John Stossel Reprimanded but not Fired by ABC
August 11, 2000 2:52 AM   Subscribe

John Stossel Reprimanded but not Fired by ABC - It is not exactly new information that Stossel has a habit of distorting facts and misleading the public. However, in this case he apparently thought he could get away with fabricating two complete sets of lab results related to food safety. Willingly disseminating false health information strikes me as a serious breach of journalistic ethics. In any case, ABC thinks a slap on the wrist will suffice, and tonight Stossel is expected to make an on-air apology. Will he admit he lied or blame an intern?
posted by johnb (11 comments total)
According to what I've read, they're blaming the producer. Poor bastard.
posted by sudama at 7:43 AM on August 11, 2000

This has a petro chemichal corporate smear job smell all over it,
Stossel was just doing his "job"

what a bitch
posted by matucana at 8:08 AM on August 11, 2000

Journalism is dead on main stream media. It's entertainment. One big commercial. They don't think you want the truth. You want the glass teat. TV is evil. Or dumb. Or both. People expecting integrity from ABC and it's ilk are deluded.
posted by y6y6y6 at 9:39 AM on August 11, 2000

People expecting integrity from ABC and it's ilk are deluded.

Yes, remember, this is the company whose top level execs are wannabe child molestors.

- It's a joke, people! -
posted by daveadams at 9:59 AM on August 11, 2000

Stossel has always been a creep. A great many moons ago, he came by my high school looking to get a story. He was trying to get students to make all sorts of 'interesting' statements.

By all accounts, he's an all around asshole.
posted by aladfar at 10:44 AM on August 11, 2000

Stossel cited results of tests for pesticides that don't exist. Bad. But the Environmental Working Group does a terrible job of misinforming too:

... most strains of E. coli are benign ... E. coli is not in itself a cause of foodborne disease. ... This is Food Safety 101

I don't work in the field anymore, but I did study food technology, and from my microbiology classes and lab I remember on of the first things you learn is E. Coli is an indicator of fecal contamination. Wait, here's a Government report (long) that literally says:

The presence of E. coli in ground water indicates that the contamination of the water supply is fecal in origin. E. coli originates in the feces and intestines of warm-blooded animals.

This does NOT mean organic food is dangerous, only that you must make sure, like you always did anyway, to thoroughly wash and completely cook what you eat
posted by tremendo at 12:36 PM on August 11, 2000

Tremendo, as far as I can tell, the government report is 100% consistent with the EWG statement which you cite above. The presence of bacteria (or "contamination" by them) is not itself a bad thing. Bacteria are everywhere and are mostly benign. As you point out, it's obviously a good idea to wash produce before consumption (traces of dirt and feces don't improve the flavor, for one thing). But the mere presence of E. Coli is not itself a cause of foodborne disease, period.

You seem to be saying that the benign form of E Coli, though not dangerous itself, indicates the presence of another form of bacteria that *does* in fact produce foodborne disease in humans. Can you names some examples?
posted by johnb at 1:35 PM on August 11, 2000

The producer is probably not a "poor bastard." You have to understand something about network news magazine shows: The producers actually do most of the work. The on-air personalities are certainly involved, and obviously do all of what you see on-air, but as far as the research and 90+% of the background preparation? All producers. That's why most shows shove those little "produced by so-and-so" chyrons on the screen for a few seconds at the beginning of each piece; credit where credit is due. So it's definitely plausible, and actually quite probable, that the producer is more responsible for this than Stossel was. This isn't to say that Stossel is wholly innocent, of course; the on-air personality gets all the credit when stories go right, so the buck should stop with them when it goes wrong. But let's face it, when it's the producer's job to make sure all the research s/he does is accurate, the on-air correspondent is not going to spend a million hours playing the role of the fact-checker's fact-checker.

We also need to keep in mind that, as much as journalists love to believe otherwise, they're only human life the rest of us. There probably isn't a magazine piece ever produced that is 100% accurate on every little point. I think the reason (the main reason, anyway; see below) Stossel and his producer were nailed here wasn't because they made an inaccurate statement, but because they let the piece re-air months later without alteration even though the EWG complained loudly right after the first broadcast. That makes ABC News look bad, and there's no greater sin than that.

The other reason - secondary but worth noting - is that Stossel is probably the least-liked correspondent at ABC News, by other correspondents and producers. A big chunk of that is because, as aladfar noted, he's one abrasive dude, but it's also beacuse all his reporting there is based on his belief that everything any activist group claims should, at the very least, be taken with a major grain of salt. Which is the proper way of looking at it, IMHO, but it makes him comes off as being openly ideology-based, and journalists don't like people who openly admit their biases. (And by the way, he's not really a conservative, as most like to think; he's a hard-core libertarian.)

Even worse, he's doesn't just have an ideology that differs from all the rest of them, he's a turncoat. He used to be a classic crusading consumer reporter, the kind of guy who would jump on every story of the cell-phones-kill variety, until he had a change of heart.

Anyway, as tremendo noted above, the EWG is a pot calling the kettle black, and they certainly don't correct or apologize for their own incorrect statements. Which is just the sort of thing that made Stossel have his change of heart in the first place.
posted by aaron at 5:03 PM on August 11, 2000

Hey johnb, it's Friday night and you're making me work extra hours! Just kidding. I said the EWG was misinforming also because they try to ridicule Strossel saying he didn't distinguish between pathogen and -so called- bening E. Coli. and stating this is food safety 101. The presence of E. Coli, plain and simple, is an indicator of fecal contamination, and this is food safety 101. The same government report states:

Indicator organisms are easier to detect and test for than the pathogens themselves; therefore, analysis for the presence of indicator organisms is the method of choice...

So yes, the point is, if you find coliforms in sufficient numbers, that's a strong hint that pathogens may be present too. Neither Strossel, nor the EWG went further on their reports to tell us what the bacteria plate count was or if the test continued for other types of bacteria (schigella, streptococcus -both pathogens, or others).

So, both Strossel's claim AND the EWG's counter-claim are hollow and used only to tip the mindless public's opinion one way or the other. Strossel is wrong, the EWG is wrong too.
posted by tremendo at 7:21 PM on August 11, 2000

Tremendo, sorry to put you on the spot on a Friday; actually, your response almost puts me in a similar position - I'm leaving for dinner in five minutes! Fortunately, I don't have to go into detail on why EWG is right on this issue, because the USDA already has:


And here is the USDA's letter to EWG

Aaron, as far as that FoxNews editorial is concerned, it is written by the infamous Steven Milloy of the Cato Institute, who denies basic facts about Global Warming and deviates far from the scientific consensus on a wide range of public health issues, including air pollution, cancer risk and DDT. He's a best friend to industry and a sworn enemy of the EPA. As far as reliabilty is concerned, I'd choose EWG over Milloy any day...
posted by johnb at 8:51 PM on August 11, 2000

everything any activist group claims should, at the very least, be taken with a major grain of salt.

The problem with John Stossel is that his skepticism has always been one-sided. First, he was an activist's wet dream, reporting all the hysterical anti-corporate claims in the '70s, when consumer activism was in vogue and society was more liberal. Now, he's a corporate PR director's wet dream, reporting all their claims, when the country is more conservative and corporatism has never been stronger.

It seems to be that Stossel's just a huge phony who spins his stories to suit whatever bias is strongest at any time. If conservatives or libertarians want the guy as their toady, they can have him. He certainly isn't a journalist, and I wonder if he ever was.
posted by rcade at 11:15 PM on August 11, 2000

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