All that really needs to be said about Elliott Negin’s article attempting to justify the Alar hoax (“The Alar Scare Was For Real,” CJR, September/October) is to ask what planet he has been inhabiting for the last seven-and-a-half years. Since that time, virtually every reputable scientific body and leading scientist — ranging from the National Cancer Institute to the American Medical Association, the World Health Organization, and C. Everett Koop – has gone on record as saying that the use of Alar on apples never posed any risk to the health of either children or adults. Are we to dismiss all of these testimonies as a “concerted disinformation campaign by industry trade groups”?

Virtually the only scientists who still regard the Alar scare as genuine are those associated with the EPA – who, in doing so, are merely carrying out the agency’s protocol that any substance that causes cancer in high doses in even a single rodent is therefore a “probable human carcinogen” (a standard that, if applied to natural substances, would lead to the banning of peanuts, honey, mushrooms, and tap water). And even within the EPA this standard is on the way out, as witness the bipartisan repeal of the Delaney Clause (the law which first institutionalized this standard in 1958) this past summer, and the announcement by the EPA last spring that it would be drawing up new guidelines for the assessment of cancer risk, which would no longer rely on high-dose, single-species animal tests.


American Council on Science and Health New York, N.Y.

Elliot Negin replies: The planet I live on has a long tradition of fact-checking, and most of Elizabeth Whelan’s “facts” don’t check out.

While she’s right about C. Everett Koop, she’s wrong about the groups she cites. Neither the American Medical Association nor the National Cancer Institute has issued an official statement on Alar.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer and its Joint Meeting on Pesticide Residues both concluded that UDMH – the major breakdown product created when Alar-treated apples are processed or eaten-is a carcinogen.

Other prominent organizations (besides EPA) regard UDMH as carcinogenic, including the National Toxicology Program of the U.S. Public Health Service and the American Academy of Pediatrics, which urged the EPA to ban Alar.

Whelan also misstates the EPA’s “protocol” for assessing cancer risk – despite the fact that the agency sent her a letter in March 1992 detailing its guidelines. The letter pointed out that chemicals have to cause cancer in two animal species and in both sexes to be designated “probable human carcinogens.” And it added that the agency is required by law to consider benefits as well as risks before banning a pesticide. In the case of Alar, the EPA obviously determined its risks outweighed its benefits.

Journalists should be wary of quoting Whelan without noting that her organization represents the interests of the food, chemical, and pharmaceutical industries (see “Dr Whelan’s Media Operation,” CJR March/April 1990). Although Whelan has a doctorate in public health, she seems more concerned about the health of her benefactors, which include American Cyanamid, Archer Daniels Midland, Chevron, Dow Chemical, DuPont, Exxon, General Mills, Johnson & Johnson, Monsanto, Pfizer, Union Carbide, and Uniroyal – the company that manufactured Alar.


While the general observations made by reporter Joe Holley in his story about fires at black churches are correct (CJR, September/October), I take issue with the statement “Other papers throughout the South had also covered church fires as spot news, if they covered them at all.”

Permit me some observations that might not be as self-serving as they seem.

In West Tennessee, we have suffered through five such fires and The Jackson Sun has most assuredly not treated them like “spot news.” Failure to understand that there is much more to tie these fires together than a criminal conspiracy theory is a failure to understand, in essence, “the neighborhood” and what these churches represent in the South.

The Sun, shortly after the first three churches burned, published a six-page special section entitled “The Burnings.” We have followed with a four-page special “360 Miles Along the Corridor of Fire.” While USA Today did some great work looking at cluster fires along I-95, we were the first to report on the cluster fires along U.S. 45, which winds south from northwestern Tennessee, through Mississippi, into Alabama. We were the first newspaper to report subpoenas for a federal grand jury for members of the burned-out Tigrett church, one for a parishioner with Alzheimer’s. That reporting sparked the National Council of Churches to send legal aid to those parishioners. We also have published an investigative report that the FBI was focusing on one of the pastors. At the recent NABJ convention, The Jackson Sun was cited as one of only two newspapers to pick up on this story early.


Executive editor The Jackson Sun Jackson, Tennessee


As a deputy editor to John Vinocur for eight years, may I unmask myself as the other editor who figured in the American Express episode that your correspondent, Michael Balter, characterizes as dubious (“Shake-up in Paris,” cJR, July/August). Holders of the cards who lived abroad and paid their bills in American dollars were being discriminated against. Presumably most of our American readers, about 40 percent of our total, fell into that category, and so Vinocur was acting to protect their interests, which is what any good editor tries to do. Rather than being recalled with, as Balter says, embarrassment, the series of articles, which resulted in a change of American Express policy, ought to be remembered with a sense of accomplishment: What more can a conscientious editor hope to do than redress legitimate grievances in his readers’ behalf?

It would have helped too if Balter had pointed out that in the last twenty years and four editors. three have been fired and one forced into premature retirement. In that same period, three of three publishers have been fired. (These totals do not include the incumbents.) Too bad that Balter did not reflect on the instability and demoralization this state would have caused if it had been common also at our owner papers, The New York Times and The Washington Post. Corporate life in a satrapy is rarely pleasant.

As an article in the Columbia Journalism Review about the Herald Tribune said more than twenty years ago, the problems here are an absentee, distant, and basically uncaring ownership, not a lack of editorial direction. The cave-in to Singapore, as Balter put it, was decided not in Paris but by some oaf many thousands of miles away in the United States who visits our newsroom once every few years. The cave-in abject surrender is a better description was, as I understand it, forced on Vinocur, who then played the good soldier in explaining the decision to the staff. What a facile target this makes him for your writer and what a diversion from the real wrongdoers.

SAMUEL ABT Associate editor International Herald Tribune Paris


An article in the March/April issue, “I Was a Polisher in a Chinese News Factory,” misstated the length of time spent at the Xinhua news agency by the late New Yorker writer Fred Shapiro. According to his widow, Shapiro worked there for a total of two and a half years – once from 1987 to 1989, and once for six months in 1993. Mrs. Shapiro adds, “While Fred was reporting for The New Yorker he never stopped his work at Xinhua. And Xinhua knew he was reporting on the tragic events of June ’89. He was never asked to stop his New Yorker articles by Xinhua.”

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Copyright Columbia University, Graduate School of Journalism Nov/Dec 1996

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