Fox Business anchor Maria Bartiromo issued an apology at the end of her Wednesday morning show after she was duped into interviewing an animal rights activist posing as the CEO of a major food processing company.
"We have an important correction to make. It appears we have been punked," the "Mornings With Maria" host said, following an interview with Matt Johnson, an activist with the grassroots network Direct Action Everywhere.
The journalist thought she had been interviewing Smithfield Foods' CEO Dennis Organ.
"Earlier in the program, I interviewed someone claiming to be the CEO of Smithfield Foods, Dennis Organ. We’ve since learned that that was not Dennis Organ, but an imposter making false claims about the company. He is someone who has absolutely no relation to Smithfield Foods, we want to apologize to Dennis Organ, Smithfield Foods, and to our audience for making this mistake. We will of course be more vigilant."
During the interview, which was uploaded to the YouTube page of Direct Action Everywhere, Bartiromo talked about food workers pushing to get the coronavirus vaccine early. She then asked Johnson, posing as Organ, about an outbreak of cases at one of Smithfield's operations.
“It’s certainly been a challenging time,” Johnson said, “and we have our workers that are in desperate need of these vaccinations and as you mentioned we’re heartened to hear that the CDC is prioritizing food workers with this second round of vaccinations.”
Johnson made other statements throughout the interview, at one point claiming that as CEO he would enact “transparency and at times, brutal honesty," under his leadership.
He also said that the meat industry could be “effectively bringing on the next pandemic, with CDC data showing that three of four infectious diseases come from animals and the conditions inside of our of farms can sometimes be petri dishes for new diseases.”
Direct Action Everywhere, which has targeted Smithfield Foods in the past, said in a press release that it wanted to alert the public about "pig farming's threat to public health."
Johnson said Wednesday that getting on the show "involved fake phone numbers and fake email addresses and sending out many pitches."
Smithfield's Chief Administrative Officer, Keira Lombardo, called the segment a "complete hoax" and said a simple Google search of its CEO would have prevented Fox from airing "false information."
"The statements that were aired are absolutely and completely false. Smithfield is a recognized leader in animal wellbeing and care, in stewardship of the environment and in workplace safety," Lombardo said in an emailed statement.
"Smithfield employs veterinarians and other experts across the company who ensure that the safety, comfort and health of farm animals is comprehensive."
Bartiromo previously worked for CNBC, which is part of the NBCUniversal News Group.