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ABC's Stossel's misleading interview style/EnviroSlam

by Authentic Journalism Saturday, Jun. 30, 2001 at 4:54 PM

Let's tell ABC what we think of their disgraceful disregard for journalistic ethics and standards, and demand that John Stossel be removed from the air once and for all.

Here comes the latest outrage from John "I'm not a real journalist,

I just play one on television" Stossel. This time he shamelessly

exploited the trust of a group of parents, children and teachers

in his ongoing war against the environmental movement. Last year

he got himself in very hot water when he presented false information

on the "dangers" of organic produce, and was forced to apologize

to his viewers on the air, due to the explosion of outrage he provoked.

But far from being penalized in his career at ABC, he was rewarded

with yet more opportunities for mischief. Obviously, ABC has not

gotten the message! Let's tell ABC what we think of their disgraceful

disregard for journalistic ethics and standards, and demand that

John Stossel be removed from the air once and for all. Surely there

are plenty of REAL journalists who are far more deserving of such

an extensive allocation of valuable air time than John Stossel.


The two articles below really blow the lid off tonight's program.

For further background on John Stossel's not-so-illustrious history,

check out these two websites:

FAIR: http://www.fair.org/media-outlets/stossel.html

PRWatch: http://www.prwatch.org/cgi/spin.cgi



Stossel Accused of "Tampering"

by Bridget Byrne

Jun 26, 2001, 3:55 PM PT

Color them green with rage.

Eight Los Angeles parents are mad at ABC News' John Stossel about the

way their children are depicted in his Tampering with Nature special, set

to air on ABC this Friday.

They claim producers disguised the true nature of the special, which

focuses on global warming, genetic engineering and human cloning.

And, they say, they were surprised when the controversial libertarian

journalist showed up to quiz their kids, allegedly peppering the tykes

with "leading questions" to get them to say what he wanted.

The Q&A session, which took place in April at the Canyon Charter School

in Santa Monica, was arranged by Tess Cacciatore of the California-based

World Trust Foundation. She says ABC producers told her "they were doing

an education piece about global warming," and that no mention was made

of a negative slant, or the involvement of Stossel. "They knew from the get-go

we would not have wanted John Stossel to do this piece and hid that

information from us."

Stossel, known for his often abrasive "Give Me a Break" segments on 20/20,

has previously drawn the ire of environmentalists after debating the health


of organic foods and questioning the real-life Erin Brockovich's research into

toxic pollutants.

Brad Neal, a real estate broker and father of two of the young interviewees,

tells the Washington Post he was angry when he saw Stossel preparing to

interview the kids. Neal says Stossel's "questions were all entirely misleading

to evoke the responses he wanted. He'd repeat questions until he got the

answer he wanted...We knew we were hoodwinked."

In an interview with the Associated Press, Neal admits he did not get

around to making a complaint until the advocacy group, Environmental

Working Group, "helped me direct my anger." On Monday, he united with

other parents to write a letter to Stossel claiming ethical journalistic

standards were violated, asking for footage of their kids be edited out

and stating, "we do not permit you, your staff or ABC News to use our

children for whatever ideological or journalistic purposes lie behind your

work." (The letter posted on Environmental Working Group's Website,


The parents were particularly steamed about footage that shows the kids

raising their hands in response to a question about how many of them

believed scientists were unanimous on the dangers of global warning.

Michael Scott, an attorney and father of two of the kid participants, says

he's concerned that the way the footage is used depicts the children

"being portrayed as if they were brainwashed or not being told the truth."

Says Environmental Working Group spokesman Mike Casey, "Once again,

John Stossel has shown he has a fundamental problem with honesty and

fair play," and stressed ABC should "not condone Stossel deceiving parents

and manipulating kids to grind his ideological axe."

Speaking of grinding axes, this isn't the first time the Washington, D.C.

based Environmental Working Group and Stossel have squared off. The

group previously demanded Stossel be fired for asserted organic foods

contain more pesticide residue than conventional supermarket foods,

and are less safe to eat. Stossel had based his claims on tests that were

never conducted. ABC News reprimanded Stossel, forced him to apologized

and suspended his producer.

While it doesn't look like Stossel will be reprimanded this time, the

network is taking the parents' concerns seriously.

In a statement, ABC News says it "has reviewed the entirety of John

Stossel's interview with the children in California and concludes it was

conducted in a professional and responsible manner according to the

highest journalistic standards.

Furthermore, the parents originally gave their written consent, several

were present while the interview was conducted, and none voiced any

concerns to ABC for more two months until the week of our broadcast

after they had spoken with activists."

However, the network says it "will respect the belated decision of a

number of parents to withdraw their consent" by editing out the kids'

responses and just paraphrasing what they said."



The Story Behind John Stossel's Latest Attack on Environmentalism

Marianne Manilov is a writer living in San Francisco. She is currently

working on her first book about the human rights activist, Ka Hsaw Wa.

She is a senior consultant with the group We Interrupt This Message.

