Five years ago, the
networks treated the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
declaration that second-hand cigarette smoke was a Group A
carcinogen as huge news. But this year, they downplayed a federal
judge’s ruling that the EPA had manipulated statistics in assessing
the risks of passive smoke.
Back in 1993, the networks
could hardly have been more aggressive. "Smokers be warned,"
announced NBC’s Tom Brokaw opening the January 5, 1993 Nightly
News, "you’re being charged with killing others." Correspondent
Robert Hager continued: "For three years the Environmental
Protection Agency has been trying to get the findings out, but was
delayed by lobbying from the tobacco industry and pro-tobacco
members of Congress."
Dan Rather, in the top
story for that night’s CBS Evening News, also presented the
story as a case of noble science versus greedy industry: "The
tobacco lobby has been fighting it for two years, but now the United
States government is coming out with a study officially concluding
that second-hand tobacco smoke causes thousands of cancer deaths a
year in non-smokers. This could trigger tougher no-smoking laws
around the country."
Correspondent Edie Magnus
concluded that "this report could prod the Occupational Safety and
Health Administration, which regulates conditions in the workplace,
to consider calling on employers to ban smoking on the job."
The story also led the
January 5, 1993 World News on CNN. Correspondent Deborah
Potter told viewers that "smoking is harmful, not just to smokers,
but to anyone around them, especially children. That's the
conclusion of an EPA report due out later this week," and that "one
anti-smoking group goes so far as to predict that as a result of
this report, virtually every place outside the home could be
required to be smoke-free."
Over at ABC, on that
evening’s World News Tonight, anchor Forrest Sawyer said:
"For years doctors have been warning about the dangers of
second-hand tobacco smoke. And now, the Environmental Protection
Agency is about to classify passive smoke as a Group A human
carcinogen, and that makes it one of the most dangerous
cancer-causing agents." ABC’s George Strait then reported that
"breathing in someone else’s cigarette smoke is a direct and
imminent health hazard" and that "it’s clear, the future for smoking
in confined public places is limited."
But when a federal judge
ruled against the EPA last month, second-hand smoke was suddenly
deemed non-newsworthy. CNN ignored the story completely. NBC
Nightly News gave the story just 21 seconds on July 19, with
anchor Dawn Fratangelo announcing that "the tobacco industry got
some good news this weekend."
The CBS Evening News
and ABC’s World News Tonight were also content with short
July 19 anchor reads. They both saw the EPA’s reaction to the ruling
as more important than the ruling itself. CBS anchor Russ Mitchell
began his 14-second report by saying, "The Environmental Protection
Agency is expected to appeal a ruling by a federal judge who
dismisses the link between second-hand smoke and cancer." ABC’s
Carole Simpson led off her 17-second story by noting that "the
Environmental Protection Agency is standing by a report linking
second-hand smoke to cancer."
None of the networks has
looked into specific criticisms of the EPA report. Michael Fumento,
science advisor to the Atlantic Legal Foundation, argued in a July
22 Washington Times op-ed that the EPA report didn't "use the
gold standard in epidemiology, the 95 percent confidence interval."
According to Fumento, "Essentially, [the EPA] moved the goal post to
the three-yard line because the football had fallen two yards short
of a touchdown. There’s a technical scientific term for this kind of
action - dishonesty." This, apparently, is not news at the networks.