HONORING KARL GROSSMAN
By Christine D. Giordano
It was a perfectly sublime Saturday evening in the Hamptons — with flowers blooming and restaurants hopping, yet it was a bookstore in Sag Harbor that saw the most action — with a standing-room only crowd gathered inside, pressing their way toward the podium to hear what a journalist had to say. It was no ordinary journalist, of course. It was one of the last surviving, vigilant watchdog journalists Karl Grossman, speaking about his 50 year career as an investigative reporter, at the very popular Canio’s bookstore in Sag Harbor.
For years, Grossman has developed a following through his interviews, his columns in Long Island newspapers, his “enviro-exposes,” his documentaries that spotlight environmental toxins, and his books such as Cover Up: What You Are Not Supposed to Know About Nuclear Power (1980); The Poison Conspiracy (1982); Nicaragua: America’s New Vietnam? (1984); Power Crazy:Is LILCO Turning Shoreham Into America’s Chernobyl? (1986); The Wrong Stuff: The Space Program’s Nuclear Threat to Our Planet (1997) and Weapons in Space (2001). His television program Enviro Close-Up is in 200 countries, and he’s written and narrated TV documentaries for EnviroVideo.
Few have taken their Journalism responsibilities as seriously as Grossman. At one point, seven to 11 nuclear power plants were planned for Long Island, and, after researching the dire health effects linked to radiation, Grossman wrote articles and the book that opened a dialogue regarding the dangers of having a nuclear backyard. “The very exposure was enough to solve the problem,” said Grossman.
Former Governor Mario Cuomo eventually stood against creating such an environment.
Now the journalist is concerned with the radiation leakage from the Japanese nuclear meltdown and what he calls the “coverup of Fukushima:” His physician sources tell him 1 million people will die of radiation poisoning resulting from the malfunction of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, yet pro-nuclear groups claim there will be no public ill-effects. The situation mimics the information gathered in his first book, Cover Up: What You are Not Supposed to Know about Nuclear Power (available for a free download here)
“I did a new preface right after Fukushima,” said Grossman, reading from the book.“I started off (the preface) we’ve not been informed about nuclear power. We’ve not been told and that is done on purpose. Keeping the public in the dark was deemed necessary by the promoters of nuclear power.”
During the interview with Networking®, Grossman sat in his home in Sag Harbor, surrounded by stacks of meticulous overstuffed paper files. He has a mine of information that often predates the Internet — spanning decades, from deep research he has done and special reports he has obtained from years of cultivating sources on the inside. Public advocates and warriors for the environment often get a bad rap for going off half cocked, but as Grossman cited information and discussed topics, he repeatedly fished out news clippings and government documents to back up his words until, what amassed, was a credible unstated creed: it is a journalist’s job to expose corruption in order to keep the public safe… and if corruption runs wild, the public needs to be warned.
“What you do, when you do this kind of work, is you look for the horror story,” said Grossman. His horror stories have investigated toxic pesticides, the hazards of fueling space probes with nuclear energy, and cancer clusters created by nuclear power.
From CopyBoy to International Resource
He began his journalist days as a copyboy, answering phones, and passing on the horror stories to the investigative journalist at his newspaper. Now he receives hundreds of emails each day from insiders within his networks, alerting him to environmental and nuclear news. The hardest part of the job is backing up what they’re saying with documentation. Yet he does. Even if it takes thousands of phone calls and hundreds of Freedom of Information requests.
“The power of the press is enormous and you only want to use it when you are absolutely certain you’ve got a case together,” he said.
In fact, he may be one of the few people in the world who has documents about things such as the potential consequences of accidents with plutonium fueled space probes, that he says could potentially shower deadly radiation over the earth. He has put this inside knowledge and documentation onto slides, and lectured internationally through the Macrae Speakers and Entertainment agency (www.macraespeakers.com).
Grossman’s first nuclear documentary, created while he was working as a journalist for Channel 21, was a calm review of nuclear power — through what he called journalistic “ping pong” — he interviewed sources on both sides of the argument for and against nuclear power. He said he was calmly told by industry experts that nuclear accidents only happened once in a few hundred years. But when Three Mile Harbor nuclear power plant malfunctioned and spewed toxins onto Pennsylvania and upstate New York in 1979, he realized he was witnessing the type of catastrophe he was told was nearly impossible. He felt he had been “bamboozled” by people with pro-nuclear interests.
