FOR EVERYONE WHO TALKS ABOUT MEDIA COP-OUTS AND COWARDICE — and God knows I have done my share of that over the years, today we should all be honoring two hard-nosed journalists — two modern heroes who lost their jobs while fighting to reveal the truth about “the mystery in the milk,” namely rBGH and rBST. For today, in the State of Ohio, AgriBusiness was delivered a crushing blow when a Federal Appeals Court ruled that BigFood could no longer censor dairy farms and grocery stores who want to label their milk and dairy products as “rBGH or rBST free.”
JANE AKRE AND STEVE WILSON HAVE BEEN HERALDED on these pages many times, long before they appeared in The Corporation or had been written about elsewhere. I met Jane during the early years of the Bush Administration, not long after she and Steve had been summarily fired by Rupert Murdoch's Faux News for refusing to change the facts of their five-part investigation about Monsanto's Posilac, the growth hormone that swept through the dairy chain beginning in the mid-90s.
The infirmity of today’s corporate journalism is reflected by the fact that good reporters — the ones who uncover abuses by government and corporate interests — are few and far between, particularly in television news. Nowhere has this been more frighteningly apparent than the saga of reporters Akre and Wilson, two pros who revealed that rBGH, the synthetic growth hormone found in milk and other dairy products, was potentially harmful to humans.
After repeatedly refusing an order by Fox corporate attorneys to present a story more favorable to corporate advertisers (and rBGH-patent holder) Monsanto, Akre and Wilson were fired by the network. And though the story should have been a fight about journalistic ethics, the integrity of science and “covering the backsides of one of their own,” no one at NBC, CBS, ABC or even PBS would report the story.
Akre and Wilson, like a lot of high-profile whistleblowers, paid a terrible price.
After they won an early lawsuit against their former employers, a phalanx of Fox corporate attorneys appealed the ruling, sparing no expense in the process. Ultimately, a second judge reversed the award given to these two courageous reporters, and ordered Akre and Wilson to fork over $400,000 to Fox.
If the truth is to be told, the lack of integrity among many corporate journalists is indeed the real reason why the rBGH additive exists in the milk supply today. It is also the reason why some estimate that two-thirds of foods on supermarket shelves are laced with genetically enhanced ingredients — without the knowledge of consumers. The media’s lack of attentiveness to public service is also the reason why trans-fats, damned years ago by doctors everywhere, remain in scores of products consumed by millions of children and adults.
The “inside-the-beltway” reporters, perhaps fearing that they would lose precious contacts within the government, have refused to question former FDA second-in-command (and current FDA consultant) Michael R. Taylor about his time at the Department of Agriculture when he helped rBGH slip through the approval process after a mere 90 days of testing on rats, thereby opening the floodgates to a new era of rBGH-laced food. It's even more curious and scandalous because, as I revealed a decade ago, Taylor not only worked for the Dept. of Agriculture and the FDA...but on Monsanto's legal team as well.
After billions of dollars of profits by Big Food and Big Pharma have already been registered, a Federal Appeals Court has finally overturned an Ohio state ban on label statements such as “rbGH Free,” “rbST Free” and “artificial hormone free” on milk from cows that have not been treated with genetically modified bovine growth hormone (a.k.a. bovine somatotropin, or rbST). This “freedom of choice” that was granted by the Federal Court came after years of petitioning by health food stores, organic food suppliers and many others.
But for Akre and Wilson, both who are unemployed, the news came far too late. For these heroes—ten years before their time—the pats on the back will not help them feed their families or pay for much-needed health care. Wilson recently had heart surgery; Akre has yet to find another job in television aside from some freelance work she masterfully performed for me a few years back.
As consumers, will we continue to succumb to this bullying? Will we expose the corporate interests that dominate our news? Will we demand balanced reporting from the networks — and boycott their programming if they do not deliver on that basic tenet?
Just as we boast about our nation delivering the finest health care in the world, we often brag about “the free press” here in the United States. But in the words of Julian Whitaker, M.D., “How can we say we live in a free country when we can’t even tell the truth about nutritional supplements?” — and in the tragic case of Akre and Wilson, who are still facing bankruptcy — “How can we say we live in a free country when we can’t even tell the truth about rBGH?"
It is only through the active support of independent journalists and yes, independent filmmakers who dare to produce work with integrity—despite all of the odds— that we will ever attain “fully informed choice.” We must speak for it, vote for it, spend our heard-earned dollars to support it—or it will wither away.
If we fail to support the truth tellers, the forces of secrecy and money will win — and we will all lose.
Just ask Jane Akre and Steve Wilson.
Heroes. A dying breed.