Reporters Sue FOX TV-Inside Story

Fox managers and their lawyers ordered us to distort, twist, and slant a story and threatened us with immediate dismissal if we would not broadcast material we knew to be false and misleading.

by Steve Wilson and Jane Akre

I used to think there was nothing worse than seeing a good story killed
because the special interest of a news organization (or one its friends or
advertisers) was more important than the public interest. I just found out
the hard way that I was wrong. There is something much, much worse -- and
it's something that should concern all of us because as corporate owners
control more and more newsrooms, it will happen again.

The investigative report produced by me and my reporting colleague Jane
Akre was not killed by Fox Television. Instead, as we explain in a lawsuit we
filed this past week
, Fox managers and their lawyers ordered us to
distort, twist, and slant a story and threatened us with immediate dismissal if we
would not broadcast material we knew to be false and misleading.

Some of you may remember I posted a note here asking for objective advice
about what to do months ago when we were doing the same kind of
soul-searching I know some of you have been through. (I couldn't identify
the reporters or the news organization back then.) Most of you said,
"Resist those kinds of instructions!"

As we detail in our lawsuit, when we did just that. Fox threatened to fire
us within 48 hours and we were told they'd just get another reporter to do
it after we were gone. When we said we'd file a formal complaint with the
FCC if that happened, we were not fired but were each offered very large
cash settlements to go away and keep quiet about the story and how it was
handled_all of these details and written documentation including scripts,
contracts, settlement offers, EVERYTHING in our legal complaint you can
read for yourself at

Fox managers refused to kill the story because word might leak out they
bowed to pressure applied by Monsanto and the dairy and grocery industry,
we explain in our suit. Monsanto directed its efforts to kill the story to
former Republican operative and now-Fox News chief Roger Ailes. Then, over
the course of nine months last year, we were ordered to write and re-
write the scripts again and again-more than 73 times in all.

You should know there was never any claim that we or anyone working with
ever acted outside the highest ethical standards of good investigative
reporting. There are no issues about trespass or hidden cameras or
pretending to be somebody else to get inside information.

More importantly, at no time ever was even a single error of fact found in
our reporting. We provided literally binders chock full of solid
documentation to support virtually every sentence and to show how some of
what we were ordered to report was demonstrably wrong. Little of that
mattered as we were repeatedly told "it's not whether the facts are true,
it was how they are presented"_and, as we also quoted the Fox General Manager
in our lawsuit, "We paid $3 billion for these television stations, we'll
decide what the news is. The news is what we tell you it is."

After we stood up to being fired, turned down the easy money, and all
those re-writes didn't wear us down, we were told we were being suspended
without pay but ordered to keep re-writing scripts even though we found ourselves
locked out of our offices and the computers that held much of our
information. We did write those final two scripts-the honest version we
wanted to report, and the version Fox insisted on telling. Both are
attached to our suit and available on the web along with our objections detailed
point-by-point in the Fox-mandated script.

Finally, after a year struggling nearly a year to tell the story fairly and
honestly, we were advised we were being dismissed without cause pursuant
to a window option in our contract. Fox's own lawyer contradicts that phony
claim in a letter (you can also review on the web) where she writes that
although Fox had the right to dismiss us without cause, "_there were
definite reasons for the decision that was made." She goes to explain we
were really dismissed due to our "pattern of responding to direction with
rancor, argument and personal attacks on the lawyers and editors". Our
legal claim is that the "rancor and argument" which ensued when we were ordered
to lie on television -- along with our statement to Fox management that we
would complain to the FCC if the station resorted to illegal conduct in
broadcasting news known to be false and misleading -- those were the
reasons we were ultimately fired. Fortunately, Florida has a whistle-blower law
that makes that illegal.

In any event, all of us in the news business should consider that this
kind of conduct by business people masquerading as journalists could well be
the next step down the road to journalism nobody can trust or rely upon. These
are issues that we ought to be discussing in our conferences and seminars.
How will you handle a similar situation if it ever comes up? What, if
anything, can be done to stop this kind of thing? And what kind of support
could you expect if you put your career on the line over something like

Jane and I would be happy to share anything we have with any of you who
want to pursue the original story we were trying to tell (our scripts are on
the web) or just want to share your opinions and suggestions about any of

We invite you to visit the web site, post a message there if you like, or
contact us directly by e-mail.

Steve Wilson
Jane Akre

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