Mear-dalai-lama-close-up Marc Parry, the soon-to-be-former Higher Education reporter for the TU, reports today that both Skidmore College and R.P.I. have passed on the opportunity to host events surrounding the Dalai Lama's April visit to the Capital Region, "according to Seagram heiress Clare Bronfman, a trustee of the Ethical Humanitarian Foundation."
Bronfman is one of the co-founders of the World Ethical Foundations Consortium (WEFC), the nonprofit organization that is hosting the Dalai Lama's visit to Albany as part of the group's inaugural celebration. Bronfman is also a member of NXIVM and a star pupil of Keith Raniere, the founder of the WEFC and NXIVM. Bronfman believes Skidmore and RPI rebuffed organizers' attempts to bring the Dalai Lama to their campuses because of negative publicity about Nxivm. Some have characterized the group as cult-like. Nxivm has rejected the description.
I broke the bizarre news that NXIVM is hosting the venerable Tibetan back in January, and the TU has reported on it since, too, but Perry's article is the first time that the TU has even mentioned the bit about NXIVM possibly being "cult-like."
In the TU's first report on the Dalai Lama's visit, written by Carol DeMare, NXIVM and the controversies surrounding Raniere were omitted. Raniere was cast, without question, as a scientist and philosopher, with no mention of his involvement in an alleged pyramid scheme in the 90s, his alleged use of espionage to spy on his critics, or the girl who apparently killed herself after taking six months of his patented Rational Inquiry courses.
Why has the TU been silent on the criticism surrounding Raniere? Well, the WEFC has rented out the Times Union Center to hold its inaugural event, and that might pose a financial conflict of interests for the paper. But, more to the point, there appears to be a long-standing practice by the paper of using kid gloves when reporting on NXIVM. The last useful article that the paper let run about NXIVM was written by Dennis Yusko and it was published on Aug. 6, 2006. Since then, the paper has avoided the subject of Raniere and his group. Yusko appears to have been pulled off the NXIVM beat, and it even appears that the TU has pulled Yusko's articles about NXIVM from its online archives. (WRONG. When I searched the archives this afternoon, I got no results. Not because they aren't there, but because the site was timing out, and Google doesn't appear to crawl the TU's archives database. Yusko's articles are there.)
There are some obvious questions here: Does the TU have an official or unofficial policy of nonreporting when it comes to NXIVM? What sort of conversations has the paper had with NXIVM or representatives of the organization that might have influenced their reporting? Has NXIVM ever threatened to sue the paper? Why hasn't Dennis Yusko reported on NXIVM since the string of articles he produced up until 2006? Was he punished by his editors for writing about NXIVM? Are any members of the TU's editorial staff members of NXIVM?
I am looking at you, Rex ...
So, now that I have mastered the ability to search the TU's archives, I should address Horatio's below comment in more detail. I have compiled a list of the articles that Dennis Yusko reported between 2003 and 2006. To me, this list demonstrates an enthusiasm on Yusko's part to report on the unusual dealings of NXIVM, digging into their land deals, financial and legal dealings, as well as into the group's controversial training methods.
Yusko's August 2006 article, "Fear and tears after NXIVM class" is a disturbing read:
Math teacher Nellie Forst wanted to control her temper better so she could one day become a principal. So at the advice of her father, the 28-year-old Philadelphia resident drove to Nxivm in Colonie for a five-day seminar expecting enlightenment and career advice.
But by the first evening, Forst says she ran out of the personal development company's New Karner Road office and left the Capital Region in tears...
"I consider the 11 hours I spent at the place to be psychological rape. It left me a totally different person with all this fear I never had before," said Forst, who has a master's degree from Drexel University.
That was the kind of provocative reporting Yusko was doing on NXIVM, but after this damning story came out, Yusko only filed two more brief stories about NXIVM land deals and then that was it. Nothing more from Dennis.
Yusko and I were both reporting on NXIVM at that time and talking to many of the same sources. Yusko had the reputation for being consumed with NXIVM. According to one source, Yusko was convinced that it was the “best story he had ever gotten." It involves the Bronfmans, celebrities, “crazy people, and it is colorful and exciting." After his August 2006 article, Yusko stopped making calls to these sources that he had spent years cultivating, and he stopped reporting on NXIVM.
At that time and since, these same sources have told me that Yusko was pulled from the story by his editors.
