FOX PULLS PLUG ON DISCUSSION
OF ANOTHER MONSANTO PRODUCT
By STEVE WILSON
TAMPA (September 8, 1998)--The same Fox Television station under fire for it's handling of investigative reports about Monsanto's bovine growth hormone has abruptly cancelled another planned broadcast producers feared would be critical of the giant chemical company.
Mary Nash Stoddard, a leading critic of aspartame chemical sweeteners such as Monsanto-made NutraSweet, was informed less than two hours before her scheduled appearance on WTVT that the discussion had been cancelled on orders of station lawyers and management.
Apparently, while viewers who called the station were being told the promoted segment was cancelled "for technical reasons," Stoddard says producer Angela Schultz actually gave her a much different reason.
Stoddard says she was told Fox legal people got involved "because Fox was having problems with Monsanto." She quotes the apologetic producer as telling her that the station "tried to do a story about BGH, another Monsanto product, and we had problems we don't want any more problems with Monsanto."
The BGH Bulletin has independently confirmed Stoddard's account with sources close to the situation on the condition they not be identified. A Fox producer and attorney have denied Stoddard's account and claim the long-scheduled segment was cancelled only because the station had not arranged anyone to present an opposing view on the same broadcast.
This reporter, one of the plaintiffs in a pending civil suit against Fox, instructed his attorneys to prepare and serve subpoenas on Fox personnel involved in the incident, saying "We believe the testimony will show this same broadcasting company which ordered us to slant the news and even lie on television, frequently selects stories and shapes its broadcasts based on its own interests and not the public interests as viewers as a right to expect."
The sweetener discussion was booked and confirmed by Fox weeks earlier. It was to be aired live September 8 on the station's mid-day news broadcast as part of anchorwoman Kathy Fountain's regular Your Turn feature. It had been promoted to viewers and it was not until the day of air that there was any sign of trouble.
Realizing the likelihood that Stoddard's comments would include troubling long-term, human health questions which have not been resolved in years since Monsanto's NutraSweet was approved, Fox officials decided to pull the plug.
Stoddard is head of the Dallas-based Aspartame Consumer Safety Network. She has written a book about serious human health problems allegedly caused by NutraSweet and other chemical sweeteners. She cites scientists and critics of the product who have linked it to seizures, including blackouts by pilots in the cockpits of commercial jetliners.
The activist says she was told by the producer who called her that newsroom colleagues argued for nearly an hour to get approval to air the interview because it concerns an important public health issue but station officials refused to allow the segment to proceed after Monsanto's involvement was discovered.
Fountain's Your Turn segments are not formatted as a debate. Guests are usually invited to express their views without another guest appearing on the same show to defend a company or express and opposing view. Stoddard says producers never mentioned any concern about a lack of balance, nor did they mention anything about any desire to re-schedule her appearance for a future date.
WTVT and its owner, Fox Television, are currently fighting a lawsuit filed earlier this year by this reporter and reporter Jane Akre who charge they were fired by Fox for refusing orders to broadcast false and misleading stories about Monsanto's synthetic bovine growth hormone, a product which has been linked to cancer.
According to the complaint filed by the veteran journalists, their investigative reports about BGH had been well promoted and also scheduled to air until Fox News chief Roger Ailes received a letter from a Monsanto attorney and the story was pulled on the virtual eve of the broadcast.
What followed, the suit alleges, was a nearly year-long battle between Fox lawyers and management and the reporters who say they were ethically obligated to refused orders to broadcast information they knew and documented to be false and misleading.
After at least 73 re-writes of the BGH scripts, a period of suspension, being locked out of the station and its computers where the reporters kept some of their BGH research, Fox fired both its WTVT investigative journalists December 2, 1997. They responded with their suit April 2, 1998. Fox has categorically denied the allegations and a February 22, 1999 trial date has been set in Florida state court in Tampa.