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ABC News Disciplines Pair Over Report on '20/20'

August 10, 2000|ELIZABETH JENSEN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NEW YORK — ABC News officially reprimanded "20/20" correspondent John Stossel and suspended producer David Fitzpatrick on Wednesday over an error in a report the two did questioning the safety of organic food.

The disciplinary actions may not be the last, however; ABC News sources said the company is continuing its investigation into the disputed report, which aired Feb. 4 and was repeated July 7 over objections of the organic food community.

This latest action follows an apology issued Monday by ABC News for one error in the report, noting that Stossel had said that tests on both organic and conventional produce showed no pesticide residue. In fact, ABC said, the produce was never tested for pesticides.

ABC hasn't yet publicly addressed a second contention by the Environmental Working Group--which brought the first error to ABC's attention--that the report also relied on faulty tests for deadly bacteria, potentially undermining Stossel's contention that organic food may pose more dangers to consumers than non-organic food.

Officially, ABC News was tight-lipped about the action, releasing a terse statement that read: "We have completed our review of the circumstances surrounding the error, and have taken the appropriate actions. No further comment will be made."

But one executive said the outspoken Stossel will get an official letter of reprimand and Fitzpatrick will be suspended for one month. The difference in punishments reflects the fact that it was Fitzpatrick's mistake, the executive said. Fitzpatrick could not be reached for comment.

Stossel is expected to address the issues surrounding the report on Friday's 10 p.m. "20/20" broadcast.

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