Krulwich apologizes (5×8 – 10/1/12)

More ‘yellow rain’ fallout, should we disconnect, the same-sex marriage debate, designing cities for people, and moose calling in the Superior National Forest.

The Monday Morning Rouser…


Robert Krulwich has apologized — sort of — for his treatment of a Twin Cities Hmong man and his niece in a recent podcast of RadioLab. The pair appeared on the program to talk about “yellow rain,” the alleged poison being used in the secret war in Laos against the culture that had fought on behalf of the United States (I wrote about the controversy on the show last week).

Over the weekend, Krulwich defended his questioning of the man and his niece, who was translating:

After reading a lot of email and angry notes about our most recent podcast, “The Fact of the Matter,” I want to respond, and apologize for my harshness during the interview.

It was not my intention — it’s never my intention — to make the people we interview uncomfortable or angry. My intent is to question, listen, and explore. But in my interview with Ms. Kao Kalia Yang and Mr. Eng Yang, and later in the conversation with my co-host Jad and our reporter Pat Walters, I pushed too hard. I didn’t understand how I was coming across. I now can hear that my tone was oddly angry. That’s not acceptable — especially when talking to a man who has suffered through a nightmare in Southeast Asia that was beyond horrific.

This episode of Radiolab was about truth, how different people experience different truths and how those differences can be painfully hard to reconcile. In this segment, our subject was President Reagan’s 1982 announcement that he believed the Soviets had manufactured chemical weapons and were using them on Hmong people in Laos — and a subsequent announcement by scientists at Harvard and Yale that the President was wrong, that the so-called “weapons” were not weapons at all, but bees relieving themselves in the forest.

While there had been previous accounts of this controversy, very few journalists had asked the Hmong refugees hiding in that forest what happened, what they’d seen. That’s why we wanted to speak with Mr. Yang and his niece, Ms. Yang.

We sent them a list of questions in advance, including these:

“At what point did you first hear about the yellow rain?”

“Did you see it yourself?”

“What did it look like? Did you touch it? See evidence of it on leaves or houses?”

“Do you know about the theory scientists have that the yellow rain wasn’t a poison weapon, but instead was bee droppings?”

“What do you make of that?”

Many commenters have suggested that we “ambushed” Mr. Yang and Ms. Yang, but I feel that it’s important for you to know that was not the case. Mr. Yang and Ms. Yang were informed about what we were looking for: our goal was to find out if President Reagan’s statement was true or false.

We never suggested that Radiolab planned a comprehensive story of the tragedy that befell the Hmong during those years. We had no set view of whether yellow rain was or was not a chemical weapon. We went to Mr. Yang because we thought his voice and perspective should be heard.

I forcefully questioned Mr. Yang to find out if he had actually seen the source of the “yellow rain” because I was trying to understand if the scientists had considered all the evidence. I care deeply about getting the facts right. Looking back on it now, I see that I was insensitive: I sound hectoring and uncaring. For that, I apologize.

I should have listened harder, and been more compassionate.

I am especially sorry in the conversation following to have said Ms. Yang was seeking to “monopolize” the story. Obviously, we at Radiolab had all the power in this situation, and to suggest otherwise was wrong.

If you listen to the whole segment, you will hear that we took the time to tell the story of the Hmong’s flight into the woods, the Pathet Lao’s assassinations, and the cruel chaos of that war. We did not leave that part out. I just wish I had done my part more gently and with more consideration for their suffering.

Here’s Krulwich’s blog. In the comment section, many people (many from Minnesota) are still trying to explain to Krulwich why the interview went wrong:

Your show is usually put together like a unicycle on a high wire act, with the clown in big floppy red shoes both pedaling the unicycle and explaining inverse pendulum control theory. It was so jarring and wrong for you to present sincere human suffering as just another spectacle in your circus like format. It was shameful, and this apology seems very inadequate. As others have suggested, talk to Ira. I don’t know how you can recover, but your clown is definitely in the net.


Yes, yes, we know. The smartphone is rotting our brain and preventing us from communicating with other humans. There may be some truth to that, but the favorite parts of this segment on what the smartphone hath wrought is the TV reporter pointing out that the TV was also “supposed to rot our brains” — as if it didn’t — and the scientist who pointed out that the brain is more active when browsing Google than reading a book.

Related tech: Debit and credit cards can be picked from your pocket without even leaving your wallet.


Minnesotans for Marriage, the group urging a ban on same-sex marriage in Minnesota’s constitution, unveiled its first TV ads over the weekend…

Of late, the marriage debate has been fronted by football players. Vikings punter Chris Kluwe has written several posts on his Pioneer Press Out of Bounds blog in support of the right to marry.

And over the weekend, former Viking Matt Birk came out against same-sex marriage...

Marriage is in trouble right now — admittedly, for many reasons that have little to do with same-sex unions. In the last few years, political forces and a culture of relativism have replaced “I am my brother’s keeper” and “love your neighbor as yourself” with “live and let live” and “if it feels good, go ahead and do it.”

The effects of no-fault divorce, adultery, and the nonchalant attitude toward marriage by some have done great harm to this sacred institution. How much longer do we put the desires of adults before the needs of kids? Why are we not doing more to lift up and strengthen the institution of marriage?

Kluwe says he’s written a response, although the Pioneer Press hasn’t posted it yet.

Related: How Arnold Schwarzenegger protected marriage. (CBS)

Related Kluwe: Kluwe plays “not my job” on NPR’s Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me.


Skyways for bikes? What would happen if cities were redesigned for people, instead of cars?


Moose Calling 960×540 from Sparky Stensaas on Vimeo.



Last week’s workplace shooting in Minneapolis came during a national political campaign that has had scant mention of mass shootings or gun rights. Today’s Question: Should mass shootings and issues arising from them figure in the presidential campaign?


Daily Circuit (9-12 p.m.) – First hour: The rise of Chinese cities.

Second hour: Exploring the mysteries of the ocean.

Third hour: Talking Volumes: Jeffrey Toobin

MPR News Presents (12-1 pm): A debate from the “Intelligence Squared” series on money in politics and the influence of super PACS.

Talk of the Nation (1-2 p.m.) – The civil war in Syria. The Syrian army blanketed rebel fighters with a text message on Thursday: “Game over.” They might well have replied, “wishful thinking.” The civil war’s already dragged on for 18 months, killed tens of thousands and forced even more to flee to neighboring countries.

All Things Considered (3-6:30 p.m.) – Both presidential candidates agree the tax code is overly complex. But solving the puzzle is hard, and talking about solutions can be worse. Some analysts say that voters penalize candidates when they start really identifying who is going to pay for government. NPR launches a new series, “Solve This,” by pulling apart tax policy.