The Beef Board and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) did everything possible to head off the Aug. 31 TIME magazine cover story, “The Real Cost of Cheap Food” by Bryan Walsh. The story is literally so full of half-truths and full-out falsehoods that it’s almost laughable if it weren’t for the fact that it will be read by millions of people this week.
I’m not so naïve as to suggest as some have that Walsh abdicated his journalistic responsibilities by not printing the truth. After all, he’s an activist who isn’t interested in the truth. The Beef Board and NCBA gave him the chance to learn the truth and he elected to ignore it.
There have always existed those who are willing to lie to advance their beliefs, believing that if the goal is noble then the tactics to achieve it don’t have to be. TIME, of course, did a great disservice to its readers and the cause of truth by printing this largely fictional piece as actual news, but this is just one of several examples that clearly illustrate that TIME is no longer a serious magazine but a tabloid. (Hear Walsh interviewed on AgriTalk earlier this week at: audio.agritalk.com/wordpress/?p=1194)
Of course, there are publications such as the Weekly Standard and National Review that openly proclaim their philosophical bent. Such publications may selectively use facts, or creatively arrange them, but their facts are indeed facts. And the folks who pick up these publications know what they are reading.
Conversely, TIME has been considered an independent news publication. Individuals might feel it leaned too far one way or the other, but its reportage was generally considered fair.
The American people are well conditioned and smart enough to sort out the various world views and agendas. What is morally and ethically wrong is when someone makes up facts and knowingly misrepresents the truth to advance an agenda. Even more repugnant is that a magazine like TIME elects to print such a travesty and the rest of the media doesn’t hold the publication accountable for its action.
Walsh’s message is like that of members of the Ku Klux Klan who spew out hate; the untruths eventually work against the message. And it’s similar to what groups like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals or the American Civil Liberties Union accomplish with their occasionally outrageous stands.
This piece is best described as propaganda, and its own inaccuracies will ultimately dismiss itself. The real and bigger concern is that as an industry we don’t give such activists real and substantive reasons to question our actions. It’s the critics who base their arguments on sound science who we really need to concern ourselves with.