Previously, we featured some of North Carolina’s eyepopping ag economy statistics and offered, “It’s not hard to see why rural North Carolinians register massive favorability numbers for the farmers in their area.”
So what happens when a big city paper airdrops into ag country to stir the pot? Nothing good.
First, a reminder of the context. In December, McClatchy’s North Carolina papers — the Charlotte Observer, News & Observer, and Durham Herald-Sun — published a multipart series aimed at our state’s poultry farmers, with help from the Google Data Driven Journalism project. The series tried to pit good rural North Carolinians against “big bad” poultry.
Here’s one example of the blatant bias with the which the reporters approached the topic: “More North Carolina residents are finding themselves neighbors to massive poultry farms that produce odors, noxious dust and hundreds of tons of manure.”
Here’s another: “There’s little neighbors can do to protect themselves from the stench, vultures and other nuisances.”
McClatchy launched a full-blown assault on one of North Carolina’s biggest rural economic drivers. Our state produces one-sixth of the entire country’s supply of poultry and eggs. Livestock, dairy, and poultry comprise 70% of North Carolina’s $13.3 billion in annual farm cash receipts.
Our first question about the attack was: Why?
The answer was tucked away at the very bottom of the stories, literally in the 200 words of fine print called “acknowledgments.” At the very end sits this line: “A special thanks to One Earth Fund…which support[s] Adam Wager’s reporting on climate change and the environment.”
It turns out some or all of the series was funded by a secretive climate activist organization known as “One Earth Fund.”
Here’s how Fox News describes the group’s work: “A little-known environmental organization founded by the heir of a billion-dollar fortune has quietly organized large grants for local news outlets to boost climate change coverage and, sometimes, hire new climate reporters.”
A One Earth Fund staffer let slip on her LinkedIn page how the organization operates. According to Fox News, the staffer’s resume states that the organization “tracked journalist output of climate stories before and after they received funding to ensure effectiveness, and ensured that potential collaborators aligned with 1Earth Fund’s stances.”
When the Carolina Journal asked The Charlotte Observer about its relationship with One Earth Fund, a company executive said, “Our company policy is not to respond to these kinds of inquirers.”
Carolina Journal asked “whether reporters are free to publish pieces that reveal facts counter to the mission of the funding organization.” The paper didn’t respond.
In recent months, the apparent end game of this coordinated attack, funded by secretive interests, became clear: A handful of state legislators filed a bill targeting North Carolina’s poultry farmers with expensive, and sometimes impossible, regulations. They cited McClatchy’s reporting as the reason why.
It’s becoming a familiar play: Special interests fund newspapers that write hit pieces about a target, and then the special interests use the reporting they funded as an excuse to press lawmakers to act. It’s a cynical game that’s destroying what remains of trust in journalism.
The question that nobody at McClatchy seems interested in answering is: How do rural North Carolinians living in top poultry-producing counties feel about their reporting?
We asked that question in a comprehensive poll conducted in late March. The answer is not good.
We first asked poll respondents how trustworthy they find articles about agriculture from the News & Observer and Charlotte Observer. Just 14% found the outlets to be mostly or very trustworthy.
We then offered poll respondents some information about McClatchy accepting donations from outside organizations to fund stories critical of agriculture in North Carolina. After hearing that information, a massive majority – 75% – reported it worsened their opinion of the news outlets. Just 10% said the information improved their opinion of the outlets.
The special interest-funded McClatchy hit pieces may have prompted a handful of left-wing legislators in Raleigh to try to regulate the poultry farmers out of existence.
But the people who are actually impacted by McClatchy’s recklessness — the rural North Carolinians whose local communities are centered on agriculture — don’t like outsiders airdropping into their communities with attacks paid for by climate activists.