Give Him A Break: Stossel Sent To Scaffold For His Taboo Targets

By Michael Fumento

Investor’s Business Daily, August 21, 2000
Copyright 2000 Investor’s Business Daily

  Print this  Print this    Make text larger    Make text smaller

There’s no need to apologize for ABC reporter John Stossel; he’s done that. Rather, this is to suggest that he doesn’t deserve the fate of Braveheart’s William Wallace, whose last vision was of his own entrails.

The brouhaha began with a 20/20 segment aired last February, then shown again in July — "The Food You Eat; Organic Foods May Not Be as Healthy as Consumers Think." The controversy is over one sentence.

Yeah! Give him a break!

"Our tests" on produce, Stossel said, "surprisingly found no pesticide residue on the conventional samples or the organic."

We know now that the test was never done. But was Stossel "lying to the American people," as Environmental Working Group President Ken Cook has declared?

No. The scientists who conducted the tests reported to the show’s producer, not to Stossel. They tested for the presence of both the bacterium E. coli and for pesticide residues. But the residue tests were strictly on chicken, not produce.

One needn’t possess Einstein’s brain to see how information from tester to producer to reporter could get lost.

Further, had Stossel simply stated "there are" tests instead of "our tests," he would have been absolutely correct.

While many people think organic means "no pesticide," nothing could be more wrong. Bugs, fungi, and weeds don’t contract with organic farmers to leave their crops alone.

So these farmers rely on "natural" pesticides, such as one made using a bug-killing bacterium called Bt. When Bt is inserted genetically into the plant, the organic farmers scream: "Frankenfood"! But as a spray, it’s their most popular insecticide.

Other organic pesticides include such goodies as acid-treated trace minerals(including zinc, boron, copper, manganese), sulfites, sodium nitrate, chlorine washes, sulfur, pyrethrum, pryania, sabadilla, colloidal phosphate, and a 500-year-old rat poison called rotenone.

Do these ever leave residues? How could they not?

"An organic grower, on average, sprays 100 times more natural pesticide per acre than a conventional grower who uses a synthetic pesticide," according to Leonard P. Gianessi of National Center for Food and Agricultural Policy in Washington, D.C.

And no less respected an authority than nutrition expert Jane Brody notes that in "a number of studies in different parts of the country, some so-called organically grown fruits and vegetables had higher pesticide residues than the same foods purchased in a nearby supermarket."

Nevertheless, the residue levels on organic food, as well as non-organic, are usually barely detectable and almost always within government-set tolerances.

As to the E. coli, yes organic crops are commonly fertilized with Ma Nature’s manure, crawling with Ma Nature’s bacteria.

But is all the Stossel fuss really over a single sentence? Have we forgotten 60 Minutes reporter Ed Bradley did two entire shows attacking Alar, a chemical later declared safe by both the World Health Organization and the Food and Agricultural Organization?

But Stossel’s would-be eviscerator Ken Cook stands by Bradley.

What of ABC’s own correspondent Cynthia McFadden? She first brought to national attention the lawsuit that formed the basis for the film Erin Brockovich. Her script looked as if Brockovich had written it, tying virtually any illness in Hinkley, California to chromium-6 a utility had leaked into the water.

"According to the U.S. Public Health Service (PHS)," McFadden declared, "chromium-6 can cause diseases of virtually every organ in the body."

Pure prevarication. No branch of the PHS ever made such an assertion.

Yes, Stossel blew it. He was the captain of the ship and responsible for the actions of each crew member. As he noted in his apology, it’s especially egregious that the show aired again after ABC had gotten word of the mistake.

But to critics, his real crime is treason. He was once just another crusading television reporter. Then one day he realized that fearmongering and business-bashing are great for ratings, but deceitful and just plain wrong. His real crime was to show that our self-styled saviors are actually self-serving shysters.

The fuss isn’t over a sentence, but over a Stossel.


Read Michael Fumento’s additional work on pesticides and on the media.