This blog has received two credible reports from entirely separate sources that residents of Bethlehem, Coxsackie, and Hudson have been polled over the phone recently regarding the Lafarge cement plant and mercury pollution—and that the poll included a question about now-embattled State wildlife pathologist Ward Stone.
Stone has been doing independent research into mercury contamination downwind of the coal-fired Lafarge plant, and was the subject of a lengthy exposé in Sunday’s Times-Union. Now he’s also become the subject of a State investigation into alleged misconduct, including apparent charges by former coworkers of misuse of public resources, abuse of staff, abuse of wildlife, and more. It appears the polling calls began 10-14 days before this article was published.
Here is a report from one reader of this blog (who wishes to remain anonymous, but whose identity and bona fides I have verified) who received a call from the unidentified pollster... First, the reader’s comment on my initial blog post:
I’ve listened to Ward Stone and In Our Backyard since moving to this area and I have been impressed, touched even, by his message to appreciate the world in which we live, to get out and enjoy it. Through him I've learned to notice signs in nature I'd not been aware of... it's been an awakening. Truth be told, I've only been mildly aware of his real environmental crusades; I've just not been paying that much attention.
That's why I was surprised his name came up in a phone call I took last weekend. It was a "poll" thing and honed in on the Lafarge mercury emissions events of late. The pollster asked what opinion I had of Ward Stone; solely based on my knowledge of him and the radio program, I said, "Very favorable." I still have a favorable opinion of him, still based solely on his radio program, and though the allegations against him are serious, I'll wait to pass judgment until they are sorted out. I absolutely question the timing of the allegations, as well as the timing of the poll-call, and I'm dying to know who/what was behind it.
Curious, I posted a request for the commenter to provide more details, which s/he did via email.
I’m the person who took the Lafarge "poll call" on [May 1st], then posted about it on your blog. I'll share with you what I remember:
It came around noon Saturday, a man calling said he was not from a political party etc. but would like to ask questions about environmental issues in the area. He may have stated an organization he was representing, but I don't remember (wish I did!). I was happy to respond because I always wonder where poll results come from... I'm rarely asked, nor is anyone I know.
At any rate, at first he asked about my basic awareness of local issues, and one question asked me to choose, in order of importance, two or three issues I felt were most pressing. Slightly aware of the Lafarge situation, as well as the fight in Hudson a few years back to keep out a cement plant (THANK YOU), I included "mercury emissions" in my answer. The man quickly took that answer and honed in on Lafarge. I do think the call was aiming at Lafarge, and my answer about mercury contamination as a local environmental concern was the pollster's go ahead to continue with his script of questions. He did not mention or ask about any other issues once Lafarge was on the table.
He then asked a series of questions about my opinion whether the plant should be shut down, forced to modernize, allowed to continue as is. He asked what importance I place on the jobs at the plant. He asked my opinion of several different people, Ward Stone and Governor Patterson included, others whose names I didn't recognize. I’m quite certain that there was only one question about Ward Stone—just my opinion of him, which as I said is favorable.
At the end of the questions, the man asked my age, income range, level of education, and first name. I hesitated, then gave it, though I wish now that I hadn't.
I paid attention during the call-- and thought a lot afterward-- to try and identify a bias, a clue to which "side" the call might have come from; nothing stood out. Then again, I'm not very well informed about Lafarge, which led me to realize: I want to learn more about the circumstances at there so I will have (if only for myself) a more clearly defined opinion of what needs to happen.
Let me know if you have further questions, and if I think of anything else of significance, I'll let you know.
I enjoy your blog. Very informative, sophisticated, and fun.
As for my own opinion of this situation, I take a slightly different view of this evolving matter than some of my environmentalist peers (and am waiting to see what further evidence evolves before making a definitive judgement).
This situation strikes me much like The New York Times’ exposure of Eliot Spitzer’s frequenting prostitutes did. Without question, people like Spitzer and Stone had (and still have) enemies eager to find any reason to tear them down. Such people know they are being monitored closely for any mis-step, which will be pounced on. The mystery is why such controversial figures would hand their critics the gasoline with which to immolate them—rather than taking precautionary steps to foil those eager to torch their reputations.
Spitzer knew that Wall Street and the American right-wing were itching to take him down. Furthermore, as someone who had prosecuted both financial fraud and prostitution rings, he knew that if you go into a bank and ask to have a large amount of money wired anonymously, that bank is required to report the transaction to authorities as suspicious. He likewise knew that arranging to transport a prostitute across state lines incurred yet another level of legal jeopardy. And yet he recklessly pursued his (apparent) sex addiction without using his inside knowledge of the legal and financial system to make it harder to catch him.
Indeed, Spitzer made it easy for his enemies. The surprising part is that it took so long to catch him, not that he was caught.
With the Stone situation–in which all the facts have yet to come out—one similarly wonders why a controversial survivor of past bureaucratic and media wars did not take steps to protect his work and legacy.
At the start of his WAMC interview this morning, Stone claimed that he “knew” this was coming because his phone was “tapped,” his computer “entered,” and he had been “watched and followed for some time.” (Unfortunately, his interviewers moved on very quickly from the topic and did not explore such eyebrow-raising and hard-to-credit claims—which frankly seem more suited to a Bourne Identity flick than a DEC feud.)
Either way, Stone not only had more credible reasons to know he was a target, he also had been specifically admonished repeatedly to address the complaints which came, year after year, from supervisors at his agency. Any objective read of the documents posted by the T-U to back up its reporting are a dose of cold reality to those, like me, who would normally be disposed to side with Stone.
This brings us back to the question of the Lafarge poll, which experience would suggest most likely was commissioned by the cement company, in anticipation of an upcoming DEC hearing on its Ravena plant. Did Lafarge ask about Stone’s credibility? And did the results suggest to the company that his strong reputation as a scientist needed tarnishing? I would not be the least bit surprised. But while the answer to that question might well reflect poorly on Lafarge, it also would not excuse Stone if the charges he faces turn out to be true. We can both deplore corporate skulduggery, admire talented and courageous environment work, and distance ourselves from behaviors and practices among “our” people that we would never tolerate from the “other” side.
It is often said that “Just because you’re paranoid, doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get you.” A corollary might be: “Just because they’re out to get you, doesn’t mean you are beyond reproach.” The Times-Union’s editorial this morning makes that point well (though it fails to disclose or acknowledge the source of its leaks, or at least address the questionable timing of its exposé.) In the long run, if we want to fight for environmental and other forms of justice, we can’t hold ourselves to a lower standard of evidence and ethics than the one we tend to apply to those on the other side.