Swine flu: Will U.S. media tell us the whole truth?
Swine flu virus (CDC)
The Associated Press, as published in the LA Times, looks at the possible connection between swine flu and the corporate pig farm called La Gloria in Veracruz, Mexico. This thoughtful article does a good job of explaining how difficult it can be to trace the origin of this new flu strain. However, as a journalist myself, I am as interested in what is left out as what's left in.
Glaringly absent is any reference to the connection between La Gloria and Smithfield, the U.S. corporation that dominates the production of so much of the pork we eat. According to the Times Online (United Kingdom), Granjas Carroll in Mexico owns La Gloria, and Smithfield owns part of Granjas Carroll. Leaving those facts out of the story - and the fact that the Mexican farm produces almost a million pigs a year - means the AP provides no analysis of any corporate responsibility for outsourcing pig production to huge factory farms in countries like Mexico where environmental and labor laws do not match ours and where enforcement of their relatively feeble laws is often lacking.
The Times Online (United Kingdom) may have gone too far in headlining its story as directly linking this new flu strain to the manure lagoons at La Gloria, but it also gives much-needed context to the problems of industrial ag. Why isn't the press in the United States as willing to tackle this issue of corporate responsibility? Too much lapdog, not enough watchdog?
Newspapers across the country are begging for our sympathy, arguing that we must save them from financial ruin because of the crucial role they play in keeping government honest. But it is that narrowness of focus - always on government, never the corporations - that is part of the reason that people like me don't trust them. U.S. news organizations are quick to investigate the mayor with his hand in the till but not the companies robbing us blind legally. Why is the AP telling us only part of the story? I would be interested in knowing what the editors took out.
UPDATE: The AP is now reporting that the Centers for Disease Control has confirmed that genes that part of the new swine flu virus habe been circulating in pigs for at least a decade. The article says that the team investigating the origins of this new flu strain warn that pig populations should therefore be monitored more closely. Another good reason that the U.S. press should do a better job of watchdogging corporate agriculture.