Another Fishy Tale: 'Nightly News' Jumps Onboard with Mercury- in- Fish Hysteria

Here we go again - another media hit on the dangers of fish consumption due to the possible threat that mercury may have on pregnant women.

A segment on the Dec. 30 "NBC Nightly News" warned viewers to exercise caution when consuming fish because of the potential side effects it may have on newborn children.

"There's no question that fish is healthy," NBC chief science correspondent Robert Bazell said. "But toxic mercury, mostly from coal-fired power plants makes it way into the ocean, where it can end up in the meat of certain fish."

Bazell's report even singled out certain fish that were deemed unsafe and those that were considered safe for viewers.

"So the key is knowing which fish is safest," Bazell said. "Those with high levels of mercury include swordfish, king mackerel and tile fish. Seafood with low levels of mercury include salmon, cod, shrimp, trout and most small fish."

But according to the National Fisheries Institute (NFI), those suspect fish account for a very small portion of overall seafood consumption. By omitting that detail, the threat of mercury contamination is exaggerated, as the NFI's "AboutSeafood" blog pointed out.

"The fact of the matter remains that the four fish FDA believes pregnant women should avoid -- shark, swordfish, tile fish and king mackerel -- account for less than one percent of all seafood consumed in the U.S. every year. But by obscuring the fact that very few people actually eat those fish, activists have managed to scare consumers away from eating seafood at all," a December 2008 post reads.

If women are apprehensive about fish consumption because of the warnings broadcasted on "Nightly News" and other included in other media outlets, they could be depriving themselves of important nutrients.

"Women in the U.S. eat less than two ounces of seafood per week, which means they are denying themselves an important source of Omega 3 fatty acids that are known to encourage cognitive development in fetuses and help protect against heart disease," the blog continued.

Over the past several months, the fish industry has been under fire from various media reports because of the potential for mercury contamination, which have relied heavily on environmental activist groups for their sourcing according to the NFI.

A Dec. 23 New York Times editorial questioned if fish were safe to eat. An Oct. 14 Reuters story relied completely on data put out by Greenpeace and that the environmental group even used in a Web ad. On CNN's Dec. 16 "Lou Dobbs Tonight," a report raised the possibility the outgoing Bush administration was trying to dupe the public when the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) increased its recommendations of fish consumption because it conflicted with the environmental agenda.

Also, at the top of the "Nightly News" segment, anchor Lester Holt used actor Jeremy Piven to introduce the report by Bazell. The actor resigned from a starring role in a Broadway play claiming mercury poisoning from sushi.

"You may have heard the recent story about actor Jeremy Piven abruptly quitting a starring role on Broadway claiming he was terribly ill from mercury poisoning," Holt said. "He blamed it on a constant diet of sushi. While his diet may not be typical of most Americans, it is the latest in a long-running controversy over how much fish we should eat - a question that applies most urgently to pregnant women and nursing mothers."

However, as AboutSeafood.com pointed out, the checkered background of the physician that diagnosed Piven with mercury-related ailment raised questions about Piven's illness.

"Well, he too has been called ‘fishy,' the former body builder turned celebrity physician and motivational speaker has been a pitch man for muscle-building health supplements and has reportedly been hauled into court four times for allegedly faking lab results so companies that paid him could promote ephedra as a diet supplement," the blog said. It also pointed out that "Nightly News" was just picking up where environmental groups left off.

"And today environmental lobbying groups latched on to the story and are trying to make hay with it but they are quickly finding that they may have hitched their cart to the wrong horse," the blog continued. "As it turns out the play's investors aren't buying the diagnosis and may call in their own doctor to get a ‘second opinion.'"