The Scoop

Cow-ardly Acts

BS on the air, in the rivers

By Bob Harris

SHOULD advertisers or major corporations be able to affect the news you hear, simply because they’re powerful? Obviously, no. Once you let people dictate the news for their own interests, it ain’t news anymore.

However, in Tampa, two investigative journalists, Steve Wilson and Jane Akre, are suing their former bosses at the local Fox TV affiliate. Why? Because, their suit claims, they were fired simply for doing their jobs too well. Evidently the duo wrote and produced a series of reports that would have upset somebody with pockets.

The reporters in question have a combined 44 years of experience, three Emmys, and a National Press Club Award. The people they’re suing work for Rupert Murdoch. Choose your side. The series they produced concerned a suspected cancer-promoting substance in the milk supply. The cause is apparently bovine growth hormone, a synthetic hormone that cranks up milk production. Many farmers say BGH burns out the cow, and although the FDA approved the stuff a few years ago, some highly reputable labcoats worry it might lead to cancer in people who drink the milk.

BGH is banned in Canada and most of the European Union, but it’s legal in the United States, where it’s made by Monsanto–the same chemical geniuses who brought you PCBs and Agent Orange. Both of which were supposedly safe as well.

Wilson and Akre’s series outlined the growing health concerns about the additive, the consequences of which, they discovered, are already swishing around inside every jug of milk in the state. Truth is an absolute defense in American libel law, so reporters who do their homework should have nothing to worry about, right?

However, before the story got on the air, a Monsanto attorney wrote an intimidating letter to the Fox higher-ups. So the lawsuit says that Fox management buckled instantly, forcing the reporters to do dozens of distorted rewrites in an effort to appease the giant chemlords. Eventually the story was killed, the reporters fired.

If you want to know more, the cool folks at FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting) intend to follow the lawsuit in their monthly magazine, Extra!, and in their biweekly Extra! Update. If you’re concerned about the integrity of the news, check them out at

In addition, the reporters have placed the details of the case, including the lawsuit itself and supporting documents, on their website The site also includes the reporters’ version of the TV series and the phonied-up rewrites the guys in the ties apparently tried to get them to do. If you want to know how interviews and sound bites can be subtly framed to change the meaning of a story, this is an instructive case study.

When surveyed, most Americans don’t want to drink BGH-produced milk. But thanks to Fox news executives, Tampa residents still don’t know exactly what they’re drinking. They have, however, learned a lot about house fires, car chases, and fashion trends on Oscar night.

If it doesn’t exist to provide useful information, there’s hardly any point to reporting the news. Then again, if you’ve seen a lot of TV news, you already know that hardly anybody does.

THIS ONE WAS PICKED out by the watchful eye of Wayne Grytting, who nobly devotes himself to chronicling what George Orwell called “Newspeak”: the twisted phrases and euphemisms created by politicians, corporations, and PR people to turn reality completely on its head.

You know the drill: armies calling sneak attacks “pre-emptive self-defense,” or politicians calling a tax increase “revenue enhancement.” Two decades ago, National Airlines even once called a plane crash “the involuntary conversion of a 727.”

Well, if you’re concerned about your drinking water, fear not, gentle reader. As Grytting notes, the state of Washington has found a way to completely eliminate an entire category of pollution with the stroke of a pen.

See, a bunch of dairy farms up there are fairly close to some major rivers, which means cow manure is apparently seeping right into the water supply. Yeesh. Granted, nature does dilute the stuff as it gurgles along the river, and cities do have treatment plants. But some folks are still worried that there might just still be a little more cow in their water than there ought to be.

Which means if you’re a legislator, you gotta test and find out, and then if it’s true, you gotta write some laws or do a cleanup or build new treatment plants, and you probably also need to hassle with the dairy people … and really, with all the money a politician needs to raise just to keep the darn job anymore, who in a legislature has that kind of time?

Fortunately, there was a solution: Senate Bill 6161. The Dairy Nutrient Management Bill simply deletes the phrase “dairy manure” from Washington state laws entirely, replacing it with the much happier-sounding “dairy nutrients,” which are defined as “any organic waste produced by … cows.”

The bill passed, by a vote of 97 to 1.

The only legislator who voted “against” was a former septic tank installer.

Who apparently knows a complete bunch of bull, uh, nutrient, when he sees it.

From the May 7-13, 1998 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.

© Metro Publishing Inc.

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