By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
The scandal over genetically engineered (GE) animal feed making its way into the human food supply just keeps getting bigger. But the story can’t seem to make its way out of the L.A. Timesbusiness section. StarLink biotech corn, which was not approved for human consumption because of questions about its potential to cause allergic reactions, nonetheless turned up last month in an array of tortilla food products, notably supermarket taco shells. The story made the Times’ front page on September 23, when Kraft Food pulled its Taco Bell–brand taco shells off the shelves in the first-ever GE food recall. News of the series of rolling tortilla-product recalls that followed, however, was relegated to the business pages, despite its increasing significance. Mission Foods Co. on October 13 recalled all of its tortillas, taco shells and snack chips made with yellow corn; the company’s Web site says it supplies at least four local supermarket chains (Ralphs, Mayfair, Jons and Food 4 Less), and corner groceries, hospitals and restaurants across the Southland.
GE food producers fear that PR debacles like the taco-shell recalls could raise the kind of popular alarm here that halted GE-food distribution in Europe in its tracks. The chances of a public outcry are limited, however, if the story is played as a corporate snafu rather than as a public-health or -safety issue. Now we know it isn’t popular to question corporate influence on the media, but we couldn’t help but ask: Does the Times’ GE news gray-out have anything to do with the presence of PepsiCo. Inc. board member Arnold R. Weber on the board of the Tribune Co. (owner of the Times)? Sabritas Mexicali, a unit of PepsiCo., manufactured the recalled Kraft Food taco shells, according to the Times.
Absolutely not, said Timesspokesman David Garcia. “The Timesmaintains strict editorial independence,” Garcia said in an e-mail. Still, we wonder why the media are so loath to see the corporate hand in their own affairs, and so quick to see it in others’.
CANDY FROM STRANGERS
When OffBeat recently received an e-mail warning about depraved men using ether-laced perfume samples to lure women in mall parking lots, we didn’t run out to buy a handgun or sign up for a self-defense class. Instead we consulted the San Fernando Valley Folklore Society’s Urban Legends Reference Pages to track down what we guessed was another false e-mail rumor. Sure enough, the story is a variant of the classic “Scratch and Sniff” hoax (not to be confused with the “Ether Bunny” legend: male college student sodomized by ether-wielding roommate).
With Halloween in the offing, the Web site is working overtime on spooky but spurious tales. OffBeat found the folklorists’ debunking of Halloween candy-poisoning myths particularly illuminating (most are phony; the few that pan out turn out to be parents who poisoned their own kids and blamed it on candy from strangers).
An oft-repeated Halloween tale involves a woman who seduces her “husband” at a party, only to find it was a stranger inside his costume. Then, there’s the haunted house so scary that no one has ever come out of it alive. But what about L.A.-area legends? LSD-crazed college students blinded by staring too long into the Southern California sun?
Disney horror stories are some of Southern California’s most popular urban legends. Who hasn’t heard whispers of unreported kidnappings and employee or patron death cover-up stories at the Happiest Place on Earth? OffBeat’s favorite Disney rumor is “Walt on Ice”: Uncle Walt (or just his head in some versions) cryogenically preserved inside Pirates of the Caribbean.
Although discredited in some quarters as a “prophet of doom,” Mike Davis, in his book Ecology of Fear, cleverly limned some L.A.-specific urban legends. Subtitled Los Angeles and the Imagination of Disaster, the book looked at local hysteria about mountain lions in the chapter “Maneaters of the Sierra Madre” to examine how much these fears cost taxpayers in terms of resources wasted “protecting” suburbanites from “black bears in hot tubs, plague-carrying squirrels, killer bees, and even goat-eating vampires.” (Anyone besides Davis and OffBeat remember Chupacabra?)
What do Angelenos fear most during this election year? One story that’s currently making the rounds at USC concerns Dick Cheney’s “planned heart attack” — part of a purported Republican scheme to bring Colin Powell onto the ticket at the last minute. There’s only one way to stop this evil Republican conspiracy: E-mail all your friends.
MURDOCH'S NEWS VALUES
This August, a Florida jury awarded journalist Jane Akre $425,000 from her old employer, Fox-owned WTVT in Tampa. Akre and her husband and reporting partner, Steve Wilson, claimed the station sacked them for refusing to slant a story on the alleged dangers of Bovine Growth Hormone in milk.
MThe pair filed suit under Florida’s Whistle Blower Act, citing a threat they had made to go to the Federal Communications Commission with charges the station rigged the story to satisfy BGH maker, and big-bucks Fox advertiser, Monsanto Corp. The jury denied Wilson’s claim, but upheld Akre’s, making her one of the few journalists anywhere to successfully challenge alleged censorship in the era of corporate media consolidation. So you might expect to find Fox management holed up, licking their wounds, while Akre fields fat offers from 60 Minutes, Datelineand PBS?