for Stossel's previous misdemeanours see:
Parents Lash Out at ABC, Stossel
Television: Producers are accused of misleading participants in the special 'Tampering With Nature.'
BY ELIZABETH JENSEN, TIMES STAFF WRITER
Los Angeles Times
June 26, 2001
NEW YORK - A group of parents, most of them from Santa Monica's Canyon Charter School, charged that producers for ABC News' John Stossel misled them and now they are revoking the permission they granted for ABC to use interviews with their children in Stossel's Friday special, "Tampering With Nature."
The special deals with everything from genetically modified foods to global warming and human cloning, making the point that humans have "tampered with nature" for centuries, with generally beneficial results, including longer life spans.
The children, whose parents thought they would be interviewed by a producer, were taped in April about their environmental education and what they believe about various environmental issues, such as the use of solar and nuclear power; Stossel later sharply questions some of their educators about whether the children are being fed one-sided information.
In a group letter sent to Stossel on Monday, the seven parents said they are "disturbed by the way your staff withheld your involvement with the segment and misrepresented the nature of the piece," adding that ABC's controversial correspondent "asked leading questions to get them to say what you wanted." They said they wanted ABC to remove all footage that involves their children's voices and images.
One parent said several in the group are also considering legal action, depending on ABC's response.
ABC News said in a statement issued Monday that several of the children's parents were present as the interview was conducted, and "at no time during the interview, or in the weeks and months after the interview, were any concerns or issues raised by any of the parents or children involved." The statement added that "while ABC News is confident that the interview was handled in a respectful and sensitive manner according to the highest journalistic standards, we take the concerns of these parents seriously and are reaching out to them to open a direct line of communication to resolve this issue."
The parents' reaction was coordinated by the Environmental Working Group, a Washington nonprofit group that was also responsible for raising the controversy over Stossel's special last year, which questioned the safety of organic food. ABC was forced to apologize for an error in that story, and Stossel was reprimanded; the show's producer was suspended. The Environmental Working Group, which has posted the parents' letter on its Web site, http://www.ewg.org, also led an attack earlier this year on the chemical industry, in conjunction with a controversial PBS documentary by Bill Moyers.
In notes released by the Environmental Working Group on Monday, Susan Cox, an environmental educator who was filmed for Stossel's "Tampering" special, also said she was asked to reenact a remark she made criticizing President George W. Bush because the room was too dark when she made the statement the first time on camera. An ABC news source said the request was potentially a violation of the network's news standards, an issue their statement did not address.
Cox's children were among those at the Canyon Charter School interviewed by ABC. Brad Neal, a Venice Beach real estate investor and the children's father, said he gave permission for Samantha, 8, and Brandon, 10, to participate in the children's panel ABC producers assembled, without knowing that Stossel was involved in the program. Parents were told that ABC was doing a special on Earth Day and wanted to know "what your second- and third- and fourth-graders feel about the environment," Neal said.
But when questioning began, Neal, who said he is planning to open organic juice bars, says he recognized Stossel as the anchor of last year's program attacking organic foods, "and I had this bad feeling inside." He is most bothered, he said, that "ABC hid Stossel's involvement, because some of us would have been less inclined to let our children participate." And once the interviewing began, he said, "it was not about sharing our children's thoughts on the environment with this guy, it was about getting the response he wanted."
"It was clear from the very first couple minutes that the questions were not leading, they were misleading," and at one point, Stossel tried to lead the children in a chant to the effect that "all scientists agree that there is a greenhouse effect," he said. "They manipulated our children for their own agenda."
Michael Scott, a real estate and business lawyer from Pacific Palisades, agreed to let two of his children--Zachary, 8, and Rachel, 10--be interviewed after ABC producer Deborah Colloton asked if some children who had participated in an Earth Day event wanted to be involved in a show ABC was taping. "At the time I understood the story was about Earth Day," said Scott. “I didn't know John Stossel was going to be involved in the story at all."
Scott, who witnessed the interview, found it odd the children were asked to respond in unison to several questions, including one on global warming. Scott became more concerned when he was told that the piece would apparently be used to show "that children are not getting the full story on the environment. I had a right to know that upfront.
"I'm not an expert in 1st Amendment law, but I believe California has 'informed consent,' and I can't consent to what I don't know about," Scott said. Options include seeking an injunction or temporary restraining order prohibiting the broadcast. But Scott added that any potential legal action would depend on ABC's response to the group letter.
School officials could not be reached by press time.
Since the apology for the organic foods piece, Stossel has had two other programs on the air, one on how hype pervades our culture and the other on where tax dollars are spent.