Time cover story should stir U.S. agriculture to action

For the past 30 years and more I have been a communicator of agricultural information in one form or another. I enjoy being a journalist and getting to know a little bit about a lot of the things that make U.S. agriculture the envy of most of our world.

Most of the journalists I know are decent folks, some genuinely profound — others like me just trying to make a difference.

I don’t have any brothers, but I’m told by those who do that when your brother goes down the wrong path and does something really stupid, if not outright disgusting, it’s you who wants to be the one who slaps some sense into him. A brother wants to be the one who kicks his brother’s butt when that needs to be done and stands by him when the cause is just and all hope seems lost.

I don’t know Time Magazine writer Bryan Walsh, but we are brothers of sorts. We both make our living with quill, parchment and ink — as the legend goes.

Mr. Walsh wrote a cover story for the August 31 issue of Time Magazine, entitled, “Getting Real About the High Price of Cheap Food.” In the story Mr. Walsh, in very clever prose, attributes the blame for everything from the current economic recession to obesity in America, even global warming, to U.S. agriculture and American farmers.

When asked why or how he overlooked some glaring misconceptions and wrote some outright lies, Mr. Walsh said he was using ‘point-of-view journalism’ when he wrote the story.

In defending the story, Mr. Walsh said, “The story we ended up doing — and this is partially I think the result of the changes that our magazine and journalism generally is undergoing — I think in the past we would have gone more with sort of a headline that would have come with a question mark, with an on-the-one-hand, on-the-other-hand (approach). Now I think there’s a desire on our part … to look at the information you have and try to make a judgment based on the best of your understanding, so that it does come off as a way of taking a stronger point of view than stories that I would have done in the past,”

I’ve been a journalist longer than Mr. Walsh has been alive, and I’ve never heard of ‘point-of-view’ journalism’. In fact, point of view and journalism are contradictory terms — at least according to my well-used unabridged Daniel Webster dictionary.

Those of us who know anything about U.S. agriculture know how absurd and totally inaccurate, both in facts and in the intent of the story, the Time Magazine article portrays modern day agriculture.

The story is so far off base most of us in agriculture think no one would believe such sensationalized literary garbage. Unfortunately, mainstream America doesn’t have our insights and our understanding. I have no doubt a high percentage of the folks reading Mr. Walsh’s story agree with him.

After all, such a venerable and highly respected American icon of journalistic excellence as Time Magazine wouldn’t lie about something as important as our food source, not to mention do a first class literary hatchet job on one of the few U.S. industries that continues to thrive through our most recent domestic economic woes.

The journalistic juggernaut that the great American and Southern gentleman Henry Luce founded and built to excellence wouldn’t turn to something called ‘point-of-view journalism’ to ‘sensationalize itself up’ to boost sagging revenues. Would it?

Perhaps my friend David Winkles, who heads the South Carolina Farm Bureau, says it best in his letter to the editor of Time Magazine. Mr. Winkles writes: “I can just imagine that Time Magazine magnate Henry Luce would be turning in his South Carolina Low Country grave if he read your Aug 31 cover story on American agriculture and saw the inaccuracies, inconsistencies, and unbalanced bias reporting contained in the story.”

I hope everyone who reads this column — as close as we get to point-of-view journalism at Farm Press — will head over to the library, or the nearest book store, or simply go online and look up the Aug. 31 issue of Time Magazine.

After absorbing the article, I hope you will contact the editor of Time Magazine — write, call, e-mail, twitter him, write on his or her Facebook wall — whatever your favorite mode of communication. I don’t know how much good hearing your take on American agriculture will do, but I’m sure it will make you feel better for doing it.

As for my journalist brother Mr. Walsh, I don’t doubt he is a decent enough guy, most of us journalists are. A great thing about our country is that Mr. Walsh and anyone else has the right to write or say whatever they want to write or say — with a few obvious exceptions.

My beef, pardon the pun, with Mr. Walsh is that he chose to voice his opinion as fact and he had the opportunity to do so in one of America’s premier news magazines. Perhaps the results were as intended — I hope not both for Mr. Walsh and for Time Magazine.

In my lifetime, I have lived through America giving away a thriving steel industry, an automotive industry and most dear to my heart our textile industry. If we give away our food industry, I shudder to think what will become of us as a country.

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