Florida Reporters Win Trial Over Fox TV and Monsanto Suppressionof rBGH Story

Florida Reporters Awarded $500,000 in Damages after FOX TV Caved into
Monsanto and Killed an Investigative Series on the controversial
recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH)

AGRIBUSINESS EXAMINER
EXTRA August 21, 2000
A.V. Krebs, Editor\Publisher
Monitoring the activities of corporate agribusiness from a public interest
perspective

Florida Jury Concludes:
FOX PRESSURED AKRE\WILSON TO BROADCAST
"FALSE, DISTORTED OR SLANTED NEWS REPORT"
TERMINATED AKRE AWARDED $450,000 DAMAGES

By Steve Wilson

TAMPA (August 18)óAfter listening to all the evidence for five full weeks
and deliberating more than six hours, a state court jury has agreed with
what fired journalists Steve Wilson and Jane Akre said long ago: FOX
Television pressured them to broadcast a false, distorted or slanted news
report.

The jury awarded $425,000 in damages after finding the evidence proved that
FOX took retaliatory personnel action against Akre because she threatened
to blow the whistle to the Federal Communications Commission.

The jury did not find for Wilson apparently because they concluded that
FOX's decision not to renew his contract was not based solely on a threat
to low the whistle to the FCC.

According to a published report in the St. Petersburg Times, FOX V-P News
Phil Metlin claimed, "The jury realized that FOX never told anyone to lie,
distort or slant the news.

"This is a wonderful day," Metlin told the Times and WTVT in an interview
that was also aired on the station's 10 p.m. news broadcast. He and other
FOX executives refused comment to The BGH Bulletin as they left the
courthouse after the verdict.

Chief defense attorney William McDaniels of the Washington firm Williams &
Connolly that represents President Clinton, said the defeated defendants
would have a statement later in the evening and promised to provide it but
never did.

FOX has indicated it intends to appeal the damage award the jury gave to
Akre.

"We're these guys at the same trial I was at?" Akre asked after watching
WTVT's reporting of the verdict on the station's newscast Friday night.

"They think this jury decided FOX never told anyone to lie, distort or
slant the news?" co-plaintiff Wilson asked. "Poor Mr. Metlin must have
gone somewhere to drown his sorrows before drawing a conclusion like that!
"And as for FOX lawyer Ted Russell making a similar statement on the air,"
Wilson continued, "he's just doing what the jury saw FOX lawyers often do.
They frequently have, shall we say, a unique interpretation of the truth."

The Final Day

The last day of the grueling, five-week-long trial began with the litigants
agreeing on final jury instructions and the verdict form which would be
given to the panel.

FOX had proposed lengthy instructions and a multi-page jury verdict form
for each defendant. The final instructions both sides agreed to were
written on 32 pages but the verdict form itself was pared down to a single
page for each plaintiff.

Shortly after 10 a.m. trial Judge Ralph Steinberg began the half-hour task
of reading the instructions to the jury before sending them into the jury
room to begin deliberations.

Bruce Gold, the seventh and alternate juror, was then released by the judge
who thanked him for his five weeks of service. As he left the courthouse,
he stopped in a courthouse lounge where for more than 20 minutes he
answered questions from the plaintiffs and lawyers and employees of FOX.

As the deliberations were getting underway one floor above, Gold told the
group he was 80% certain he would have voted against the fired reporters,
saying they failed to make their case to his satisfaction.

saying they failed to make their case to his satisfaction.


Speaking directly to Wilson, Gold told him he
thought the fired reporter hurt himself by acting as his own lawyer in the
case.

The jury never heard the judge commend Wilson several times for his
presentation, including his closing argument to the jury which Judge
Steinberg called "very persuasive."

During the jury selection process, Gold said he had represented himself in
a civil suit in Chicago years ago and had come to the conclusion that
anyone who represented himself had a fool for a client. For strategic
reasons and because he was chosen as the second alternate, Wilson and
Akre's lawyers nonetheless decided not to challenge his presence on the jury.

(He became the only alternate when an original member of the jury dropped
out for health reasons and the first alternate joined the panel.)

Gold said he thought the reporters could have been more cooperative with
their bosses and he was not fully convinced the station wanted the
journalists to lie or distort the news. He said he would have made a final
decision on that after looking more closely at the evidence, including the
final two scripts the reporters turned in.

The computer programmer said he believes "the boss is the boss" and cited
an example of some computer work he did the other day for a client. He
said he told the client there was better way to write the program but the
client said they wanted it done the way they ordered it. "He is the boss,"
Gold said, "and so I do t the way he wants."

