Certainly a lot of investigative reports are valuable, perform an important service. But far too often they are far more harmful than helpful. The harmful part is driven by the media’s need to entertain, which they do by creating a white hat/black hat story regardless of the truth.
Like many farms, Randy Adkin’s blueberry farm uses migrant workers which are housed in camps–about 250 of them. Farm labor was plentiful this year and Adkins turned away over 1000 adults looking for work. Normally the children of the migrant families attend a state-supported day care, but Michigan’s economy was in the tank so no day care and no summer school program for the kids. So the migrant families had to supply their own daycare and some brought their kids to the field with them. It is not a practice Adkins supported, but much to his regret, he did not do enough to stop it.
I just want to mention a side note here. I grew up in berry picking area and every summer since I was about five years old I would go and pick berries. First with my mom, then when about nine or ten, on my own with my brothers. We would ride our bikes, pick berries, eat a whole lot and earn a little money for candy, school supplies, etc. It was where most of us around here learned what work was all about. But some enlightened do-gooders decided that child labor was a throw back to bad old days of the industrial revolution and now it is illegal for anyone under 12 to work. Sure, there is some value in that, but my gosh don’t we go overboard.
Back to the Adkin’s farm. Some college kids said they were doing a documentary on how blueberry farms work and shot video of the children in the fields working alongside their parent. They turned it over to authorities and the media. The Department of Labor stepped in and levied fines. ABC News ran a big story with Chrlie Gibson and Brian Ross who were suitably shocked and dismayed at the shameful exploitation of child labor by this berry farmer.
But of course, that is not enough. The big image-conscious companies who marketed the blueberries, Meijer, Kroger and Walmart all suspended business with the farm. As the editor of Food Grower News points out, Walmart’s righteous indignation was especially galling since they have become the behemoth they are largely on child labor in China.
As a result, every farmer in the nation was scurrying to make certain that not a single child any where near age 12 was to be found any where near their fields. Is that a good thing? Certainly not for the strapped migrant families. Beyond that I’ll let you be the judge. The Department of Labor of course looks good because they did their enforcement thing. The big companies protected their image because they told the world they won’t stand for this kind of brutal exploitation of child labor. ABC can feel quite good because it was definitely a white hat black hat story that played well to the credulous masses.
The sad thing is the truth escaped the agendas of all those involved. And that is something that every American ought to care deeply about.