FOX IN THE COW BARN by Steve Wilson.
It was supposed to be unlike anything at any local station anywhere.
A "dream team" of investigative reporters to tackle hometown issues
with the backing of Rupert Murdoch's Fox Television, which now owns
and operates more TV stations that any other company in America.
Instead, my investigative reporting partner Jane Akre and I, with
more than forty-two years of award winning journalism experience
between us, found our year at WTVT in Tampa to be a journalist's
Shortly after starting in December 1996, Jane discovered important
new unknown to the vast majority of viewers: virtually all milk sold
in Florida now comes, to one degree or another, from cows injected
with an artificial hormone banned in several countries, in large part
because of suspected links to human cancer and increased bacterial
and antibiotic residue in milk.
Everyone agreed it was an important story. And in a two-month
investigation, she and a photographer docoumented hormone injections
at all seven local dairy farms selected at random, where dairymen
[sic] had been promised by Monsanto up to 30% more milk from each
cow. Florida grocers admitted they had quietly broken their pledge
not to buy milk from hormone-treated cows. They had made those
public promises when the F.D.A. legalized the drug but protesting
consumers made it clear that any health risk from additional hormones
in milk was unacceptable.
We learned that routine tests for drug residue in milk do not screen
for a wide variety of antibiotics. We confirmed that two Canadian
govt. regulators have charged that Monsanto offered a $1-2 million
bribe in exchange for approval of the drug without further testing.
We documented a revolving door between Monsanto and the F.D.A. We
followed the money trail to the University of Florida, where Monsanto
sent millions in gifts and research grants that led to FDA approval
of the hormone while the school promoted its use. Meanwhile, we
found farmers who said the company wasn't properly reporting the
drug's adverse effects on animals, a charge Monsanto eventually
acknowledged. And we also documented how MOnsanto was using its
legal and political muscle to stifle labeling efforts that would have
helped consumers make a choice at the dairycase.
WTVT was so excited abour our findings that it bought thousands of
dollars in radio ads to promote the reports. But on the virtual eve
of the broadcast, Monsanto hired a New York lawyer to pressure Roger
Ailes, the former Republican operative who is now head of the Fox
News Network in New York, and our stories were pulled "for further
review." When the station's general manager- himself a former
investigative reporter- found no error or lack of balance in our
reports, he set another airdate. Ailes immediately received another,
sharper letter from the Monsanto lawyer. Soon Fox lawyers were
rewriting our story, and we got a new G.M. and news director. "We
paid $3 billion for these television stations," we were told by David
Boyland, the manager Fox moved in "We'll decide what the news is.
The news is what we say its is."
After failing to follow through on a threat to fire us in forty-eight
hours for refusing to broadcast information that we documented to be
false and misleading, he offered us both large cash settlements. The
cornerstone of the deal was that we would never talk about the hormone
or how Fox handled the news. When we declined, we were ordered to
write and rewrite the story more than 70 times over the course of the
next seven months. We were suspended and unsuspended, locked out of
the station and its newsroom computer, and eventually fired in
December for "no cause" during a contract window. Now the station
has finally decided to broadcast a version of our story, apparently
in response to reporters' questions about why it wasn't being aired.
It's been nearly thirty years since the FCC last looked into a
complaint that a broadcaster was rigging or slanting the news (in the
CBS documentary "Hunger In America"). In that case. the commission
said, "if it is asserted by a newman [sic] that he was directed by
the licensee to slant the news, that would raise serious questions as
to the character qualifications of the licensee." That is exactly
the allegation at the heart of a civil whistleblower complaint we
filed in Florida this April. Fox responded with a news release
denying any wrongdoing and then ran to court with a motion to
dismiss, claiming the 1st Amendment should shield news organizations
from civil suits like ours. Monsanto reasserted the safety of its
artificial hormone and denied exerting any undue pressure.
We believe what happended to us should raise concern not only about
the rapidly decreasing number of companies that control our media but
also about the true character and motivation of those who seek to use
the public airwaves to enhance their corporate bottom llines.
For more information see: www.foxBGHsuit.com
Rick Welsh, Director
Sustainable Agriculture Research
& Education Program, Southern Region
University of Georgia, Georgia Station
1109 Experiment St.
Griffin, GA 30223
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