ˇ July 14, 2000:
Justice For Sale In Tampa?
Finally at the courthouse,
litigants can't afford to use
the courtroom facilities
ˇ July 12, 2000:
Fox Loses Key Motion; Jury
Plaintiffs do not have to
prove Fox guilty of violating Communications Act
ˇ July 8, 2000:
Potential Landmine Could
Derail Entire Case
ˇ June 30, 2000:
Judge Steinberg Ready To
Get Case Back On Track
ˇ June 26, 2000:
Judge Says 'No' to Hearing Wilson/Akre v Fox Case
ˇ June 21, 2000:
Judge To Hear Fox/BGH Case While Foxes Dishes More Distortion To WTVT Tampa
ˇ June 16, 2000:
Date Pushed Back Again; New Judge To Be Selected
ˇ June 8, 2000:
Manager Who Fired Akre and Wilson In Tampa Gets Big Promotion
David Boylan Flies Into The Sunset to Manage KTTV, Los Angeles
ˇ June 6, 2000:
Will Start Sooner Than Expected
It will proceed in the heat of the summer, probably in July
ˇ May 25, 2000:
Will Not Start June 12 as Scheduled
ˇ May 18, 2000:
Stalls on Testimony of Its president Mitchell Stern
Pre-trial hearing is otherwise uneventful
Testifies About Broadcasters' Public Interest Requirement
Presidential candidate gives testimony at pre-trial depo
ˇ May 5, 2000:
Court-ordered Mediation Is Brief and
Trial set to begin June 12
ˇ April 28,2000:
Fox Challenges rBGH
Experts At Depositions
Fox lawyers laying ground-
work to tell jurors experts are cancer scaremongers?
ˇ April 26,2000:
Testifies on Behalf of Akre & Wilson
Fox lawyers lodge objections
ˇ October 19:
Fox Lawyers Insist On Secrecy At Deposition
French TV Ejected
ˇ October 18:
FDA Wants Comments on G-M Foods
Public Meetings Start in November
ˇ October 13:
Judge Rules: Trial Will Proceed:
Defense loses third effort to have case dismissed
ˇ September 24:
Gene-modified foods might get labels:
Industry weighs voluntary steps, U.S. studies options as well
ˇ September 20:
Trial Still Set to Start Soon:
Busy Docket Delays foxBGHsuit
ˇ August 4:
Will the fight over gene-altered food products leapfrog across the Atlantic?
ˇ June 30:
UN Health Group Shuns BGH
ˇ June 1:
New York Times:
Farmers’ Right To Sue Grows - Food Warning Muzzle Likely
ˇ May 10:
Corporate Crime Reporter:
Monsanto Officials Join Leading Consumer, Environmental Groups
ˇ May 3:
Fox Deceives Viewers in Primetime,
Net Admits Staging after INSIDE EDITION Report
ˇ April 30:
Democracy Group Award to
Fired Reporters Cited for "Courage in Journalism"
ˇ April 29:
New Trial Date is October
Fox Piles On Big-Name Lawyers
ˇ April 17:
Clinton Lawyer Joins Fox
David Kendall Involvement Confirmed in Letter to Monsanto
ˇ April 16:
Fox Pleads for Another Delay
Later Trial Date to be Set April 29th
ˇ April 1:
Judge Says BGH Case Will
Go To Trial
Opening Gavel Falls May 10th
ˇ February 16:
PENTHOUSE Exposes BGH,
First-rate story of BGH situation and lawsuit against Fox TV
(rated G -- no nudity, just the story)
ˇ January 25:
Summary of BGH Developments
ˇ January 14:
How Fox Wanted to Slant News
of Canadian Concerns
Canadian BGH Concerns Were Big Issue In Firing of Fox Reporters
ˇ January 14:
Canada Says NO to BGH!
Read the CBC Story or
ˇ January 14:
Health Canada Rejects Bovine Growth Hormone in Canada
Government News Release
ˇ December 16:
Akre & Wilson Win Courage
For Work On Story Which Cost Them Their Jobs
ˇ December 15:
ABC NEWS Catches Up on BGH
Read the ABC Story or
ˇ November 7:
FOX Legal (8/28) Answers
to Reporters' Complaint Now Available
ˇ November 1:
and Fox: Partners in Censorship
PR Watch - Showcase Article
ˇ October 30:
Canadians Probe Coverup Claim
Read CBC Story or
ˇ October 24:
Reporters Get Top SPJ Ethics
ˇ October 22:
BGH Issue Explodes in Canada:
Read CBC Story or
ˇ October 7:
SECRET Canadian Study Leaked...
...BGH safety questions unanswered?
ˇ Sept 13:
Akre-Wilson Depos Start
ˇ Sept 10:
SP Times covers NutraSweet flap
ˇ Sept 10:
Our Story: Fox Still Protecting
ˇ Sept 8:
Fox Pulls Plug on NutraSweet
ˇ Sept 1:
Reporters Respond To Defense
story FOX-TV refused to air...
ˇ July 14:
Judge refuses to dismiss
all but one count of reporters' suit
ˇ July 5:
Digger Still Plays Dirty
ˇ July 1:
Depositions Continue, Trial Date
ˇ June 7:
Akre/Wilson Preparing FCC Complaint
ˇ May 26:
Judge rejects Defense motion
for Protective Order
ˇ May 25:
Grazing A Stink
- - -Don't Have a Cow
ˇ May 23:
NEW YORK TIMES:
(Silenced) Reporters... Post Web Site
ˇ May 21:
Wilson/Akre demand on-air correction
ˇ April 29:
FOX-TV asks court:
and Delay depositions
ARGUMENTS SET THE STAGE
FOR DIVERSE STRATEGIES
News and Comment
By LIANE CASTEN
(July 17, 2000)—It’s happening.
It’s really happening.
The Fox/BGH trial actually began here today after more delays
than anyone should have endured and after more maneuvering than any
imagination could conceive.
the courtroom, it was “wear out the plaintiffs, deplete their
resources and then attack them, their professionalism and their
credibility.” 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
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 dark suits 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
And while the judge
sometimes appeared 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
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
terminated, Wilson said, because they would not include or exclude
from the story certain information they knew and showed to be false
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.
described to the jury the unpleasant experience he and his reporting
partner (and wife) Jafe 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
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 a spin-off hormone increases levels
of IGF-1, a known link to cancer, that the 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
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 drugs.
They told of meetings
with their station managers and lawyers and of secret meetings
inside the station that were held without.
They said after hiring them to 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
Akre and Wilson then went
on to write not a few more, but 83 scripts, all of which Fox
trial, here’s how Akre’s lawyer described the Fox
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.
Thus, they would not kill the story, just slant and distort
Buy out the reporters for six figures, and they would
Stall and dilute the facts.
Fire the reporters and lock them out.
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
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 control” to help Fox fight a
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 end, a sense that perhaps justice might win the
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.
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 in 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
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 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 10
days. McDaniels said
certified mail was sufficient, even though the evidence shows she
never received her notice until the day after the notification
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
Thanks to Liane Casten of Chicago Media Media Watch for preparing
today's trial coverage. If anyone else would be interested in
providing coverage while your usual correspondent is busy at the
plaintiffs' table in the courtroom, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
Pits Reporters Against Fox