Alaska: Working for BP
Soon after the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced it would go to court to oppose a merger between BP Amoco and Arco, the two largest producers of oil on Alaska's North Slope, the state filed a brief in federal court in February supporting the deal.
BP Amoco is picking up the tab for the state's lawyers. A cabinet-level task force appointed by Governor Tony Knowles negotiated with BP Amoco for months before reaching an agreement which, among other things, says the company will reimburse the state for legal fees in exchange for its support for the deal. The state has already spent $1.5 million, according to the governor's office.
"The state's arrangement is consistent with the state's policies since the 1970s and similar to what Alaska and other states have done in other mergers," said Bob King, a spokesperson for the governor's office, citing the recent Exxon/Mobil merger.
The two oil companies contend that Alaskans would suffer "needless time and cost" resulting from the FTC lawsuit. "The losers from this delay and uncertainty are the people and communities who are relying on the combination for future projects, jobs and commitments," the companies state.
But watchdog groups opposed to the merger disagree and question the state's involvement in defending the companies. "Who is Governor Knowles working for -- the state or BP?" asked Steve Conn, director of the Alaska Public Interest Research Group.
The state's agreement with BP Amoco and Arco would have required the merged company to sell off some oil production and pipeline capacity.
That was not enough for the FTC, which charges that a combined BP-Arco would still dominate the market for exploration leases on Alaska's North Slope, where the combined company would control 72 percent of the North Slope's production.
The FTC also argues that a merged entity could manipulate crude prices on the West Coast and influence world oil prices by having too much ownership of an oil transportation and storage facility in Cushing, Oklahoma.
Wag The News
When NBC news anchor Tom Brokaw brought in the New Years on Times Square in New York City, a billboard with NBC's colored peacock logo was in the background.
Viewers who switched channels saw Dan Rather broadcasting in front of the same backdrop. But they saw a CBS logo instead of NBC's.
It turned out that CBS had inserted a virtual billboard, using a new technology called Live Video Insertion.
"CBS News crossed an important line by deliberately tampering with the content of news footage," says Gary Ruskin, director of the Washington, D.C.-based Commercial Alert.
Apparently Dan Rather agrees something was amiss. He later told the New York Times that "at the very least we should have pointed out to viewers that we were doing it."
But Andrew Heyward, CBS News president, defended the technology, which has been used regularly in other CBS productions, including "The Early Show" and "48 Hours."
Neither of the other major network news programs use the Princeton Video Image Technology, which was first introduced as part of a $30 million effort to spruce up CBS's morning new program.
Inserting digital images has become increasingly common in sports and entertainment programming -- usually to insert corporate logos and first down markers in football -- but until now has generally been considered inappropriate for news shows.
"I think the implications are pretty significant. We're talking about their ability to alter the picture that viewers accept as reality," says Janine Jackson, Program Director at Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR). "People don't consciously deconstruct the images they see on the news -- they trust it as reality."
The Return of DES
The United States will soon begin testing meat for the illegal hormone DES over a half a year after it was discovered in U.S. beef exported to Europe.
DES (diethylstilbestrol), a known human carcinogen once used as an anti-miscarriage drug as well as a growth promoter in cattle, was found in July in two of 26 U.S. beef samples tested in Switzerland. The hormone was taken off the U.S. market in 1979 after it was discovered to cause cervical cancer in the daughters of women who consumed it. The use of DES is prohibited in food-producing animals in both the United States and Switzerland.
Although the USDA has not tested beef for DES since 1991, a meat industry representative told the Monitor the industry still did their own testing for DES years after it was banned and found no traces of the hormone.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) responded to the discovery by urging the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to develop a trace back system for all meat. "The food industry likes to claim that our food supply is the safest in the world," says Bruce Silverglade, CSPI's director of legal affairs. "The use of an illegal cancer-causing drug and USDA's failure to uncover it demonstrates why that mantra is nonsense."
Swiss investigators say the hormone-tainted beef came from two major U.S. beef exporters -- the National Beef Packing Company of Liberal, Kansas and the Bruss Company of Chicago, Illinois.
-- Charlie Cray