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The David Rose Award For GMO Reporting

By Keith Kloor
Feb 25, 2014 1:54 AMNov 20, 2019 5:46 AM


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The fundamentally flawed and distorted climate reporting by David Rose in the UK's Daily Mail is often called out by science journalists and bloggers. His repeated misrepresentation of climate scientists has prompted the UK's Met office to publicly respond on numerous occasions. It's unfortunate that one reporter continues to flout basic journalistic principles on an important scientific issue, but at least he does not go unchallenged. The same cannot be said for John Vidal, the Guardian's environment editor, who is the David Rose of GMO reporting. Vidal's coverage of genetically modified (GM) crops is not as outlandish as Rose's climate coverage, but it is just as slanted. Both have an obvious bias that colors their articles. For example, look at Vidal's 2012 story on the discredited rat tumor study by Gilles-Eric Séralini. Respectable science journalists blanched at the circumstances surrounding the study and examined it critically. Vidal, on the other hand, went out of his way to take it seriously. Last year, Vidal reported on an Indian village where farmers were supposedly producing record crop yields without herbicides and GM technology. One of the soil scientists quoted by Vidal wrote an interesting commentary on the piece, including this bit:

I was quoted with a personal statement in The Guardian article (and re-quoted subsequently by many other outlets). Interestingly, I have never spoken with Mr. Vidal. Instead, the words ascribed to me in his article appear to have been extracted from a phone interview I gave to World Bank staff in 2008, which you can find here. You will notice that I spoke at great length about SRI (for about 10 minutes), explaining a lot more than what was quoted by Mr. Vidal and others. Journalistic standards should be followed. It would have been nice to see at least a reference to the full interview or to talk with me in person.

Perhaps Vidal needs a refresher on proper attribution. He might want to sit in on Guardian colleague James Randerson's science journalism class. When Vidal wants to fully air his anti-GMO opinions he uses a soapbox at Guardian's Poverty Matters and Global Development blog sites. His latest offering at the latter is a marvel, for reasons Robert Wilson concisely explains at his blog, Carbon Counter. There is also this odd statement from Vidal in his piece:

The talks take place as industry data shows the planting of GM crops has practically halted in the US...

That prompted this puzzled tweet from Benjamin Edge:

@keithkloor@guardian@john_vidal How does 70.1m hectares = the planting of GM crops has practically halted in the US http://t.co/Rx8A6oPGD4 — Benjamin Edge (@edgeben) February 24, 2014

The sentence was soon changed--without any formal correction--to read (my bold):

The talks take place as industry data shows the increade in the planting of GM crops has practically halted in the US...

Let's presume there is a typo and that the correct word is increase. This is a bit more accurate, even if the sentence is awkwardly constructed. Still, there is the matter of context, as Andrew Kniss points out:

@edgeben@keithkloor@guardian@john_vidal Of course the increase "practically halted." GM corn, cotton, soy reached 90% of acres in US. — Andrew Kniss (@WyoWeeds) February 24, 2014

In 2010, George Monbiot wrote in the Guardian:

The only hope journalists have of retaining any kind of self-respect is to question themselves repeatedly, ask whether they are being manipulated and whether they are seeing the whole story.

He was referring to David Rose. But it could just as easily apply to John Vidal for the way he reports and writes on GMOs. *The headline of this post marks the creation of a new award. Send in your nominees when you come across an egregiously reported story in the mainstream media pertaining to GMOs.

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