Recently I was invited to participate in a segment of John Stossel’s Fox Business show. He was dedicating his show to energy “myths” and intended to do a segment on ethanol. Knowing that Stossel has a history of being decidedly negative toward ethanol, I was originally skeptical. But I was convinced to go on the show because it would be taped in front of a live audience and I assumed I would at least be able to get my points out without editorial bias.
Last Thursday the show aired. I was wrong. Live to tape doesn’t mean they don’t edit. And edit they did. Gone was the explanation I gave for why it is gasoline and energy driving food prices, not ethanol. Gone was the bit I did explaining how ethanol has revitalized rural communities, created jobs and stimulated economic growth. Gone too were parts of my discussion about climate change. All that was left were abbreviated comments responding to biased charges like, “environmentalists don’t support ethanol” and “ethanol’s lower BTU content increases consumer gasoline costs.” Curiously, none of the comments from Stossel’s other guest, chosen for his antipathy toward ethanol, were similarly censored. I’ve been on numerous TV shows where both sides are treated fairly, without editing. Not here. With Stossel, it appears I was a prop, not a guest. I suppose I should have known better.
I actually think Stossel’s audience might have benefited from the information I was trying to get out. There has been so much misinformation, people are surprised when I tell them how significant the feed products from ethanol plants are to livestock nutrition, they are stunned to learn that ethanol uses only 3 percent of the world’s grain supply, and they recognize the truth that energy prices affect every aspect of food production, transportation, storage and marketing. But Stossel was apparently afraid — afraid the truth would undermine the paradigm his show was attempting to reinforce — that ethanol is just another government boondoggle with no real societal benefit. I was off message.
But Stossel’s not alone. Most of the mainstream media, particularly the oil industry apologist Wall Street Journal and other east coast elitists, genuinely don’t understand ethanol, value added agriculture, or farm economics. Their ignorance of what happens in those “fly-over” states is real, and it affects their thinking on everything they write or broadcast that might have some impact on rural America. I know of no major media outlet with a dedicated ag reporter. Agriculture contributes more than $400 billion to the national economy; how can they ignore it? It’s not like there aren’t dedicated professionals covering the topic. There are scores of knowledgeable hard-working ag-journalists that deserve a wider audience. I met with a bunch of them recently when the National Association of Farm Broadcasters came to Washington for a series of meetings with policy makers. Yeah, they actually still go out and report, seeking the story, not satisfied writing or broadcasting off of someone’s press release, talking points or pitch document. They provide some measure of hope that the entire profession hasn’t surrendered their integrity.
But unless and until the mainstream media recognizes their failure to comprehend agriculture, the challenge of breaking through the bias so evident in the John Stossels of the world remains. Next time I’ll bring my own prop — an ear of #2 field corn — and invite Stossel to eat it!