Northern Valley Beacon

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Thursday, October 12, 2006


Just because you can't fix stupid doesn't mean you have to endorse it

At one time I wrote columns for the Aberdeen American News. I did so fully aware that it was designated by the press review at the old Northwest Database, one of the first online bulletin boards, as the worst newspaper of its size in the upper Midwest. It earned that epithet not only because it sacrificed its editorial integrity to its small-minded politics, but because it was so doggedly incompetent. Over time, it has had many competent workers, but they have never been able to outweigh what seem to be the glandular discharges of its core battery of duds. Someone there propagates the idea that incompetence and mental insufficiency somehow speaks to and for the loyal readers, and it does that by appointing editors who insure that any piece that threatens to assert some intelligence will never make it into print.

I quite writing columns for the American News after it allowed another of its columnists to violate the most sacrosanct rule of journalism by allowing him to misquote and falsely portray what someone else had written elsewhere. The editors response was that, well, it was his opinion of what was said and he expressed it. Quoting and paraphrasing what someone says is not a matter of opinion. One either gets it accurate and clear or one doesn't. In this case one didn't. But that rule of journalism seems far beyond the ken of the collective intelligence at the American News.

And I admit I quit for another reason. Professional ego was at stake. As a local columnist, I was being identified with some of that incredibly incompetent thinking and writing and general intellectual failure that is the stuff that the editors at the American News think is what their readers clamor for. And when I quit writing for the American News, I let my subscription lapse. I don't know what its going on there. That is like not living next door to a feed lot. I enjoy the freedom from stench.

But occasionally one of the American News exercises in stupid is noted by another newspaper. This time an editorial was cited at the Rapid City Journal's web log Mount Blogmore under the title "Aberdeen disaster-aid editorial." Mount Blogmore posted links that gave access to the American News editorial and the material it was reacting to.

The Aberdeen American News editorial on Sunday, Oct. 6, was headed "Get facts straight beforre slinging political mud." It was objecting to the fact that the Environmental Working Group in Washington, D.C., had issued a press release on the fact that there are a significant number of farmers in the Great Plains who are near-perpetual recipients of disaster aid. The news packet from EWG specifies that South Dakota ranks third behind Texas and North Dakota for payments to operations with chronic disasters, like 11 or more years out of the last 21. Actually, there are some farmers in South Dakota who have received disaster payments for 15 out of the last 21 years. The state ranks second in the number of farmers who received such aid in at least 11 of the last 21 years.

The American News editorial claims that EWG slimed South Dakota farmers in presenting its statistics and did not look at the facts. And it ends it editorial with the threat that if we don't continue the disaster-aid payments, we will all end up paying more for food.

The Aberdeen American News misrepresents and misquotes the EWG news releases. EWG goes to great and careful length to support disaster-aid payments to farmers, but it questions those whose operations are in a chronic state of disaster. And most farmers will tell you that they resent operations which make more from agricultural welfare programs than they do the production of crops and livestock. But the American News chose to ignore that part of the news packet. Instead it goes into its petulant, stupid whine about maligning South Dakota farmers.

It also ignores the fact that the farmers who are the chronic recipients of disaster-aid are listed by name, the number of years they have received the aid out of the last 21, and the total amount they have received. In South Dakota, 2,550 farmers received disaster payments for 11 or more years between 1985 and 2005 totaling $266,038,999. You can click on the link provided above and see who they are and how much they have received. And, yes, you might find friends and neighbors among them.

EWG did not slime anyone. It laid out some disturbing facts. And it provides information as to why many Congress people, both Republican and Democrats from urban areas, are under pressure from their constituents to cut some of the excesses in farm aid. Put this information together with the fact that $1.3 billion in farm subsidies last year went to people who don't farm.

Now this next statement is one of the type that the Aberdeen American News, its columnists, and its editors have the greatest trouble with. It is called a qualification. It goes like this: EWG is not against disaster aid; neither am I. What I fear is that legitimate family-run operations are being lumped with operations that farm the government more than they do the land. Congress is having trouble coming up with disaster-aid legislation. The National Farmers Union is pressing for it to help those who have been damaged severely by drought. But what is making it difficult for that legislation is the knowledge among many lawmakers that so much of what they appropriate seems to be subsidizing operations that simply are not viable agricultural enterprises. They survive on constant payments by the government. Urban taxpayers see money going to farm welfare when then have schools and infrastructure in need of attention and help.

I posted it elsewhere. Ronald Reagan brought this attitude to form when he chided the welfare queen driving to the welfare office in her pink Cadillac to pick up her welfare check. Well, in urban centers, there is an image of the man in the big hat and cowboy boots driving to the farm services office in his white Town Car to pick up his subsidy check.

In order to keep the farm economy stabilized and to keep farms from being abandoned to corporate entities, we need farm programs that deal with the real issues of agriculture.

What we don't need is a bunch of raging incompetents misrepresenting the discussion and facts about something as important as agricultural policy. There is no professional excuse for misrepresenting the EWG report in the way that the Aberdeen American News did. The general tenor of malicious and stupid politics today is fed by reports like that. The democracy is dependent upon journalism that is honest, accurate, and at least minimally competent.

The Aberdeen newspaper has new owners. We wonder if they expect reasonable levels of journalistic competence.

They could contribute much to the quality of our democracy if they did.

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