OLD Media Moves

Scripps Howard columnist terminated for taking money from Monsanto

January 13, 2006

Michael Fumento will no longer write columns for the Scripps Howard News Service after BusinessWeek Online disclosed that he had received $60,000 from agriculture company Monsanto, a topic of nine columns in recent years. Fumento has been very pro-biotechnology in the columns.

Fumento denies that he has done anything wrong, and mentions that he criticized Monsanto in a 1999 column in Forbes. But Monsanto helped fund a book he wrote about the biotech industry, and such relationships between business interests and columnists have come under increasing scrutiny in recent years.

Here’s a copy of his most recent column, which went out on the Scripps Howard wire on Jan. 5. It includes this passage: “Now consider some of the approximately 30 crops in the development pipeline of a single company, Monsanto of St. Louis. Many of these will primarily aid farmers but actually help all of us by keeping prices down and allowing more crops to be grown on less land, thereby leaving more land for nature.”

Here is a link to the November 1999 column in Forbes. In it, Fumento writes: “Why did Monsanto turn chicken-hearted? Because it has a huge amount at stake in biotechnology, and it is very much on the defensive these days in the public relations arena. Monsanto has been devastated by the backlash that the greens have whipped up against its biotech crops.” That’s still seems pro-biotech and pro what Monsanto was trying to accomplish.

Read the BusinessWeek Online article here.

Fumento has been a legal writer for the Washington Times, editorial writer for the Rocky Mountain News in Denver, and was the first “National Issues” reporter for Investor’s Business Daily. In 2005 he reported from Iraq as an embed with the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force in Fallujah.

Maybe it’s just me, but the smart thing to do always as a columnist is to divulge any sort of financial relationships to your boss. For reporters, there’s a stricter guideline since columnists voice their opionions and business reporters are supposed to be objective. I personally have always felt as if you couldn’t write about any company or industry in which you were an investor or had a personal interest. The one time I had to deal with this as a business reporter, my editor told me to go ahead and cover the story.

The one stock I have owned — power company Southern Co. — was received from my grandfather’s estate, and the one time I was asked to cover this company — the CEO giving a speech about downtown Atlanta development, not the energy industry — I went to my editor to make it clear that I owned this stock before I covered the speech.

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