Home > Uncategorized > Ellsberg And Me: How The Cowards In The NJ Press Corps Knee-Capped Me And Allowed Liars To Remain In Government

Ellsberg And Me: How The Cowards In The NJ Press Corps Knee-Capped Me And Allowed Liars To Remain In Government

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Caption: Daniel Ellsberg, National Press Club speech challenging a new generation of whistleblowers to come forward and calling on the new Democratic Congress to end wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan; avoid war with Iran; and impeach Bush/Cheney (Jan. 4, 2007) – Photo Bill Wolfe)

… reporters telling me as they are calling me up telling me they weren’t going to be printing any stories”.  ~~~~ Sworn testimony of DEP Assistant Commissioner Richard Sinding

Upon learning of Dan Ellsberg’s cancer, I wrote a brief tribute on my Substack, basically a repost of a piece I wrote back in 2012 during the Bradley (now Chelsea) Manning case, see:

I am a whistleblower myself from the Ancient Age of Ellsberg (TM), who greatly admired the man as a true public servant and role model.

Having lived through that period, I understand not only the courage and integrity of Ellsberg as a man, but the critical importance of the media as an institution and the work of journalists with integrity:

In the autumn of 1971, the Pentagon Papers having split open the American consciousness like a machete taken to a coconut, Hannah Arendt published Lying in Politics: Reflections on the Pentagon Papers in The New York Review of Books. Arendt concluded from her reading of the documents that the national security state had led Americans into “an Alice-in-Wonderland atmosphere,” a sort of collective psychosis that arose from what she called “defactualization”—a term as eminently useful in our time as it was in Ellsberg’s and hers.

Although Ellsberg avoided prison for leaking the Pentagon Papers as a result of Nixon’s crimes and prosecutorial misconduct, he could not have survived government retaliation and persecution had it not been for the US media coverage.

His leaks about the illegal and corrupt Vietnam War and the lies of the US government about that war would have been in vain without US media coverage.

With those understandings in mind, let me now, almost 30 years after my own whistleblower case, share some of the details of my own whistleblower experience.

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I want to focus particularly on the role of the NJ media, who, with two exceptions (Ed Rogers of NJN TV and Peter Page of the Trenton Times), were cowards and failed to report the story.

To do so, I will provide an excerpt from sworn testimony by DEP Assistant Commissioner Richard Sinding, who served as a DEP prosecution witness against me at the time.

Sinding’s stunning sworn testimony explicitly confirmed NJ Gov. Whitman’s personal involvement and fingered DEP Commissioner Bob Shinn for intentionally crafting scientific lies.

Many key facts of my 1994 case were very similar to those of both Ellsberg and Bradley Manning.

Ellsberg was a Pentagon contractor who has access to sensitive government records about the history of the Vietnam war and years of lies by government about that war. He was morally compelled to reveal those lies to the American public.

Manning was a military analyst who had been granted access to sensitive government documents that he read in the course of his analytical work. He discovered wrongdoing. He felt ethically compelled to disclose this wrongdoing. He downloaded the files he read and released them publicly (via Wikileaks). The media reported the Manning disclosures.  (see the “Collateral Murder” video). People were outraged. US war crimes were disclosed to the world and the US government was humiliated. The US government retaliated, smeared Manning, and filed criminal charges. Manning was convicted and jailed.

Like Manning, in 1994 I too was an DEP analyst who was authorized to read and write sensitive government documents.

Like Ellsberg and Manning, I was compelled by conscience to disclose wrongdoing. Government officials were embarrassed by my disclosures and retaliated, including initially seeking criminal charges for alleged “theft” of the documents I was authorized to access (no hack involved) and disclosed publicly (the threatened criminal charges were never filed).

In my case, it wasn’t military documents about war crimes, but a hand written note by Governor Christie Whitman requesting a briefing by DEP Commissioner Shinn in response to harsh media criticism she received for her factually false statements designed to downplay the risks to public health from toxic mercury in freshwater fish (particularly for pregnant women, nursing mothers, and young children, euphemistically and bureaucratically described as “sensitive receptors”).

Commissioner Shinn wrote Gov. Whitman a briefing memo that flat out lied about the science of those risks. Shinn recommended a public relations strategy to cover up those risks, to lie to the public about those risks, and to avoid additional controversial and costly DEP regulatory actions to warn the public about those risks and to reduce the emissions of mercury in the environment.

Controversial DEP regulatory actions would include: 1) fish consumption advisories (which would have significant economic impacts on NJ’s commercial and recreational fishing industry as well as DEP fishing license fees that support DEP’s budget and staff salaries); 2) additional costly air pollution emission control standards for major mercury air emission sources like coal power plants, smelters, and sludge and hospital incinerators, as well as water pollution discharges from industry and sewage treatment plants; and 3) likely denial of permits and/or enforcement actions impacting billions of dollars investment in a new coal plant and garbage incinerators. The public health, economic, and political stakes were large.

Of course, after reading this corrupt strategy, I was compelled to stop it and because it was an already signed off communication memo from the Commissioner to the Governor, I had no internal DEP recourse to my DEP managers and was forced to publicly disclose it. The Shinn memo was written by Assistant Commissioner Richard Sinding, a Florio administration political appointee and holdover.

I disclosed the Shinn memo to Gov. Whitman to a member of the Florio Administration’s Mercury Task Force, Delores Phillips. Delores also served as the Trenton lobbyist for the NJ Environmental Federation.

As was suspected at the time by insiders and sworn testimony in my legal case later revealed, Shinn wanted to disband the Florio Mercury Task Force and limit further DEP regulatory actions on mercury.

Delores disclosed the Shinn memo to the Trenton State House and environmental press corps.

It was the lead story that night broadcast on NJ TV by Ed Rogers. It was page one above the fold the next day in the Trenton Times in a story by Peter Page. That’s the only media my disclosure generated.

Here’s how DEP Assistant Commissioner Richard Sinding testified under oath to explain the lack of media coverage (Source: DEP Hearing Transcript, 9/21/94):

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Did you get that?

DEP Assistant Commissioner Sinding got several calls:

By reporters telling me as they are calling me up telling me they weren’t going to be printing any stories”

Not printing any stories.

Had the press seriously investigated what I revealed and printed critical stories, perhaps Whitman’s credibility would have been sufficiently discredited such that she later would never have been nominated or confirmed as George Bush’s EPA administrator.

Or maybe Whitman’s lies about the air being safe to breath post 9/11 would not have been accepted at face value and thousands of first responders would still be alive.

Or maybe Commissioner Shinn and his management team, which included Michael Hogan, a lawyer who later was selected as the special judge in the notorious Gov. Christie Exxon settlement, would have been disgraced, forced to resign, and drummed out of office.

Thanks a lot you fucking cowards!

(this includes current NJ Spotlight reporter Tom Johnson, who was the Star Ledger’s environmental reporter at the time. Tom is the only one still around, as far as I know, so I’m not singling him out).

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