Got Milk?
May 9, 2001 4:59 PM   Subscribe

Got Milk? Two reporters win a lawsuit against Fox for being fired when they wouldn't lie about bovine growth hormone.
posted by thunder (22 comments total)
No, "they" did not win. Only one of them won, the other lost. And that was because the lawsuit wasn't over "lying," it was about whether the Fox station broke a whistleblower law; in other words, "take this public and we'll fire you." The circumstances of each of their firings was different, and thus only one of their claims had any legal standing.
posted by aaron at 5:07 PM on May 9, 2001

Guess my summarization skills need a tune up, and I shouldn't do them when I'm in a hurry. :-) Still I thought the article was an interesting read.
posted by thunder at 5:15 PM on May 9, 2001

don't let aaron bully you, thunder. deep down, he's a pussycat. :-)

Regardless of the legal merits of this case, aaron, do you not find fox's actions in supressing the truth reprehensible? while i don't necessarily take this single account at face value, i don't doubt for a second that Fox would bow to Monsanto in a second. do you? Besides, the quotes from the case ("There is no law, rule or regulation against slanting the news," etc.) are public record.
posted by jpoulos at 5:20 PM on May 9, 2001

I find it ironic that the network that brought us When Animals Attack doesn't want us to find out the evils of modified milk!
posted by DiplomaticImmunity at 5:47 PM on May 9, 2001

Animals don't pay the advertising bills, DI.
posted by mathowie at 5:49 PM on May 9, 2001

Gee whiz, Fox crumbles at the first sign of opposition from the rich and powerful. Now there's a Dog Bites Man story if ever I saw one.... It's not like a Murdoch-operated business has ever folded under pressure before....
posted by geneablogy at 6:08 PM on May 9, 2001

Still matt, just imagine how the typical fox production would have been able to take this if only the man hadn't gotten them to knuckle under - a giant udder coming at the camera in an incredibly shaky fashion as the cameraman backs away, streaming smoking biohazardous lactose all the way as children run screaming into the hills...
posted by DiplomaticImmunity at 6:23 PM on May 9, 2001

The Murdoch-Bush-Industrial Complex rides again.
posted by ParisParamus at 6:35 PM on May 9, 2001

I find the BGH case interesting in that the Fox News Network presents itself as "the" news network. In fact, on some televisions, the tag "Fair and Balanced News" pops up when ever you flip to FNN. By fair and balanced do they mean "pro-BGH?"
posted by drezdn at 6:38 PM on May 9, 2001

They mean whatever corporate America wants....
posted by ParisParamus at 6:50 PM on May 9, 2001

drezdn, this was a local FOX affililate, not FNN. not that there should be (or is) a difference in standards.
posted by jpoulos at 7:10 PM on May 9, 2001

don't let aaron bully you, thunder. deep down, he's a pussycat. :-)

Someone recently referred to me as a "pissed-off teddy bear." Which I kind of liked, though the reality is that I'm only ever pissed off around this particular woman because she drives me nuts.

Regardless of the legal merits of this case, aaron, do you not find fox's actions in supressing the truth reprehensible?

Would I find supressing of the truth reprehensible? Yes, as long as it is the absolute truth, and not merely the kind of out-of-context truth presented in order to make a Big Evil Conglomerate look bad and thus get ratings for the TV station. (And add to the reporters' prestige, I might add.)

And in this case, I think there's a lot of evidence that is just what this pair was attempting. When a news organization is threatened with a libel suit, the senior editors have every reason to go over the news reports with a fine-tooth comb to make sure everything in the reports is unquestionably true, and that the story isn't being questionably sensationalized ... in other words, to make sure it's not largely unsubstantiated FUD. I think the editors found that the story was indeed sensationalized FUD, and that it left out lots of important points, especially the points that 1) BGH is in all milk anyway; 2) it's broken down into harmless amino acids by enzymes in the human digestive system; and 3) even if it did survive intact, it's so radically different from the humain proteins that it doesn't interact with the human body at all. In other words, that it's harmless. (The fact that these two have since lined up only with left-wing media pressure groups to get their story out doesn't exactly add to their credibility, either.)

However, the fact remains that the editors and senior producers are those in charge of the news broadcasts, and if they decide a story isn't going to air, it isn't going to air. Reporters do not gain an automatic right to airtime just because they've been hired.

The Murdoch-Bush-Industrial Complex rides again.

Really, Paris? That's quite an impressive conspiracy you've uncovered there, considering that these two were fired in the fall of 1997.
posted by aaron at 10:37 PM on May 9, 2001

geez aaron, you oughta consider a career in PR, you've got a convicing way with the words...
it kinda seems like the point is that this "science" of what happens when people ingest artificially high levels of growth hormones (even cow ones) from early childhood onwards - has not been thoroughly explored... i don't really want children to be used as test-subjects.
PS i know it's fiction, but really if you have not read "My Year Of Meats" - do yourself a favor.
posted by DixHuit at 5:48 AM on May 10, 2001

Maybe a career beside Sean Hannity or Rush would better suit Aaron. The local Fox station was dead wrong on this and no amount of spinning or posturing can change that. As for Murdoch and FNN, the "We Report, You Decide" belongs on the Simpsons instead of the news. There are two types of talikng heads at FNN, right wing and right wing nuts. Hell, they even consider Reagan to be a moderate, the man who paid tribute to the German SS troops at Bitburg. Imagine that.
posted by nofundy at 6:17 AM on May 10, 2001

