Eric Lipton is a New York Times Reporter based in Washington D.C. He covers government relations, corporate agendas and Congress, and made a name for himself by detailing the lobbying practices of corporations looking to curry favor with state attorneys general around the country.
Given his claims to care about corporate corruption, Lipton has been an effective propagandist in the organic industry’s campaign to demonize prominent scientists and manipulate the public’s perception of modern agriculture. He loves their press releases so much he practically rewrites them as articles.
Advocacy Masquerading as Journalism
In September 2015, Lipton authored a New York Times story claiming that the “food industry” had enlisted prominent geneticists and agricultural scientists to give their public relations efforts the “gloss of impartiality and weight of authority that come with a professor’s pedigree.”
Based on snippets of FOIA’d emails he received from anti-biotech activists, Lipton alleged that high-profile researchers at universities around North America had morphed into “… actors in lobbying and corporate public relations campaigns,” ostensibly because Monsanto was stuffing cash into their pockets. These academic mercenaries, so Lipton’s narrative tells us, helped biotech firms neutralize troublesome regulators, silence their critics and halt GMO labeling efforts in several U.S. states, the assumption being that biotech firms were hiding the dangers linked to their products.
Lipton failed to mention one important fact in his purported exposé: There is no reason to buy people off because transgenic food is safe, as any expert could have confirmed, if Lipton had done any journalism and asked. He could have found hundreds of thousands who get no industry grants if he truly believed it made a difference. Seen in this context, without his anti-science and anti-business confirmation bias, the carefully misquoted emails and insinuations of corporate malfeasance in Lipton’s article look more like an industry trying to combat misinformation with the help of qualified academics.
A Veneer of Objectivity
Lipton engages in false equivalence between the organic industry and the science world by acknowledging Charles Benbrook’s funding from big organic firms like Whole Foods and trade groups, his sole source of income (no university job otherwise). He didn’t mention that when the organic industry pays for research, the conclusion is determined before a single experiment is conducted.
Lipton is a Pulitzer Prize winner so he must have done some research and learned that big organic is financing junk research, intentionally published in predatory journals. Yet this information never makes its way into Times stories, and Lipton instead implies that companies on both sides of the debate are engaged in the same unethical practices. Lipton criticizes that kind of false equivalence when Republicans try to deny the consensus around climate change. Little surprise he can only find one political party in the wrong.
Folta Strikes Back: Lipton’s “anti-GMO Agenda”
Lipton’s coverage was so fallacious that Dr. Kevin Folta, one of experts profiled in the story, sued the New York Times and Lipton for defamation. In his civil complaint, Folta rebutted all of Lipton’s accusations, pointing out, for example, that Monsanto never paid his salary or funded his research (p 4) and he never tried to cover up his educational work with the biotech firm (p 16). Folta also supplied the missing context from his emails, which illustrates that Lipton clearly misquoted his communications with Monsanto (p 19).
To make matters worse, Lipton was aware of these inaccuracies prior to writing his story. Folta explained in a May 2017 interview (25 minute mark) that he made the facts of the situation clear during a phone conversation with Lipton. He also warned the Times reporter that his source for the story, U.S. Right To Know, was on a crusade to demonize agricultural scientists, which did not change the anti-corporate slant Lipton gave to his article. To remove any lingering belief in his objectivity, Lipton took to Twitter to call Folta a corporate shill, because the biotech industry recognized him for his outstanding research.
Lipton: The Facts Don’t Matter, Funding Does
There’s a common theme in Lipton’s reporting that probably explains why he so often misses the mark. Like many journalists with an activist streak, he’s less concerned with the facts if they come from a source he dislikes. During a discussion on the Diane Rehm show about think tanks, for instance, Lipton said the first thing he wants to know about a study is “…who funded it, you know?”
Lipton claims that knowing who funded a study helps him separate fact from fiction because “… the pace of policy discussion in the world today has so quickened … there isn’t the time to knockdown … that report,” which may explain why Lipton’s science reportage contains very few facts. But when you’re writing 3,000-word articles for major news outlets, as Lipton is, you have enough time to fact check. Strangely enough, Lipton’s defenders claim his reporting is trustworthy because it’s so thorough.
But whether he’s covering individual scientists, EPA officials or even entire fields of research, Lipton’s lengthy articles nonetheless misquote sources and ignore key facts, if his subjects are linked, even tenuously, to industry. To anyone who doesn’t share Lipton’s perspective, this is clear evidence of agenda-driven journalism.
Kind of an awful human being
After a mass shooting by a mentally deranged gunman in Florida, Lipton took to his Twitter account to lament the wealthy elites that were lost in what was a rather privileged school.
After blowback from even Times subscribers, some of whom who may secretly believe the same things about poor people, Lipton deleted the tweet and sort-of apologized, writing he felt bad people misunderstood him. Which would be like Harvey Weinstein apologizing to actresses by saying he felt bad they misunderstood his sexual harassment as being anything but a compliment. You’d think a guy with a Pulitzer Prize would know how to write “I’m sorry”, but you’d be wrong. He meant what he wrote and just didn’t like how it made him look to readers.