- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 9, 2000

ABC's ace reporter John Stossel was busted by a fact-checking environmental group for a grossly inaccurate piece apparently deliberately so on a recent "20/20" show. Mr. Stossel is well-known for his searing pieces exposing the myths of political correctness, for which he has reaped much justified admiration. This time, however, it appears that Mr. Stossel and his crew crossed the line of journalistic standards in order to prove their premise. The piece dealt with the issue of so-called "organic" foods and whether they do, in fact, contain less pesticide residue than conventionally grown/raised foods, as has been claimed by environmental groups.

According to the Washington-based Environmental Working Group, Mr. Stossel and the staff of ABC News involved with "20/20" made unsubstantiated claims that organic foods contained no more or less pesticide than conventional foods. Mr. Stossel said that tests performed on produce for ABC News "surprisingly found no pesticide residue on the conventional samples or the organic." But it turns out that ABC News by its own admission after the fact never had the tests performed. Instead, the news provider relied on "information" provided by a staff member. "We are reviewing the circumstances surrounding the error," an ABC News spokesperson sheepishly told The Washington Post.

The Environmental Working Group also claims that tests done on poultry, which turned up pesticide residues on conventionally-raised chicken but not on organically raised birds, were not mentioned on the "20/20" segment. But Mr. Stossell said, "It's logical to worry about pesticide residues, but in our tests, we found none on either organic or regular produce."

Slipshod journalism is becoming endemic and the public is growing contemptuous of both journalists and distrustful of what they have to say. If the providers of information cannot be trusted to convey the facts, accurately, honestly and without bias, to the extent possible, they'll be talking into the wind, so to speak. ABC News probably won't fire Mr. Stossel, as the Environmental Working Group is demanding. But a public apology and a promise to get the story right next time would certainly be appropriate.

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