As previously reported here, NASA administrator Charles Bolden’s speech at the International Space Development Conference (ISDC) in Chicago Friday night was interrupted briefly by a protestor, who took over the microphone to speak out against a study by NASA that would involve exposing monkeys to radiation as part of efforts to understand the effects of long-duration interplanetary spaceflight. The young woman got her comments in, was escorted from the stage, and Bolden continued his talk. End of story, right?
It was until yesterday, when PETA published on its web site a press release about the event, with this key paragraph:
A PETA supporter took the stage and microphone this weekend just before a speech by NASA Administrator Charles Bolden at the National Space Society’s International Space Development Conference. As Bolden looked on, the protester asked that NASA halt plans to fund a cruel and wasteful radiation experiment on monkeys. She spoke uninterrupted by the crowd for a short time and received a few cheers from the audience before being escorted off the stage.
Interestingly, while this press release didn’t appear on its web site until Wednesday (both according to my checks and the Google News archive) a version was circulated by email late Tuesday, with one critical difference: in the original emailed version the protestor “spoke uninterrupted by the crowd for several minutes”. My own recording of the incident showed about 20 seconds elapsed from the time she started speaking to the time Bolden regained the microphone and urged calm from the audience. PETA spokesman Justin Goodman said in an email Tuesday evening that the original wording was a “typographical error”. (One can also question the claim that the protestor “received a few cheers”; if there were any, they were drowned out by boos and, later, applause and cheers for Bolden.)
Goodman also said that the still-unidentified protestor was not part of an organized protest by PETA. The woman, he said, “was a PETA member who was acting on her own volition and the action was done independent of the organization.”
Things, though, took a stranger turn with the publication late yesterday of a brief report on the web site Opposing Views that NSS executive director Gary Barnhard had called PETA and threatened to sue the organization if it didn’t withdraw its release about the incident. Goodman confirmed that “an angry caller” identifying himself as Barnhard had called PETA Wednesday afternoon “to say that he was going to prosecute PETA to the fullest extent of the law” if PETA released that statement.
Barnhard has a very different take on events. In a call last night, he confirmed that he called PETA’s offices about the release, but was unable to speak to anyone but a receptionist. He said he asked PETA in a “professional manner” to refrain from publicizing the event further to protect the young woman; he was concerned that further attention might lead to investigations that could have negative repercussions for her. (The woman was not charged Friday night, and at the time he said he considered the case closed.) There was, he said, no threat of a lawsuit. “The bottom line is that there is no story here,” Barnhard concluded last night.