The board of FairWarning, a nonprofit devoted to alerting the public to hazardous consumer products and unjust corporate practices, has decided to dissolve the charitable nonprofit as of Feb. 20, 2021. This step is taken with regret as the small journalism nonprofit has devoted the last 11 years to protecting the public from harms to their health and safety. Circumstances beyond the board’s control have unfairly damaged FairWarning’s reputation and made it difficult to carry on a small-budget news organization dependent on charitable donations.
The board wishes to thank the donors who kept this enterprise going for so long. We also wish to thank the many journalists who contributed their work to the site. We thank our founder and editor, Myron Levin, for his vision, professionalism, and fundraising expertise which sustained the organization since its inception.
FairWarning’s journalism covered auto safety, environmental hazards, health scams, the need for labor protection, fake medicines, pesticide dangers, and toys and equipment that sickened or killed children. Its focus on state and federal regulators’ lack of urgency to protect the public moved several to action, saving lives and preventing injuries. Its reports on severe burns suffered by toddlers from glass-front gas fireplaces helped push the industry to adopt a safety feature to prevent future injuries.
FairWarning was an early investigator of the cancer risks from talc powders; examined the racial politics of menthol cigarettes and told how giant tobacco companies use trade treaties to fight anti-smoking measures around the world. It revealed a disinformation campaign by the indoor tanning industry to hide the risk of skin cancer.
Also, FairWarning produced a path-breaking story on the immunity of small farms from OSHA investigations of worker deaths; regrettably, there have been many hundreds. It commissioned tests revealing that gas-powered leaf blowers are prolific polluters that may pose health risks to landscaping workers.
FairWarning showed how articles, ghostwritten by major drug companies, had corrupted medical literature and were used to boost drug sales or disparage rival medicines. Its investigation of contacts between a lobbying firm and the head of the Consumer Product Safety Commission sparked congressional inquiries followed by her departure.
Articles and op-eds based on FairWarning’s reporting appeared in outlets including NBC News, Mother Jones, The Atlantic, the McClatchy newspapers, The Oregonian, Salon, and many others. Leading foundations and individual donors supported the nonprofit.
The board is proud of the work that has been accomplished with a tiny staff and lean budgets. It is the board’s intention to work with another nonprofit to digitally house FairWarning’s archive so that past articles will continue to be accessible to the public.
Message from Myron Levin
Last fall, I brought before our board a plan to launch a search for a new executive director for FairWarning in 2021. After 50 years as a journalist and 11 years running FairWarning, I thought it was time for a new leader—someone with energy and vision who could raise the organization to a new level. I’m writing to you now because events of the last two weeks have changed the plan.
A lengthy Twitter thread by a job applicant who didn’t get the job accused me of making racist statements. It contained serious inaccuracies and distortions. Nonetheless, in response to the attack our two staff writers, including one who has worked here nearly three years, went on Twitter to publicly demand that our board force me to resign.
The board refused to do this, but we have been crippled. Hiring new staff and recruiting a strong new leader under these circumstances would be difficult, to say the least. And so, the board and I have decided that the best course is for FairWarning to shut down.
We’ll be winding things down over the next few weeks. We won’t be accepting new donations, and we plan to donate the balance of our funds to another worthwhile nonprofit news organization.
I’m sad to say goodbye, particularly under these circumstances. I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished, and deeply grateful to the readers and donors who, over the years, have advanced our mission of delivering strong watchdog reporting in the public interest. I’d also like to thank our board members for their service, and the nearly 200 online, print and broadcast media outlets who have co-published FairWarning stories.
Throughout my career, I’ve always taken to heart the old byword to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted. That has been the animating spirit at FairWarning, too. We’ve punched above our weight and produced stories that mattered and might otherwise not been told. We’ve taken on issues of critical importance to the health and safety of the public. We’ve never branded ourselves as speaking for any particular group. But if you’ve been following us, you’ll have seen many stories about bad practices that disproportionately harm powerless people, including people of color and low-paid workers exposed to dangerous working conditions and to wage violations.
Thanks to all of you who have made it possible for us to do our work.
All the best,
Founder and Editor