Aug. 29 2014 07:06 AM

"Confidential" heading on letter is like blood to sharks.

Public perception about the dairy industry has sadly melted down in Idaho again, and along with it comes a reminder to producers everywhere that if a news story doesn't "have blood," the non-ag media is fully capable of making it look like there is.

Earlier this year was a blowup over Idaho passing a law that essentially says entering a private business just because you want to see what is going on, such as in the form of undercover videos, has nothing to do with the First Amendment (freedom of speech). Rather, it violates the constitutionally protected private property and privacy rights that every citizen is entitled to.

Two weeks ago it was a letter from United Dairymen of Idaho to all producers in the state that was labeled CONFIDENTIAL on the top right. A copy, of course, eventually made its way into the hands of the Associated Press, resulting in a public relations mushroom cloud for the nation's fourth largest dairy state. The letter's first two paragraphs are reprinted verbatim as follows:

There has been a recent heightened interest by media to film on-farm footage as a response to Idaho's ag-protection legislation. We are working to confine and contain the nature of the requests, but encourage you to remain alert for unexpected visits to your farms.

For protection of your farm and the Idaho dairy industry, we recommend that you coordinate any requests for television, print or radio interviews with the Idaho Dairymen's Association or the Idaho Dairy Products Commission/United Dairymen of Idaho, unless those requests come specifically from [three individuals named.]

It goes on to offer four different suggestions about how to very politely and honestly turn down farm visit requests.

A quick internet search for news articles resulting from the letter turns up many hits, the headlines for most of which are some version of "Idaho dairies told not to give tours" – a summation that is factually inaccurate and misrepresents the letter, no matter how hard anyone squints when looking at it.

There are several points to make here:
  1. No U.S. citizen is under any obligation to let anyone without legal authority to enter a business or residence just because they want to see what is going on. Using free speech as a justification to do so slanders that term in the most offensive way possible.

  2. A dairy never has to agree to a media interview or farm visit of any kind. Never. It's something that is purely voluntary, so say no if you don't want to do it.

  3. Today's reality is that fanatic people with singular agendas can make anything look exactly they way they want it to look, and are masters at manipulating an ignorant news media whose credo is, "If it bleeds, it leads."

  4. Promoting the truth and many virtues about the dairy industry benefits every milk producer. It is something we must constantly do. Our industry has many professionals who are very good at that, so let them do it.

  5. Nothing ever stays confidential in this era of instant information. Nothing.

  6. Understand that it is a cheap baiting tactic if you are asked, "What do you have to hide?" Don't ever bite.
  7. Dennis blog footer

    The author has served large Western dairy readers for the past 37 years and manages Hoard's WEST, a publication written specifically for Western herds. He is a graduate of Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo, majored in journalism and is known as a Western dairying specialist.