Wednesday, June 27, 2001

Tampering With Truth

Another look at John Stossel's journalistic ethics

Was John Stossel once again tampering with truth?

A group of California parents who feel they were misled by ABC News correspondent John Stossel revoked their permission for ABC News to use their children's images or voices in his latest program. The original footage had to be cut at the parents' request.

The eight Los Angeles-area children were interviewed by Stossel on Earth Day, 2001 for his special, Tampering with Nature, which aired Friday, June 29.

In a June 25 letter to Stossel and other ABC News officials, parents of the children interviewed told Stossel that he and his staff obtained permission to interview the children in violation of the Society for Professional Journalists' Code of Ethics (under "Minimize Harm").

The parents said they were not told of Stossel's involvement with the show when ABC got their written permission to allow their children to be interviewed. They also said they were misled about the nature of the show, and would never have granted permission for their children to be interviewed had the nature of the program - or Stossel's involvement - been known to them.

The children were already seated in the studio expecting to be interviewed by the show's producer about their thoughts on environmental issues. At that point, Stossel walked in, sat down and started asking the children leading questions about whether or not they were "scared" by the lessons they were being taught about the environment.

An anonymous whistleblower warned the Environmental Working Group that Stossel was set to "use the footage to trash what kids are now being taught about environmental issues."

Parents and environmental educators brought their concerns to the Environmental Working Group because of EWG's research into Stossel's use of two sets of fabricated test results (see the report "Give Me a Fake," under Related Reports) last year in his discredited report on organic food. Stossel was forced to apologize on the air for reporting non-existent test results.

An expose by USA Today revealed environmental educators are actually under pressure to use propaganda-laced classroom materials from big corporate polluters. (Read more about corporate meddling in the classroom at EWG's Chemical Industry Archives). For more info about enviro education, go to The National Environmental Education & Training Foundation.

In the News

NPR's On The Media

June 30

When Stossel Attacks

Chicago Tribune

June 29

Stossel's Latest Stunt Puts Him at the Back of the Classy

Los Angeles Times

June 29

ABC's Stossel Appears on Fox and CNN to Blast His Critics


Washington Post

June 28

Stossel Calls Critics 'Totalitarian'

New York Daily News

June 27

Amid a Climate of Anger, ABC Pulls Interviews

New York Daily News

June 27

Journalism Isn't Child's Play, Stossel oughta pick on kids his own size

Los Angeles Times

June 27

ABC to Drop Children's Interview From Stossel Show

Washington Post

June 27

Stossel Interview Footage Pulled

Baltimore Sun

June 27

Stossel criticized for youths' interviews

New York Times

June 27

ABC to Edit 'Tampering With Nature'

Wall Street Journal

June 27

ABC News Special To Drop Interviews With Some Children

Denver Post

June 27

Stossel making news again


Los Angeles Times

June 26

Parents Lash Out at ABC, Stossel

Washington Post

June 26

Parents Angered Over Kids' Interview by John Stossel

June 26

More underhanded reporting from ABC News

USA Today

June 26

Parents complain about ABC special

Wall Street Journal

June 26

ABC News May Pull or Revamp Special After Parents Complain


June 26

Calif. Parents Attack ABC News Special


June 26

Permission Denied Parents urge ABC to pull footage of their kids

Associated Press

June 26

Parents Complain About ABC Special


Corporations and the Classroom - The Real Story of Influence on Environmental Education


USA Today



Lobbyists trying to sway younger minds



Utne Reader



Smoke and Mirrors: How polluters influence environmental education



Chemical Industry Archives



Reading, Writing and Indoctrination: How the Chemical Industry Infiltrates Schools



Parents' Letter

Letter from concerned parents to John Stossel
Received via fax 6/25/2001

Mr. John Stossel
ABC News
47 West 66th Street
New York, NY 10023

Dear Mr. Stossel:

We are parents of the children whom you interviewed on Earth Day (April 22nd) of this year about their environmental education experiences for your upcoming piece called Tampering with Nature.

We are disturbed by the way your staff withheld your involvement with the segment and misrepresented the nature of the piece. In our eyes, you and your staff sought and obtained our permission to interview our children in violation of the Code of Ethics for the Society of Professional Journalists. Specifically, the sections reading:

"Use special sensitivity when dealing with children and inexperienced sources or subjects."

"Journalists should be honest, fair and courageous in gathering, reporting and interpreting information."

Some of us witnessed the interview you conducted with our children and saw how you asked leading questions to get them to say what you wanted. Had we known in advance of your interview tactics, or the nature of the piece, we would never have allowed you to interview our children.

Reinforcing our concerns, we have since been apprised of the research by the Environmental Working Group that showed that you fabricated two sets of test results in your flawed organic food story last year.

Upon reflection, we are no longer comfortable with you using our children in your upcoming segment, and we hereby revoke the permission we gave earlier. Specifically, we do not permit you, your staff or ABC News to use our children for whatever ideological or journalistic purposes lie behind your work. We ask that you remove any and all footage that involves our children's voices and/or images from your program.


Concerned Parents in California

Parental signature 1 Parental signature 4
Steve Gomer Carrie Scott
Parental signature 2 Parental signature 5
Craig Mohr Michael Scott
Parental signature 3 Parental signature 6
Didi Yamagoto Brad Neal
Parental signature 7  
Semere Ab  


CC: David Westin, President, ABC News
Kerry Marash, Vice President of Editorial Quality, ABC News
Peter Jennings, Anchor and Senior Editor, World News Tonight
Barbara Walters, Correspondent & Co-Anchor, 20/20
Michael Eisner, Chairman and CEO, Walt Disney Productions
Ken Cook, President, Environmental Working Group


ABC News' First Statement

June 25, 2001

In an effort to understand how children are taught about environmental issues, ABC News obtained permission to interview a group of school students this past April in California. The parents of these children and their teacher consented to the interview. Indeed, several of the parents were present as the interview was conducted. 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. Today, ABC News received a letter from some of the parents expressing concern about the interview.

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.

ABC News' Final Statement

June 26, 2001

ABC News has reviewed the entirety of John Stossel's interview with the children in California and concludes it was conducted in a professional and responsible manner according to the highest journalistic standards. Furthermore, the parents originally gave their written consent, several were present while the interview was conducted, and none voiced any concerns to ABC for more two months until the week of our broadcast after they had spoken with activists. At the same time, ABC News is sensitive when parents raise objections regarding the appearance of their young children on television and will consider such objections carefully. In the present case, ABC News has decided it will respect the belated decision of a number of parents to withdraw their consent.

Key Issues: