NEXT DEVELOPMENT:
Trial Continues 
Jane Akre To Take Stand Tuesday Morning As First Witness For Plaintiffs

Report Archive:

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
Is Seated

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:
Another Judge Says 'No' to Hearing Wilson/Akre v Fox Case

ˇ June 21, 2000:
Still No Judge To Hear Fox/BGH Case While Foxes Dishes More Distortion To WTVT Tampa Viewers

ˇ June 16, 2000:
Trial Date Pushed Back Again; New Judge To Be Selected

ˇ June 8, 2000:
Fox  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:
Fox Trial Will Start Sooner Than Expected
It will proceed in the heat of the summer, probably in July

ˇ May 25, 2000:
Fox Trial Will Not Start June 12 as Scheduled

ˇ May 18, 2000:
Fox Still Stalls on Testimony of Its president Mitchell Stern
Pre-trial hearing is otherwise uneventful

ˇ May 8, 2000:
Ralph Nader Testifies About Broadcasters' Public Interest Requirement
Presidential candidate gives testimony at pre-trial depo 

ˇ May 5, 2000:
Court-ordered Mediation Is Brief and Unsuccessful
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:
Walter Cronkite 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:
MSNBC: 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:
MSNBC: Mutable Feast:
Will the fight over gene-altered food products leapfrog across the Atlantic?

ˇ June 30:
Consumers International:
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, Too
Net Admits Staging after INSIDE EDITION Report

ˇ April 30:
Democracy Group Award to Akre/Wilson
Fired Reporters Cited for "Courage in Journalism"

ˇ April 29:
New Trial Date is October 11
Fox Piles On Big-Name Lawyers

ˇ April 17:
Clinton Lawyer Joins Fox Legal Team
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, Fox Coverup:
First-rate story of BGH situation and lawsuit against Fox TV (rated G -- no nudity, just the story)

ˇ January 25:
ENS 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 View-Listen to report with RealPlayer

ˇ January 14:
Health Canada Rejects Bovine Growth Hormone in Canada
Government News Release

ˇ December 16:
Akre & Wilson Win Courage Award
For Work On Story Which Cost Them Their Jobs

ˇ December 15:
ABC NEWS Catches Up on BGH
Read the ABC Story or View-Listen to report with RealPlayer

ˇ November 7:
FOX Legal (8/28) Answers
to Reporters' Complaint Now Available

ˇ November 1:
Monsanto and Fox: Partners in Censorship
PR Watch - Showcase Article

ˇ October 30:
Canadians Probe Coverup Claim
Read CBC Story or View-Listen to report with RealPlayer

ˇ October 24:
Reporters Get Top SPJ Ethics Award

ˇ October 22:
BGH Issue Explodes in Canada:
Read CBC Story or View-Listen to report with RealPlayer

ˇ October 7:
SECRET Canadian Study Leaked...
...BGH safety questions unanswered?

ˇ Sept 13:
Akre-Wilson Depos Start

ˇ Sept 10:
TIMES/St. Petersburg
SP Times covers NutraSweet flap

ˇ Sept 10:
Our Story: Fox Still Protecting Monsanto?

ˇ Sept 8:
Fox Pulls Plug on NutraSweet Foe

ˇ Sept 1:
Reporters Respond To Defense

ˇ READ story FOX-TV refused to air...
or View-Listen to report with RealPlayer

ˇ July 14:
Judge refuses to dismiss
all but one count of reporters' suit

ˇ July 5:
OBSERVER/London
Digger Still Plays Dirty

ˇ July 1:
Depositions Continue, Trial Date Set

ˇ June 7:
TIMES/St. Petersburg
Akre/Wilson Preparing FCC Complaint

ˇ May 26:
Judge rejects Defense motion
for Protective Order

ˇ May 25:
WEEKLY PLANET/Tampa:
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:
Dismiss case and Delay depositions

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ARGUMENTS SET THE STAGE FOR DIVERSE STRATEGIES 
News and Comment
By LIANE CASTEN
         TAMPA (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.
         
Inside 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 Growth Hormone.
        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 David/Goliath saga.
        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
         First to 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 the station. 
       
They were terminated, Wilson said, because they would not include or exclude from the story certain information they knew and showed to be false and misleading.
        
They spoke 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. 
        Then ,Wilson 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 journalistic honors.
        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 antibiotics.  They 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 risks.”
        Akre and Wilson then went on to write not a few more, but 83 scripts, all of which Fox rejected. 
        At the  trial, here’s how Akre’s lawyer described the Fox Strategy:
        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.
        3.  Thus, they would not kill the story, just slant and distort it.
        4.  Buy out the reporters for six figures, and they would disappear quietly.
        5.  Stall and dilute the facts.
        6.  Fire the reporters and lock them out.
        7.  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 permissible.  Deny 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 lawsuit.  Corporate 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 day.
        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.
       
Alarm bells.  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 key players.)
        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 deadline. 
        “The 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 issues—soon.

Editor's note: 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 wilson@citicom.com

Additional Coverage

St. Petersburg Times:  Trial Pits Reporters Against Fox 

Stories Posted Recently:

JUSTICE FOR SALE AT THE COURTHOUSE?

FOX AIRS ANOTHER DISTORTED STORY ON rBGH

TRIAL DELAYED; NEW JUDGE TO BE CHOSEN

FOX MGR WHO FIRED JOURNOS GETS PROMOTED TO FOX'S SECOND-BIGGEST STATION

TRIAL TO START SOON, LATE JUNE/EARLY JULY

TRIAL DELAYED AGAIN WILL NOT START 6/12

FOX STALLS ON TESTIMONY OF ITS PRESIDENT

RALPH NADER TESTIFIES RE PUBLIC INTEREST

MEDIATION IS BRIEF AND UNSUCCESSFUL

FOX CHALLENGES PLAINTIFFS' rBGH EXPERTS

CRONKITE TESTIFIES FOR AKRE & WILSON 


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