bernardo's services reached new heights this week as Rep. Dick Gephardt, the minority leader who dreams of becoming House Speaker come January 2001, waved an enormous carrot in front of Bernie’s nose — the promise of a seat on the powerful House Appropriations Committee.

Let’s face it, Bernie Sanders is a political prize, a seasoned player, a known and very effective quantity.

The moment of truth is fast approaching. What’s our best guess? House or Senate?

Final answer?

Final answer. House.

Stay tuned.

Media Notes — When Ch. 22’s brand new news team hit the bricks in August, one of their first attention-grabbers was a three-part series on “Heroin in Burlington.” Some competitors scoffed, but time marches on. Last week Ch. 3 did a four-part series on heroin. The week before, Seven Days ran a huge feature on the subject. But Ch. 3’s heroin report had something the others didn’t — a paid consultant. WCAX-TV contracted the services of James Bradley, the recently retired Special Agent-in-Charge of the DEA’s Vermont shop. According to News Director Marselis Parsons, WCAX paid Bradley to help them buy heroin and to also serve as “security” for the Ch. 3 crew doing the series.

“We paid for his knowledge of the street,” said Marsillyiss.

Bradley also was a guest on Ch. 3’s Sunday morning interview program, “You Can Quote Me. Parsons does not think Ch. 3 had an obligation to disclose on-air the station’s business relationship with the former DEA agent. Interesting.

By the way, the WCAX heroin series ran at 11 and early in the morning, but not on the six o’clock news. Why not?

“WE wanted to boost our ratings at 11,” replied Marsillyiss. This save-it-for-the-11 strategy appears to be the latest trend in the TV ratings games. It’s always something.

On another matter, congratulations to Ch. 3’s founder and owner Stuart “Red” Martin, 86, who was in Boston last week to receive the Silver Circle Award from the folks who give out the Emmys. Red was honored for his contribution as television pioneer in the Green Mountains. Hear, hear!

Chairman and Jeopardy Champ! — Boy, oh boy, a few of the star leaders of the Vermont Republican team sure have impressive pasts. Last week it was the executive director’s sterling duty as a key advisor in 1984 to Democrat Sen. Gary Hart when he took his shot at the White House. This week it’s the GOP state chairman, himself. Actually, it should be phrased in the form of a question, as in, “Who is Patrick Garahan?”

Patsy’s the gentleman who wrote the nappy little letter in the New York Times the other day defending George W. Bush in the wake of Bush’s pop-quiz disaster in Boston.

“I recently had the opportunity to spend more than eight hours with Governor George Bush of Texas,” he wrote, “I was present during many public and private discussions among Gov. Bush, two United States senators, a representative and many other people. Mr. Bush showed a remarkable grasp of the concepts and details of dozens of issues relating to both foreign and domestic policies.

“I am a former ‘Jeopardy’ champion,” declared Garahan, “but I also appreciate the difference between recall of trivia and presidential leadership. Nonetheless, I have formed a new political organization: ‘Jeopardy’ Champions for Bush.”

The year was 1971. Richard Nixon was in the White House. The U.S. was in Vietnam was raging at home and abroad. Garahan was an ensign in the U.S. Coast Guard. He won “Jeopardy” twice, and even had the Final Jeopardy answer correct the third time, but didn’t bet enough. Patsy walked away with “about $6000,” a home “Jeopardy” game and an encyclopedia.

Forgot to ask him, just who the is the prime minister of Pakistan these days?

Speaking of Congressman, Bernie Sanders