Alumnus Karl Grossman ’64 is a professor of journalism at the State University of New York College at Old Westbury. For more than 45 years he has pioneered the combination of investigative reporting and environmental journalism in a variety of media. He is the host of the nationally aired television program Enviro Close-Up, the narrator and host of award-winning TV documentaries on environmental and energy issues, the author of six books and writer of numerous magazine, newspaper and Internet articles.
He was recently named to the Long Island Journalism Hall of Fame (along with renowned author Walt Whitman). Grossman said that he was inspired to go into journalism by an Antioch co-op at the Cleveland Press. He sat down with The Independent this month to talk about his award, his work and how Antioch shaped his career.
Tell us about your position and your current work.
I'm a full professor of journalism at the State University of New York/College at Old Westbury. I have long specialized in doing investigative reporting. I teach as well as practice journalism. At SUNY/College at Old Westbury each semester since I began there in 1979 I've taught Investigative Reporting. Other courses I've taught at SUNY/College at Old Westbury include Politics of Media and Environmental Journalism. For nearly 25 years I've hosted the nationally-aired TV program Enviro Close-Up produced by the New York-based video production company EnviroVideo. I’ve also written and presented TV documentaries for EnviroVideo including Three Mile Island Revisited, The Push to Revive Nuclear Power and Nukes In Space: The Nuclearization and Weaponization of the Heavens. I'm the chief investigative reporter for WVVH-TV on Long Island. My documentaries for WVVH have included Organic Farming: Can It Feed Us? and Renewables Are More Than Ready.I'm the author of six books including Cover Up: What You Are Not Supposed to Know About Nuclear Power; Power Crazy; Nicaragua: America's New Vietnam?; The Wrong Stuff: The Space Program's Nuclear Threat to Our Planet and Weapons in Space.I’m active in doing investigative reporting on the Internet writing regularly on CounterPunch, The Huffington Post, Enformable, Nation of Change and OpEd News. My column appears in Long Island newspapers including The Southampton Press, The East Hampton Press, The Shelter Island Reporter, The Sag Harbor Express, Community Journal and the South Shore Press. I also write for the Manhattan Jewish Sentinel, Long Island Jewish World and Jewish Tribune. And I have a blog on The Times of Israel.Honors I've received for journalism have included the George Polk, Generoso Pope, James Aronson, Leo Goodman and John Peter Zenger Awards. And, just now I have been named to the Long Island Journalism Hall of Fame (which is quite a kick particularly because among the other 22 persons named is Walt Whitman who founded the Long Islander newspaper in Huntington). I’ve given presentations all over the U.S. and around the world focusing especially on energy and the environment. I’ve given presentations on the dangers of utilizing nuclear power and deploying weapons in space at the UN in Geneva and multiple times at the UN in New York. I've addressed members of the British Parliament twice on the space weapons issue.My pieces have appeared in publications including The New York Times, USA Today, The Boston Globe, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Christian Science Monitor, Newsday, The Baltimore Sun, Cleveland Plain Dealer, The Progressive, Extra!, The Orlando Sentinel, The Ecologist, Earth Island Journal, E The Environmental Magazine, The Crisis, The Village Voice, Z Magazine, The Sun, Our Right To Know, Common Cause Magazine, In These Times, Environmental Action, Alternate Currents, The Montreal Mirror, The Boston Phoenix, Space News, The San Francisco Bay Guardian, Columbia Journalism Review, The Globe and Mail, CovertAction Quarterly and The Miami Herald.
You're very passionate about your work. Why does it mean so much to you?
This is a corny story but it’s about how I got into investigative reporting. At Antioch I got a co-op job at the Cleveland Press. Above the entrance to the paper, etched in stone, were a lighthouse and the words: “Give Light and the People Will Find Their Own Way.” And every day I saw this happening. The newspaper was constantly publishing exposes.