<small quiet voice>Everyone, please attack the argument, not the person.</small quiet voice>
posted by Avogadro at 7:01 AM on May 10, 2001

I am sorry if my PR comment was attack-ish, but I'm more interested in reaction to the rest of my post regarding the wisdom of allowing purely profit-driven corporate members of our society to use not-so-thoroughly-understood additives in our food supply... regardless of what the PR machines grind out in terms of obfuscation and discreditation and other forms of vocal masturbation...
posted by DixHuit at 7:30 AM on May 10, 2001

We can agree that Fox/NewsCorp is a large multinational conglomeration with a track record of putting direct pressure on governments, and honing its "factual" output for political expediency, yes?

We can agree that Monsanto is a large multinational corporation with an extensive track record of putting direct pressure on governments, and attempting to manipulate the news agenda, yes?

And it isn't simply a vast left-wing conspiracy that motivates the EU's and Canada's ban on imports of BGH-treated meat and milk?

What's most reprehensible about the use of BGH in the US is that it's specifically prohibited to label meat and milk as BGH-free: the recent thread on "natural flavours" at McDonald's suggests that there should at least be a labelling policy that empowers the consumer, not the manufacturer. The desire for absolute truth should at least equate to full disclosure, yes? (After all, Philip Morris still officially holds the line that the science linking smoking to various diseases is "contentious", but no-one would regard that as an excuse for taking the health warnings off cigarette packets.)

And in the absence of a governmental check on manufacturers, it falls upon the media to raise awareness. And if that's initially in an exaggerated way, then so be it. Better to start off by shouting, and moderate your tone once people take notice. And appearance is everything.
posted by holgate at 8:52 AM on May 10, 2001


The story wasn't about the harmful effects of BGH. It was about the failure of everyone from Monsanto to the dairy farmer to your friendly neighborhood grocer to come clean about its use. The fact that there's an awful lot of lying (or at least obfuscation of the facts) going on is pretty obvious.

Reporters do not gain an automatic right to airtime just because they've been hired.

No they don't. Nor should they be fired for pissing off the subject of their report.
posted by jpoulos at 9:03 AM on May 10, 2001

To me, it sounds like the story really was going to be irresponsibly sensationalist. Then again, I always think that the media's reaction to anything vaguely biotechy is sensationalist. But here's what we know:

BGH itself isn't really what the concern is about. Like aaron said, it's in the milk already, and it's unlikely to have any sort of effect on humans. The problem is that the use of BGH to induce and prolong lactation in cows results in unusually high levels of a second hormone called insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1). The problem is that cows and humans both use IGF-1--it's chemically identical in both species--so, our bodies have a biological response to it. There are studies that link ligh levels of IGF-1 to tumor growth when you inject it into animal models, but as far as I know there aren't any similar studies on humans.

So that's where the controversy is. The scientists who think there's a problem with rGBH-treated milk point to some studies that show a relationship between milk consumption and increased incidence of breast and prostate cancer. The scientists who don't think there's a problem point out that there aren't any control studies to separate the effect of IGF-1 itself from the effect of a higher-fat higher-protein diet, which also increases the risk of certain kinds of human cancers. And IGF-1 is broken down very quickly in the body, so they claim it's unlikely that it would survive for long enough to have any impact on human health.

Countries like Canada are taking the conservative approach and banning the use of rGBH until all the studies on the health effects of IGF-1 in humans are done. In all honesty, I don't know if the U.S. should be doing the same. It doesn't seem like there ought to be much of a health risk. On the other hand, I think milk is gross, so it's easy for me to feel complacently smug about the whole thing.
posted by shylock at 11:28 AM on May 10, 2001

And it sounds like you know enough to cause worry, Shylock. Which means there’s a story worth telling there.

From the linked article:

Our story did bring forth information that had been suppressed for far too long: that a spin-off hormone in the altered milk has been linked to tumor proliferation...the FDA's Center for Veterinary Medicine, which reviewed the drug, did not do long-term human toxicity tests

That must be IGF-1.

1) BGH is in all milk anyway

And dioxin is in the human body, but excess amounts of that causes cancer. It seems if farmers inject a manufactured drug (Posilac) into a cow they stand to change the physiology and by-products of the animal. Which is what this continuing story — marked by evasiveness by Monsato and suppression by Fox — is all about.

But anyway, why do human beings drink cow milk? Seems gross.
posted by capt.crackpipe at 11:57 AM on May 10, 2001

> But anyway, why do human beings drink cow milk?
> Seems gross.

Well, try to drink human milk at your local McDonalds and see if you don't get slapped.
posted by dwivian at 12:06 PM on May 10, 2001

The aspect that bothered me the most was the inability or refusal to come clean as to whether a certain milk was gotten from cows that were fed BGH. In a way, I liken it to the public's right to know about GM foods. Even if there is no proof that these substances harm humans, we have the right to decide for ourselves. Even if it were proven that they didn't do harm, people should be able to get truthful information about its presence. Let the people know, let the people decide.
posted by SteveS at 1:07 PM on May 10, 2001

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