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.

  • BJ

    Monday Morning Rouser – Did the choice have anything to do with the New England score? 🙂

  • Joanna

    I feel so badly for Arnold’s kids. Their sense of betrayal, knowing how many lies their father told their mother, will take a long time to work through. Speaking from personal experience, whatever responsibility both parents bear in the dynamic of their marriage, kids who grow up in a house of lies are not better off.

  • Cara

    I heard the Radiolab podcast on my drive back from Beloit yesterday & it brought tears to my eyes. Krulwich seemed to be oblivious to the extreme pain the Hmong man and his niece were expressing. His apology goes only part way.

  • Jim Shapiro

    Bob – Is the “sort of” aspect of Krulwich’s apology based on the fact that he goes on to defend his position?

    While I agree with his intellectual argument and understand that his job in this case is to defend the integrity of Radiolab, perhaps a truly heartfelt apology is unconditional.

    Aye, there’s that rub again – to successfully meld the intellectual and the heartfelt.

  • Aaron

    while the decline of marriage is very much a significant role in the health of a child and their upbringing, preventing two adults from having the same rights and social role in society because of their sexual preference is flat out discrimination. My mother and father split when I was 7… until divorce is made illegal, those who get all up tight about protecting the institution of marriage really have no ground to stand on. How are we making our state or country better by giving rights to those who prefer the opposite sex rather than those who prefer the same sex? If you want to strengthen the institution of marriage, start by making divorce illegal.

  • Aaron

    Also, I know some gay couples that have been together alot longer than my parents were, yet they are not allowed to have the same rights as those who flush marriage into the toilet. Our nation has a 50% divorce rate and Matt Birk and the marriage amendment supporters have not done a single thing to strengthen marriage or to inhibit divorce. Until they can look in the mirror and fix their own problems, I don’t think they should attempt to legalize discrimination with the institution of marriage, the institution that gets flush down the toilet every 50% of the time.

  • Gymbay Moua

    Dear Mr. Krulwich,

    I have not listen to your comments but the Hmong situation is more complex to understand than just to discuss. But once you know it, it is very sad that the Hmong have to end up this way. So far, I have learned that ABOUT 2000 YEARS ago, the Hmong population then more than 35 million according to the Aboriginal People Encyclopedia of Knowledge; The Hmong world population today is 5 million according to the Wikipedia. This indicated that 86% of Hmong population vanished in many reasons. If you look at the Time Chart History of the World, Mr. Yao who was a Hmong Leader around 2400 BC (Chinese called him FOHI), Hmong prosper until 200 BC before the birth of Christ and since then Hmong lost everything to the Chinese upraising. Since then Hmong become all of the victims of all racial forms, name calling and so on.. for 2211 years and 9 months today Hmong are under colonize by the upraising colonies in S.E.A.

    About the “Yellow Rain” and later concluded “Bee Dropping” I read the report from Harvard. It raised more questions than answer. I hope that someday we will know or may be it will never be known. But we know that GOD knows.

    The questions that I have today is like the Jewish, “Why the Hmong people are being exterminated?

  • K Her

    Mr. Krulwich – Your apology is extremely disingenuous. Who apologizes but then justifies their position? I think you are sorry for the backlash from this story but not about what matters.

    The assumptions that you made of Kao Kalia; that she didn’t want the other side of the story to be told and that she didn’t care about the deadly consequences of the use of chemicals; big assumptions considering that all Kao Kalia was trying to do was interpret the Hmong experience for her Uncle and for asking you not to interrogate him as if he somehow had personal responsibility for the U.S. creating chemical weapons.

    What you should be sorry for is the lack of focus in your story. Was it a story about Hmong people and the perceived harm of yellow rain or was it about the government and their justification for creating chemical weapons. Your comment, “The world’s most powerful person, Ronald Regan, used this to order the manufacturing of chemical weapons…” would seem to indicate the latter. How is it Hmong people’s fault that the President ordered the manufacturing of chemical weapons? Is the government not responsible for its test results? The actions they take based on these results? If it truly was not yellow rain, is the government not responsible for finding out the cause of the genocide? Wouldn’t it be the least it could do for the sacrifice, death and suffering the Hmong people endured to support American ideology?

    As a Hmong person I don’t need your apology. However, Kao Kalia and her Uncle do for your insensitivity, for making them relive their trauma and invalidating their experience.

    Your effort to discredit the Hmong experience and a man’s firsthand account did not help you accomplish your goal of getting the truth out about what the government did and how they justified it. The government was looking for a reason to create this weapon. It used the Hmong people to give itself the permission to do it. Let’s not forget how the evidence of weapons of mass destruction was used to justify war with and the killing of Saddam Hussein.