Yusko's Times Union articles on NXIVM
- July 29, 2003: Plans for human potential school raise concern
- Aug. 8, 2003: Group sues its critics over claims it is a cult
- Aug. 28, 2003: Group gathers both acolytes, doubters
- Aug. 30, 2003: Lawsuit claims group was portrayed as a cult
- Sept. 9, 2003: Ruling lets Web site critical of NXIVM stay online
- Sept. 18, 2003: County planners say no to NXIVM
- Sept. 28, 2003: New vision for mind in eye of the beholder
- Dec 21, 2003: NXIVM cuts training school from plan
- Feb 1, 2004: An Espian's brief life
- April 23, 2004: Court upholds Nxivm ruling
- Sept. 3, 2004: Nxivm hopes lawsuit will go to highest court
- Aug. 25, 2005: Nxivm accuses Albany businessman of fraud
- Sept. 13, 2005: Nxivm loses assets claim
- Nov. 3, 2005: Ex-aide calls Nxivm 'extremely dangerous'
- Aug. 6, 2006: Fear and tears after NXIVM class
- Oct. 24, 2006: Board puts off Nxivm plan
- Nov. 14, 2006: New tenant OK'd for Romano's
I sent a few questions to Rex Smith, the editor of the Times Union, and got back a few strongly worded responses:
CH: Has NXIVM ever threatened to sue the Times Union?
RS: Not to my knowledge.
CH: What sort of conversations has the paper had with NXIVM or representatives of the organization? Have they influenced the paper's reporting?
RS: I had a meeting several years ago with the second-ranking official of NXIVM, who complained that our coverage wasn't fair. This isn't uncommon in my line of work; I'm sort of like the adjustment window at Macy's. Before the meeting, I re-read all of our coverage, then I listened to her, and I concluded that our work had been fair and thorough. That's what I told her. I don't think she was convinced, nor did she convince me that we had been unfair. I've also met more recently with Clare Bronfman about the upcoming visit of the Dalai Lama, which she and her sister are sponsoring. I don't know if she is considered a representative of NXIVM, though she is clearly an advocate for the organization and a financial backer of its programs. It's not unusual that people want to talk to the editor when they're involved in what's going to be a big story in our community.
CH: Why hasn't Dennis Yusko reported on NXIVM since the string of articles he produced between 2003 and 2006?
RS: Dennis's beat is geographic. He was covering Clifton Park during those years, and he picked up the NXIVM story because the group was involved in a local land-use issue at the time. He was moved to another beat at about the same time as the local controversy over NXIVM abated when its application was withdrawn. We have reported fully and fairly on the controversy over NXIVM.
CH: Was he pulled from the story?
RS: Absolutely not.
CH: Was he punished by his editors for writing about NXIVM?
RS: Absolutely not.
By the way, an editor today showed me your Web posting questioning a possible "financial conflict of interest" for the Times Union in that the Dalai Lama's event is being held at the Times Union Center. Bad reporting, Chet: As anybody who has read stories about the Times Union contract with the county knows, there is no financial benefit to the Times Union from ticket sales at the venue bearing our name. It's also damn insulting to everybody who works in our newsroom for you to suggest that our integrity is for sale.
CH: Why did Carol DeMare's original piece reporting on the Dalai Lama's visit to the region not mention anything about Raniere's past, [or even address the obvious concern that his critics would have with a group he founded (WEFC) hosting the Dalai Lama?]
RS: I think it would have been reasonable to mention some of the background material in the original story, but even as strong a reporter as Carol DeMare isn't immune to the occasional mistake. Nor are you and I, of course.
Sorry that I insulted your entire newsroom, Rex, but no one's integrity is above question, especially when we are dealing with a group that is as litigious as NXIVM is and has the access it has to wealth. As one source close to NXIVM puts it, "many a prosecutor has been bought off or scared away by Raniere and the Bronfmans' money."
As far as NXIVM's recent newsworthiness: Last year, a NXIVM-affiliated group sponsored its second A Capella event at the Egg, which paid to host multiple college-aged A Capella groups for a weekend of concerts and "training." The training seemed to be variations on the teachings of Raniere's "Rational Inquiry," the basis of NXIVM. TV actresses Nicki Clyne, Alison Mack, and Kristin Kreuk were the weekend's emcees.
Also, members of NXIVM tried to launch a "Facebook-like" Web site last year that targeted, again, college kids. Again, Clyne, Mack, and Kreuk were the face of this endeavor. Clyne and Mack even hosted an ice-cream social in Troy to recruit people into this social networking site.
These tactics are not uncommon in groups similar to NXIVM, and there are no shortage of experts who will explain that, as I am sure you know. Also, I wasn't implying that there was a possible connection between ticket sales at the Times Union Center and the TU. What I wondered—and I still do—is whether or not the editors who read DeMare's cotton-candy article decided it wouldn't be worth the bad publicity to report the real news story, and give readers a rundown of Raniere's questionable history.
I just don't buy that that oversight was a mistake. It looks more to me like a calculation.