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E-M:/ Monsanto vs. reporters

------------------------------------------------------------------------- Enviro-Mich message from Patty Cantrell -------------------------------------------------------------------------

The following account of a whistleblower trial, now taking place in Florida, shows how far Monsanto will go to keep the lid on its bovine growth hormone

Read on, Pass it on
Patty Cantrell

p.s. Reporters Akre and Wilson (married) have given up everything to defend their ethics. They've been blackballed by television stations and are now digging into their very last savings to put forward this heroic defense of the truth. You can learn more about them and the case at <www.foxBGHsuit.com>. You can also, like I did, write them a check to help: Make it out to Citizens' Fund for the Right to Know, 25400 U.S. 19 North, Suite 192, Clearwater, FL 33763.

Reply-To: avkrebs@earthlink.net
To: avkrebs@earthlink.net


Monitoring the activities of corporate agribusiness
from a public interest perspective

A.V. Krebs


Freedom of speech , the integrity of the news that is broadcast over the public airwaves, the safety of our food, the ability of reporters to tell stories that are free from the dictates of corporate coercion and a deliberate slanting of the news by those same corporations and media managers, are all issues vitally important to Americans and the future of democracy itself.

Yet, at the present time, in a Florida courtroom where those very same issues are being decided in the trial --- STEVE WILSON and JANE AKRE, Plaintiffs, v. CASE NO. 98-2439 Div. D NEW WORLD COMMUNICATIONS OF TAMPA, INC. d/b/a WTVT-TV --- there has been to date a virtual national media blackout.

Because the readers of this newsletter, as well as the public, have a right to know about this case and the issues it addresses THE AGRIBUSINESS EXAMINER will be publishing a series of "Extra" editions in the days ahead with timely reports by both Akre and Wilson as their trial progresses. For more details on their suit and how you can help them see:


News and Comment


TAMPA (July 17, 2000)—It's happening.It's reallyhappening.

The Fox/BGH trial actually began here todayafter more delays than anyone should have endured and after more maneuvering than any imaginationcould conceive.

Inside the courtroom, it was "wear out the plaintiffs, deplete theirresources and then attack them, their professionalism and theircredibility." Those seemed to be the goals of the defendants, Fox Television and its New World Communications which owns the station that fired Steve Wilson and Jane Akre after they refused to broadcast lies and distortions about Monsanto's Bovine Growth Hormone.

And for Fox's highly paid attorneys, from the Washington firm of Williams & Connolly, from Fox headquarters in Los Angeles,and from a St. Petersburg, Florida firm --- all six of the men in darksuits and ties,polished shoes and starched collars, and the women in high heels and navy suits, the strategy was clear.

This was a very polished group of corporate minds.And here was Steve Wilson, acting on his own behalf as an attorney --- with the help of a couple of fine local labor and civil rights lawyers. A real David/Goliath saga. And while the judge sometimes appeared to have some serious impatience in deal with the science issues in the case, Steve Wilson says presiding Judge Ralph Steinberg has proven to be the most most patient of the three who have been assigned to the case since it was filed in April of 1998.

The Plaintiffs' Presentation

First to appear before the jury today was Wilson his attorney, John Chamblee, making presentations that would have any jury eating out of their hands.They spoke of the pressure on the two reporters to distort, omit, slant and even lie about BGH in wake of the pressure Monsanto brought to bear upon the station.

They were terminated, Wilson said, because they would not include or exclude from the story certain information they knew and showed to be false and misleading. They spoke of becoming whistleblowers after complaining to management about pressure to broadcast false reports and threatening to report the station's misconduct to the FCC.They spoke of their obligation to not violate journalistic standards and federal law which requires all broadcasters who use the public airwaves to operate in the public interest.

Then ,Wilson described to the jury the unpleasant experience he and his reporting partner (and wife) Jane Akre endured at WTVT.He related how Fox ran radio and television commercials extolling the virtues of the award-winning reporting duo after they were hired in late 1996.Steve and Jane are award winning journalists with three Emmys, and a National Press Club award, and various other journalistic honors.

Wilson told the jurors how the station promised viewers "hard hitting, aggressive reports" and how they promised the journalists they would support them in those efforts. Then, the plaintiffs told the jury how the managers who had support their investigations of the facts surrounding BGH, but then reversed themselves just days before the airing because of threatening letters from high-powered Monsanto attorneys in New York. Those letters warned the station about the potential consequences if the story aired.

"There is a great deal at stake," warned one of the letters.The message in a second letter, the message was even more explicit: the biotech giant threatened "dire consequences" if Fox allowed the Akre/Wilson story to air.

