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WSJ Failed To Disclose Its Lead Cable Investigative Report Was Funded By Environmentalist Group, Phone Company Says

  • AT&T wrote in a recent court filing that it “strongly disagrees” with The Wall Street Journal’s investigative series on phone companies using lead cables, saying the outlet failed to “disclose that it relies on testing funded by an advocacy organization.”
  • The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) noted that it provided funding to the Marine Taxonomic Services (MTS), which collected samples for the WSJ’s report, in a July 17 press release.
  • The WSJ affirmed MTS “received guidance and funding from EDF” but denied EDF paid for the testing “used in the Journal’s analysis.”

The Wall Street Journal’s investigative series on phone companies using lead cables does not disclose its tests were funded by an environmental activist group, one of the subjects of the reporting, AT&T, wrote in a recent court filing.

The WSJ disclosed tests for its series on health hazards posed by lead cables left behind by telephone companies were conducted by Marine Taxonomic Services (MTS), but did not say that the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), a group that focuses on “climate change solutions,” provided funding to MTS, until after the EDF noted the detail in a July 17 press release. AT&T wrote in a court filing July 18 that it “strongly disagrees with the Journal’s reporting” because it was performed by “individuals with clear agendas and conflicts of interest” and “differs dramatically” from its own expert testing.

“The Journal’s failure to disclose that it relies on testing funded by an advocacy organization and designed to generate selectively high lead levels calls into question the integrity of the reporting,” AT&T wrote. The WSJ found soil and sediment lead levels exceeded the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) safety recommendations at over four dozen tested locations.

Responding to AT&T’s allegation, the WSJ wrote in a July 18 article that EDF “didn’t pay for testing used in the Journal’s analysis.”

“The Journal worked with Marine Taxonomic Services and other experts on sampling and selected independent laboratories for analysis of the samples,” the article states. “MTS has received guidance and funding from EDF.”

The MTS report on the data from the series, which EDF made publicly available, explains that the WSJ initially reached out to MTS in 2022.

“EDF contracted with MTS and funded an initial study to validate the locations of abandoned cables and perform environmental sampling at locations adjacent to the cables,” it states. “MTS and the WSJ visited the cable locations that were identified by the WSJ.”

The report notes that the WSJ “selected the laboratory and paid for the analysis” to determine the lead content in the samples. The WSJ noted it sent samples to University of Washington professor Bruce Nelson and New York University environmental public-health professor Jack Caravanos.

A district court prevented Caravanos from testifying as an expert in a 2002 case on whether Amtrack properly supplied safety equipment for a bridge painter because he “failed to apply his own methodology reliably,” AT&T notes in its filing.

The MTS divers who performed the tests, Monique Rydel Fortner and Seth Jones, are also co-founders of Below the Blue, an organization founded to “protect Lake Tahoe.” AT&T said in the court filing these are the “same divers that aided” the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance (CSPA) in its lawsuit against their company in January 2021 over the cables.

The WSJ wrote in its first story that MTS “isn’t a party to the litigation,” though it noted Jones and Fortner discovered the cables over ten years ago. The divers credit this discovery as inspiration for founding Below the Blue in a press releasecelebrating AT&T’s settlement with CSPA.

Reports indicate Jones also prompted the litigation. Moonshine Ink South and South Tahoe Now state he “connected with” CSPA prior to the lawsuit.

In November 2021, AT&T agreed to spend up to $1.5 million to remove the lead cables in Lake Tahoe in a settlement with CSPA, a decision it says was made “to avoid the expense of litigation.” The company wrote in its recent court filing the cables should be kept in place for further analysis, citing a letter EDF sent with Below the Blue asking the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to investigate.

“In the spirit of transparency and informed public health, the parties should agree to maintain these cables in place to permit further analysis by any qualified and independent interested party, including the EPA, and allow the safety of these cables to be litigated with objective scientific evidence rather than sensationalized media coverage,” AT&T wrote in the July 18 court filing. “To do otherwise would give the misimpression that these cables present a health risk, which they do not, and would destroy evidence necessary for all relevant facts to be made public in court.”

The Wall Street Journal, MTS and EDF did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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