Stevens denies pressuring Smithsonian

Posted: Sunday, May 11, 2003

WASHINGTON (AP) Sen. Ted Stevens praised the Smithsonian Institution's decision to tone down a photo exhibit on the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and move it to a less prominent gallery but said the decision had nothing to do with him.

Every article I've seen ... indicates that I'm the one that put pressure on the Smithsonian to move it, and it's not true,'' Stevens, R-Alaska, said on the Senate floor Friday morning.

He said he would defend the museum officials who rethought the exhibit Arctic National Wildlife Refuge: Seasons of Life and Land'' before it opened at the National Museum of Natural History. The show and book of the same name were an attempt to convince people that drilling in the refuge is wrong, he said.

This is a propaganda book!'' Stevens boomed, pounding the publication with his fist.

Photographer Subhankar Banerjee, who spent 14 months photographing the refuge, said he does not know where the pressure originated, but it certainly was applied.

Banerjee, 35, said work on the exhibit was progressing normally until Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., held his book up in the Senate chamber in March to help make the case against opening the refuge to oil drilling.

On April 3, Banerjee got a call from Robert Sullivan, the museum's associate director for public programs. Sullivan said the exhibit had been threatened with cancellation and would have to change.

What he exactly said was it was perceived that the show had been politicized,'' Banerjee told the Anchorage Daily News.

I don't know where the pressure came from. All I was told by the Smithsonian was there was pressure to cancel the show and make changes.''

The show was moved from a gallery off the museum's main rotunda to a lower-level area that serves as a hallway between a freight elevator and a loading dock. The captions for the photographs were truncated.

Sullivan said that the changes were part of the normal review process and that Boxer's display of the book was just one factor considered. He said no one from outside the Smithsonian exerted any influence that he knows of.

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