Here's what the reporters found:That farmers throughout Florida were widely using the hormone, that evidence indicates spin-off hormone increases levels of IGF-1, a known link to cancer, that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved use of these hormones relying on a 90-day study on 30 rats to assure human safety for milk drinkers.

The plaintiffs told the jury that the evidence also shows that the injected cows develop infections of the utters called mastitis, requiring ever more antibiotics.They explained how additional pus from those infections gets into the milk and farmers must treat the infections with more and more antibiotics which can find their way into our milk.

And all the while, FDA insists rBGH milk is the same as conventional milk.It was a tough story and the reporters felt it needed to be told.And in the telling, they mentioned that Canada, the European Union, Australia, New Zealand, and Japan have all rejected this drug.

They told of meetings with their station managers and lawyers and of secret meetings inside the station that were held without them being present.They said after hiring them for hard-hitting, no-hold-barred, aggressive reporting, the station changed its tune when Monsanto threatened.They said the battle cry, directly from the president of Fox, was "take no risks." Akre and Wilson then went on to write not a few more, but 83 scripts, all of which Fox rejected.

At the trial, here's how Akre's lawyer described the Fox trategy:
1. Take no risks, stop the story, and placate Monsanto.
2. If the station pulled the story it would create a major PR problem for Fox.
3.Thus, they would not kill the story, just slant and distort it.
4. Buy out the reporters for six figures, and they would disappear quietly.
5. Stall and dilute the facts.
6. Fire the reporters and lock them out.
7. Ruin their reputations.

Finally, Steve read from a Society of Professional Journalists code of ethics: "Test the accuracy of information from all sources and exercise care to avoid inadvertent errors. Deliberate distortion is never permissible. Deny favorable treatment to advertisers and special interests and resist their pressure to influence news coverage."

Wilson said the evidence will show it was exactly the kind of behavior Fox was violating. After their termination, a rBGH piece finally did air --- six months later. It was far less hard hitting than the early versions and Wilson said it contained many of the same distortions he and Akre refused to broadcast.

He called it "damage controll" to help Fox fight a lawsuit.Corporate interests ahead of public responsibility, he said. His brilliant presentation held the jury in rapt attention for more than half an hour.There was a buzz at the nd, a sense that perhaps justice might win the day.

And then the judge spoke up and said something that made everyone in the courtroom sit up and take notice. "This case will be decided on narrow issues. It will not be on the value of the product," he said.

Alarm bells! The value of the product (or the lack of) was exactly the reason the reporters had trouble in the first place! Can the judge dismiss the expert testimony to come, detailing the negative aspects of a product that was insufficiently tested and may be harmful to humans and animals?

The Defendant's Case

Then came the defense.It was clear in a flash their approach was going to be a different thrust. It was an employment case, pure and simple, Fox lead attorney Bill McDaniels told the jury. It was a case of two reporters not honoring their contract. Fox started with these reporters with "great expectations and ended n great frustration." McDaniels spoke of the many weeks it took the reporters to submit scripts.

He spoke of an alleged lack of productivity of both reporters.Others had to work harder just to make up their share, he argued.

The defense kept on citing FDA, AMA, American Dietetic Association, and the World Health Organization as the end-all of authority, omitting any possibility that these groups might have been paid money by Monsanto.(At least with the AMA and ADA cases, there was serious money paid out! In the case of the FDA, Monsanto's approval for rBGH was accomplished via a revolving door between the agency and Monsanto --- for at least two key players.)

Then came the tape.The defendants aired one of the versions in four sequential segments which Fox now claims was acceptable to the reporters and to Fox.The tape, narrated by Jane, was hard hitting, and gave time to those who opposed the hormones. It left an impression on the jury.The tape was pretty compelling, yet, Fox claimed it was still not acceptable to Steve and Jane.

Now that at first appeared to be a problem.Why did Steve and Jane oppose this one? And oppose it they did but the truth of the matter is that nothing would have really been acceptable to the station. If the station had wanted, they could have aired this one version any time.They had no intentions of airing it or any of the versions, and kept finding more and more to fault, more and more to change or add or modify.

Fox's attorney left the impression that the decision what to air was up to Jane and Steve. It was not.The decision to air always belonged to the station. It was their station; it was their money and they had the power. Fox also claimed that they tried to end the relationship with the two employees "in a civil manner," but instead were then threatened with a lawsuit.

The station tried to send letters of termination to Jane but didn't bother to simply hand her the required notice while she worked in the newsroom for ten days.McDaniels said certified mail was sufficient, even though the evidence shows she never received her notice until the day after the notification deadline. "The claim that WTVT breached her contract is false," McDaniels said.