It was 1960 and the term “investigative reporting” wasn’t yet used. That came a few years later. But there was a group of reporters at the Cleveland Press who did this. I was a copyboy and working at night, nearly alone in the city room, when there was a phone call advising the paper about some event in Shaker Heights, for example, you passed on a note to the suburban desk. A call about something happening in the city—the note went to the city desk. But if someone called with a horror story, a tale of injustice, inequity, danger—you gave it to this group of investigative reporters. And the amazing thing to me, at 18, was seeing how when the information was documented by one of these investigative reporters and published—half the time the situation was resolved. This was just the neatest thing.More than a half-century later, I still marvel at this dynamic—how the documentation by media of a horror story, a tale of injustice, inequity, danger is enough to, half the time, resolve the situation. And that's been my experience: half the journalistic crusades I've embarked on through the many years have resolved or helped resolve such situations.
This includes the first major story I worked on—documenting how a four-lane highway that New York public works czar, Robert Moses, wanted to construct on Fire Island would have wreaked havoc with the communities and the nature on that extraordinary roadless barrier beach and my articles pointed instead to a Fire Island National Seashore, which, in fact, was established and has preserved Fire Island. Or my journalism that helped in stopping the Shoreham nuclear power plant—the first of seven or 11 nuclear plants planned for Long Island—from going into commercial operation. I wrote hundreds of articles, did TV programs, broadcast on radio and wrote a book on this, Power Crazy. And Shoreham, although it was finished and ready to start operating, was stopped. The additional nuclear plants were never built, and Long Island is now nuclear-free.
Investigative reporting works as long as there is a semblance of democracy and people can be informed, made aware. You give light and, yes, the people will find their own way. Only later, in teaching Investigative Reporting, did I realize what I had walked into at that Antioch co-op. The Cleveland Press was the first newspaper started by E.W. Scripp, quite the crusading publisher, highly active during the Muckraking Era. The culture Scripps created was still very much present when I at the Cleveland Press for my Antioch co-op and the newspaper every few days ran a hard-hitting expose.
What (career-wise) are you most proud of?
I'm proud as to what I've accomplished as an investigative reporter. My part in stopping the Fire Island road and my part in stopping the Shoreham nuclear plant are highlights. But there are many other investigative journalism success stories of mine through my career which I could relate—as mentioned, half the time, not always but half the time, in my personal experience, investigative reporting resolves the problem. Further, as a journalism professor at SUNY/College at Old Westbury for now 35 years, I am so proud of all my many students out there carrying on.
What did you study when you were at Antioch?
I thought when I went to Antioch that I would be a college professor, of sociology or history. That Antioch co-op at the Cleveland Press changed my direction, although, in the end, I ended up a professor anyway, not that far from sociology or contemporary history.How did your time at Antioch influence your work?
As noted, the Antioch co-op at the Cleveland Press was pivotal. As a kid I read lots of newspapers – there were many published in New York City, where I grew up, in the 1950s. But at high school (Andrew Jackson High School in Queens, New York) I found that an in-group, a clique ran the high school newspaper, and I have never liked in-groups or cliques. However, at the Cleveland Press I found professional journalists committed to the underdog and there was no clique, and I have continued to find this among investigative reporters and also in the process of investigative reporting. Challenging authority and defending the little person are central in investigative reporting. I would not have had this exposure to the real world of journalism if it wasn't for the Antioch co-op. Let me note, as a result, one of the first things I did when I got to SUNY/College at Old Westbury was to launch an Internship in Journalism program that places students in internships at media institutions through the New York Metropolitan Area – so they can gain the experiential learning that I got through Antioch. (I earlier mentioned in my earlier email that SUNY/College at Old Westbury was a college created in 1965 with a view of it being, in part, a version in public higher education of Antioch. Antioch students were on the planning committee for SUNY/College at Old Westbury. I've been totally comfortable at SUNY/College at Old Westbury.)
Any professors that were particularly influential to either your work or your life?
