Aug 1 2000

Stossel Fabricated Data on Organics, Researchers Say

A new round of scrutiny directed at a report by ABC’s John Stossel once again raises questions about whether Stossel distorts factual evidence in his reporting.

The new revelations, brought to light by the Environmental Working Group and published in the New York Times on July 31, concern “The Food You Eat,” areport that aired on 20/20 on February 4 and was re-broadcast on July 7. Thereport has previously drawn criticism from both FAIR and the Organic Trade Association, a group that contends they were misled by 20/20’s producers and misrepresented on the show.

In “The Food You Eat,” Stossel argued that organic produce may in fact be more dangerous than conventional produce, with ABC’s tests showing increased levels of E.coli bacteria in organic sprouts and lettuce. He also maintained that the tests found no pesticide residue in either the conventional or organic produce, thereby removing a key reason for buying organic food.

But according to the Times article, the scientists that ABC hired– Doctors Michael Doyle and Lester Crawford– now say that they never tested any ofthe produce for pesticides, only for bacteria. During the most recent broadcast of the segment, Stossel commented that “it’s logical to worry about pesticide residues, but in our tests, we found none on either organic or regular produce.” The testimony of both researchers indicates that Stossel was referring to tests that do not exist.

In addition, Dr. Crawford told the Times that he did perform similar testson chicken, and found pesticide residue on the conventional poultry but noton the organic poultry. That data is nowhere in Stossel’s report, which suggests that he took a selective approach to scientific evidence. This wouldn’t be the first time: In 1994, two producers hired by ABC to work on Stossel’s “Are We Scaring Ourselves to Death?” resigned when their research was dismissed because it did not conform with the ideological message of theprogram (Extra! Update, 6/94).

This new information, also detailed in a letter from the Environmental Working Group to ABC, adds to the criticisms voiced by FAIR after the original report aired in February. A letter from FAIR to ABC (2/22/00) questioned the accuracy of a number of the claims made in the report, including the segment’s failure to accurately explain the distinction between pathogenic and non-pathogenic bacteria.

In a 3/7/00 response, producer David Fitzpatrick dismissed FAIR’s numerous concerns and insisted that the report was “extremely careful to have expert testimony point out that it is pathogenic, not ordinary, E.coli that are dangerous.” Apparently, Fitzpatrick did not watch his own report: Nowhere in the actual transcripts of either ABC broadcast is there any such testimony.

ABC’s initial response to the detailed documentation of Stossel’s errors from three separate organizations– the Organic Trade Assocation, FAIR andthe Environmental Working Group– was to air the segment again, uncorrected. In response to new scrutiny from the Times, ABC News now claims that “if a mistake was made, we will correct it.”

ACTION: Please write to ABC and urge them to retract the inaccurate report on organic food, and to investigate why the network chose to rerun the segment even after the errors were repeatedly pointed out to John Stossel and his producers.

To read FAIR’s documentation of Stossel’s troubling journalistic record, visit