So, by the late evening, on July 17, Jane and Steve are locked in a room with their attorneys. They are working on what clearly has become Fox strategy: attack the judgment, the abilities and the professionalism of the reporters and avoid at all costs, any mention of the poor science at the center of this whole disputed story.

It's been a long, grueling day and one that could overwhelm the strength of the most stalwart among us.Perhaps the most daunting challenge of all is the judge's discretionary ability and perhaps willingness to block out all evidence about those nasty hormones.Taped depositions from scientists and experts might not be entered.It's been the defense strategy all along. Thus, Steve says he and the plaintiffs' team has got to do some serious educating with the hope the judge finally understands the importance of the science issues --- soon.

Liane Casten is from Chicago Media Media Watch



TAMPA (July 18, 2000)—Plaintiff Jane Akre climbed into the witness box this morning, the first to give testimony in theFox/BGH suit.

Under questioning by her attorney, John Chamblee, Jane related her 21 years of experience in the broadcast news and told the jury how she resisted Fox directives to slant the news in response to threats from Monsanto.

Responding to Fox's defense that people complained about her conduct as a reporter in the field, she pointed out that one complaint she was unfair and biased in an interview was not lodged until a month after she conducted that interview with the head of the Dairy Sciences department at the University of Florida.

She went on to explain that the interviewee, Dr. Roger Natzke, made the complaint immediately after spending a weekend at St. Simons Island resort, courtesy of Monsanto.

Akre's attorney then played the entire unedited Natzke interview to show there was no bias nor lack of objectivity. Natzke is clearly seen on the tape as never objecting or even being uncomfortable with Akre's questioning which lasted nearly half an hour.

Also played for the jury were the entire unedited interviews Akre conducted with Monsanto scientist Robert Collier in St. Louis and BGH critic Dr. Samuel Epstein in Chicago. Although Monsanto also lodged a complaint about Akre's conduct, the interview tape showed nothing unprofessional nor objectionable.

The fired journalist will be back on the stand for a second day Wednesday.



TAMPA (July 20,2000)—Ralph Nader's appearance on the witness stand highlighted the fourth day of testimony in the trial of the two former Fox journalists who say they were fired for refusing directives to air false and misleading information about bovine growth hormone.

After three more courtroom attempts by Fox lawyers to block his testimony as unwarranted and prejudicial, Nader sat in the witness box and told the jurors how television broadcasters have a legal as well as ethical duty not to distort news broadcast.

Although the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has not been aggressive in enforcing the law against it, he said, the commission has previously stated "there is no act for heinous" than deliberate distortion of the news by companies who hold broadcast licenses and supposedly serve the public trust.

Under questioning by co-plaintiff Steve Wilson, Nader said any reporter who would go along with such directives would himself be guilty of violating the law that forbids it.

Although Fox lawyers had filed and lost a motion en limine to keep Nader from even coming to Tampa to testify, they put forth another strong argument again after he arrived at the courthouse. Judge Ralph Steinberg again overruled the objections after co-plaintiff Jane Akre's attorney made a case that Nader is indeed qualified to offer expert testimony about the public interest requirements of the Communications Act which governs broadcasters.

Even after Nader took the stand and began to testify, Fox lawyer William McDaniels stood up repeatedly to voice objections to many of the Nader's responses. Most of those objections were overruled by the court.

Nader's testimony which lasted about thirty minutes and that of Florida dairyman Charles Knight interrupted three days of testimony from Akre who finally stepped down from the witness box at the end of the day Thursday. Knight drove 200 miles to tell the jury about his experiences with rBGH and with Akre who had contacted him as part of her investigation.

Knight said the reporter was properly skeptical of the information he provided, but that she acted professionally at all times. The defense has suggested the journalist may have had her mind made up to do a critical story about Monsanto even before she gathered the facts.

The trial continues Friday with testimony from Forrest Carr, the plaintiffs expert on ethical journalism. Dr. Michael Hansen, a scientist for Consumers Union, will also testify offer expert testimony on rBGH.

Akre was never shaken on the witness stand in hours of cross examination by Fox attorney McDaniels. She acknowledged a contentious atmosphere with Fox editors and lawyers in wake of repeated pressure from them to distort the BGH story but she said she never acted improperly. She said she wrote and handed in stories as requested but in the end, Fox never broadcast any of the drafts she and Wilson wrote.



TAMPA (July 21, 2000)—Just minutes after the jury began hearing more testimony in the Fox/BGH trial here Friday morning, Fox attorney William McDaniels demanded the judge declare a mistrial in the case.

McDaniels claimed that co-plaintiff Jane Akre had mproperly influenced the jury in the way she answered a question submitted by one of the jurors. (A new Florida law gives jurors the right to take notes and pose questions to any witness in a state court trial that lasts longer than five days.)

