From the December 2000 Idaho Observer:


Wilson, Akre describe corporate influence over news

Dominant media insiders fired over Monsanto/BGH expose

by Don Harkins

RENO -- The first annual AMA Convention was blessed with the special guest appearance of Steve Wilson and Jane Akre, two seasoned, dominant media insiders who candidly told their story to the alternative news publishers, writers and radio and TV personalities present.

Wilson and Akre, husband and wife, are award winning journalists who were fired from FOX-owned WTVT Channel 13 of Tampa, Florida, for refusing to broadcast their story, “Mystery in Your Milk,” about Monsanto and its product rBST -- a synthetic bovine growth hormone (BGH) -- with a spin agreeable to Monsanto.

Wilson and Akre, who have a four-year-old daughter, were driven to tell the truth about what they had uncovered about Monsanto and BGH. FOX wanted them to tell a different story and had them rewrite the story 83 times over the span of almost a year.

Not once in all 83 rewrites were Wilson and Akre directed to correct a factual error. The entire endeavor was designed to present a story intended to diminish public concern over the potential dangers of a provably dangerous product.

Frustrated by not being able to tell the truth and knowing the story was critical to the health of all milk consumers, particularly children, they threatened to report their station to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). FOX responded by firing the journalists December 2, 1997.

FOX claims there were other reasons for the firing, but Wilson and Akre claim it was for refusing to broadcast a false report on BGH and for threatening to blow the whistle on WTVT's attempts to distort the news.

Prior to their being forced by Monsanto to “edit” the story, WTVT had been excited about the story and had conducted an ad campaign to draw public attention to the four-part series. To save face, the station aired a watered down version of “Mystery in Your Milk” that aired in 1998. Wilson and Akre said their film footage was used but the story was filled with inaccuracies.

After losing their six-figure salary jobs, after selling their house and exhausting their savings, after being blackballed by their industry, after being harassed and threatened, Akre was able to prove to a jury that she had indeed been fired for threatening to contact the FCC and for refusing to distort the news. On August 26, 2000, she was awarded $423,000.

Wilson, who represented himself, was not so fortunate. He said that it is impossible to aggressively defend yourself and appear the victim at the same time.

“We are the ultimate media insiders with 48 years of investigative journalism experience between us. Now we are the ultimate media outsiders,” Wilson said to the AMA.

The BGH controversy

The U.S. is the only industrialized nation in the world that allows its dairy farmers to inject the controversial growth hormone into cows. The longest safety study conducted (90 days, 30 rats), presents evidence that suggests the product causes cancer.

Canada does not allow its dairy farmers to use BGH because Canadian officials actually read the safety study submitted by Monsanto.

Wilson and Akre found out the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) simply “rubber-stamped” Monsanto's biased review of the study and, without concern for the risks involved, allowed Monsanto to sell BGH to American dairy farmers.

The use of BGH has been approved by the FDA since 1993.

BGH is injected into milk-producing dairy cattle every two weeks. The injections increase milk production an average 25 percent.

The dairy industry is extremely competitive. If some dairyman are using BGH, then the others must as well or risk being put out of business.

One dairy farmer who decided to sell his herd rather than inject his animals with BGH said that the product did boost milk production, but his cows were sickly, came up lame and consumed more feed.

“Scientists who oppose the use of BGH argue that while the drug is said to shorten the life of the cow by speeding up its metabolism and causing certain infections, it also leads to changes in the cows' milk,” an article at http://www.foxbghsuit.com explained.

Dr. Samuel Epstein, author of The Politics of Cancer and The Politics of Cancer Revisited (and seven other books), is a well known and internationally respected authority on the environmental causes of cancer from the University of Illinois observed, “There are highly suggestive if not persuasive lines of evidence showing that human consumption of milk from treated cows poses unnecessary risks of breast and colon cancer.”

Other respected experts share his position. Some like Dr. William von Meyer have stated further concerns about whether BGH milk may cause other long-term health problems in humans. All the critics and even some BGH supporters agree the possibility has never been thoroughly investigated.

