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Commentary: Know Your Enemy

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By Gary Truitt

“Know Your Enemy” is a saying derived from Sun Tzu’s The Art of War. While I hate to say it, the enemy of agriculture is the American mainstream media. I think most of us in agriculture have known for a while that the media is not our friend, but, when it comes to the issue of animal rights, they have tossed any pretense of journalism aside and have joined forces with the radical animal activist movement.  This has undeniably been the case in the coverage of the Fair Oaks story.

First it was the sensationalized headlines and the one sided news stories that focused more on emotion than facts. This was typical and in line with how they have dealt with these under cover videos in the past. Then it went to a new level with favorable profiles of the activist who instigated the event and disparaging profiles of Fair Oaks and its management. Now, with emerging evidence that the animal abuse was encouraged and may have even been caused by those who may have been paid to make the videos, the media has turned hostile and is attacking the local investigators.

Newton County, Indiana, prosecutor told a local newspaper “a third-party witness has come forward to corroborate the allegations made by a suspect that the ARM employee encouraged or coerced the behavior.”  The activist group called the statement “unfounded and bogus information” that is “not only unprofessional, but irresponsible.”  In a blatant and unprofessional act of journalistic malpractice, WLFI-TV reporter  Kayla Sullivan implied that the prosecutor was at fault and used some of the same words used by the activist group. Other major media outlets in Chicago, Indianapolis, and elsewhere have also taken the side of the activist group and have questioned the motivation and integrity of the local investigators.

As Michele Payn pointed out in my last column, consumers and farmers are on the same side on this issue. Both consumers and livestock producers want safe and ethically-produced food.  While they have differences on what that means, the goals and values are the same. Animal activists and their friends, the media, have a different agenda. As producers, it is important we help consumers see this. It is also important that farmers not lie down and take this kind of treatment by local media outlets. Write letters, make phone calls, or cancel subscriptions. You can even try education, although this may be a lost cause. While there are some reporters and editors who are just genuinely lost when it comes to agriculture, most are not interested in learning the truth. This belief comes from over 30 years of working with and for many of these organizations.

Three former Fair Oaks employees are facing animal cruelty charges because of the incident. Fair Oaks has pledged changes, including installing video cameras at its facilities and additional training for workers, and is taking responsibility for the actions found on video. Yet, this is being ignored in most media coverage.

So, know your enemy. Know that most in the media do not have your operation’s or industry’s best interest at heart. Farm broadcasters and farm writers are about the only media folks you can trust.