Akre had finished two days of testimony and cross-examination and ad returned to the witness chair to answer a number of questions posed by jurors. One of the jurors passed a note to the judge asking this question:"What if anything was Ms. Akre doing between October 1997 and September 1998 (employment)."

In her response, Akre said she was still employed by Fox until December 2, 1997 and until that date she was still talking with station attorneys and others at WTVT in an effort to get the BGH story on the air.

The Fox attorney leaped to his feet with an objection, the jury was asked to leave the courtroom, and the defendant's ounsel told the judge that Akre's comment unfairly prejudiced the jury in a way the defendant could not hope to repair.

He claimed the fact Akre even mentioned conversations with Fox attorneys had improperly revealed to the jury that settlement discussions were going on between the parties. McDaniels claimed the response violated the judge's pre-trial ruling that no details of the second Fox offer to pay off the plaintiffs could be disclosed to the jury. (Out-of-court settlement discussions are not revealed because if they could be used as evidence in trial, it would discourage people from ever even attempting to settle disputes without filing a lawsuit.)

The defense attorney charged that because the lawyers for both sides were advised of the questions the night before, Akre had deliberately constructed her answer to sneak in testimony that the judge had already ruled inadmissible.

In denying the motion for a mistrial, the judge decided that Akre's answer did not infer any settlement discussion but only, as the witness actually said, that there were talks aimed at getting the BGH story on the air.

Fox's effort to derail the trial came just a day after the defendant lost its repeated bids to block the testimony of Ralph Nader. Nader told the jurors that broadcasters have a legal and ethical duty to do act in the public interest, not just in the interest of what may be best for their corporate bottom line.

"Of course I am no lawyer but it seems to me the defendant ould not be trying to stop this trial if they believed it was going well for them," Akre said of the motion for a mistrial.

The fired reporter was also asked by a juror if she and her family still consume dairy products. She answered that as a result of her investigation into BGH, she now buys and consumes only milk from cows not injected with the artificial hormone.

Journalism, Science Experts Testify

After Akre completed answering at least seven questions from the jurors, journalism expert Forrest Carr took the stand for the plaintiffs. Carr, was a news manager in Tampa where he directed an award-winning investigative unit before becoming news director for the ABC station in Tucson in 1998. He has also co-authored a journalism textbook, writing portions that deal with journalism ethics.

Carr told the jurors that the foremost obligation of all journalists no matter where they work is to seek the truth and report it fairly and accurately. He went through the BGH script mandated by Fox managers and repeatedly pointed out problems.

Stopping on virtually every page, he cited important information that was missing or presented without necessary context.

The witness testified that he had carefully reviewed the alternative version the reporters prepared and found it to be a much better story which could have been even stronger.

The news manager said he had also read many of the documents in the case, including a number of contentious memos back and forth between the reporters and their Fox news managers. He testified that sometimes when news managers are not responding to a reporter's concerns abou ethical issues, it is important and necessary that a journalist raise his voice.

Carr said reporters must remember at all times that their duty is to the public and to report the facts without undue influence by the subjects of the story. Corporate concerns about the ultimate cost of such reporting must always come second, he said, pointing out that stations can elect not to do any investigative reporting at all if news organizations want to minimize risk.

Carr said he never saw any evidence that Akre and Wilson "crossed the line" into insubordination or improper conduct of any kind in the newsroom or elsewhere. He said the reporters had a duty to tell their news managers of their concerns and to resist reporting information they believed to be false or misleading.

He also testified that quitting and just walking away from such disputes in not in the public interest, although most reporters really have no other practical choice.

Dr. Michael Hansen, Science Expert

Dr. Michael Hansen of Consumers Union followed Carr on the stand. Hansen testified about the process of FDA approval for the product and safety assurances the government and others have given.

He explained that insufficient testing for human toxicity means there is no assurance the product is safe for milk drinkers. Consumers Union has called for a ban on use of rBGH until adequate testing is done. After questioning by Akre attorney Tom Johnson of the Tampa firm of Chamblee & Johnson, Hansen told co-plaintiff Wilson who is representing himself in the suit, that the FDA and its scientists have made conflicting statements about whether hormone injections change the composition of the cow's milk.

Wilson showed the jury, and Hansen confirmed, that even though the FDA has said "there is no difference," it has also reported statistically significant changes in the levels of IGF-1, a potent cancer promoter in humans.

The trial resumes Monday at 8:30 a.m. when the Plaintiffs will show excerpts of the videotaped deposition of Daniel Webster, the former Fox news director who hired and promised to support the work of Akre and Wilson.

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