The newest PolitiFact article in the KNS examines a claim in a blog by a national trade association made back in July.
Apparently, blog posts from 6 months ago represent the cutting edge of political analysis at the Scripps News Service, which could explain why subscription rates are falling faster than ad revenue at their newspapers.
So what controversial statement was so hot that it was still burning 6 months after it hit the blogosphere?
Apparently, Cindy Zimmerman, a part time contributor to CornCommentary.com, the blog of the National Corn Growers Association, had the gall to refer to Tennessee Rep Stephen Fincher as "the only working farmer currently serving in the House."
I'm surprised 60 Minutes didn't leap onto this story.
Next week, PolitiFact Tennessee will be investigating whether Davy Crockett really did 'kilt him a b'ar when he was only three.'
For a detailed takedown of the piece, follow the link. Even though the choice of story is somewhat lame and certainly dated, let's see if it is evaluated fairly.
So we set out to find out whether Fincher, of Frog Jump, Tenn., is in fact the only working farmer now serving. That Fincher is running a headline that says "Only Farmer in Congress . . . " next to a big photo of himself on his website also strikes us as an implicit endorsement of the statement, though we could not find any other evidence of him making the claim independently.
PolitiFact fails to mention that the three most recent stories are all posted right beside the Congressman's picture, and that the story titles match the titles of the stories they link to. That's not an endorsement; it's common courtesy when linking to another writer's work. Yet PolitiFact disregards this basic style point and instead uses their own judgment ("also strikes us") to label that as an "implicit endorsement" of the statement by the Representative.
A working farmer would, we figured, be someone who gets involved in farm operations, drives a tractor, tends to fence posts, and is known down the blacktop at the local feed store. Fincher clearly meets those specifications.
PolitiFact established objective criteria with which to judge the accuracy of the statement.
- Is involved in the farm operations
- Performs farming related activities
- Is known to other farmers in the community as a farmer
But a quick call to the House Agriculture Committee, where Fincher served briefly before taking a seat on the Financial Services Committee, revealed that its chairman, Frank Lucas, R-Okla., considers himself a fifth generation farmer and runs a cattle operation.
Is a rancher a farmer? Not according to most of the farmers I know. And I do know that historically, there have been major conflicts between farmers and ranchers regarding land usage among other things. PolitiFact doesn't make clear whether Lucas actually works his ranch full time or not, nor whether he is considered a farmer by his local peers. A Bing search for Frank Lucas rancher turned up no stories about his working a ranch and there's nothing on his official website about his ranching activities.
Marlin Stutzman, R-Ind., is a co-owner of Stutzman Farms in Howe, where he farms 4,000 acres with his brothers and brothers-in-law, growing soybeans, green beans and seed corn. Stutzman’s spokesman James Wegmann reports that the congressman sets aside "combine time" during the harvest season and is very much involved in the operation.
His political spokesman says he is, so he must be, right?
Digging a little deeper, I found that Stutzman's biography on his official website also mentions his work for the farm, and his campaign page gives further detail. For me, that's good enough to say that he is a farmer, but it doesn't fully meet the criteria set out by PolitiFact.
They set the criteria, not me.
Foul Tip; Strike Two.
Vicky Hartzler, R-Mo., lives on a working farm in Cass County, served on the Missouri Farm Bureau and owns businesses that sell farm equipment. Her spokesman, Steven S. Walsh, said she "can, indeed, be considered a
Again with the spokesman. Her official website gives a clearer picture. She worked the farm with her parents until she went away to college. After college, she was a teacher for 11 years. For 6 years after that, she was in the Missouri State House. From 2004 until her election 2 years ago to the US House, she's written a book, raised her family, and remained very active politically both at the state and national levels. Based on the description of her activities, it is hard to say whether she is "comfortable with manure on her shoes."
Fortunately, we do have another source of information to aid in our determination. Politifact linked to but did not quote, or apparently read, the Environmental Working Group's article on farm subsidies paid to members of the current Congress. As that article points out:
Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.)
Hartzler is listed in the EWG Farm Subsidy Database, but no subsidies were directly paid to her. Her husband, Lowell Hartzler, however, is listed as a 98 percent owner of Hartzler Farms, which received a total of $774,489 in farm subsidies between 1995 and 2009. His ownership percentage rose from 53 percent in the years up to 2005 to 98 percent in 2006.
Compare that to the information from the same article for Stephen Fincher:
Rep. Stephen Fincher (R-Tenn.)
Fincher is listed as directly receiving a total of $114,519 from USDA between 1995 and 2009. Fincher’s farm, Stephen & Lynn Fincher Farms, is also listed in the EWG database as receiving a total of $3,254,324 between 1999 and 2009. Fincher and his wife Lynn are each 50 percent partners in that farm.
Based on the description of her activities on her official website, and on the change in ownership of her family farm, she is not an active farmer at this time.
Foul Tip, Strike Two.
Two others have extensive experience on the farm although they no longer claim to be "working farmers."
Then this information is irrelevant. They aren't active, by their own admission. The only reason to include them is to bolster a weak argument.
We were also curious how many members of Congress look like farmers on paper by receiving U.S. Agriculture Department payments for farm operations they may not actually actively farm. For that we turned to the Washington-based Environmental Working Group, which for years has maintained a database of crop subsidy payments obtained from the USDA through a Freedom of Information Act request.
Again, irrelevant information. My mother owned a portion of a soybean plantation in Arkansas through her parents' trust. That plantation received subsidies from the federal government but I assure you, my mother is not an active farmer.
Strike Three for PolitiFact.
Once again, PolitiFact Tennessee uses faulty research, subjective judgments, and poor analysis to arrive at the conclusion they wanted from the start. It was no surprise to me to see that the author was, once again, Bartholomew Sullivan.
While the PolitiFact piece is garbage, it is clear that while you could fit all the true farmers in Congress into a Chevy Volt and still have room for a hitch hiker, Stephen Fincher is not the only real farmer in Congress.