It sounded like a spy thriller: Kremlin critic dies in London after being poisoned with a radioactive material.
But instead of dispelling fears surrounding the actual death of former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko, ABC’s “Good Morning America” promoted them.
Litvinenko died on Nov. 23, after being poisoned by Polonium-210, and as British officials investigated his death they learned that trace amounts of a radioactive substance were found aboard two jumbo jets.
GMA chose to frighten the some 33,000 people who have flown on the two contaminated British Airways planes and left out information from its November 30 broadcast.
Anchor Christopher Cuomo led with a warning that “tens of thousands of passengers may be at risk,” before senior foreign correspondent Jim Sciutto continued the scare story.
“Polonium is powerful. So powerful that just a speck, smaller than the ink dot on this piece of paper could be enough to kill,” said Sciutto.
Cuomo and Sciutto chose to emphasize those two points, instead of the fact that “no deadly amounts” of Polonium-210 were found on the planes. In fact, the radioactive substance found in “very low levels” according to British Airways Willie Walsh has not yet even been identified as Polonium-210.
Sciutto’s reporting also left out a crucial detail that would have helped allay fears: Polonium must be inhaled or ingested in order to be lethal. That was reported by both CNN’s “American Morning” and, USA Today on Nov. 30.
According to Walsh, “the risk to public health is actually very, very low.”