He also said he suspected he was the plaintiffs' strongest supporter and
would be surprised if the jury returned a verdict for either one of the
fired journalists. FOX lawyers and WTVT News V-P Phil Metlin beamed as
Wilson shook hands and thanked the juror for his service.

Never Count Your Chickens . . . . .

As the jury deliberated, FOX lawyers sat nervously if not smugly in
Courtroom 1 doing what they never expected to do --- wait for a jury to
decide whether their clients, the station management at Tampa's Fox 13,
violated the law and the public trust.

After staying away for most of the trial, apparently fearing he would be
served with a subpoena to testify for the Plaintiffs, FOX Los Angeles
counsel Gary Roberts joined in the vigil.

"I have a feeling it's going to be a long wait for a case that was never
going to get to trial," Wilson told Roberts as they both waited in the
courtroom.

The reference was to a remark Roberts once uttered to Wilson and Akre not
long after the whistleblower case was filed. At the deposition of Monsanto
lawyer John Walsh in New York, Roberts sneered, "This case is never going
to get to trial," indicating that FOX money and legal muscle would prove
far too much of a mismatch for a couple of fired and unemployed reporters.

Roberts claimed he has since been misquoted several times and chastised
Wilson, "That story changes each time you tell it."

Not long after the jurors entered the jury room and closed the door behind
them at 10:42 a.m., they asked the bailiff to wheel in a large chalkboard
and provide them with a second set of the jury instructions.

Shortly before 4 p.m., after they had spent more than five hours in the
room together, Judge Ralph Steinberg called the parties together and
indicated he would like to inquire as to what progress was being made. The
jury was brought into the courtroom and one of the jurors told the judge
"We're close."

With that simple remark, the judge sent them back into the room to resume
their deliberations.

Within about an hour, there was a knock at the door and the jury indicated
they had reached a verdict.

Just before 5 p.m. the jury re-entered the courtroom and the judge asked :
"Do you have a verdict?" Pharmacist John Tagler, the foreman elected by
the others, replied, "Yes, Your Honor, we do."

Two sheets of paper, the verdict form for each plaintiff, was then handed
to the judge who reviewed the documents and certified that they had been
properly filled out. He then handed them to the court clerk to read out
loud. Plaintiffs Steve Wilson and Jane Akre, who are married to each
other, held hands as the clerk started to read:

What The Jury Decided

"Do you find that the plaintiff Jane Akre has proven by the greater weight
of the evidence that the defendant New World Communications of Tampa
through its employees or agents terminated her employment or took other
retaliatory personnel action against her because she opposed or refused to
participate in the broadcast of a false, distorted or slanted news report
which she reasonable believed would violate the prohibition against
intentional falsification or distortion of the news on television if it
were aired?"

The jury verdict as to question one: No. The courtroom remained tense as
the clerk went on to read question number 2:

"Do you find that the plaintiff Jane Akre has proven, by the greater weight
of the evidence, that the defendant, through its employees or agents,
terminated her employment or took other retaliatory personnel action
against her because she threatened to disclose to the Federal
Communications Commission under oath, in writing, the broadcast of a false,
distorted, or slanted news report which she reasonably believed would
violate the prohibition against intentional falsification or distortion of
the news on television, if it were aired?"

The jury verdict as to question 2: Yes.

With one of the first two questions answered in the affirmative, the clerk
went on to read the third question before the jury:

What is the amount of lost wages, if any, lost earning capacity, if any,
and damages, if any, sustained by the plaintiff Jane Akre?
For lost wages: $88,725
For lost earning capacity: $120,750
For other damages: $215,525

The clerk then proceeded to read the same questions as to the jury's
findings with regard to plaintiff Wilson's claim, reporting that the jury
voted "No" to both questions and therefore awarded him nothing.

"I learned it is extremely difficult if not impossible to be both a strong
and aggressive advocate for yourself in the courtroom and a victim at the
same time, "Wilson told reporters after the jury was dismissed.

The more aggressively Wilson interrogated hostile FOX witnesses to bring
out the truth in front of the jury, the more he seemed to confirm the FOX
claim that he was a difficult employee, the reason station officials
claimed they chose not to renew his contract for a second year.

Although the reporter's questions drew admissions and responses that
shocked and surprised even the FOX defense attorneys at times, they
sometimes led to bitter confrontations in the courtroom. At one point, FOX
attorney Greg Jones screamed at Wilson, "You're the biggest liar I've ever
known!" He was admonished by the judge and repeatedly had to be told to
answer Wilson's questions responsively.

