Threats to Democracy

Free Speech

Amy Goodman.  Oct. 1, 2010.  http://www.recordonline.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20101001/OPINION/10010375/-1/SITEMAP)

Constitutional Rights

New York State Constitution

Corporate Power

Apart from the city of Dallas, there’s no bigger sponsor of the new Trinity River Audubon Center than energy giant ExxonMobil.
Raymond Crawford, a local activist against gas drilling in Dallas, didn’t know that – until he posted a note Thursday to the center’s
Facebook page about an upcoming permit hearing at City Hall for XTO Energy, an ExxonMobil subsidiary.

Crawford’s comment -which asked people to attend the hearing and urged care for the environment – was taken down five minutes after it went up, he said.

He got the following message explaining why.

“Sorry Ray. I agree with you but the bosses are making me remove your posts. No offense. Audubon gets $ from Exxon,” it stated.

Crawford said he was shocked by the reply to a comment focused on directing people to a public meeting.

Chris Culak, director of the center, confirmed today that Crawford’s comment was removed and that the note he received was sent by a center employee.  “Our funding relationships have no bearing on how we handle Facebook posts. The Audubon employee, who removed the post, though acting in good faith, should not have done so. We will put the post back up on Mr Crawford’s behalf,” Culak said.

He described the reply to Crawford as inappropriate and said that it should not have been sent.  He said that managers at the center did not direct the comment be removed because of Exxon’s association with the center.

It is the center’s policy to remove comments that are political in
nature or otherwise objectionable, he said.

Since 2009, Exxon has donated some $70,000 to the center in direct
donations and for scholarships.

Exxon spokesman Alan Jeffers said the company had nothing to do with
the removal of a comment on the center’s Facebook page.

“Obviously we had no knowledge of this and obviously would never
provide such direction,” he said.

The amount Exxon donated to the center is negligible in terms of the
company’s bottom line – a $19.3 billion profit last year.

But it is important to the center, where Exxon is one of two platinum
level sponsors, including the city of Dallas which provided the land,
funded clean-up of the site and used bond money to pay for
construction of the elegant and efficient Audubon center building.

Culak had no comment on who removed the comment or whether the
employee was disciplined.

The center is owned by the city of Dallas but operated by the National
Audubon Society. Its employees work for the Audubon Society, not the
city.

Crawford has been among the most outspoken and organized activists
against natural gas drilling Dallas.

His effort was key to a recent vote of the city plan commission to
deny XTO a zoning permit to drill on city land at Hensley Field.

Yesterday, XTO came before the commission for a permit at another
site. At the hearing – which Crawford was urging people to attend –
plan commissioners agreed unanimously to delay a vote on the second
permit.

An XTO spokesman said the company had nothing to do with the Facebook
page incident and was unaware of it.

Crawford said he is concerned about the influence of energy companies
like Exxon when it comes to fighting at City Hall.

Even mildly-worded opposition and expression of concern is apparently
subject to censorship, he suggested.

“My intent was not to stir up the pot. I check Facebook every morning,
and I get (the center’s) feed because we’re been friends. I said
something to the effect of ‘don’t forget Dallas city panning
commission’ and gave the date and time,” he said.

He added to the comment that it is important to protect the
environment.

He said he was inspired to post to the audubon center’s Facebook page
by a recent grand prize winning photo of coyotes in snow there.

Such images as the one captured by photographer Sean Fitzgerald may
not be possible if the environment isn’t protected, he said.

Staff Writer Elizabeth Souder contributed to this report.

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