Farm Progress

Claims of ‘fake news’ aimed at undermining faith in traditional institutions is a dangerous pattern.

Walt Davis 1, Editor

December 21, 2017

3 Min Read
TRUST ISSUES: A blizzard of claims about what’s true and what’s “fake” in the news is nothing new to agriculture, which has been under attack by misinformation campaigns for decades.cbies/iStock/Thinkstock

What’s true and what’s false?

There was a time in American life when it was easy to find sources that were absolutely trusted to tell the truth: “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. If you read it in the Times, you know it is true.”
Those were the glory days of American journalism — a time when the public knew and trusted their hometown newspaper or the leading newspapers of the land — as sources of valid information.

Not anymore. These days, you hear every day that The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal — all the traditional icons of the trusted press — are “fake news.” Right up there with CNN, NBC, CBS, ABC and your hometown newspaper, especially if they dare to print something you don’t agree with.

In agriculture, we have seen the creeping power of social media campaigns and orchestrated “pushes” to traditional media mislead the public with untrue information for a decade. GMOs will change your DNA, give you cancer, and give your kids autism; hormone implants in cattle will taint beef and cause your daughters to enter puberty at age 8; factory farms owned by faceless corporations dominate American food production; farmers “drench” their crops with pesticides leaving behind heavy residues that make it into the food supply; farmers mistreat their animals and cover up neglect with huge amounts of antibiotics that are largely responsible for resistant bacteria. And on and on.

We have tried to fight back, to put the truth out there, to defend the reality of the rural way of life. But our voices have often been drowned out by the sheer volume of the propaganda determined to undermine agriculture. I admit that I am still bewildered as to what the creators of this misinformation think they will accomplish with the destruction of American agriculture, which would without doubt create great food insecurity both in America and around the world. Who benefits?

However, in the last year, the volume of disinformation has been turned way up and it’s gone in a new direction. On a daily basis, things that can be verified by checking sources, running numbers, studying economic reports or even reviewing videotapes are being called “fake news,” and stories as strangely fake as Roundup residue on hard red winter wheat bread flour are being validated.

Lately, I have begun to think that the idea is not to warn anybody of actual danger, but simply to create a climate of distrust. You simply make people doubt everything they hear except for what you want them to believe is true.

The fact that the power of the message machine is moving from making the food-consuming public distrust famers to making the general public distrust the institutions of our republic does nothing to make me feel better about the reality of what’s happening.

The free press is under attack. The essence of our democracy depends on this issue turning out right. We need a press capable of telling the population when it is being misled. Restrictions on the ability of the press to do that are dangerous.

Making you confused about what is credible and what isn’t is the goal of people who want to control how you think. So how do you know what to believe? Start with looking for multiple sources. Real stories are always reported by multiple outlets. Do your own research about a given allegation. Look for public records.

Who do you NOT trust? Sources that tell you that they, and only they, can tell you the details of a given story. Sources that tell you everything you hear from somewhere else is false or fake are immediately suspect. Be wary when you hear “you won’t hear/see this anywhere else.”

There is no such thing as a news outlet that does not occasionally make a mistake. Reputable publications or broadcasts immediately apologize when they realize that have made a mistake and correct it. Beware of any source that never acknowledges a mistake.

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