Monsanto Pressure Continues




TAMPA (APRIL 17, 1999) David Kendall, President Clinton's personal lawyer who has defended him throughout the Whitewater investigation and the subsequent impeachment proceedings, is now working to defend Fox Television against charges it fired two investigative reporters for refusing to lie on television about a controversial hormone injected into many of America's dairy cows.

Kendall is a partner in Williams & Connolly, one of Washington's most politically connected law firms. His involvement in the Fox case is confirmed by a recent (March 23, 1999) letter he wrote John Walsh, a lawyer for the hormone-maker Monsanto. In that letter, Kendall refers to "the Wilson/Akre whistleblower lawsuit against our client, New World Communications of Tampa Inc, a Fox subsidiary that operates television station WTVT."

The letter indicates the two lawyers spoke about the issue just a week earlier and suggests Kendall's involvement may be recent. "We now have had the time to familiarize ourselves with the Wilson/Akre whistleblower lawsuit against WTVT and to look at the rBGH news reports, the plaintiff's website, and the Madison, Wisconsin cable television program you told us about," Kendall wrote.

Jane Akre, this reporter's co-plaintiff in the suit, had this response: "Fox could well be losing confidence in its local counsel who have certainly not been getting the results they promised, or maybe the company just feels it needs some 'Washington juice,' perhaps to help handle the FCC complaint Steve and I have promised to file."

Kendall's involvement comes on the heels of a major legal setback for Fox. After boasting the case would never get to trial, a Florida judge recently (April 1, 1999) denied a Fox motion for summary judgement in the case. It was the second time Fox failed to get the case thrown out of court without a trial, virtually guaranteeing the issues will now be presented to a jury. Judge Robert Bonanno not only ruled against the media giant's motion for Summary Judgement, but wrote that "genuine issues of material fact remain on all the grounds raised by Defendant in their Motion."

The Kendall letter strongly suggests Monsanto has continued to pressure Fox, even beyond the pre-broadcast pressure which preceded the broadcaster's decision to pull the investigative reports and later fire the reporters who produced them. The journalists charge they were ultimately fired for refusing orders to slant the reports in Monsanto's favor to avoid the "dire consequences" Walsh originally threatened in letters he sent to Fox News chief Roger Ailes just as the BGH series was scheduled to air in February 1997.

Even though Fox refused to broadcast the Wilson/Akre investigative reports, an early version of the stories was posted on the World Wide Web after being entered into evidence in the journalists' suit. Apparently not content with just keeping them off the air, Monsanto has apparently pressured Fox to go after its former reporters to get them off the Internet, too.

"I understand that it may be Monsanto's position that a copyright owner has some obligation to third parties to seek injunctive relief when an infringer uses the owners' copyrighted works to harm the interests of third parties," Kendall wrote to Walsh. He said WTVT believes it is doing the right thing in deciding not to file a lawsuit to block the reporters from continuing to display and discuss their series of investigative reports.

"You have told us," the letter continues, "that Monsanto believes that Wilson, Akre, and others have published false and defamatory statements about the company, and it is certainly up to Monsanto to decide whether or not to sue anyone for defamation. But WTVT alone will decide whether to institute litigation to enforce its intellectual property rights."

"Our client (WTVT) intends to expose the Wilson/Akre accusations as untrue both in the courtroom and in the court of public opinion," Kendall wrote.

Kendall's involvement came to light when this reporter subpoenaed Patricia Anderson, Fox's lead local counsel in the case, and she produced it. She said Kendall sent it to her as "a professional courtesy." Others suggested it may have been handed over to help Fox show some distance between itself and Monsanto.

Anderson tried and failed to convince a Florida judge to block her deposition testimony, claiming anything she might have or know about the Wilson/Akre case she is defending would be subject to the attorney-client privilege. She filed a sworn affidavit claiming she didn't even know about the plaintiff's employment at WTVT until after they were fired and she was retained to represent Fox in the matter. Other evidence disputes that claim and Anderson herself testified that she established an attorney-client relationship with the station much earlier in 1997 which was about the same time the dispute with the journalists was heating up and looked like it might be headed for litigation.

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