Attack of the Uninformed Journalist
The Washington Times, March 13,1999
Letters to the Editor
Michael Fumento broke one of the cardinal rules of journalism when he deliberately misquoted me in a recent article ("Attack of the killer vegetables," Commentary, March 9). I spoke with him while he was working on the story and told him that the paraphrase he was planning to use was inaccurate. I then gave him an accurate quote to use. Apparently, my actual words were not sensational enough for Mr. Fumento, and he chose to attribute something to me that I specifically told him was inaccurate before he wrote the story. For the record, I told Mr. Fumento then and say now that one bite of an apple treated with methyl parathion (a common fruit pesticide) could give a child a dose of the pesticide that is over the government-identified safety limit. This toxic chemical has been shown to affect brain and nervous-system development.
Mr. Fumento has never met a pesticide that he didnt like. He has proved time and again that he is ignorant of the emerging science regarding pesticides and childrens health. This might have something to do with the fact that his employer, the Hudson Institute, is funded by some of the worlds largest pesticide makers, including the Dow Chemical Co., Monsanto Co. and others. In his attempt to convince readers that pesticides do not pose a danger to children, Mr. Fumento has created a work of fiction that he parades as rational scientific discourse. In doing so, he has stepped over the bounds of both scientific and journalistic ethics.
Environmental Working Group
Journalist Defends Himself and His Work
The Washington Times, March 17, 1999
Letters to the Editor
Todd Hettenbach, in his March 13 letter "Attack of the uninformed journalist," made the most serious accusation one can make against a journalist: that I "deliberately misquoted" him.
The reference was to my March 9 commentary, "Attack of the killer vegetables," in which I stated that United Press International (UPI) had paraphrased "Todd Hettenbach of the Environmental Working Group," saying that "just a bite or two of an apple, peach or pear" could "cause dizziness, nausea and blurred vision" in a child if the fruit had been treated with the commonly used pesticide methyl parathion. He says I called him to confirm the statement and he then told me it wasnt true but I used it anyway.
For Mr. Hettenbach to be right, two journalists independently have to have been wrong. Why would I call him to confirm that he had made the statement and then use it anyway after finding it was false? If I werent being careful and checking my facts, I never would have called him and simply would have used the statement.
Finally, the UPI story appears twice on the Nexis database, yet there is no appendage indicating that the Environmental Working Group (EWG) later objected to the paraphrased statement. Apparently, Mr. Hettenbach has no trouble with UPI using the statement, just with Michael Fumento using it.
As for his invoking my employer to explain my objection to this latest EWG-anti-pesticide scare, it is true that the Hudson Institute receives contributions from companies that produce pesticides. However, I have been publishing pieces critical of pesticide fear mongers for a decade; I joined Hudson only three months ago.
If Mr. Hettenbach wants to play that game, it should be noted that while Hudson gets part of its money from pesticide producers, the EWG gets all of its money from causing environmental scares, most of which concern pesticides.