Bev Hills High and cancer *

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Back in November, Eric Umansky in the New Republic savaged claims by famed paralegal Erin Brockovich-Ellis and people around Beverly Hills High School (and a report on KCBS Channel 2) that oil wells on the campus were causing cancer. Now L.A. journalist Joy Horowitz is working on a book about BHHS and the environmental debate, and wrote a piece last week on the L.A. Times op-ed page. And Umansky has a story in the March-April issue of the Columbia Journalism Review heaping praise on Norma Zager, editor-in-chief of the free weekly Beverly Hills Courier, for plucky reporting on the controversy.

Zager, who briefly worked as a reporter in Detroit after college, spent about fourteen years doing stand-up comedy routines in Los Angeles and Las Vegas before deciding in 1999 to return to journalism. She found work as a reporter for the Courier, and about a year ago was promoted to the top spot. (It wasn’t a huge jump; the Courier has two full-time editorial employees.) The paper typically covers A-list charity balls and small-town happenings. bh park rangers share experiences, it announced recently. Zager’s duties range from editing and reporting, to writing a column on celebrity homes...
Curious about how Brockovich-Ellis arrived at her cancer numbers, Zager got copies of the injury claim forms Masry and Brockovich-Ellis filed with the city. She found that at the same time the two were publicly referring to 300 cases of cancer, they had filed only 216 damage claims, of which only ninety-four were actually for cancer. The other injuries consisted of everything from insomnia to "tingling sensations."

Remember the KCBS report that first raised concerns about toxins in the air? It relied almost exclusively on the Brockovich-Ellis and Masry allegations. As Zager first reported, the producer for that story, Claudia Bill-de la Pena, serves on the Thousand Oaks city council with Masry. Along with his wife, Masry donated money to Bill-de la Pena’s election campaign. "If you are looking at a connection between the City Council and my producing, it is not the right route to go from a journalistic standpoint," Bill-de la Pena told the Courier.

"Norma works really hard, and she’s honest,” says USC’s Mack, who is less impressed with other journalists’ efforts on the Beverly story.

* Update: The L.A. Times runs a story Thursday saying the DA is investigatng the whole situation, but even a spokeswoman is unclear just what is is being looked at.


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