Audubon Editor Suspended “Pending Further Review”

It’s been a turbulent few days for Ted Williams. First, the editors at the Orlando Sentinel—who, it seems clear, were previously asleep at the switch—revised his op-ed, pulling the comment about Tylenol and changing his affiliation from “editor-at-large for Audubon magazine” to “independent column[ist] for Audubon magazine.” They also added a disclaimer: “His views do not necessarily reflect those of the National Audubon Society.”

As of Saturday morning, Williams was more independent than ever.

That’s when the National Audubon Society announced via Facebook that the organization “suspended its contract with Mr. Williams and will remove him as ‘Editor at Large’ from the masthead pending further review.” This comes in the wake of his inflammatory op-ed in Thursday’s Orlando Sentinel in which Williams suggested that acetaminophen poisoning was one of “two effective, humane alternatives to the cat hell of TNR.”

And although Williams will likely blame his dismissal (assuming Audubon won’t just wait until the smoke clears and then quietly bring him back on board) on the “feral-cat mafia,” as he describes us in one of his online comments to the story, the fact is he’s got nobody to blame but himself.

As I more or less predicted in my previous post, Williams is now refusing to take responsibility for his astonishingly irresponsible action. Referring to Alley Cat Allies’ response, he insists (via one of more than 120 online comments to the op-ed) that he “did not ‘call on the public to kill millions of cats by poisoning them with Tylenol’ as they claim in their screed.”

“I merely reported the easily verified fact that ‘the TNR lobby has blocked its [Tylenol’s] registration’ as a feral-cat poison. I now note that this copy has been deleted from my online version. This was not my doing, and I have requested that it be reinserted.”

Were there any remaining questions about Williams’ judgment, I think this ought to put them to rest.

Audubon in Name Only?

At the same time he was trying to wash his hands of that “easily verified fact,” Williams was also trying to put some distance between himself and Audubon.

“I represent no one other than myself. I am not employed by the National Audubon Society. I am a self-employed freelance writer who sells copy to national publications, including Audubon magazine. I have also sold copy to the National Review, but no one, crazy or otherwise, has ever described me as representing William F. Buckley.”

Saturday morning, Audubon was making a similar statement: “Ted Williams is a freelance writer who published a personal opinion piece in the Orlando Sentinel. We regret any misimpression that Mr. Williams was speaking for us in any way: He wasn’t.”

Best Friends co-founder Francis Battista saw this coming, beating Audubon to the punch with his blog post a few hours earlier.

“The Audubon Society may decide to claim that this is a case of a lone wolf, a man whose views don’t represent the whole. They may claim that he wasn’t telling you to actually kill cats. But c’mon, that’s like showing someone how to make a bomb, but then saying, “Promise you won’t actually bomb anyone, OK?” It’s what I would call a wink, wink. You know, when someone says for you not do something but then winks at you.”

More of the Same

While I appreciate Audubon’s decision (again, assuming they stick to their guns), it’s disappointing (though not surprising) to see the organization endorsing the same junk science Williams used to help justify his position.

“A recent report by Smithsonian scientists and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found that cats kill an estimated 2.4 billion birds each year, underscoring the need for effective solutions to protect wild birds and cats alike.”

As I’ve pointed out more times than I care to recall now, there’s nothing scientific about that “estimate” at all—it’s an agenda-driven attempt to undermine TNR. It wasn’t sound science before Williams used it to rationalize the illegal poisoning of cats, it’s not sound science now, and it won’t get any better no matter who puts their name behind it. (Then again, this is the same organization for which Frank Gill—who, like Williams, can’t tell science from Shinola—served as chief scientist for nine years.)

Audubon’s Facebook statement goes on to explain that “backyard poisoning isn’t the answer and we want to make it absolutely clear we don’t support that idea.” Again, I appreciate their decision to put this out there—but can’t quite reconcile it with Audubon’s suggestion (which seems to have appeared in the last 48 hours or so) on their website that “humane traps provide the means to trap visiting cats so that they may be transported safely to the local animal shelter.”

Surely the good folks at Audubon are aware that such a trip is very likely one-way—an activity Nico Dauphiné, another “conservationist” interested in poisoning cats, euphemistically called “community service” during her days at the University of Georgia.

And Williams is comparing TNR supporters to the mafia?

Although it looks like Williams has been shown the door, it’s still worthwhile to let the National Audubon Society know how you feel about all this. Both Alley Cat Allies and Best Friends have set up easy-to-use online tools to let your voice be heard.