U.S. News

03.17.14

Reporter Loses Her Job for Staying Honest

By Antonia Marrero and Adam Grannick for the Moral Courage Project

How much does your job matter to you? Would you stand up to your supervisors and refuse to do what they told you? Well, Jane Akre did. Jane Akre was at the top of her game. Her news show on Fox's Florida station WTVT earned higher ratings than ever before, she was satisfied that her reporting was without distortion or slant of any kind, and her family life was thriving. Then, with no warning, and against all expectations, Jane's toddler developed a taste for ice cream. Stop the presses, right? As a concerned mom, Jane began to wonder what was in her daughter's milk. As a seasoned journalist, the began to ask questions.

Jane started with the basics. What is synthetic bovine growth hormone (rBGH)? Have independent studies concluded that it's safe to drink milk from cows treated with rBGH? And more importantly, is it safe for kids? Her investigation led her to Monsanto, the corporation manufacturing a certain type of rBGH. You might have guessed by now: Monsanto made a mint off rBGH and insisted it was perfectly safe. But what you might not guess is how far Monsanto would go to kill Jane's questions.

Fox News management was feeling Monsanto's pressure, and asked Jane to re-edit the story. This, in itself, is standard operating procedure for any news channel. But as Jane states up front, “you can kill a story, as a news organization, but you can't start manhandling it to the point where it no longer is truthful”. And what constitutes “mandhandling”? Well, about 83 rewrites. How about forbidding Jane to use the word “cancer”, even though well-respected scientists were able to demonstrate a correlation between this growth hormone and cancer.

When Jane's supervisor told her to back down on the story, Jane responded with this carefully crafted retort: “Given how busy and focused we all are on getting the BGH stories on the air in the coming days... this does not seem to be the time to accept an offer to make less of a contribution.” In other words, “thanks for your offer to take me off this project, but I think I'll stay”.

Jane chose to keep her integrity. Find out about the forces that wanted to silence her, and the moral courage that inspired her to speak up despite the risk of termination. Would you do the same?