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Morton Mintz

Bill Moyers talks with Morton Mintz, veteran WASHINGTON POST reporter and former chair of the Fund for Investigative Journalism, about the presidential debates. Mintz has reported on every televised debate since they started in 1960. For several cycles he has drawn up his own list of questions that should be, but often aren't, asked in the debates. Read his questions.


Morton Mintz has been a reporter for going on 60 years, at the deceased ST. LOUIS STAR-TIMES and GLOBE-DEMOCRAT, 1946-1958; WASHINGTON POST, 1958-1988, and as a freelance to the present day. His most recent major project has been media criticism for an internet journal of opinion, His first article, published in August 1999, was about the failure of the mainstream press to examine the governance of Texas by George W. Bush while he was raising the tens of millions of dollars that enabled him to lock up the Republican presidential nomination. In each of 28 subsequent pieces posted in 1999 and 2000, Mintz raised questions that the press should but failed to raise with presidential, House and Senate candidates during the 2000 election campaign.

In 1955, at the GLOBE-DEMOCRAT, Mintz did the nation's first newspaper series on the plight of the mentally retarded. At the Post, he broadened conventional definitions of "news" with people-oriented reporting on issues mainly involving the pharmaceutical, medical-device, tobacco, oil, auto, and insurance industries. Columbia University's journalism school honored this effort, in 1983, with its esteemed, infrequently-bestowed Columbia Journalism Award.

At the WASHINGTON POST, in 1962, Mintz broke the story of thalidomide, the sedative/tranquilizer that caused several thousand children worldwide to be born without arms, without legs, or without any limbs at all. Although the press greeted the advent of the original oral contraceptive uncritically, Mintz revealed that in approving The Pill, in 1960, the FDA had launched the greatest uncontrolled medical experiment in human history. Tens of millions of healthy human beings would take The Pill 20 or 21 days a month, often throughout their child-bearing lifespan, on the basis of pathetically inadequate scientific evidence of safety.

Mintz reported, too, on numerous unsafe and/or ineffective medicines and medical devices, including cholesterol-lowering MER/29, which afflicted thousands with cataracts; Oraflex, a killer anti-arthritis drug withdrawn by the manufacturer only a few months after sales began, and the disastrous Dalkon Shield and Cu-7 IUDs. Starting in 1965, and continuing into 1999, he reported on the tobacco industry, including the 1988 smoker-death trial in which cigarette makers were compelled to disclose for the first time what they knew of the dangers of smoking and when they knew it. In 1993, he wrote "Allies: The ACLU and the Tobacco Industry," which exposed the American Civil Liberties Union's conflict of interest in advocating a key industry cause in Congress and soliciting and accepting money from that industry, both while telling ACLU members nothing of either activity.

In 1966, Mintz broke the story of the tailing of Ralph Nader by a private eye retained by General Motors and for years covered automotive-safety issues. He was often alone in reporting grave corporate crime and misconduct. He covered the Supreme Court's 1965 and 1978-1980 terms. In 1983, he reported on the refusal of the United States during World War II to bomb the rail lines to the gas ovens at Birkenau and the death camp itself. He based the story on an exclusive interview with John J. McCloy, who as an assistant Secretary of War had played a key role in the episode.

Mintz wrote four books, including AT ANY COST: CORPORATE GREED, WOMEN, AND THE DALKON SHIELD (1985); coauthored five (including AMERICA, INC.: WHO OWNS AND OPERATES THE UNITED STATES (1971). He was Chair of the Fund for Investigative Journalism 1990-1993. He has received the Playboy Foundation's Hugh M. Hefner First Amendment Award for Lifetime Achievement; the Worth Bingham, Heywood Broun, Raymond Clapper, and George Polk Memorial Awards, and, twice, the Washington-Baltimore Newspaper Guild awards for Public Service.

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