"The jury was told they must determine whether I was fired because I
objected or refused to participate in the production of a slanted story. ,"
Wilson explained. In fact, the exact instruction to the jury was 'if you
determine that this was the reason for the termination, then your verdict
shall be for the plaintiff'.

"The problem was the jury had no option to find that the slanted news
report was a compelling reason, or a substantial reason, or even just one
of the reasons," Wilson said. "With those instructions, it had to be the
reason. And once I admitted to being difficult in the face of my bosses
telling me to lie on the air, I think the jurors decided my intransigence
certainly could have also been another reason they wanted to get rid of me.

"Jane and I were a team. We were working on the same story. This jury has
now decided that what Jane threatened to disclose to the FCC was a false,
distorted and slanted news report," Wilson added.

"That is a stain that no amount of spin from $650-an-hour Washington
lawyers who specialize in telling you what the definition of 'is' is can
never take away. No appeal can ever remove it, either. And neither can
any amount of lying about, as WTVT has resorted to doing on its own
newscasts," he said.

"Jane and I have a lot of respect for many of the fine people who work
there. They need to take a look at Friday night's 6 p.m. news transcript
and then look how the spin changed in the 10 p.m. news transcript . . .
and compare that to what the jury said on the verdict form itself . . .
the transcript of what what their own station reported at 6 p.m. .

Outside the courthouse after the verdict, Akre lawyers John Chamblee and
Tom Johnson told reporters the verdict was a landmark victory for all
journalists in Florida. It is the first time the state whistleblower law
has been successfully used to protect a journalist who is fired for
refusing to slant the news.

"This is for you," Chamblee told reporters, including a woman hired to
report the story for WTVT. "This is for everyone in this state who calls
himself or herself a journalist and for any of them who may ever end up in
a terrible situation like this."


In Her Own Words:
JANE AKRE REACTS TO VERDICT

I'm so happy nor just for Steve and I but for all the countless people we
know that supported us throughout this whole ordeal.

We are thrilled for our hardworking lawyers who have never stopped giving
everything they have, and for the folks who have prayed for us and sent us
their support. I know there are many of you. I don't think I ever really
understood the power of prayer until this case.

On the first day of trial as we drove to the courthouse, Steve and I saw
something we had never seen before or since, a flock of swizzle-stick pink
flamingos gathered around the edge of a pond on a golf course. It looked
surreal. And that same week we saw a deer in our backyard, another rare
occurrence in the over-populated suburbia we now call home. And then as we
headed to court the second week, a full rainbow arched over our car as we
drove.

I could have used one of those rainbows last Friday as we waited the
longest six hours of our lives.

Steve and I always knew in our hearts and minds that after the FOX-owned
station in Tampa was threatened by Monsanto, the direction of my story
about bovine growth hormone had changed dramatically. There has never been
any doubts in our minds that with virtually every cut, trim, and edit to
this four-part series, the public interest suffered at the hands of the
station's lawyers who were afraid that telling the truth would cost their
client big bucks.

As you have read above, Steve and I held hands when the clerk read the
verdict form, The jury answered the first question --- "Do you find that
the Plaintiff, Jane Akre has proven, by the greater weight of the evidence,
that the Defendant...terminated her employment or took other retaliatory
personnel action against her because she opposed or refused to participate
in the broadcast of a false, distorted, or slanted news report..."

"NO!" the clerk read.

Oh, God, we've lost, was the thought that flashed through my mind like a
bolt of lightening. I quickly recalled that the jurors, every one of
them,. failed to look at us when they entered the courtroom to announce
their decision.. Steve was kind enough to whisper that observation to me
moments earlier.

Alternate Juror Gold Speaks

And I was still reeling from a little talk we had with the alternate juror.
Right after he was dismissed, he talked with Steve and me and the FOX folks
and the few reporters who happened to be there.

There was nothing happy to hear from that man and "suits" from FOX were
salivating. Alternate juror Bruce Gold told us that everything likely
gives us cancer and, after all, BGH has already been approved by the FDA
for use in dairy cows. He wasn't worried about any BGH health risks. I
decided after listening to him for several painful minutes that the truth
of a courtroom verdict is always subject to the personal biases each juror
bring into the courtroom at the start of the trial.

And, back in the courtroom now, the clerk reads the second question the
jurors had to decide: "Do you find that the Plaintiff Jane Akre has proven
by the greater weight of the evidence that the Defendant . . ..terminated
her employment . . .because she threatened to disclose to the Federal
Communications Commission . . ..the broadcast of a false, distorted or
slanted news report . . ."

