Scared Green!

How John Stossel, ABC, Rightwing Think Tanks, and the Chemical Industry Are Colluding to Trash Environmental Education

by Cheryl Seal

This Spring, Oregon environmental science teacher John F. Borowski found himself in the unexpected and unpleasant position of eyewitness to an unfolding episode of journalistic fraud and corporate collusion with the media. Not long ago, John bravely brought his story to Why Because his story is about the mainstream media, which publishes only those stories that pose the least potential harm to the interests of the corporations that own them. John is not only courageous, he is clever. Once he found himself a party to deception, he began to delve deeper and he kept copies of all correspondence documenting the story detailed below.

MARCH 27: John receives an action "alert" e-mail from James Allen, a member of a corporate front group called Responsible Industry for a Sound Environment (RISE). RISE, whose sole purpose for being is to protect and promote pesticide use, is funded by Monsanto and Dupont. This e-mail stated: "Mr. Sanera (referring to Michael Sanera) has been contacted by ABC News. A producer for John Stossel is working on a program on environmental education. He needs examples of kids who have been "scared green" by schools teaching doomsday environmentalism." Michael Sanera, who is the author of a book debunking environmental education, "Facts Not Fear," has a degree in political science and no science or education credentials. He works for the Claremont Institute, a rightwing political think tank that is pro-gun, pro-Bush, and anti-environmentalist. Cleverly, Borowski's wife posed as a "disgruntled parent" and sent back a note to Allen expressing interest.

APRIL 9: ABC News calls John Borowksi. In this conversation, Ted Balaker and Debbie Colloton tell him they read a piece he wrote in the "Forest Voice" on environmental education and that they are working on a piece on environmental issues. When asked, they deny being connected with a Mr. Sanera or with a RISE PR person.

APRIL 10: John calls Angela Bendorf Jamison of RISE. When he says he is a "disgruntled parent," Jamison directs him to Sanera, whom, she says, is working with Stossel's producer, Ted Balaker. Jamison reassures John that Stossel treats industry right and does not side with environmental activists. Jamison follows up the conversation by sending John's wife an e-mail. This e-mail includes Sanera's phone number and a message to Sanera referring to Mrs. Borowski as a "frustrated mother" interested in "your 'Scared Green' inquiry for Stossel."

APRIL 12: John calls Balaker back and asks if he is working with Stossel. Balaker denies this, but hedges and says "I have worked with him on other issues, but not this one." Balaker claims his story will focus on tampering with nature and environmental problems. John calls Sanera the same day, pretending to be Mrs. Borowski's "disgruntled husband" whose kids have been "scared green" at school. Sanera is ecstatic and tells John he will have an ABC producer contact him. John asks politiely if he can have the producer's name. Sanera tell him "the person working on the piece is Ted Balaker, a producer for John Stossel and he will call."

It became very clear that Stossel, Balaker, RISE, and Sanera were all working together to create what would, to the public, appear to be a "Scared Green" expose but what would, in reality, be a contrived, blatantly pro-industry piece. This deceitful team wasn't creating a news story, it was creating a "staged play," complete with nationwide casting calls for "scared green" kids and their "disgruntled parents." They were willing to lie to John to entrap him and to cover up, through a network of deceptions, the connection between Stossel, ABC, rightwing groups, and corporate front outfits.

But this isn't the first time industry - or John Stossel - have lied to create a bogus "expose" focused on green issues. Stossel presented phoney "test results" to prove that organically grown produce was no better than that grown with pesticides. We're sure his friends at RISE, Monsanto and Dupont made sure he was well compensated for his efforts. even though he got caught lying that time. (For more on Stossel, see sidebar after the main article below)

John Borowski, though disgusted and dismayed by witnessing this arrogant deception, was not surprised by it. Like many environmental/science educators, he has for some time been under seige by the misinformation campaigns pushed at kids by corporate interests. Here is John's take on the growing threat posed to environmental education by corporations.

Scared Green!
How John Stossel, ABC, Rightwing Think Tanks and the Chemical Industry are Colluding to Trash Environmental Education

by John F. Borowski

Who would have believed that Michael Sanera, avowed enemy of environmental education, would be given a forum for his snake oil diatribes by a company that bills itself as "friends of children"? Yes, the Wonderful World of Disney, power brokers for ABC News and their industry puppet, telejournalist John Stossel, have environmental education in their "cross-hairs."

An urgent e-mail from RISE (Responsible Industry for a Sound Environment) beckons their members to support Mr. Stossel and Mr. Sanera's Jihad on eco-education. RISE, affiliated with the American Crop Protection Association, a trade group founded to defend "urban usage of pesticides," apparently believes that a frontal assault on environmental education could be beneficial. The last line of their alert is most revealing: "Let's try to help Mr. Stossel. He treats industry fairly in his programs." So, the search for disgruntled parents and their "scared green" children to parade in front of a camera is in full swing.

