Why We In Agriculture Lose To Fake News

Fake news is a new term but it’s nothing new.  

Walter Cronkite, “the most trusted man in America” as CBS marketed him, wasn’t always that trustworthy.  Years after he left the anchor desk, Walter said he missed “being able to affect the outcome of the day’s events.”  Hmmm?  Your job, Mr. Cronkite, wasn’t to “affect outcomes” it was to report them.  

How about NBC’s Brian Williams’ “conflated” war story?  “Conflate?”  Williams basically had himself in the role of John Wayne on the Sands of Iwo Jima!  

Media has never truly been about truth.  Truth lacks emotional spin.  The goal of media, fake or otherwise, is to trip an emotional trigger, thereby affecting an outcome. 

Agriculture has been on the wrong side of fake news plenty  

Remember the anti- egg movement?  The incredible, edible egg was reportedly out to kill humanity.  A 2012 TIME magazine headline reads, Is Eating Eggs Really as Bad for Your Heart as Smoking?  

Eggs survived.  Today it’s gluten.  Tomorrow it’ll be something else.  In the meantime, count on fake news about the evils of gluten.  Because every company selling gluten free popcorn benefits by perpetuating misinformation. 

In a 1996 episode, Oprah Winfrey went anti-beef.  Her guest, a Humane Society of the United States representative, speculated (wrongly) that Mad Cow Disease was rampant in the US beef herd.  He also compared Mad Cow Disease to AIDs - how’s that for fear pushing?  

Every day, there’s new fake news about food.  My recent favorite:  Food containing GMO ingredients causes sterility.  (Eat up, dumb people!) 

Understand this:  the media is a profit- driven selling forum, not an encyclopedia.  

Oprah didn’t have a guy from the Humane Society on her show because he was the most knowledgable person to discuss beef.  Oprah knew beef fear would sell.  Likewise, The HSUS knew their false message would harm their adversary: animal agriculture.  

Beef sued Oprah.  Oprah won.  Now you know why fake news flourishes.  

Why We Lose to Fake News

AG Plays Defense, Rather Than Being Offensive:   So, our opponents frame the message and we react to false claims.  Ask consumers if eggs are healthy or beef contains Mad Cow Disease.  You’ll be surprised at how well the misinformation stuck.   

We Play Nice, Our Opponents Don’t:  Why don’t farm organizations run media hit pieces on our detractors?  Expose the pushers of fake news for what they are?  Because we mistakenly believe we benefit by playing nice.   

We Use Facts, Consumers Use Feelings:  Rather than explaining production Agriculture, make food personal.  “Dear Consumer, these radical fringe groups want to control what you feed your family. Are you going to let them?”  

Fake news is a new term for an old practice: using misinformation to trigger an emotional reaction, thereby affecting an outcome.  The Business of Agriculture will be stronger when we affect our own outcomes. 

Damian Mason delivers insights with entertainment for the people of agriculture at meetings throughout North America and on his podcast, “The Business of Agriculture.”   www.damianmason.com 

Angie Carel