Robert F. Kennedy Jr.'s speech at the Lied Center on Wednesday night, which was called "Crimes Against Nature," could just as easily have been called "Crimes Against Information" or "Crimes Against the Free Market."
In a speech that lasted nearly two hours, Kennedy lambasted corporate control of the government as well as the media for what he said was the United States' declining environmental policies.
The environmental lawyer and activist, who's the son of the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, was particularly critical of the Bush administration for catering to corporations that shortchange environmental standards and policies in favor of profits.
"Most insidiously, they have put polluters in charge of virtually all the agencies that are supposed to protect the rest of us from pollution," he told a crowd of about 1,000 at the Lied Center as the speaker for the annual Student Lecture Series.
One of Kennedy's examples: Philip Cooney, a former environmental adviser to Bush who was previously a lobbyist for the American Petroleum Institute.
"He suppressed 12 major studies on global warming, taxpayer-funded studies you and I paid for," Kennedy said. "So his job was to lie to the American public in order to protect corporate profit-taking."
And the reason few people don't know about this and other matters pertaining to the country's declining environmental standards? Kennedy said it's due to a media that's controlled by corporations and a public that gets most of its information from cable news sources.
Kennedy said the devolution of American media began with the repeal of the Fairness Doctrine, a Federal Communications Commission regulation that was intended in part to balance opinions presented in the news media. The doctrine was repealed in the late 1980s.
Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.
"You couldn't have had a Fox News under the Fairness Doctrine," he said.
Kennedy's speech was welcomed by a mostly warm reception from the audience.
But one man challenged Kennedy's involvement in the cleanup of the Hudson River in the 1980s. Kennedy rose to prominence in part for his work on litigation that targeted perceived polluters of the river.
Pete Silverstein, a past board member of the Hudson River Fisherman's Association, asked Kennedy why he hired William Wegner as an environmental scientist for the Hudson Riverkeepers after he had been convicted of, among other things, perjury.
"William Wegner was a brilliant scientist who did something wrong," Kennedy said, adding that Wegner later did valuable work.
Afterward, Silverstein said several members of the board quit after Kennedy made the hire.
"Bobby Kennedy hiring Bill Wegner as an environmental scientist as a Riverkeeper ... was just like Dick Cheney contracting with Halliburton for the reconstruction of Iraq," Silverstein said after Kennedy's speech. "It's the same kind of cronyism."