Six years ago, the Navy proposed Stapleton Staten Island, in the heart of New York Harbor, as the Homeport for the battleship Iowa and its flotilla, the Surface Action Group. While the Navy has refused to confirm or deny the presence of nuclear weapons on the ships, retired Admiral Eugene Carroll, deputy director of the Center for Defense Information, asserted that Tomahawk nuclear cruise missiles, the nuclear Terrier missile, and nuclear anti-submarine rockets will be carried on the Surface Action Group.
If the US government were building a nuclear weapons base in Central Park, it would be headline news day after day. Congressman Ted Weiss called the Navy’s plan to store nuclear missiles on ships docked at the Staten Island Homeport an idea as “nutty as placing them in Central Park.” New York is one of the busiest harbors in the world and mishaps are not uncommon. The Coast Guard reported 609 shipping accidents in NY harbor between 1976 and 1980. The Navy itself reported two nuclear weapons accidents and 628 less serious “incidents” between 1965 and 1985. Many of those were on ships similar to the Surface Action Group.
A draft of an emergency preparedness plan for the Homeport, released in March 1988, said that in the event of a shipboard accident, “Plutonium dust suspended in the air can be kept out of the lungs by placing a handkerchief over the nose and mouth or remaining inside a building with ventilation secured and doors and windows closed. … Even if one thinks they have inhaled plutonium it is not a medical emergency. It can be significantly eliminated from the body by medical procedures.
Incredibly, the Homeport issue hasn’t been well covered. Only Newsday and the Staten Island Advance have reported on the issue with any regularity. The Village Voice has occasionally run good pieces, but the New York Times, NY Daily News, and NY Post have not made it a priority. Television coverage has been spotty at best. But Leonard Marks, chairman of the NY Lawyers Alliance for Nuclear Control who represent a coalition of citizens against the Homeport plan, singled out the New York Times for special criticism: “The Times has been totally coopted in favor of the Homeport from the very beginning. They have run almost nothing on any aspect of the protests … The Times is definitely biased against the peace movement.”
In fact the Times has had a longstanding pro-nuclear editorial policy, according to an EXTRA! investigation. The Times editorialized against the nuclear freeze in 1982; when Michail Gorbachev announced a unilateral moratorium on Soviet nuclear weapons tests in 1985, the Times vigorously denounced it as a “cynical propaganda blast;” and the Times crusaded in favor of Long Island’s Shoreham nuclear power plant in over two dozen editorials including one (5/13/88) that called the decision to shelve the project a threat to “the nation’s security” because it eroded “public confidence in nuclear power.”
When EXTRA! called the city desk of the New York Times for a comment, an editor responded: “The Navy’s Homeport? Actually I’m not familiar with it. What is it?”
Meanwhile, one Times reporter confided to EXTRA!, “I’m dying to write a story about the Homeport, but they won’t run it.”
EXTRA!, May/June 1988, “New York City’s Big Secret: The Nuclear Homeport,” by Josh Daniel, pp 6-7.