In a post yesterday we observed that formaldehyde was becoming the latest target of the alliance of trial lawyers, “consumer activists” and members of Congress out to demonize a widely used chemical for pecuniary and political purposes. This week a Senate Commerce subcommittee held a hearing on formaldehyde in textiles and consumer products, coinciding with a recent scare — and lawsuits, of course — over supposedly contaminated Victoria’s Secret bras.
The lingerie connection should have reminded us: The other essential player in this “industry is poisoning you” combine is the media. Philosophically receptive or just plain slothful reporters repeat claims about supposedly dangerous products without bothering to check their accuracy. Poisonous bras, dangerous Katrina travel trailers: Stories too good to check, and besides, here’s a photo of a lingerie model.
Over the last year there has been a trend of erroneous and slanted stories about the use of formaldehyde in consumer and industrial applications. The falsehoods are often pushed by activist groups with a hidden financial or ideological agenda. The Formaldehyde Council, Inc. [http://formaldehyde.org], a non-profit association that represents the leading producers and users of formaldehyde in the United States — companies that are responsible for 3.6 million jobs in the U.S. and contribute $127 billion to our national economy annually — is urging reporters to apply strict standards of accuracy, objectivity and sourcing on these issues.
The open letter cites many examples of the irresponsible reporting, providing fact sheets or blog links (Formaldehyde Facts) for each incident. Not surprisingly, Good Morning America leads the bunch. Morning shows are notorious for consumer scares and shoddy reporting:
On Nov. 11, 2008, Good Morning America reporter Andrea Canning alleged that Victoria’s Secret bras tested positive for formaldehyde and may have caused a severe allergic reaction in an Ohio woman who had brought a lawsuit. But the source’s information was false and after being informed of this, GMA refused to set the record straight. [http://formaldehydefacts.blogspot.com/2008/12/update-on-victorias-secret-and.html]
The open letter cites five other cases and then closes with this bit of egregious reporting:
Perhaps the most irresponsible reporting occurred in the wake of a March 12 press conference held by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics. It has been alleged that a number of children’s personal care products contained harmful levels of formaldehyde. The vast majority of outlets simply transcribed the group’s press release and neglected to read the report. Importantly, the report revealed that testing proved that only trace levels of formaldehyde were discovered and these levels are so insignificant that they pose no danger to anyone. Furthermore, the products in question all complied with government safety standards. [http://www.stats.org/stories/2009/baby_bath_cancer_mar13_09.html]
But the children!
Right. We’ve already seen the disastrous legislative effects of this kind of unquestioning, cheering media coverage: passage of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act that has closed businesses, destroyed perfectly safe children’s products like books and clothes, and robbed consumers of choice.
The class-action lawsuits, “consumer activist” scaremongering and media campaigns against formaldehyde have already started. The legislative campaign is in its early stages. It’s a powerful, destructive alliance — one that puts people out of work.
You would think somebody — the media? lawmakers? — would learn from past mistakes.
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