If corporate media preached what they practice:
'Sell out journalists to protect profits'
Recent firings of journalists who worked on investigative stories about corporations and government institutions are cases of major media succumbing to pressures from powerful forces with an interest in censoring those media


Rohnert Park, Calif. -- In the past year, three corporate media outlets, under pressure from powerful corporations or government officials, have fired journalists for writing critical stories about The Powerful in the United States. These terminations have sent a chilling message to journalists throughout the U.S.: If you attack the sacred cows of powerful corporate/governmental institutions your career is on the line.

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The most infamous case of the three is the retraction by CNN of the story about U.S. Military's use of sarin gas in 1970 in Laos during the Vietnam War. CNN producers April Oliver and Jack Smith, after an eight month investigation, reported on CNN June 7th and later in Time magazine that sarin gas was used in operation Tailwind in Laos and that American defectors were targeted. The story was based on eyewitness accounts and high military command collaboration. Under tremendous pressure from the Pentagon, Henry Kissinger, Colin Powell, and Richard Helms, CNN and Time retracted the story, saying that "the allegations about the use of nerve gas and the killing of defectors are not supported by the evidence." Columnists and pundits across the nation have attacked Oliver and Smith for their alleged unprofessional journalistic actions. Newsweek even wrote on July 20th that the allegations were "proven wrong."

There is a big difference between being "proven wrong" and not having enough evidence, yet both Oliver and Smith were both fired by CNN. They have steadfastly stood by their original story as accurate and substantiated.

What is troubling about this issue is the speed with which CNN/Time withdrew their support for Oliver and Smith, after having fully approved the release of the story only weeks before. Smith feels that the CNN capitulated to the Pentagon's threat to lock them out of future military stories.

In a similar case of pressure by powerful institutions, Fox TV news reporters Steve Wilson and Jane Akre were fired by WTVT in Tampa for refusing to change their story on the dangers of Monsanto's bovine growth hormone (rBGH) in the milk supply in Florida. New scientific research has shown that rBGH when injected into cows to expand milk production results in the increase of insulin-like growth factor IGF-I in milk. IGF-I has been linked to breast and prostate cancer. Monsanto claims that the milk is safe.

But new scientific evidence suggests otherwise. Monsanto put pressure on Fox Television in New York, WTVT's parent company, threatening dire consequences if the story ran. When Wilson and Akre
refused to say the milk was unchanged, they were fired by the Fox station general manager who was quoted as saying, "We paid $3 billion for these stations: we'll decide what the news is. The news is what we tell you it is." Full documentation of this story and of the firing of Steve Wilson and Jane Akre can be viewed on the Web at: www.foxBGH-suit.com.

Mike Gallagher and Cameron McWhirter with the Gannett-owned Cincinnati Enquirer, worked longer than a year on a story that exposed Cincinnati-based Chiquita Brands International's practices of using U.S. banned pesticides in Latin America that threatened workers health, their involvement in a Colombian bribery scheme and the smuggling of cocaine on Chiquita ships. In May of 1998 the Enquirer ran a 18 page special section that was a potential Pulitzer nominee. However, based on the assertion by Chiquita that Mike Gallagher illegally obtained internal corporate voice mail recordings, the Enquirer retracted the entire series and fired Gallagher. Gallagher's side of the story is yet to be told, but Gannett has paid a settlement of some $10 million to Chiquita and apologized for the series. Full disclosure on the settlement seems stalled pending legal battles, but an important factually based news story has been retracted and a year's work of two reporters squelched over the ethics of receiving internal voice mail messages from an undisclosed source.

These recent firings, each involving critical stories about corporate/government institutions, are cases of major media succumbing to pressures from powerful forces to retract or not report seemingly important
well documented stories. The rapidity of retraction or the refusal to broadcast seems to give first priority to bottom-line fiscal considerations. In each case the media failed to provide support to further document the story and quickly made decisions to terminate the journalists.

The public's right to know was seemingly left out of the decision-making process and journalists around the U.S. have surely taken note that writing stories about the powerful is risky business.


Peter Phillips is an associate professor of sociology at Sonoma State University and Director of Project Censored

Peter Phillips Ph.D.
Sociology Department/Project Censored
Sonoma State University
1801 East Cotati Ave.
Rohnert Park, CA 94928

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