November 21, 2003

Press Conference: In McKinney's Own Words

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Frank H.T. Rhodes Class of ’56 Professor Cynthia McKinney met with local press yesterday for a question-and-answer session. In the often passionate responses she gave, McKinney touched on the controversy surrounding her visit, military spending, the deficit, Sept. 11 and who the public can trust.

“It has been a full visit,” she began. “I have probably put in 12- to 13-hour days every day that I have been here. I arrived on Sunday night after having all day, 12 hours, five airports to get here, which was an experience in itself. So I think I may be taking a different route next time I come.”

Some believe that McKinney evaded accusations of anti-Semitism at Wednesday’s lecture in the Statler Auditorium. At the session yesterday, McKinney more directly addressed some of her critics.

“To my knowledge, no one has accused me of being anti-Semitic,” she said. “And in fact, if you would review the record you would see that the Anti-Defamation League representatives have specifically said that I am not anti-Semitic. So I don’t have anti-Semitic views.”

She continued, responding to the actions of Dan Greenwald ’05, who shouted, “Let students ask questions … anti-Semitism is unacceptable!” at the end of her Wednesday lecture. Police physically removed Greenwald from the auditorium.

“Mr. Greenwald is certainly entitled to his opinion, and that’s what is so good about our country, that we can express our opinions,” McKinney said. “The gentleman who spoke last night expressed an opinion, and that was his opinion and it was a public lecture, so at a public lecture you’re going to get members of the public and they’re going to express their views.

“When Condoleezza Rice went before the Association of Black Journalists, she accused those of us who are against the war of being racist. Now, when she said that, she hurtled a very loaded word at a broad group of people who are against the war for various reasons. When the word anti-Semitic is used, when the word racist is used, those are very important characteristics or attributes that need to be reserved for heinous behavior.

“We can disagree with opinions, but at a public forum, I don’t know that it’s appropriate to deny a voice to the gentleman who expressed his comment.”

What many in the room also wanted to know was how McKinney would react to the media’s response to her alleged comments regarding Sept. 11.

“I think that one investigative journalist has done a pretty good job beginning to address the issue of mischaracterization in our professional journalistic community. And that is Greg Palast,” she said. “And for those of you who may have read the book The Best Democracy Money Can Buy, you will note that I am discussed in many chapters of the book. As a result of the fact that Greg Palast knew me, we worked together, I can assume that he felt that it was important to write a story to correct the record. And the name of that story is ‘The Screwing of Cynthia McKinney.’ It has been published on the Internet, and I’m sure it’s available on the Internet for those of you who would like to find it.

“And it’s amazing how perhaps for those of you who are professional journalists and those of you who are student journalists, how the craft of journalism has changed somewhat. There was a time when I was a bit younger than you when I was literally enthralled with the journalism and the revelations surrounding Watergate. Even though I was somewhat young, I had my very huge clunky tape recorder and I would sit it in front of the television and I would watch the Judiciary Committee and its proceedings. And this was a very special moment in American history that became known to us because journalists were not afraid to ask questions and to question the responses of people who were making decisions in their name, in our name.

“In respect to Sept. 11, let me just tell you what I said. I asked a question, and the question was ‘What did the Bush administration know? And when did it know it about the tragic events of Sept. 11? Who else knew? And why weren’t the innocent people of New York warned?’ That was my question. And responsible journalists twisted that into that I said that the President knew about Sept. 11 beforehand and let it happen so his friends could make money.”

McKinney also explained her participation in post-Sept. 11 issues.

“I have been involved in an effort to draw attention to some of the inconsistencies coming from policymakers,” she said. “I’ve been invited to Berlin to address the issue of Sept. 11. I have been interviewed by international press who are asking these questions. I have been recommended to testify before the 9/11 commission. I didn’t nominate myself for that. The Citizen 9/11 Watch organizers have approached me about that. I’ve worked with the 9/11 victims’ families, Peaceful Tomorrows, who don’t want war. This journey has been amazing, that we could sustain a tragedy of these immense proportions that provoked such profound changes in our domestic and foreign policies, and yet we still don’t have certain fundamental questions answered, and instead we see obstructionism on the part of the administration even to provide information to the 9/11 chairman, who was selected by this administration. That story and the dissimilation on the part of journalists, selective journalists, is also included in the Greg Palast ‘Screwing of Cynthia McKinney’ article, and he specifically mentions my hometown newspaper, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and that paragon of virtuosity, the New York Times.”

One issue McKinney also discussed was government spending — specifically, the allocation of funds for education and farming, two areas well fitted for New York’s land-grant institution.

She asked: “Do we spend enough money on education? Do we spend enough money on agriculture? Do we really respect the rights of our small farmers, not the huge corporate combines, but the small farmers — to truly make a decent living, to hold onto their farm, as … an agricultural area, and certainly New York is an agricultural state, and agricultural issues are important.

“I happen to have served on the House Agricultural Committee when I was in the Congress because I too represented an area somewhat similar to this in terms of its orientation with the respect to agriculture production, but it was far poorer than [Ithaca]. In fact, it was the second-poorest district in the state of Georgia. But we have many issues that are confronting us.”

McKinney then showed the audience an ad which she contributed to known as “Man Behind the Curtain.” The ad, sponsored by, depicts a corporate plutocrat controlling President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and Prime Minister Tony Blair along with the TV media in the style of The Wizard of Oz.

