Radiolab producers release ‘yellow rain’ email

By Andrew Lapin

Amid continuing controversy over a segment included in Radiolab’s  Sept. 24 podcast that featured a contentious  interview with an eyewitness to a Viet Cong attack  on the Hmong people of Southeast Asia, the show’s producers released the list of questions they emailed to the interview subject’s translator prior to the interview.

The release comes three days after the translator, award-winning writer Kao Kalia Yang, accused Radiolab‘s producers of racism in a first-person account of the interview process that was published online Oct. 22. Blogosphere reactions to the controversy grew after Minnesota Public Radio’s Bob Collins reported on the dispute on his blog, News Cut.

Producing station WNYC in New York reacted to Collins’s story by releasing an email that segment producer Pat Walters sent to Yang May 10. The email provided a list of questions that Walters and program co-host Robert Krulwich intended to ask the interview subject, Eng Yang, a survivor of the attack. Walters and Krulwich were especially interested in hearing his account of the yellow rain that fell on villages in Laos during the Viet Cong attacks.  Eng Yang is Kao Kalia Yang’s uncle.

Radiolab released the email because Collins had “repeated numerous inaccuracies” from Yang’s earlier online account, according to WNYC spokesperson Jennifer Houlihan. In her blog post for Hyphen magazine, Yang wrote that Walters sent her questions ahead of time, but, during the interview, “the questions took a turn.”

WNYC Chief Content Officer Dean Cappello also addressed the controversy in a letter to Collins, contesting Yang’s allegations that producers disregarded studies that contradicted their interpretation of the chemical properties of yellow rain.

“Pat had already spent several months reviewing nearly 20 years’ worth of academic papers and media reports on yellow rain,” Cappello wrote. “He declined [Yang’s] offer not out of callousness but because he had already completed an in-depth examination of competing theories to the ‘bee feces’ hypothesis.”

News Cut has posted Cappello’s full response as well as Walters’ May 10 email to Kao Kalia Yang; Current‘s Oct. 24 report on the controversy includes reactions from Radiolab founder and co-host Jad Abumrad and Kelly McBride, senior faculty on ethics in reporting at the Poynter Institute.

Questions, comments, tips? lapin@current.org

  • http://bsigrist.tumblr.com/ Nerd Out

    So why link to everything else but leave out Radiolab’s resonse with the questions they originally sent to Kao Kalia Yang? That can be found here:
    http://minnesota.publicradio.org/collections/special/columns/news_cut/archive/2012/10/5x8_-_102512.shtml

    • KEverhart

      Hi Nerd Out — There’s a hyperlink to this in News Cut in the last paragraph.

  • The real fact of the matter

    Why did Cappello not address the fact that Radiolab left out credentials for the Yangs? The final cut of the story framed the Hmong as uneducated, backwards, and ignorant then they deliberately left the credentials of the Hmong out when all the white men in the story were attributed accurately. Cappello appeared to make a thorough explanation but he deliberately left out the allegation Kao Kalia Yang made about the imbalance of power in the story. The “fact of the matter” here is that we are told it was not the producers intention to use the tone they did and hurt the Yangs them but the story itself gives us an entirely different reality. There is not alignment with what they said they intended to do and what actually took place that’s why they can’t edit out the imbalance of power and prejudice being promoted and perpetuated in the final cut and has to do damage control.

  • Notbuyingit

    Sorry, just because they released an e-mail and told us Pat did his homework doesn’t absolve them. If Pat did his homework, he would have shared more about criticisms of the bee feces theory, but that got in the way of the story they wanted to tell about Reagan and chemical weapons. Go to “Politics & the Life Sciences,” 24 August 2007, starting on page 24, and you’ll find plenty of reasons to doubt the veracity of “yellow rain = bee dung.” Pat Walters had this article and more like it in hand and never said a word about it. The RadioLab crew came into this story with an agenda and let nothing stand in their way. Their sad attempts to cover themselves in journalistic glory now are transparent and will prove unsuccessful

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