Thursday, December 21, 2006

No fair - I was quoted accurately...

By now a few of you may have read the article in The Washington Post where I was interviewed on my farm about farm subsidies. The piece is part of a long series about farm policy. My opposition to subsidies is pretty well known here, I won't belabor it, but if you are interested in what it is like to be interviewed by a Pulitzer-prize winning journalist/author for a world-class newspaper, here is my impression.

First, while we in agriculture complain about our media image, the image of people in the media may be even more distorted. The movie/television depictions of journalists does not prepare you for the reality. Gil Gaul visited my farm after several e-mail exchanges. He was somewhat younger than me and upon arrival obviously unfamiliar with the farm scene.

Despite my firm conviction that he had his own agenda and without doubt I would be excerpted and misquoted, I have learned that what I think I said and what I said can be two different things. And from feedback from my columns and speeches, I also know that what I say may not be what people hear. My expectations of the outcome of this interview were not high, but I honestly viewed it as a chance to have a small impact on the farm bill debate.

About halfway through the morning Gil spent riding on the combine with me, I realized I really liked the guy. In turn, he told me what is was like to working in the print media today as the world shifts to on-line. (Not the most optimistic career vision, BTW). And for a guy who had won 2 - as in 1 + 1 - Pulitzers he was pathetically unassuming.
I remember thinking his friendly demeanor was probably a professional act designed to lull innocent farm boys into lapses of judgment.

Later that afternoon I discarded that notion. After all, what the heck could they write that I hadn't said or written publicly, anyway? Besides, burning even one-time sources like me is a poor long term strategy for professionals.

Look and judge the article for yourself. And you can read what others are saying, both here on AgWeb and at the bottom of the article. My only slight misgiving is that the article seems pretty hopeless - that things could never be better. My personal conviction is if they stopped sending me money and didn't send you any either, we'd figure it out. We're not stupid or lazy.

All told, I've got no complaints. This experience has made me a little less cynical about the MSM (mainstream media) and a little more skeptical of those who dogmatically accuse them of bias. So if you ever have a similar chance, I would say go for it.

Besides, this episode will be forgotten with the next news cycle, I'm sure.


Anonymous said...

I enjoyed your comments in the WP. Many times at the end of the year when I sit down and look at my income from farming, I say "jee, my income is the same as the government payment." and I get apprehensive.
We have a dairy and grain farm and spend most of our work on the cows. We often joke about being grain farmers for 8 weeks a year as a hobby. I used to think without gov. subsidies prices would adjust lower, but am not sure with ethanol.


John Phipps said...


Thanks for reading. I have gotten beyond whether subsidies even work or not. I am simply convinced they do not add to our happiness. Notice how angry farmers get when the subject is brought up?

Isn't being happy the point?