ˇ July 21, 2000:
Trial Coverage: Day 5
Week one ends with a bang;
Fox seeks mistrial, Judge
ˇ July 20, 2000:
Trial Coverage: Days 3 and 4
ˇ July 18, 2000:
Trial Coverage: Day 2
ˇ July 17, 2000:
Trial Coverage: Day 1
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
FOX NEWS DIRECTORS HAVE
DIFFERENT VIEWS OF CONFLICT
By JANE AKRE
| TAMPA (July 24, 2000)—The present
and former Vice Presidents of News for the
Fox-owned television station in Tampa were both on the
witness stand today as the Fox/BGH trial moved into its second week.
Former WTVT news manager Daniel Webster told the jurors he
hired Steve Wilson and Jane Akre after he and his assistant news
director wined and dined the husband-and-wife reporting duo at a
Tampa steakhouse in the Fall of 1996.
Webster, who had been expected to appear at trial as a
defense witness for Fox, was presented to the jury on videotape.
(He resides in the San Francisco Bay Area and cannot be
compelled to appear at trial in Florida.)
testimony was recorded in California in June 1998, two months after
Plaintiffs Steve Wilson and Jane Akre filed its whistleblower claim,
against WTVT charging the station pressured them to deliberately
distort a news story about Monsanto’s bovine growth hormone (BGH).
Webster now works for The Feedroom, an internet news organization.
The jurors listened carefully as Webster explained how he
recruited the reporters to join the Fox staff.
During the dinner, Webster said Wilson inquired whether WTVT
would support the sort of tough and aggressive investigative
reporting he was known for during his 26-year career.
Webster admitted he wanted to “up the profile” of the
investigative reporting unit. “Yes,
I said there would be legal backing, a tolerance for risk taking and
aggressive reporting,” he testified.
“And that's what you wanted?"
asked Akre attorney John Chamblee who conducted the
The former news
director, himself fired by Fox in Tampa for reasons said to be
unrelated to the BGH story, said that he understood that the
reporters wanted a flexible work schedule that would allow them to
minimize full-time child care for their then 2-year-old daughter.
Webster said he had no difficulty with the notion that the
couple could work from their well-equipped home office as long as
there was agreement on productivity.
And what would the station get in return?
“Some notion of what would be expected, so many stories per
period of time.”
“Did they produce the stories you envisioned?"
Chamblee asked. Webster’s
Webster said Akre and Wilson began looking into the use
recombinant bovine growth hormone among Florida farmers almost
immediately after being hired.
“I thought it had potential, it tells a particular truth
and would be important for people to know about,” he said.
The reporters produced a four-part series that
reported Florida farmers were prolific users of the genetically
engineered drug that makes cows produce more milk and despite
promises from grocery stores around the state that they would not be
buying treated milk, virtually all of the state’s milk supply now
comes from animals injected with BGH.
In wake of threatening letters from Monsanto and pressure
from dairymen and grocers, the Wilson/Akre series never aired—not
even after 83 re-writes of the story.
The reporters also discovered and sought to report that human
toxicity testing for the drug lasted no more than just 90 days, an
unacceptable short time under established scientific protocols.
The report also investigated the University of Florida's
support for the drug while taking more than $1 million dollars a
year in outright gifts from Monsanto, the maker of the synthetic BGH,
as well as hundreds of thousands more in research grants.
Webster appeared before the seven-member jury projected on a
six-foot screen lowered from the ceiling, as well as on various
monitors throughout Courtroom 1 at the Hillsborough County
Courthouse. This is the
first trial to utilize the newly wired, high-tech courtroom,
complete with surround sound, computer inputs and ELMO projection
capability. Litigants must pay nearly $3,000 per day to utilize
those facilities. Fox
decided to cover the entire courtroom cost after the plaintiffs
complained they could not afford the cost and would be happy to move
back across the street to Judge Ralph Steinberg's own low-tech
Webster said he
“could not recall” why the BGH story was pulled from its
February 24th, 1997 scheduled trial date until attorney
Chamblee showed him a letter from a Monsanto-hired attorney, John
correspondence arrived at the station late Friday evening on the
virtual eve of the scheduled broadcast.
“If it was this letter or other
information that lead to the postponement, I don't recall,”
Webster testified. “I might have gotten calls.
I talked to a Monsanto guy who flooded the office with
Webster was referring to two calls of complaint about the
story made to the station just before the air date by dairymen, both
of whom had both just returned from industry conferences sponsored
Gary Barton, a public relations man from Monsanto, had called
Webster to complain about the story on numerous occasions, according
to Webster, and on February 21st Barton sent a
three-pound packet to the station.
It was filled with Monsanto-sponsored data concerning BGH.
What did Webster do when confronted with pounds of PR
material from Monsanto? “I handed it over to Sue and Jane and Steve and let them go
on with their job,” he said, referring to his hands-off style of
news management. Webster
was asked, "Have you ever seen a story more thoroughly
scrutinized than BGH?” “No,”
he replied without hesitation.
Metlin On The Stand
Careful scrutiny of newsroom disputes was not what topped
Phil Metlin's list when he was hired by Fox to replace Webster at
WTVT June 23, 1997.
Metlin took the stand after lunch and told jurors he did
never even read the five-month paper trial of the dispute, including
the two threatening letters from Monsanto which sparked the whole
Metlin claimed he
also never reviewed any of the memos in station files regarding the
reporters’ complaints about being asked to distort the story.
“ I knew there was a lot of bad blood,” he said.
“I wanted to go on with a clean slate.”
Attorney Thomas Johnson, also representing Akre, asked Metlin
how he knew “who was playing it straight with you,” referring to
the contentiousness of the work environment at that time. “I used
my own instincts,” said Metlin.
Metlin told jurors his “clean slate review” of BGH begun
during a July 11th meeting he referred to as a
“summit.” He said
theall-day Saturday session was “marvelous and we all felt
good.” Sometime after
producing and editing first a three, then a four-part BGH series,
Metlin claimed the reporters just turned their backs on the story
and walked away from the process.
“They turned their back after receiving notice (of
termination),” he charged.
Exactly when Fox made the decision to terminate the two is
still unclear. Although Metlin claims the journalists walked away after
learning of the impending termination sometime in mid-August, the
plaintiffs have shown evidence that as far back as April management
had drawn up separation agreements.
“Mr. Metlin was either deliberately kept in the dark as to
when the real decision was actually made, or he is following the
company line to give them the best defense they can float to the
jurors in this case,” said plaintiff Wilson.
The reporters have a different version of their last days at
On September 23, the reporters wrote station manager Dave
Boylan to say that the latest editing orders amounted to a
distortion of the Federal Communication Commission's policy against
news distortion and was also a violation of their personal services
by October 16, Akre and Wilson turned in two versions of the BGH
script, one that included the stations' ongoing directions for
change and another the reporters felt was a more fact-based version.
“Did either story make it on the air?” Metlin was asked.
“No,” came the reply.
“I didn't read either version.
It was obviously a paper trail for litigation.”
The reporters filed suit six months later, April 2, 1998.
Metlin is back on the stand Tuesday morning and is expected
to be followed by former WTVT General Manager Dave Boylan.
Just before the trial began, Boylan flew off into the sunset
to accept a big promotion. He
now heads Fox’s second biggest station, KTTV in Los Angeles.