My father used to counsel me not to believe anything I read in the papers. I always took this as hyperbole, but this week’s City File by Harold Henderson [August 16] makes me wonder. Of his seven points, I have concerns about four. The first and most egregious is his quote from the Peoria Journal Star concerning House Bill 5793, that the bill would “prohibit state inspectors [of factory farms] from taking pictures to document their investigations.” What HB5793 says is “No person shall, without the effective consent of the owner and with the intent to damage the enterprise conducted at the animal facility…enter an animal facility to take pictures by photograph, video camera, or by any other means.” Elsewhere in the act it states that “consent is not deemed to be effective if induced by force or threat.”
Unless legal experts (something I am not) think that owners of factory farms can claim that legally required inspections constitute “force or threat,” inspectors are not affected by this law. It seems to me to forbid only unauthorized entry to take pictures with the intent of damaging the enterprise. What the act does prohibit is a number of trespassing and property-damage kinds of things that are already illegal. I suspect, without having researched it, that the associated penalties are a lot stiffer than they would otherwise be. All in all, it looks like a shameful kowtowing to a group of industries that have been annoyed by animal-rights activists and environmentalists and have the bucks to buy better protection from the law than most of us get. Junk like this should be exposed, but misstatements of facts are not the way to do it.
Another quarrel is with the item “Facts antismoking activists don’t want you to know.” In it smoker and Libertarian Joseph Bast is quoted: “Low-tar cigarettes are 20 percent safer than regular cigarettes” and “If just 10 percent of smokers switched to smokeless tobacco…26.8 million life-years would be saved.” My quarrel is with your use of the word “Facts.” Bast saying it does not make it so. If you did some fact checking, you would find that the cigarette companies’ contention that low-tar cigarettes are safer has been contradicted by several independent studies. Also by common sense, when you consider that people smoking those unsatisfying things inhale more and deeper. As for the smokeless tobacco bit: first of all, why should “antismoking activists” give a damn? No secondhand smoke, no stench outside building entrances or in restaurants and bars. Sounds great to this “antismoking activist.” But tobacco is poisonous. In exchange for lung cancer, chawers get mouth, tongue, throat, stomach, and bladder cancer. I don’t know about the effect on heart disease (you’re the reporter, after all!). But I do know about bladder cancer: when your ostomy bag leaks in the middle of the night your wife wants to kill you and you’ll gladly pay her to do it. Secondly, where does he get that statistic “26.8 million life-years would be saved”?
Libertarians are notorious for preferring argumentation to the detriment of facts. Someone recently slipped a piece of Libertarian literature into my car that claimed that the federal government spent some huge number of dollars per second (I think it was $17 million, but I’ve forgotten). I went straight to the Internet to look up the federal budget, did the arithmetic, and came up with a number that, though still astronomical, was only a fifth of the number claimed. It’s my conviction that a Libertarian polemicist is like a Scientologist: winning the argument is everything; how I do it isn’t important, because not only am I right, but anyone who disagrees with me is immoral.
But even if it’s not a Libertarian speaking, don’t call it a fact if you haven’t verified it. And smoking data from a doctor in a tobacco company’s employ doesn’t count as verification.
Yet another of your comments bothers me: “Things we never thought we’d see the Washington editor of the Nation admit.” Where have you been? Castro may be a better dictator than Batista was, but that doesn’t make reasonable Americans like him. The problem for many of us is our own country’s policies toward Cuba, our attempt to force our will on another country by embargo and power politics, the fact that we weren’t so holy when Batista and his thugs were running the country. Las Vegas is what it is because Castro kicked organized crime out of Havana. And Castro is still there because we keep being here to justify his revolution.
Finally, one item I like but would like to add to: “Facts car salespeople don’t want you to know.” As of the publication date of this issue of the Reader, the car-sharing service is available at two locations in the Hyde Park neighborhood as well. And I agree with your heading. Still, I’d be curious to know how many car salespeople’s spouses sign up for the service.