The vast majority of people who walk their dogs past my house are responsible pet owners. If their dogs “go to the bathroom,” the owners are there to clean up after them. Occasionally, there’s a mess that doesn’t get cleaned up, and I kick it off the sidewalk into the grass or else toss it in the trash.
It’s like a network news story on the livestock industry — Katie Couric or Brian Ross leaves a mess, and then the industry (including trade publications like ours) has to clean up after them.
It gets tiring. Why can’t the news media be more responsible?
Last August, when TIME magazine did a hatchet job on modern American agriculture, our AgriTalk radio network snagged the writer of the TIME article for an interview. The writer admitted that the story was slanted. He said it’s been a trend at TIME to have articles that are “angled toward the point of view of the writer.”
The problem is that the articles are disguised as news rather than opinion.
We ran a number of follow-ups to the TIME article on our Web site and e-newsletters. Perhaps most telling were comments by Daren Williams, of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, who said that he lined up several interviews for the TIME writer, but nothing from those interviews showed up in the final article.
Then, there was the ABC News “Nightline” piece in late January with investigative reporter Brian Ross. It showed undercover video from a couple of farms and implied that the images shown on those videos — cows laying in filth, cows dehorned or tail-docked in a painful manner, and even a cow getting bonked on the head with a wrench — were common practices in the industry.
The person who bonked the cow on the head was not a supervisor at the farm, as “Nightline” reported, but rather a maintenance worker who didn’t work with the cows on a regular basis. And, prior to the Jan. 26 broadcast, dairy industry officials took an ABC news producer and film crew to a farm in Pennsylvania so they could understand what happens on a dairy farm, but that particular trip was ignored in the final piece.
When it comes to sheer inaccuracy, CBS News’ Katie Couric’s two-part broadcast on antibiotic use in farm animals takes the cake.
The CBS report was “rather short on facts and science and rather long on speculation,” Richard Carnevale, veterinarian and vice president of regulatory, scientific and international affairs for the Animal Health Institute, told a media briefing on Feb. 11.
“You are more likely to die from a bee sting, said Scott Hurd, senior epidemiologist with the College of Veterinary Medicine at Iowa State University, than have a few days of diarrhea due to a resistant infection acquired from on-farm antibiotic use.
Hurd, former deputy undersecretary of food safety at the USDA, wrote a point-by-point rebuttal to Couric’s piece.
We wish the media reports didn’t always have to be rebutted. We wish there were fewer messes to clean up after. We wish the issues could be discussed in an objective and factual manner.