CALAMITY HOWLER/A.V. Krebs
Fox TV to Stand Trial
Television investigative journalists Jane Akre and Steve Wilson scored a
major court victory in April when Florida Circuit Court Judge Robert Bonanno
ruled "genuine issues of material fact remain on all the grounds raised
by Defendant in their Motion. As such, this Court is prohibited from entered
a summary judgment."
His ruling thus rejected the argument of Akre's and Wilson's former employers,
Fox Television and Tampa, Florida, Channel 13 that the whistleblower claim
filed by the two journalists should be thrown out because it did not meet
certain standards set by Florida law. Fox attorney Patricia Anderson had
sought dismissal because of alleged technical deficiencies in the suit and
because she claimed there were no real issues of fact for a jury to decide.
The judge's ruling also ended predictions of Fox Television and its lawyers
that the whistleblower case of two former WTVT reporters would never make
it to trial. The suit, filed on April 2, 1998, by Akre and Wilson, alleges
they were fired for refusing orders from WTVT news managers and Fox lawyers
who directed them to lie and distort the facts about their discovery that
the bovine growth hormone (rBGH) manufactured by the Monsanto Corp. was
in Florida's milk supply.
In the year since the case was filed, Wilson personally has taken the depositions
of several WTVT and Fox employees. Fox and its lawyers have bitterly argued
that his efforts were motivated by a desire to intimidate the witnesses
and disrupt the station's operations. Judge Bonanno and a special legal
master assigned to hear pretrial discovery, however, disputed Fox's attorneys
stating they found that Wilson had never acted inappropriately in deposing
top company officials including Fox News chief Roger Ailes and a host of
"So far, we've heard sworn testimony that our editors and Fox lawyers
never found a single misreported fact in any of the 83 scripts we proposed
to broadcast," Wilson said.
"The news director who hired us has testified once Fox took over, there
was little support for the kind of aggressive reporting that sometimes steps
on toes of big, powerful corporations like Monsanto," he continued.
The news director, Daniel Webster, was subsequently himself fired by Fox.
He is now a news director for CBS in charge of their San Francisco station's
(KPIX) news department.
"And after launching a personal smear campaign and telling reporters
we walked away from the story because we couldn't get our way, WTVT's news
v-p Phil Metlin has admitted under oath we provided final scripts in accordance
with his direction but he never even looked at them!" Wilson added.
Meanwhile, Fox and the station have taken only a handful of depositions
and never followed through on its stated intention to depose more than 20
individuals outside Florida. With the trial set to start on May 10, they
have deposed only the plaintiffs, a postal worker, and three Florida dairymen.
Wilson and Akre were hired to produce investigative reports, a mandate which
changed once Fox formally closed on its purchase of the station in January
1998. Their first report, detailing how Florida supermarkets quietly reneged
on promises not to sell milk from treated cows until rBGH had gained widespread
acceptance by consumers, was set to be aired February 24, 1997, but was
yanked after Monsanto hired an influential New York lawyer to pressure Fox.
Akre and Wilson have pointed out that they were ultimately fired for refusing
to report information they knew to be false and misleading and to slant
the story in Monsanto's favor to avoid potential litigation and the loss
of advertising revenue Fox and its associated companies receive.
When the Society of Professional Journalists recognized the reporters with
an Award for Ethics, Fox responded by demanding that the award be rescinded
on the grounds there was no basis for their claims. SPJ declined to do so,
despite a letter-writing campaign which involved at least two WTVT employees
and its vice president of News.
Akre and Wilson's story has received virtually no coverage from the U.S.
Tribal Sovereignty and Corporate Hogs
Circumventing a recent South Dakota law approved by the state's voters last
year that prohibits corporate farming and despite strong opposition by the
federal government, environmentalists, animal rights activists and a coalition
of tribal members and other local residents, work has resumed on a $105
million hog facility, which is designed to house 859,000 hogs near the Rosebud
Sioux Reservation 150 miles southeast of Rapid City.
In what is slated to become the third-largest hog farm in the world, Sun
Prairie, a Nebraska-based pork company, and its parent company, Bell Farms
of Wahpeton, North Dakota, are constructing the facility on tribal trust
land near a remote Indian reservation in South Dakota. The first phase of
the new corporate hog factory is designed to consist of three finishing
sites used to fatten pigs for market. Each site will have 24 buildings housing
48,000 pigs. There will be 13 sites in all, including facilities where sows
will be bred and give birth.
Environmentalists and other tribe members contend that the 1,200-acre hog
farm will produce as much ordure as a city of three million people, resulting
in not only the possible contamination of underground aquifers but serious
air pollution from ammonia and methane gas rising from the evaporation ponds
into which pig excrement is pumped.
Critics of the facility also point out that the effects on wildlife in the
area, including the largest concentration of prairie dogs in the U.S., have
not been adequately studied. Some tribal members contend that a historic
Indian trail, ancient Sioux grave sites and other cultural artifacts would
be disturbed by the hog operation.
"Our land will be destroyed. Our air will be polluted. Our way of life
will be ruined," Oleata Mednansky, a member of the Rosebud Sioux tribe
and co-chairman of the opposition group, Concerned Rosebud Area Citizens,
told the Washington Post's William Claiborne. "Economic development
is something we need, but not the kind that will destroy our land, air,
water, wildlife and historical artifacts."