McKinney read from her quote on the ad, which ran in the Washington Post and the New York Daily News: “Beware the Land of Oz. For it is only in the Land of Oz that a handful of vainglorious men could send hundreds of thousands of young soldiers off to fight in an illegal war. And only in the Land of Oz can The Grand Wizard erode basic civil rights and call it enhanced security. And, where but in Oz could a felon, convicted of lying in public, be put in charge of Total Information Awareness? In America, 160,000 veterans suffer chronic illnesses from the first Gulf War and tonight thousands of them will sleep on the street. 75 million Americans had no health insurance in 2001 or 2002. Unemployment is at an 8-year high. Meanwhile, at the Wizard’s court, men of dubious reputation, gorge themselves at the people’s expense. Expose the Grand Wizard; this is our America, not Oz.”

McKinney then talked at length on the current state of the nation, starting with the “erosion of our civil liberties.”

She also lamented “the current economy where 3 million jobs have been lost just since George W. Bush was sw
orn into office. And look at how President Clinton left a surplus in the budget, and now we’re at a record deficit,” she said.

McKinney continued: “In fact, if you recall, when President Clinton came into office there was some confusion about the size of the deficit. And he was able to eliminate the deficit which at that time was larger than the American people had been told. Eliminated that deficit and put our budget in a situation where there actually was one. And that means something to the American people. But we have to address that in a serious way.”

She then segued into the drug war.

“Drugs and our drug war and what we’re doing to the people in Colombia with Plan Colombia, over a billion dollars spent for a military solution that actually is not providing a solution at all,” she said. “Some say that the drug war is a cover for our military protecting oil pipelines in Colombia. That’s not what the ad says, but that’s just what some people say.”

Another problem, she said, was “taxpayer money stolen.”

“When I served in Congress on the House Armed Services Committee, I thought it was important that $2.3 trillion had been lost and unaccounted for and the Bush administration was asking for more money than had been requested in a generation,” she said. “$48-billion increase in defense spending that put us over $400 billion in spending. $48 billion, by the way, is more money than any one of our allies spends altogether and more than the so-called rogue nations spend altogether. And we spend now $400 billion with no explanation as to where the $2.3 trillion [went]. And I have a Republican friend of mine who served in the first Bush administration as assistant secretary of housing and urban development, who discovered $59 billion missing. And this is a lot of money. And we don’t know where it went. And there must be accountability for the way that money is spent and the American people deserve that.

“That’s sort of where we are,” McKinney concluded. “And there are headlines that pass virtually unnoticed and unremarked upon, that the CIA had placed PsyOps agents or operatives inside the headquarters of CNN. We have to understand whether or not we can really count on the information that’s really being transmitted to us in our news. The assumption is that what we are being told is the truth. Even from our first president, George Washington, in his farewell address of 1796, he mentioned that we must have a people that are informed and I think that’s a strain that runs throughout the farewell addresses of many of our presidents. Even Dwight Eisenhower talked about the power of people that are informed. Freedom of the press, responsibility of the press, and that’s a lesson that students can learn but that can be revisited sometimes by journalists who got it wrong, when they really could have gotten it right.”

McKinney also talked about the consequences of the United States’ military actions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“As a part of that Sept. 11 question that I asked, I wrote two op-eds,” she said. “One op-ed was about Sept. 11 and the profound changes that were taking place in our military posture as a result of Sept. 11. My concerns were sparked when Donald Rumsfeld came to the House and said that the military mission for the United States was to ‘seize foreign capitals and occupy them.’ Now that’s an entirely new dimension being added to our military activities, and that was a decision that was made without a whole lot of debate in the Congress, and certainly it was made without debate among the American people. But today we see that our military has in fact participated in that kind of activity in Afghanistan and in Iraq. So what Donald Rumsfeld said on that day in the House Armed Services Committee he meant. And it also had some very real implications for the young men and women who serve in that military, who perhaps join that military because they wanted to get an education. You guys on this campus are quite lucky because you didn’t have to join the military to get an education like a whole lot of children actually did.”

McKinney then held up a picture from the Sydney Morning Herald showing a woman from Georgia holding a gun “bigger than she is.” She pointed out that the newspaper wanted to show the Australian public that women in that country’s military would never find themselves in the position of the American woman in the photograph.

“If you want to know what’s going on in the world, you’ve got to read the papers of the world,” she said.

“So the changes that Donald Rumsfeld and the White House have imposed have direct implications on the lives of very real people,” she said. “Yesterday, I believe it was in the news that a soldier died from taking the anthrax and smallpox vaccination. Our soldiers have been forced to take these vaccines under the threat of court-martial. But who administers the vaccine program? Dyncorp. Dyncorp is a corporation whose employees have been found trafficking young women as sex slaves in central Europe. How can Dyncorp then be given a contract to administer vaccines? And then you have U.S. government contractor doctors who say the vaccines might be causing the mystery illnesses, mystery pneumonia, and the mystery blood clotting that our servicemen and women are experiencing now. This young girl, this young girl,” she said, referring to the photo.

“When I get very passionate about what is happening in our country today, it is because I know it is going to affect you. It’s going to affect your future and it’s going to affect me as well. It’s going to affect all of us,” McKinney said. “And I can never tire of imploring young people to take the responsibility for whatever the series of policies are that brought this young girl, or girls like her, to have to choose military over access to education.”

McKinney’s first stay at Cornell ends today.

“[T]his has been a very worthwhile experience, and I would like to say a public word of thanks to the professors who sponsored my nomination, to [College of Architecture, Art and Planning] Dean [Porus] Olpadwala, who supported [my] nomination and to President [Jeffrey S.] Lehman [’77] who also supported the nomination,” she said.

Archived article by Sun Staff