Columnist Michael Fumento Defends Book Grant

Rocky Mountain News, February 11, 2006
Copyright 2006 Rocky Mountain News

Jason Salzman's Feb. 4 On the Media column, "Convoluted deal a cautionary tale," harshly criticizes me for allegedly accepting a Monsanto Co. grant without disclosing it in my Scripps Howard column and other writings about the company.

But Salzman omitted numerous details that eviscerate his argument.

I solicited a grant in 1999 from Monsanto for a policy book while at a think tank. Solicitation of corporate and philanthropic grants is standard procedure for writers of policy books that usually pay notoriously poorly. It's also standard procedure for think tank scholars. In any case, spending money to influence my position on biotech would have been folly - I had been writing pro-biotech pieces since 1993.

Monsanto then donated $60,000 to my employer (as an unincorporated individual I can't accept grants), which then paid me the same salary and benefits that year as the year before and the year after. Net profit to me: zero.

There is no ethics policy for disclosing book grants in Op-Eds or columns. In its hit piece on me, Business Week simply invented one and then applied it retroactively. Retroactive rules are bad rules. Moreover, shortly after Monsanto made the grant to my employer, I published an article charging the company with being "chicken-hearted" for caving in to environmentalist pressure. This hardly supports allegations that the grant influenced my writings.

Four year later, in 2003, I began writing for Scripps. Of my three Scripps columns mentioning Monsanto, one did so in a single sentence. My Jan. 7, 2006, column - which Salzman mocks because I wrote Monsanto's pipeline biotech products will help farmers and allow "more crops to be grown on less land, thereby leaving more land for nature" - has already proved true of Monsanto's current products. It was neither shilling nor fortune-telling. It's called "reporting."

One suspects Salzman's views may be colored by his politics, as indicated by his book encouraging leftist media activism that carries a front-cover endorsement by America's most famous corporation hater, Michael Moore. As for Scripps Howard, they were driven by expedience. They dropped my column immediately upon hearing from Business Week; I was never consulted. Readers may decide who has violated ethical standards.

Michael Fumento
Senior fellow, Hudson Institute
Washington, D.C.

Read Michael Fumento's other work on the media. Michael Fumento is the author of numerous books.

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