RURAL ROUTES/Margot Ford McMillen

Democracy Needs Honesty in Media

Thank you, John Boehner, for providing one of the few spontaneous comments to be heard in this election cycle. I mean, of course, your description of Ted Cruz as “Lucifer in the flesh.” That honest remark, along with the outbursts of Donald Trump and one or two off-cuff remarks from Bernie, have provided the few unrehearsed words in politics during the final Obama administration.

In fact, the popularity of Trump and Bernie have something to do with our gut reactions when we hear candidates with honest feeling. As for the rest of the performances, we’ve seen the most pre-packaged, puppet-mastered, stilted, censored displays since George Bush spoke before the “mission accomplished” sign on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln.

The censorship is reaching into all aspects of the media circus, and to fight it we’d better respect and support independent sources like the paper in your hands right now. Or the community radio you listen to. Those sources, staffed by citizen journalists and even your neighbors, may occasionally be awkward, but they are honest.

Censorship is no doubt one of the most troubling aspects of the so-called information age. If you wonder sometimes about the news you’re getting, perhaps in a TV, radio or internet program that features talking-head pundits, you are correct in guessing that it’s been pre-censored even before the pundit asks the question.

I had no idea about this pre-censoring until I invited a government employee onto my mid-Missouri program on community radio. I had heard this affable fellow speak at a conference on global climate change. His very reasonable message was simply that we’ll all do better in a weather crisis if we prepare, and that preparations should include events that we rarely experienced in our ecosystems before. Here in Missouri, for example, hail events are becoming common even though rare in the past.

Cities in the Pacific Northwest are experiencing heat waves. They’ve never needed air conditioning before but, by outfitting a few public buildings with A.C., and making them refuges for the infirm and elderly, the cities can save lives.

Simple, right?

I sent an e-mail asking this speaker if he’d give this reasonable advice to my listeners and he replied that, sure, he’d be glad to do it but not until he’d cleared it with the P.R. department of his agency. The P.R. department, in turn, sent an e-mail to see what questions I’d be asking. Specifically.

I sent a list.

Then, because I like conversations to include a bit of spontaneity, I asked if I could make follow-up questions. Like, say, he said “zika virus.” Could I ask, “what is the zika virus?” Their reply was no. Only the questions on the list, and his answers would be vetted before we recorded the program.

This kind of pre-censoring goes on all the time. Most of those roundtable discussions on the Sunday news programs have been rehearsed. But when does pre-censoring cross the line to become suppression of information?

A couple of weeks ago, I got an e-mail from a friend who told me to tune into a TV program that featured a woman who encouraged farmers to learn to live with weeds! Imagine! Since that’s one of my hot-button issues, I was excited to see her story. On our farm, we watch weeds to figure out which are truly bad, and we pull or chop at them with the intent to exterminate completely. If they’re less-bad, we learn to live with them, reminding ourselves that they pull nutrients from the earth and may make them accessible to the plants we desire.

But the tv show was canceled. The back story is that her piece was part 2 of a series that started with exposure of problems with glyphosate and wine. Glyphosate, which is used to control weeds of many kinds, and is sold under the brand name “Roundup,” has gotten into wine and from thence into the bodies of people who drink it. Nobody knows what effects it has on the drinkers—and Monsanto, the promoter and producer of glyphosate, has no interest in testing it.

Was the cancellation part of the work of Monsanto? So far, nobody knows. But it reminds me of an earlier case of censorship that WAS eventually traced to the chemical behemoth…

Exactly 20 years ago, in 1997, reporters Jane Akre and Steve Wilson (of Fox News) caught a Monsanto exec on film lying about RBGH—recombinant bovine growth hormone. This GMO material had been fed to dairy cows to increase milk production, but it was suspected as a cause of human cancer. European countries had banned it but the FDA had approved it, so it was continually used and is just now being completely rejected by dairy processors like Dannon.

So, support the independents. We need honesty in media and in our lives. Truthfully, we can’t make decisions without it.

Margot Ford McMillen farms near Fulton, Mo. Email:

From The Progressive Populist, June 1, 2016

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