John Stossel is back in action. Stossel is a commentator on ABC's "20/20,"

where he devotes much of his time to railing against government regulations.

According to FreeMarket.net, Stossel is "one of the libertarian movement's

most valuable proponents." His staunch libertarian perspective influences

much of his commentary, sometimes to the detriment of its accuracy.

Last summer, Stossel attacked the organic food industry using fabricated

and distorted scientific studies. His fans sprang to his defense, and the

Competitive Enterprise Institute, a right-wing think tank, even sponsored

a website in his honor, SaveJohnStossel.com.

Stossel is now gearing up for another attack on greens, this time in

the form of a screed against environmental education. The program is

reportedly scheduled to air on Friday, June 29, 2001. According to

educators and parents whose children were interviewed for the show,

Stossel has once again allowed his beliefs to interfere with his

journalistic duties.

Stossel's Sudden Arrival

An environmental educator, who was present for Stossel's interviews with

children and was also interviewed himself, is concerned about Stossel's


John Quigley is the executive director of Earth Day Los Angeles. In April,

he hosted a field day for 2,000 kids to teach them about clean energy

solutions. The day's events were filmed by Debbie Colloton, one of

Stossel's producers.

"We had an educational experience where everything was solar-powered

at the event," Quigley said. "There were local presentation areas that were

solar-powered. Kids learned about clean transportation and about things

they can do in their homes."

Colloton also visited an elementary school to interview kids. She

subsequently arranged for 10 children, grades two through five, to be

taped in a studio setting as they talked about the environment.

Colloton never mentioned Stossel's involvement with the project. "We still

didn't think anything," Quigley said. "We just didn't know. We thought

Debbie Colloton was going to do the interviews for her ABC documentary."

Quigley was wrong, however, because about five minutes before taping,

John Stossel showed up. "Debbie Colloton announces that Stossel will be

interviewing the kids," Quigley said. "It didn't raise a red flag because all

I knew was that he was a commentator for ABC. It did seem odd that his

name was never mentioned at all and all of a sudden he shows up."

Stossel interviewed the kids for about 30 minutes on environmental topics

before showing his agenda, Quigley said.

"He started asking leading questions and it was very clear what he wanted

to get," Quigley said. "He would say, 'Wow, it's really scary, isn't it?' And

the kids weren't scared at all and so they just looked at him. He asked

that question repeatedly."

According to Quigley, Stossel was having a hard time getting what he

wanted. "These were bright kids, and they were responding well. He was

clearly trying to elicit certain responses on tape. When he didn't get the

verbal response he wanted, he had the crew shoot from behind and had

the students raise their hands while he asked, 'Is the air getting dirtier or

cleaner?' It was clear that he wasn't interested in honest dialogue but was

trying to elicit certain responses for a script he had already written."

Although Quigley was bothered, he thought Stossel was just asking tough

questions. He agreed to tape a discussion with Stossel and fellow educators

the following Monday.

About 30 minutes into the interview with educators, Stossel changed the

tone from a round-table discussion to an attack. "He proceeded to attack

the elementary school teachers, telling them, 'You're scaring these kids,'

" Quigley said. "At one point he raised his voice and was yelling, "You're

scaring these kids,' but this time, like it was a dramatic performance for

TV, he said over his shoulder, 'That was over the top.' The impression I

got was that he was telling the cameraman that this wasn't to be used."

Quigley said Stossel tried to get the group to fight back, but the group

didn't take the bait. "For the most of the attack," Quigley said, "the six

of us were stunned. We tried to bring it back to a dialogue. We responded

as best we could given the circumstances."

He worries that the footage will be edited to support Stossel's agenda.

"He would have to be a very dark force to turn that footage into something


Quigley is not alone. On June 25th, parents of the children who were

interviewed wrote to John Stossel and revoked their consent for their

children to appear in the piece. "Some of us witnessed the interview you

conducted with our children, and saw how you asked leading questions

to get them to say what you wanted," the parents wrote.

Michael Scott, one of the parents who signed the letter, was present when

his two children, Zachary, age 8, and Rachel, age 10, were interviewed.

Scott said that he felt something was wrong when Stossel asked the

children to answer in unison to questions.

According to Scott, Stossel asked the children if all scientists agree

about the cause of global warming. "What he was looking for is for the

kids to say, 'All scientists agree.'" Scott said Stossel also led the

children to saying they were scared. "Prior to being asked in unison,

no one said they were scared," Scott said. "Then Stossel said, 'This is

pretty scary stuff, yeah?' and some of the kids agreed."

Scott thinks Stossel didn't do enough investigation to draw any

conclusions. "A lot of information my son gets is from reading and not

from school. He didn't ask, 'Did you learn that from your dad? Did you

learn that from your friends?'" Scott said. "My son is 8 and he reads

National Geographic. I'm amazed at the amount of information he has

and I know he didn't get it all from school."

Brad Neal, another parent, is also angry. "He totally manipulated the

interviewing process," Neal said. "He asked questions again and again

until he got what he wanted. He used the word scared like 15 times. I kind

of have to kick myself for not pulling out my kids right then."