The best professor I had at Antioch was Louis Filler. Indeed, in my teaching of the Muckraking Era in my Investigative Reporting class, I cite Professor Filler's landmark work on the Muckraking Era.
What would you say to current Antioch students who are interested in a similar profession?
I believe that today, because of the Internet, investigative journalism has entered a new golden era. Those muckrakers of a century ago—Ida Tarbell, Lincoln Steffens, Ray Stannard Baker, and so on—would be so, so excited to know about this new global media platform, how “new media” have revolutionized media and made investigative reporting far bigger than ever.
What about your personal life? Kids? Relationships? Travel?
I have been married to a fellow Antioch alum, the former Janet Kopp, for 53 years. Janet was from Huntington (near Walt Whitman's birthplace). We met in September 1959 after we first arrived at Antioch. We started living together the following year—in fact, going to Cleveland and taking the co-op at the Cleveland Press was really what motivated my wanting to live with Janet. She had signed up to be a “play lady” working with children with tuberculosis at Cleveland General Hospital. As mentioned, journalism was not a career choice because of my high school experience. But getting the co-op at the Cleveland Press would allow us to live together in the romantic city of Cleveland. And the following year, 1961, we got married.
Janet retired seven ago from her long-time position as a teacher of English to speakers of other languages (TESOL) for the Sag Harbor School District. She remains busy in volunteer activities in the community. She is president of the Youth Resource Center of Sag Harbor, works at the Sag Harbor food pantry and is active at our synagogue, Temple Adas Israel, in Sag Harbor.We have two sons: Kurt and Adam. Both boys (not boys any more) have been involved in fighting for what's right. Kurt was arrested at a demonstration at Shoreham. Adam, an attorney, was long co-chair of the East End Gay Organization, an early and prominent group fighting for gay rights. He was Riverhead Town Attorney (a position like city counsel) and is vice chair of the Southampton Town Zoning Board of Appeals. Janet and I have traveled all over the world. Our traveling was greatly expanded because for 20 years I was a member of the Commission on Disarmament Education, Conflict Resolution and Peace, jointly run by the United Nations and the International Association of University Presidents. Also, as noted, I have given presentations all over the U.S.(including at Antioch especially with the release of new TV documentaries of mine). Also, another Antioch link that I should mention: I received a masters degree in Media Studies from The New School for Social Research in New York. The Media Studies Program was started at The New School by…yes, Antioch.
Tell us about your next project. What does the future hold for you?
A major focus in the last three years„ now and in the coming time is the ongoing Fukushima Daiichi nuclear catastrophe. There is a Giant Lie being attempted concerning this disaster, a suppression of information, an effort at dishonesty of historical dimensions. It involves international entities, especially the International Atomic Energy Agency, national governmental bodies – led in Japan by its current prime minister, the powerful nuclear industry and a “nuclear establishment” of scientists and others with a vested interest in atomic energy. Deception was integral to the push for nuclear power from its start.Indeed, I opened my first book on nuclear technology, Cover Up: What You Are Not Supposed to Know About Nuclear Power, with: “You have not been informed about nuclear power. You have not been told. And that has been done on purpose. Keeping the public in the dark was deemed necessary by the promoters of nuclear power if it was to succeed. Those in government, science and private industry who have been pushing nuclear power realized that if people were given the facts, if they knew the consequences of nuclear power, they would not stand for it.”Since the book was published in 1980, I've given many presentations on nuclear power at which I’ve often heard the comment that only when catastrophic nuclear accidents happened would people fully realize the deadliness of atomic energy. Well, massive nuclear accidents have occurred the 1986 Chernobyl disaster and the Fukushima catastrophe that began on March 11, 2011 and is ongoing with large discharges of radioactive poisons continuing to spew out into the environment. Meanwhile, the posture of the nuclear promoters is denial insisting the impacts of the Fukushima catastrophe are essentially non-existent. A massive nuclear accident has occurred and they would make believe it hasn’t.I have been and will continue to work hard in giving light on the Fukushima catastrophe.