Sun Prairie, and Rosebud tribal council members claim that the facility
will create 200 jobs for the reservation, which has an 85% unemployment
rate and is one of the poorest in the nation.
Work was recently resume on the first phase of the hog operation after a
federal judge accused the federal government's top Indian official of abusing
his discretionary powers and acting in an "arbitrary and capricious"
manner when he ordered work stopped on environmental grounds.
Kevin Gover, assistant interior secretary for Indian affairs, may have engaged
in "affirmative misconduct" when he unilaterally voided a lease
between Rosebud tribal leaders and Sun Prairie, said U.S. District Judge
Charles Kornmann of Pierre, S.D. By situating the farm on tribal land beyond
state jurisdiction, Sun Prairie and Bell Farms was able to circumvent South
Dakota's newly passed anti-corporate farming law.
In its opinion, the court said that if the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA)
was allowed to unilaterally block such business arrangements, lenders would
be loath to invest in economic development projects in Indian country because
of a lack of certainty in the deals. As a result, tribes would suffer, he
"What the BIA is attempting to do here causes the court to recall promises
[of tribal sovereignty] made years ago by the same federal agency to Native
Americans," Kornmann said.
On March 2, the judge granted a preliminary injunction barring the Interior
Department and other hog farm opponents from interfering with the project
while attacking Gover's decision. Judge Kornmann said the BIA head's motivations
for canceling the lease "remain uncertain at this time."
Opponents of the hog factory are appealing Judge Kornmann's decision although
the structural work on the feeding barns is proceeding at a rapid pace and
Sun Prairie has announced that it hopes to soon begin trucking in hogs.
Mednansky told the Post that the hog factory is being built on an
ancient Sioux trail on which Chief Sitting Bull is said to have regularly
traveled. "My grandmother was born on that trail, and we have always
considered it to be sacred," she said. "This project was approved
so hurriedly that our people never got a chance to express their views."
Farm Bureau Calls for Investigation of Itself!
Apparently the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) has been caught with
its proverbial pants down (a seeming occupational hazard these days of the
nation's corporate elite) in the "Show Me" state.
The Ozark Chapter of the Sierra Club reports that the Southern Farm Bureau
Annuity Insurance Company, an affiliate of the AFBF, purchased over 18,700
shares of Premium Standard Farms stock in May, 1998, after Continental Grain
had purchased a majority ownership of the Missouri and Texas hog operation.
And, that news came just the day after the Missouri Farm Bureau called for
state and federal investigations into "the growth of corporate agriculture
and the consolidation of agriculture and their impact upon family-sized
"It appears that the Farm Bureau has just demanded an investigation
of itself," remarked Ken Midkiff, Ozark's Program Director. "It
seems particularly inappropriate for the Farm Bureau, the self-appointed
spokesperson for agriculture, to invest in a company that fouls the air
and water and that drives family farmers off the land."
The Missouri Farm Bureau, in noting that in the last five years "the
number of full-time farms in Missouri decreased by nine percent," also
has called for "a federal disaster package for pork producers that
includes direct economic assistance payments and USDA guaranteed and emergency
"I doubt the sincereity of AFBF's call for an investigation of consolidation,"
Currently, Premium Standard owns 105,000 breeding sows in Texas and Missouri,
where it also operates a meatpacking plant with a capacity to kill 7,000
hogs a day. Those operations will be combined into a new company that will
make Continental Grain, long rumored to be interested in getting into the
nation's hog producing and processing market, one of the five biggest U.S.
Already the nation's single top cattle feeder, Continental, the nation's
fifth largest private corporation, currently owns and operates six large
feedlots-- three in Texas and one each in Colorado, Kansas and Oklahoma
with a maximum total feeding capacity of 405,000 head and annual marketings
to cattle packing plants totaling about 1.1 million head.
At the present time Continental also processes and trades crops, raises
chickens and is engaged in consumer lending. It has been building a swine-production
business for five years in Missouri, where it owns 20,000 sows. After fattening
the offspring it delivers the mature swine to meatpackers such as IBP.
"The American Farm Bureau Federation's ownership of PSF stock is no
surprise to family farmers," notes Bill Christison, President of the
National Family Farm Coalition. "AFBF has always represented corporate
agriculture and vertical integrators, and supported agriculture policies
which have done great damage to the family farmers of this nation."
Premium Standard, based in Kansas City, Missouri, has been the object of
many protests in Missouri as it has sought to establish corporate hog factories
in the rural counties of that state, usually adjacent to the plentiful corn
producing areas of neighboring Iowa. In Missouri and elsewhere such protests
have been centered around the issue of protecting family farmers from corporate
Currently heavily leveraged, Premium Standard was hit two years ago by a
sudden drop in hog prices, which cut its cash flow, coupled with a big jump
in grain prices swelling its costs of fattening its pigs. Consequently its
major financial backers, Morgan Stanley Group Inc. and its merchant-banking
fund partners saw Premium Standard seeking protection under Chapter 11 of
the federal Bankruptcy Code in July 1996. Three months later, however, Premium
Standard paid its creditors in full and emerged from bankruptcy protection,
a spokesman said.
A.V. Krebs is director of the Corporate Agribusiness Research Project,
Everett, Washington, (http://www.ea1.com/tiller) email firstname.lastname@example.org
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