Watch as Rick Smith bamboozles two TV networks
On March 30, Health Canada and Environment Canada issued a preliminary joint report on triclosan, a preservative, anti-bacterial and anti-fungal chemical used in hundreds of products, from toothpaste to pharmaceuticals to textiles. The report said triclosan is “not harmful” to human health, but may be harmful to the environment.
The lack of harm to humans should have been news. After all, Canada’s all-purpose chemophobe, Rick Smith, head of Environmental Defence and co-author of a book called Slow Death by Rubber Duck, has fingered triclosan as a carcinogen and an endocrine disruptor, as well as a contributor to bacterial resistance and the rise of “superbugs.” The David Suzuki Foundation also labelled triclosan one of its “dirty dozen” chemicals.
When Health Canada released its detailed scientific report, declaring triclosan was safe for humans as currently used, the story was mostly ignored. But six weeks later, triclosan suddenly became news after Environmental Defence produced an alarming report, The Trouble With Triclosan: How a Pervasive Anti-bacterial Chemical is Polluting our World and Our Bodies.
The result: Junk news by rubber ducky, a twisted but masterful case of media manipulation by Rick Smith, Canada’s greatest purveyor of exaggerated and distorted science. Headlines blared across the country. The Gazette, in Montreal, said “triclosan is showing up in such alarming levels in our bodies and in the environment that it should be banned from personal care products such as hand sanitizers, soaps and toothpastes, says a Toronto environmental group.”
Two TV networks picked up the story, following every line of the rubber ducky story as dictated by Mr. Smith and his crew at Environmental Defence. The TV coverage is instructive. At CTV News, anchor Marcia MacMillan introduced (panel 1) the story, saying triclosan “has some nasty side effects.” At Global News, anchor Dawna Friesen (2) said “most Canadians likely have “elevated levels … in their bodies” and “there are calls to ban Triclosan.”
At Global, the brand names of triclosan products — Colgate toothpaste and Dial liquid soap — were repeatedly shown (3). At CTV, brand names were blurred out or deliberately obscured, a likely reflection of concern about offending advertisers.
Both networks brought out Maggie MacDonald, Environmental Defence’s toxic program manager, to deliver a few words of agitation (4). She said triclosan is a “health concern for humans and the environment and it would be great if we could get this taken out of Canadian products,” she told CTV.
But then came a major Environmental Defence rubber ducky score. At Global, a man named Tim Powers appears early in the two-minute report as an average Canadian, one of eight people Environmental Defence said it tested to determine levels of triclosan passing through the bodies of average Canadians. “Even at work,” said Global, “Tim Powers brushes” his teeth (5). What Global didn’t say is that Tim Powers is a vice-president of Summa Communications, a major Ottawa lobby firm that happens to have Environmental Defence as one of its clients. Not only does Mr. Powers get paid to lobby for the rubber ducky king, he gets to appear on camera as one of the average people on whose behalf Environmental Defence claims to be lobbying.