Consumers have also expressed concern about how use of the drug can lead to high levels of antibiotic drugs in milk. Many farmers are forced to inject their animals with powerful drugs to fight infections and other side effects experienced by cows injected with BGH.

Further evidence that BGH is not safe can be found in Monsanto's lobbying efforts to keep its presence in milk a secret with labeling laws.

Ice cream maker Ben & Jerry's had to win a court battle in order to label their products as “BGH-free.”

At the present time, it is believed that the entire nation's milk supply is contaminated with BGH.

The politics of truth

“We are parents ourselves,” Akre said. “It is not right for the station to withhold this important health information and solely as a matter of conscience we will not aid and abet their effort to cover this up any longer,” she said. “Every parent and every consumer have the right to know what they're pouring on their children's morning cereal.”

“We set out to tell Florida consumers the truth a giant chemical company and a powerful dairy lobby clearly doesn't want them to know,” Wilson said. “That used to be something investigative reporters won awards for. As we've learned the hard way, it's something you can be fired for these days whenever a news organization places more value on its bottom line than on delivering the news to its viewers honestly.”

According to Wilson and Akre, WTVT management originally reviewed the investigative reports and was so interested in the story it was scheduled to air in four installments beginning February 24, 1997. The station launched an extensive radio ad campaign to draw public attention to the explosive series. Wilson said that just hours before the first segment was to be aired, the station killed the story.

Monsanto hired a renowned New York attorney who spoke to a top FOX executive who directed WTVT to stop the story.

The attorney's letter, which is available at http://www.foxbghsuit.com was filed with the complaint as evidence. It alleges reckless non-scientific stupidity on the part of Wilson and Akre.

Neither FOX nor Monsanto has been able to prove that any of Wilson and Akre's material was inaccurate.

The lead story on their website ( http://www.foxbghsuit.com) explains that, “Local station management again carefully reviewed the investigative reports, found no errors in any of the reporting, re-scheduled them to air a week later, and even offered Monsanto the opportunity to be interviewed a second time, the suit says. Instead, the chemical maker responded with another threatening letter to the president of Fox's network news division and the WTVT reports were postponed again.”

WTVT General Manager David Boylan, fearful the public would learn that his station had bowed to corporate pressure from Monsanto, decided against killing the story. Instead, Wilson and Akre said that Boylan ordered them to broadcast a version which contained demonstrably false information and threatened to fire them both within 48 hours if they refused.

Wilson and Akre refused to compromise their story and their professional integrity.

His bluff called, Boylan reportedly offered the journalists a bribe. According to Wilson, Boylan offered to let them “pursue other interests” at full pay for the balance of their contracts in exchange for an agreement to never to discuss the BGH story or how it was handled by the station. Wilson and Akre declined the offer.

Then came the 83 rewrites, none of which met station (Monsanto) satisfaction. Boylan, frustrated by his employees' inability to lie for what he saw as the greater good, suspended the two journalists.

Though they were locked out of their offices, Wilson and Akre were able to produce two versions of the story -- one that was accurate and one that would be satisfactory to their management (Monsanto).

Unable to resolve the issue, Wilson and Akre were fired and Monsanto, with the help of news outlets such as FOX-owned WTVT and the FDA, is still allowed to sell BGH -- a product that is hazardous for the cows into which it is injected and the people who drink their milk.

***

Editor's note: Wilson and Akre came all the way from Florida to talk to the AMA. Until the convention, all they knew about us is what they were exposed to by the dominant media. They had no idea what we were all about and why we are moved to “print the truth.”

Now they know. I personally respect them for the sacrifices they made, the courage it took to throw away high-paying careers just for the sake of truth and for accepting the invitation to address the AMA.

Considering where they came from and why they are where they are now, these two Americans were the best and most appropriate speakers we could have had at the first annual AMA Convention.

Credit must also be extended to AMA President Paul Hall of the Jubilee newspaper for taking the initiative to invite Wilson and Akre to attend our historic function. (DWH)