SHNS Drops Fumento in Latest Paid Pundit Scandal

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By: E&P Staff

Another columnist has been dropped by his distributor over revelations about previously undisclosed payments.

Scripps Howard News Service (SHNS) announced Friday that it severed its relationship with Michael Fumento — a senior fellow at the conservative Hudson Institute — for not disclosing he had taken payments in 1999 from agribusiness giant Monsanto. The payments were revealed by BusinessWeek Online, which also broke a similar story revealing columnist Doug Bandow receiving payments. Copley News Service subsequently dropped Bandow.

In a statement released Friday, SHNS Editor and General Manager Peter Copeland said Fumento “did not tell SHNS editors, and therefore we did not tell our readers, that in 1999 Hudson received a $60,000 grant from Monsanto.” Copeland added: “Our policy is that he should have disclosed that information. We apologize to our readers.”

SHNS sent out an advisory to subscribers last night that read: “The Jan. 5 column by Michael Fumento about new biotechnology products from Monsanto should have included more information. We believe the column should have disclosed a $60,000 grant from Monsanto that Fumento received in 1999 for a book about biotechnology. Fumento’s column will no longer be distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, but is available from Michael Fumento at fumento(at)pobox.com or www.fumento.com.”

In his Jan. 5 column, Fumento wrote that the St. Louis-based Monsanto has about 30 products in the pipeline that will aid farmers “but also help us all by keeping prices down and allowing more crops to be grown on less land.” He said he was only writing about Monsanto “because their annual report was plopped onto my lap while I was hunting for a column idea.”

Asked about the payments by BusinessWeek Online’s Eamon Javers, Fumento said: “I’m just extremely pro-biotech.” The Monsanto grant, he added, flowed from Monsanto to the Hudson Institute to support his work — with a portion going to overhead and “most of it” going into his salary. He said the money was folded into his salary for 1999, and therefore represented no windfall to him personally.

Bandow and several other conservative commentators — in a series of 2005 revelations — were found to have accepted money to promote programs and initiatives without disclosing the funding. They included Armstrong Williams of Tribune Media Services (which dropped Williams), Maggie Gallagher of Universal Press Syndicate, and the self-syndicated Michael McManus.

Fumento also writes for conservative magazines such as the American Spectator and his own blog.

His Jan. 5 column opened: “Both in terms of consumption and variety, biotech is busting out all over — and we?re reaping a host of benefits from cheaper and better food to land and forest preservation.”

Later Fumento cited the Monsanto breakthroughs, adding, “Currently, almost all biotech crops reduce the use of either insecticides or herbicides. Upcoming Monsanto products, however, more effectively kill pests and even combine the two traits. The Agriculture Department has just approved one that protects corn against both weeds and rootworms….

“I chose to focus on Monsanto for lack of space and because their annual report was plopped onto my lap while I was hunting for a column idea. But their pipeline represents a fraction of what the biotech industry as a whole — large companies and small, here and abroad — will bring to your supper table. These are truly exciting times for producers, consumers, and those who care about the environment.”

In his column right before that one, Fumento opened with, “Everybody’s talking about it, but few seem to realize how exquisite a maneuver reducing U.S forces in Iraq is — unless you just want to cut and run as does Pennsylvania Democrat John Murtha.”

He has also recently cautioned against “panic” over avian fl. “The first reason not to panic over Tamiflu is there’s no reason to panic over a pandemic,” he wrote. “It’s true avian influenza type H5N1 is constantly mutating. But the best-kept secret of the flu fright-fest is that it’s been doing so since at least 1959 when it was identified in Scottish chickens.”

In October on his blog, he noted that antiwar protestor Cindy Sheehan had threatened to chain herself to a fence outside the White House to protest the 2000th American death in Iraq. “Arrest her? Goodness, no!” Fumento declared. “That’s her exit plan from the fence. Leave her there and maybe the crows will do the world a favor and eat her tongue out.”

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