ABC: Mea culpa

Apologizes for Stossel error; 'New Yorker' piece tough on news chief Westin

ABC's Friday-night edition of 20/20 was to include an apology from reporter John Stossel for a February story denigrating the safety of organic foods but based on apparently false research. As environmental activists called for stiffer penalties, Stossel was reprimanded and producer David Fitzpatrick was suspended for a month.

"Mr. Stossel was relying on inaccurate information that had been provided to him," said a statement from ABC. "In response to questions raised by the Environmental Working Group, ABC News examined the report and discovered that no tests for pesticides had been done on produce. We apologize for the error."

(And ABC wasn't the only network apologizing last week. CBS and David Letterman's Worldwide Pants, producers of The Late Late Show, gave a mea culpa for flashing the words "Sniper Wanted" during a news satire segment about Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush.)

Also making headlines at ABC News last week was a New Yorker article that was critical of news chief David Westin and revealed ABC paid an attorney $25,000 to help clear the way for Barbara Walters' big interview with Monica Lewinsky. But the network says the payment didn't violate its policy against checkbook journalism because Lewinsky herself wasn't paid.

The network called the article by Jane Mayer "filled with old stories ridiculously mangled."

But the magazine article questioned numerous news department flare-ups. Among them:

  • Charges, denied by ABC, that a Brian Ross piece about pedophiles being hired at Disneyland was killed in ABC- parent Disney's corporate interest;
  • The awkward handling of Diane Sawyer's interview with 6-year-old Elián Gonzáles; and
  • Sending teen-film heartthrob Leonardo DiCaprio to discuss the environment with President Clinton.