While in St. Louis at a National Science Teachers' Convention last week, I stumbled upon Michael Sanera, who was peddling a book entitled "Facts Not Fear." His booth, sponsored by the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a rightwing think tank generously funded by the likes of Dow Chemical, General Motors, Texaco, and Philip Morris, was a strange sight. In the midst of all these science teachers, Mr. Sanera was akin to a carnival huckster, alerting the unsuspecting educators to the "evils" of environmental education. The main problem with his manifesto, "Facts not Fear," was that, on closer inspection, it proved to be light on scientific facts, while downplaying ozone loss and species extinction, and making misleading statements about forest issues. This transparent attack on ecological studies leaves little to the imagination. Yet, Mr. Sanera is apparently the "point person" and a favorite son of many think tanks troubled by the scientific enlightenment offered by environmental education.

Even more telling is that on the webpage for the Competitive Enterprise Institute, there is a "Save John" section. Apparently, the folks at CEI were dismayed by the tongue-lashing Mr. Stossel took for stating that organic food is no safer than agricutural products sprayed with pesticides. As it turns out, the tests that Stossel reported supposedly proving his thesis were - strangely -never done. CEI states in their webpage that Stossel should not be open to criticism because he has the "right to free speech." They warn their supporters that "politically correct causes and special interests" are prepared to place that freedom in "jeopardy." But aren't investigative reports supposed to be held to the same standards of accountability as scientific research?

With the current occupant of the White House downplaying everything from global warming to the dangers of arsenic in water, the timing of this environmental witchhunt could be invaluable to him in debunking environmental education programs in schools nationwide. The flood of corporate-generated "environmental education materials" pouring into schools is reaching a fever pitch: forest lessons from Weyerhauser, coloring books from the coal industry, and teacher less manuals from the biotech folks. Carefully coordinated with a well-financed attack on environmental education, the swamp of misinformation being created could numb our youngest citizens to the environmental challenges that will face them in the future.

So, here they are - environmental education and corporations - strange bedfellows, indeed - , but a coalition that possesses the weapons the arsenal it needs for a winning campaign: access to the media, a large cash flow from a consortium of powerful corporations and a "Madison Avenue" public relations plan "word-smithed" by topnotch professionals.

If Stossel's "Scared Green" spot succeeds in being aired (and I don't see any reason why it wouldn't), will there be equal time for the defenders of environmental education? Will educators such as myself, who have seen the power and enlightment of environmental science classes have the time, access, and money to combat this onslaught of formidable critics? The apparent Sanera, Stossel, and RISE connection only seems to reinforce that money and power guarantee access to a large public audience. And maybe even more apparent, are the nails that are sealing the coffin of the "liberal media," thereby further tilting the power of the media to the few and mighty. And in the end, somewhere between the commercials and the spin, the truth will shrink to an all-time low at the height of the age of information. But alas, I don't lose hope, because in classrooms around the country, some dedicated teacher will enlighten their charges with credible and sound data, providing the skills to make rational and sound decisions on ecological issues. And maybe that is what the foes of environnmental education fear the most.

Disturbing Revelations about JOHN STOSSEL

an afterthought by Cheryl Seal

America sees him on 20/20 nearly every week. He has won 19 Emmy awards. He's perceived as a top-notch journalist. But, is John Stossel really a top-notch journalist, or is he just a top-notch corporate propagandist using his public forum to push the corporate (and thus rightwing) agenda? In just a short Internet search on Stossel, the following came to light: Stossel is connected to various rightwing outfits, including the Cato Institute, a propaganda organ funded heavily by corporate interests, which include the tobacco industry.

He is also in a strange collaboration with the obscure Palmer R. Chitester Fund, whose sole purpose for being appears to be pushing Stossel "educational materials" in classrooms. The shows that are available for teachers to push off on kids (for $40 a piece) are interesting, indeed. Out of all of Stossel's 20/20 segments, the Fund has chosen: "Greed," in which Stossel shows how self-interest and materialism are good (he reiterates the same concept in an interview in the "International Objectivist," a conservative, atheistic outfit that worships Ayn Rand, whose big thrust was that selfishness equals power); "Is America Number One?", in which he "proves" how superior America is to the rest of the world (the same type of arrogance that just got us kicked out of the UN Human Rights Commission), "Freeloaders," in which he proves how everyone wants to get something for nothing - even himself (perhaps a feeble effort at rationalizing his self-aggrandizement at the expense of honest journalism), and "Are We Scaring Ourselves to Death?" in which he "proves" that we have no reason to fear the growing presence of pollutants in our environments - in fact, the array of toxics that surround us are good for us! The site asks teachers to let them know how they are "promoting John Stossel in the classroom." Our question would be more to the point - how is John Stossel promoting John Stossel in the classroom - and why?

It is obvious that Stossel is collecting industry friends quickly. In his feature that "proved" organic food was no better for consumers than pesticide-sprayed crops, he referred to phoney tests that had never been performed. Later he was forced to apologize for this fraud. But not to worry, Stossel! Your industry friends are rallying round. There are now industry-related websites dedicated to protecting your dubious honor.

In summary, if this glaring iceberg tip were not enough to set buzzers and bells vibrating when the name Stossel is mentioned, consider the following: In the article in "The International Objectivist," Stossel actually praises Rush Limbaugh as "witty and wise!" 'Nuff said!

Copyright 2001 All rights reserved.

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