The clerk paused for what seemed like five minutes before he uttered the
word, "YES!" in his booming voice.

"Oh, God," I gasped as he went on to read the damages. "$88,725 for lost
wages," he read. I gasped again. "$120,750 for lost earning capacity and
$215,525 for other damages."

Tears filled my eyes. That jury of three women and three men decided the
report was just what we said it was: "false, distorted, slanted." And they
found that our threats to go and report that kind of misconduct to the FCC
was why I was fired from my job.

Never mind the money, we got exactly what we went to court to get. We has
just won the Whistleblower charge that most people said we would never even
get us to court.

I was disturbed, no not terrible surprised, to see that FOX viewers who
watched the late evening news on WTVT wouldn't have been sure what actually
happened in court Friday.

Still Distorting the News !

On the station's 6 o'clock news which I watched with my lawyers at their
office, we all commented on how accurately and fairly they reported the news.

Anchorwoman Kelly Ring said quite clearly, " . . . .the jury found the
station violated the state whistleblower law" when they fired me. But the
the time the 10 o'clock news hit the air, it was a different story. FOX
lawyers and pr wizards had time to get it spinning like a top.

By 10:31 p.m. when the station buried the story in the late news, the
report was that WTVT was "completely vindicated." A FOX attorney from Los
Angeles was seen telling viewers the jury's decision "does not have to do
with distortion of the news."

HUH!!? The station's guilty verdict on the Whistleblower count means
exactly that, no matter how fast you spin it.

I am still trying to understand how a station just found guilty of
distorting the news could have the unmitigated gall to do it again in
reporting their loss. Do these high-paid lawyers really not understand the
verdict, or are they slanting the news, again, for their own gain?

Whistleblower protection has to do with retaliation. Remember, the question
posed to the jurors was essentially this: did FOX retaliate because I
"refused to participate in," AND/OR because I "threatened to disclose" the
broadcast of a false, distorted or slanted news report? The jury verdict
does not say I had a "reasonable belief" the story was slanted, it says
clearly that the story WAS false and slanted and my "reasonable belief" was
that the FCC would have validated my claim.

"Completely vindicated", but FOX-13 says "they will appeal the damages
awarded to Akre". How can those two statements co-exist? We've always
known that Rupert Murdoch's empire cannot suffer a loss like this. Just
think what other doors to litigation were thrown open late last Friday at a
"news organization" known to send reporters scripts to investigative
targets so they could edit them before the news editors decide what to
broadcast.

So what will happen from here? My prediction is that heads will likely
roll within the FOX organization. When you play the corporate game and
there is a loss like this to answer for, someone always pays with their
career. Since Dave Boylan has already escaped the muggy Florida summer heat
to a promotion as General Manager of the FOX-owned station in balmy L.A. ,
Phil Metlin could be the most likely candidate to suffer a fall.

Carolyn Forrest, hidden away in her in-house counsel job for FOX in Atlanta
could suffer the fallout as well. After all, she was legal genius who
admitted in writing that FOX retaliated against us because we stood up to
Fox and insisted on an truthful, honest story. Her letter opened the door
for Whistleblower charge they lost Friday night. Forrest shot me one of
those long, if-looks-could-kill glare as she headed for the courthouse door.

Of course, I feel the worst for Steve. He put all he had into this
lawsuit. It was his money that financed it, his efforts issuing many
subpoenas and conducting depositions in five states and the District of
Columbia.

He wrote many of his own motions that kept us in the ballgame for nearly
two years. And frequently it was Steve's efforts in the courtroom where he
teamed with my very bright lawyers that shed light on many issues FOX
wanted to obscure.

Unfortunately there can be a toll for exposing the truth, especially when
if it takes aggressive, hard-hitting and very direct questions that can
offend as much as they can enlighten.

My husband knew this as he stood up to make his closing argument. That's
why Steve told the jurors if they didn't like his direct, no-nonsense
approach in the courtroom or the newsroom, all he could do is pray they
could understand why it was necessary in a case like this.

And then, to the surprise of me and both my lawyers sitting at our table,
he turned and gestured toward me and reminded the jurors that nobody ever
complained about my style or approach to getting this story on the air. In
a voice that many had to strain to hear, Steve then pointed out, "Her style
is a whole lot softer than mine . . . but you know, she was just as fired.

"In fact," he continued, "she was more fired --- she lost a full-time job.
But if you think I was over-the-top, too aggressive, please don't take it
out on her."

The fight continues

That must have hit a chord with those six. For me, it's past time now to
get back to our daughter Alyx Anne. She was the reason we stood up for the
story in the first place. We believe parents have the right to know how
the milk they feed to their children has been adulterated with a chemical
we don't need and many don't want.