He dug deeper. This time, he created the award-winning documentary, Three Mile Island Revisited, (able to be seen here), containing interviews with residents near the power plant who suffered a “600-fold increase” in cancer after the toxins were released into their neighborhood, according to the documentary. It showed a two-headed calf, soaring infant death rates and had interviews with experts such as Dr. Jay Gould who measured about a million excess deaths in relation to the toxic cloud that spread between Pennsylvania and upstate New York, and others who talked about the radiation nuclear plants routinely released. The documentary won the Worldfest Silver Award, Houston International Film Festival; the Director’s Citation, Black Maria Video and Film Festival and was chosen for screening at the 1993 Earth Peace International Film Festival.
Yet as Grossman researched, he said he found that nuclear power plants have the potential to do much more than melt down. If one of the control rods fails, nuclear plants have the potential to explode within a second, he said. The explosion, called a “nuclear runaway” or “power excursion” or “reactivity accident,” creates a toxic cloud and leaves no time for a massive evacuation. It has already occurred at Chernobyl, and a military reactor SR1 in Idaho, said Grossman, while pointing to a photograph of the explosion in his book.
“Edward Teller (a respected nuclear physicist) declared that because of the dangers of the nuclear runaway you should only build nuclear power plants deep underground. But that would be so expensive it wouldn’t be cost effective.”
Today, Grossman says the horror story of the radiation leaked from Japan’s nuclear meltdown at Fukushima is beginning to showing up in infant mortality rates in the U.S. as well as Japan, in places that held the first radioactive rainfalls, since fetal cells divide more rapidly. He said he wishes the topic were covered more by the mainstream media.
“This stuff streaming from radiation is getting into the marine (food) chain,” he said.
Trying to warn the public, he’s written articles in the New York Times, national magazines and various other newspapers and websites on the topic. His Op-Eds lambaste the nuclear regulators for approving more power plants to be built in Georgia, and “extending the operating licenses of most of the 104 existing plants from 40 to 60 years—although they were only designed to run for 40 years. That’s because radioactivity embrittles their metal components and degrades other parts after 40 years making the plants unsafe to operate. And the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is now considering extending their licenses for 80 years,” he wrote.
Grossman now favors the instantaneous publishing convenience of the Internet a true advantage over the year -long process of book writing, and calls this the “golden age of investigative reporting.” Southampton Press and Shelter Island Reporter have carried his weekly columns for years.
His work perpetuates through his army of students. A full professor at State University of New York College at Old Westbury, he’s taught modern day Investigative Journalism for 30 years, encouraging his students to live up to their responsibility of becoming truth seekers for public good.
Said a former student, journalist and editor Annette Hinkle, “What I really remember about Karl as a teacher was that he saw those who took his class, not as students, but as fellow journalists. He shared his passion for asking hard questions and did not accept pat answers. From Freedom of Information laws to finding sources on the inside, he challenged his students to dig deeper when something piqued their interest or didn’t seem right.“
Grossman’s influence still inspires her. “Sending writers out to uncover information that the public has the right to know is a big part of what we do at weekly community newspapers. It’s a basic right for journalists and Karl has long made it his job to impress that fact upon his students,” said Hinkle.
Grossman’s awards for investigative reporting include the George Polk, Generoso Pope, James Aronson and John Peter Zenger Awards, the New York Press Association, Press Club of Long Island, Society of Professional Journalists, Psychologists for Social Responsibility, Citizens Campaign for the Environment, New York Civil Liberties Union, Long Island Coalition for Fair Broadcasting, Citizens Energy Council and Friends of the Earth.
“Across his more than four decades of investigative work, Karl has made his mark by examining both the heavily cited and, perhaps most importantly, frequently not cited pros and cons of policy and debate as they relate to the environment, sustainability, and energy issues. Equally if not more important is his continuous call for accountability at every level of our society on these issues. He has paired this pursuit with a level of excellence in the classroom that prepares young journalists not only to report on the news of today but to seek out the impacts such news will have on our tomorrows.”
- Calvin O. Butts, III, president, SUNY College at Old Westbury