Wednesday, August 16, 2000

Clarifications to the Cover-up Quilt caption

We deeply appreciate the beautiful photo of the Aug. 5 Cover-up Quilt display on the Mall (Aug. 6 page C13).

The caption refers to the 1995 murder of Joey Podlucky of York, Pa., as an unsolved case. However, a man has been convicted of the Podlucky murder and is serving time. Mr. Podlucky was shot in the face with a sawed-off shotgun as he sat in his car. The killer took Mr. Podlucky’s last $3. The case is represented on the Cover-up Quilt because originally it was ruled a suicide. Investigative efforts of the Podlucky family and a reporter led the York city police department to take another look. The coroner eventually had to change the suicide ruling to homicide.

The death of John Dickey, also mentioned in the caption, occurred in 1998 (not 1988) in Medway, Maine. The case has been ruled a suicide despite evidence of murder. Most of the cases in the Cover-up Quilt, in fact, were ruled suicides, and evidence of foul play was ignored during the original investigation. Several of the rulings have been reversed.

The Cover-up Quilt is sponsored by Parents Against Corruption and Cover-up, which we founded after the 1991 murder in Virginia of our son, Tommy Burkett, was ruled a suicide. We lobby Congress for legislation to ensure honest, competent investigations of violent deaths and accountability in examinations by medical examiners and law enforcement. We also ask local jurisdictions to take a closer look at questionable cases.

The Cover-up Quilt can be viewed at




The writers are co-founders of Parents Against Corruption and Cover-up.

Awards for a ‘shameful chapter of American history’

Upon hearing that Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) Commissioner Doris M. Meissner was holding an awards ceremony for the INS agents involved in the April 22 raid on the home of Elian Gonzalez’s Miami relatives, I remembered the prophetic words of George Orwell. “Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.” The Clinton administration is attempting to rewrite a shameful chapter of American history with this awards ceremony (“Snatching Elian has its reward,” Aug. 10).

Laurence H. Tribe, professor of constitutional law at Harvard University, described the raid as having “violated a basic principle of our society, a principle whose preservation lies at the core of ordered liberty under the rule of law.”

According to Mr. Tribe, under the Constitution, the executive branch has no unilateral authority to forcibly enter people’s homes to remove innocent persons. Mr. Tribe has said that the agents who stormed the home of Elian’s great-uncle, Lazaro Gonzalez, did not have a warrant to seize the child, but only to search the home.

A second constitutional lawyer and expert on civil liberties, Alan Dershowitz, denounced the raid as an illegal operation, stating that the raid created the “terrible precedent that the administration can act without court approval and break into the home of an American citizen. It’s a dangerous day for all Americans.”

Shame on the Clinton administration for ordering civil servants to carry out illegal actions that do violence to our Constitution and our way of life. Shame on those men and women who followed illegal orders rather than the law they are sworn to uphold. It was not only the home of the Gonzalez family that was attacked on April 22, but also our Constitution. Let us use these awards of shame to remember, speak the truth and defend our fundamental freedoms.



Editorial too tough on ABC reporter

Regarding your Aug. 9 editorial “ABC at it again,” it must be pointed out that John Stossel is the rare network reporter who spends his time and talent investigating issues that most liberal-minded journalists never touch. This has made Mr. Stossel unpopular with some groups, such as professional environmentalists, which partially explains the hyperactive response to an error in his Feb. 4 “20/20” story on organic foods.

Specifically, the Environmental Working Group and the Organic Trade Association want Mr. Stossel fired because he erroneously stated that laboratory tests comparing conventional and organic produce found “no pesticide residue” on either type of produce, when ABC, in fact, did not conduct such tests. Rather, tests for pathogenic bacteria were conducted, and higher bacteria concentrations were found in the organic food than in conventional produce.

“[I]t appears that Mr. Stossel and his crew crossed the line of journalistic standards to prove their premise,” The Washington Times wrote. My review of the broadcast, however, showed that the comments about pesticides were a minor component of that story. They were just two sentences in a report that lasted nearly 10 minutes. Indeed, Mr. Stossel’s main point that consumers are buying expensive organic food because they mistakenly believe it is more nutritious has not been contradicted by any of his critics.

Consumers have been misled. In his report, Mr. Stossel quoted several food shoppers who testified to their belief that organic produce is superior to conventional produce, and he presented an ABC poll that showed 45 percent of all consumers say they believe organic foods are “more nutritious.” But they aren’t more nutritious, and Mr. Stossel’s critics seem to concede this point. He twice asked Katherine DiMatteo, executive director of the Organic Trade Association, if she would state on camera that organic produce was more nutritious, and twice she declined, stating only that “it’s as nutritious as any other product.”

Regarding pesticides, the Environmental Protection Agency’s rules are so strict there has been no documented instance in which a consumer has become ill because of the proper use of pesticides, according to Steven Milloy of the Cato Institute. Mr. Milloy has written that even though ABC failed to conduct its own tests, the “message is correct organic foods are not safer than non-organic foods based on pesticide residues.” Still, on Friday night’s show, Mr. Stossel acknowledged the mistake and apologized to his audience.

In your editorial, The Times approvingly cited the Environmental Working Group’s complaints and called Mr. Stossel’s story “a grossly inaccurate piece apparently deliberately so,” even though there is no indication that the error was deliberate. That is grossly unfair to a reporter who often has been right on the money, and it only helps those who wish to silence this valuable journalist.



Free Market Project

Media Research Center



The Washington Times was grossly unfair in calling John Stossel’s “20/20” report on organic foods “grossly inaccurate.” In fact, he got two sentences wrong in a 10-minute report. His point was true: Both organic produce and conventionally grown produce have trace amounts of pesticide residue, and the difference between them isn’t significant. Several studies have shown that. However, Mr. Stossel was wrong when he said that ABC’s own tests had shown it.

On-air reporters rely heavily on their producers, and Mr. Stossel got wrong information this time. He has been reprimanded, his producer has been suspended, and he apologized on the air Friday night. This is a far more embarrassing penalty than almost anyone else in America has to pay for a mistake.

That is not enough for his environmentalist critics. They have seized on this one error the equivalent of an erroneous footnote to demand that ABC fire Mr. Stossel. Why? Is it because he’s the sloppiest reporter on television? Of course not. It is because he’s the one national television reporter who is as tough on environmentalists and trial lawyers as he is on conservatives. People who are used to using the media as a megaphone don’t like it when they get asked tough questions. But they shouldn’t respond by trying to shut up their critics.

Journalists should all be careful to be accurate, but we should not try to wreck a distinguished journalist’s career over one mistake.


Executive vice president

Cato Institute


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