Both Scott and Neal were contacted by Dawn Porter, Director of News

Practices for ABC, yesterday when the letter was made public. Neal said

that ABC would like to meet with the parents, but he is not sure he is

interested. "I just asked Debbie Colloton, who was also on the phone,

'Why didn't you let us know it was Stossel? Why didn't you let us know

what the piece was about?'"

Neal said that he just wants his kids out of the piece. "This is against

everything I am teaching my kids," Neal said. "I'm teaching my kids to be

honest, even when it's uncomfortable, to be forthright." Neal's children

are Brandon, age 10, and Sam, age 8.

The Environmental Working Group, which previously went after Stossel

for his report on organic food, coordinated the letter. EWG California

Director Bill Walker said that Stossel's conduct violated the Code of

Ethics for the Society of Professional Journalists. "It says that you are

supposed to use special sensitivity when dealing with children," Walker


ABC released a statement yesterday denying that the interview was

inappropriate. "While ABC News is confident that the interview was handled

in a respectful and sensitive manner according to the highest journalistic

standards, we take the concerns of these parents seriously and are

reaching out to them to open a direct line of communication to resolve

this issue," the statement said.

But ABC's version of events, as told through their public relations department,

differs from the parents' account. "We didn't know that it was going to be

'controversial' until we went into the field and heard the kind of information

that was being taught to the kids -- which turned out to be highly partisan

and very one-sided. Our report will reflect exactly what we saw and heard,"

ABC's Jeffrey Schneider said.

Quigley disagrees. "It's going to be tough for Stossel and his crew to get

what they wanted," he said. He's tried to explain what happened to the

children. But, he says, "What they are learning is that they can't trust

the media."

Shaping the Story

Although ABC says it went into the field with an open mind, there is

evidence to the contrary.

In March -- a month before Stossel's producers turned up at Quigley's

event -- a group called Responsible Industry for a Sound Environment

(RISE) posted an email to their listserv. RISE serves as a pesticide

industry front-group, according to Sheldon Rampton, editor of PR Watch.

The email was a message from Michael Sanera, director of environmental

education research at the Stossel fan club known as the Competitive

Enterprise Institute. The email was later forwarded to environmentalists.

"I have been contacted by ABC News," Sanera wrote on March 20, 2001.

"A producer for John Stossel is working on a program on environmental

education. He needs examples of kids who have been 'scared green' by

schools teaching doomsday environmentalism in the classroom. (He needs

kids and/or parents to appear on camera.) I have some examples, but I need

more. Would you send out a notice to your group and ask if they know of

some examples."

Jeffrey Schneider, from ABC's public relations department, confirmed that

Stossel's producer contacted Sanera about the environmental education

story. Schneider also confirmed that Sanera had recommended that the

producers contact a teacher named John Borowski, a supporter of

environmental education.

Borowski teaches marine science and biology at North Salem High School in

Oregon. He received a call from Ted Balaker and Debbie Colloton, Stossel's

producers, on April 9, 2001. Balaker and Colloton told him that they were

working on a documentary.

The call aroused his suspicions. Through his contacts in the environmental

community, Borowski had already seen a copy of the email in which Sanera

claimed to be working with Stossel's producer. However, when he asked

Balaker and Colloton if they were working with Sanera, they said no.

Borowski subsequently called Sanera. "He told me he was working with a

producer named Ted Balaker on a program for John Stossel," Borowski said.

"They lied to me."

ABC's Schneider says that the producers did not work with Sanera, despite

appearances to the contrary. "The moment we became aware of his email,

we demanded that he cease and desist," says Schneider. Sanera, he said,

"played no role whatever in bringing this story to ABC News."

In a call with Balaker on April 12, Borowski asked if he was working with

Stossel on the documentary, and Balaker said that he'd worked with Stossel

in the past, but not on the current project. However, ABC says that Borowski

was told that Stossel was involved in the project.

In the end, neither Sanera nor Borowski were interviewed for the documentary

on environmental education.

Expecting More from ABC News

Is Stossel once again preparing to unleash a report based on his

anti-environmental prejudices and deceptive interviewing tactics? Perhaps,

but only the final piece will show. PR Watch's Sheldon Rampton thinks

Stossel went too far.

"Deception is sometimes a justifiable journalistic tactic when exposing

people who are engaged in fraud or other wrongdoing," Rampton said. "We

are all familiar with the '60 Minutes' segments where a hidden camera and

a false identity are used to catch someone on film lying to a reporter or

offering to commit a crime. Stossel, however, has used deception to entrap

schoolteachers. There is simply no justification for Stossel's decision to

use deception and concealment when the sole purpose of that deception

is to disguise his own editorial slant from the people he is interviewing."

On the ground in Los Angeles, John Quigley is upset. "There is a

difference between journalism that is balanced and asks tough questions

and so-called journalism where the story is sensationalized," he said.

"This is a sensationalized approach, a Jerry Springer type mentality.

You expect more from ABC News."

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