Among his mainstream media brethren, Brandon Darby, the managing director and editor of Breitbart Texas, noticed that farmers and the importance of them are largely overlooked and dismissed. “You have to think about the people that this country really depends upon and whether or not they’re given any kind of voice and farmers don’t have one,” he explained to Farm Policy Facts during a recent interview.
It is a harsh truth, and one that Darby could not abide by.
A couple of months ago he was reading a story in a conservative, Washington, D.C. publication and was disappointed in the coverage. “It just trashed rural communities, rural farming communities,” he said. “It was very offensive to me.”
He set out to learn more and quickly realized farmers have some powerful and well-funded enemies from both sides of the political spectrum from the likes of the Environmental Working Group (EWG) on the left to the Heritage Foundation on the right.
“But, he was specifically alarmed by the positions of Heritage and the other conservative think tanks in Washington, D.C. In one breath, they spout support for a strong national defense, and in the next breath they bash farm policy, not recognizing the obvious link between the two.
“You have people holding to the dogma of free markets when the truth is our farmers are not existing in a free market system,” explained Darby. “They’re existing in a system where foreign governments and other entities are doing all they can to make sure their own farmers have dominance.”
Darby teamed up with friend and ally, Jay Leeson, who is a radio talk show host on West Texas Drive. As someone who has grown up in Texas all of his life surrounded by agriculture, Leeson has been particularly concerned about the sad state of the farm economy, especially for cotton producers. “It makes my heart hurt,” he told Farm Policy Facts.
He was also disgusted by the seemingly lack of political support for our nation’s agricultural producers and the outright lies that many special interest groups try to spread about the cost and mechanics of an effective farm safety net.
“The message that’s portrayed from these think tanks is not that [farm policy] is half of one percent of federal spending, but that it’s half of federal spending,” explained Leeson. “No one takes federal spending lightly, but we’re talking about less than half of one percent.”
Having watched his own father file bankruptcy and quit farming because of circumstances beyond his control in the 1980s, Leeson wanted to set the record straight about the importance of a farm safety net and agreed to write a few stories about what is at stake without one. He interviewed close to 30 people for the four-part series titled the “The Farmer’s Plight” that ran in Breitbart in late July to serve “as a primer for those without orientation to U.S. production agriculture.”
“Part of it is this where I live, these are my neighbors, it’s an industry that I believe in, and my own personal experience is a trigger for me,” said Leeson.
The series opens up with a simple and powerful question: “Why is it assumed affordable food and fiber can be provided without farmers?” He then proceeds to describe in great detail what farmers are up against with collapsing prices, unfair trade practices, foreign subsidies, lack of political support in Congress, think tanks that try to portray farm policy like it’s the biggest giveaway of a lifetime, all of it with a historical backdrop.
Breitbart with its conservative bent enabled the stories to take off beyond traditional agricultural circles and reach the very audience that so willingly attacks farm policy in Washington, D.C. And, it clearly reached them as Darby soon received criticism from some who advised that he was selling out to a liberal message.
But, Darby and Breitbart remain steadfast in their plans to continue the coverage adding that giving voice to America’s farmers and ranchers fits well with Breitbart’s model.
“It’s not left or right; it’s just America,” said Darby. “We find people who are vital in this country, doing something great, doing something that this country depends upon, who don’t have a voice for political reasons, or political forces organized against them and we go in there and make sure they have a platform for millions of people to hear their voices.”
Whether the recent press coverage will lead to better behavior from critics like EWG and Heritage or not, it is clear that a platform like Breitbart, that is committed to fair coverage, could change the dynamic of the debate surrounding farm policy in Washington.
“It’s time that this issue gets the attention it deserves,” concluded Leeson. “Can we sustain a sovereign republic without food, without fiber? The answer is no.”
To read the full series, click on the links below:
Part I: The American Farmer and America Inextricably Interwoven
Part II: Rural America’s Nightmare – Again
Part III: Bad Trade Deals and Worse Actors
Part IV: America’s Plight