You cannot, and you should not, be a parent who is not be a fierce
protector of your children. You cannot and you should not be a journalist
without being a fierce defender of the truth as you know it.

Sadly, those things don't always seem in vogue today.

So today we are pleased but we know we are not finished with this fight.
We are facing at least a year and possibly two of appeals. FOX, which has
already spent an estimated $3 million or more, will spend another million
or whatever it takes to try and nullify the $425,000 verdict of those six
jurors.

But in a sense, none of that will matter now. This jury's verdict will
forever be a matter of public record . . . and public shame for these
people who call themselves FOX journalists.

As Walter Cronkite said not long ago, journalists should not have to check
their ethics at the newsroom door. Now, as a result of this landmark case,
they know they can turn to the court for help if they decide to blow the
whistle some day.

And for all the rest us, isn't it nice to know: the truth can sometimes
still win out in court, even these days when O.J. is not guilty and free to
roam from golf course to golf course looking for the real killer!


COMMENTARY:
SPREADING THE WORD FAR AND WIDE

It is imperative that despite efforts by FOX Television to give a Florida
jury's verdict favoring Jane Akre\Steve Wilson a spin favorable to the
corporation, and despite the fact that the nation's media --- mainstream
and alternative alike --- has shamefully and scandalous almost totally
ignored this important suit and trial, the word must go forth exactly what
the six-person Hillsborough County jury determined.

"Do you find that the plaintiff Jane Akre has proven, by the greater weight
of the evidence, that the defendant, through its employees or agents,
terminated her employment or took other retaliatory personnel action
against her because she threatened to disclose to the Federal
Communications Commission under oath, in writing, the broadcast of a false,
distorted, or slanted news report which she reasonably believed would
violate the prohibition against intentional falsification or distortion of
the news on television, if it were aired?"

YES! the jury foreman announced.

As Jane Akre herself reminds us "whistleblower protection has to do with
retaliation. Remember, the question posed to the jurors was essentially
this: did FOX retaliate because I `refused to participate in,' AND/OR
because I `threatened to disclose' the broadcast of a false, distorted or
slanted news report? The jury verdict does not say I had a "reasonable
belief" the story was slanted, it says clearly that the story WAS false and
slanted and my `reasonable belief' was that the FCC would have validated my
claim.

That is the message that needs to be spread far and wide: the jury verdict
said clearly that the FOX version of the rBGH story WAS false and slanted
and that Jane Akre's "reasonable belief" was that the FCC would have
validated her claim.

FOX stations in your own city or state now need to be confronted with that
fact and the fact that as a major national and international "news
organization" it has been shown to have sent reporters scripts to
investigative targets so they could edit them before the news editors
decided what to broadcast.

In addition, FOX Television needs to be shamefully exposed that rather than
taking pride in the fact that its reporters refuse to lay aside their
professional ethics and moral responsibility at the corporate threshold and
report the news accurately, truthfully and fairly they instead terminate
such reporters because they refuse to broadcast "false, distorted or
slanted news."

Editors and reporters throughout the nation should also heed the words of
Jane Akre's attorney's John Chamblee and Tom Johnson who reminded reporters
that the verdict was a landmark victory for all journalists in Florida. It
is the first time the state whistleblower law has been successfully used to
protect a journalist who is fired for refusing to slant the news. "This is
for you," Chamblee told reporters, including a woman hired to report the
story for WTVT. "This is for everyone in this state who calls himself or
herself a journalist and for any of them who may ever end up in a terrible
situation like this."

To ignore Chamblee's words not only belies said editors and reporters
rhetoric about protecting the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, but
it also paves the way for our news and information media to become nothing
more than a 21st century corporate propaganda machine, rivaling those
similar machines of the 20th century's infamous fascist dictatorships.

Those who care about the First Amendment, who believe in the public
interest, who believe that individuals standing up for what is right and
just can still make a difference in our corporatist culture surely can
applaud the courage, heart, mettle and reverence for the truth displayed by
Jane Akre and Steve Wilson.

But in our admiration for their achievement in the cause of truth we must
also be willing now to not only proclaim their victory, but mobilize that
victory into actions that speak similar truth to power. Our failure to do
so will be not only a tragedy for democracy, but it will mean those many
hours and days that Jane and Steve toiled on our behalf will have been in
vain.

For more trial details, reactions and how you can continue to help Jane
Akre and Steve Wilson in the months ahead see
http://www.foxBGHsuit.com/

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