I don’t presume to speak for all Idaho farmers. Does it make me unique among my media colleagues? Over the last several weeks I’ve seen numerous headlines telling me Idaho farmers and ranchers are opposed to Donald Trump’s immigration policies. Headlines are designed to grab your attention and there are times when the stories don’t always offer a complete reflection, and there are even times when there is very little relation. This is much more common in the Internet Age where competition drives the need for clicks.
A few weeks ago a caller raised the issue of farmers being among the open borders crowd and it reminded me of my early days in radio. From 1989 until 1996 I worked at one of the top news radio operations in the country. WSYR in Syracuse, N.Y., was unique. A small rust belt city with a news talker often placed alongside the best outfits in New York City, Dallas and San Francisco. When I first arrived on the job there was a clipping on the bulletin board from a trade publication and it ranked the five best stations in the genre. Also included was a management survey and a worker survey and all three listed WSYR among the finest. There was a great sense of pride across the newsroom, but it wasn’t easily maintained. The man in charge was a ceaseless micro-manager (as if it’s somehow a bad thing) and the two editors working alongside him were sticklers for tiny details. Words like “transported,” “incident,” “fully engulfed” and “authorities” were all banned from copy. Workers substituted for employees. I learned quickly the word “resident” was also scrapped. When I argued for its use I was told find a substitute. When I argued I couldn’t crank out the reams of copy required of me while searching for a thesaurus it was suggested I could find another line of work.
“Residents” got me in trouble one night when I wrote a story (actually, we wrote three versions of every story) about an angry meeting I attended on the south side of the city. A fellow named Dave White edited the morning news and pulled me into a room and all alone asked me if I had managed to speak with every last person on the south side and if I knew of a demarcation line. No to the latter question and no to the first question. “Then you can only say ‘some’ or ‘many’ but you can’t say ‘most’ or ‘all,’” he explained. Dave preferred I even avoid “many” and use only “some.”
Friday morning I saw a story written by a reporter at a Nampa newspaper. An attempt to gather 10,000 signatures from Idaho dairymen in opposition to Trump could be a failure. At best there are only 3,000 to 3,500 and there may be far less than those figures. An old Monty Python joke explains how you can earn scads of cash and then in the fine print it explains “’up to’ clearly includes the number naught!”
For several weeks I’ve been treated to breathless stories about farmers and ranchers desperately seeking cheap illegal labor. Very few stories, headlines and body ever made a distinction between all farmers and some farmers. Having grown up in a town where if you threw a rock in any direction you had a 50-50 chance of hitting a cow I always had my doubts. The farmers I knew as a kid were overwhelmingly Republican and put patriotism before profits.
Is there a potential labor shortage in the agricultural sector? You bet. Are there answers to what has been a longstanding shortage? You bet. Can intelligent people in business and government work it out? You bet. My best friend and I met in the first grade. All he ever wanted to do was to take over his grandfather’s farm. The place sat high atop a cold windswept hill and when a flood washed out a bridge in the valley below it became even more isolated. By the late 1980s my buddy, Ron, couldn’t find the usual high school boys wanting to help with milking and even haying. It wasn’t easy but he managed to get the work done and expand the operation, doubling the land he owned and increasing his herd by 15 fold over a period of 25 years. This, despite very few young people with any interest in future farming careers. Then the Great Recession came along and Ron found he was turning away men looking for work. The inquiries remain steady. At no point over the last 35 years did he ever hire anyone of questionable entry into the United States. While farm labor shortages come and go a wise government can create a visa program when needed. I’m aware there are periodic efforts to raise farm wages but for the most part, a $15 an hour minimum farm wage isn’t politically happening.
Therefore when times are flush agribusiness will need a steady supply of labor. When times are tough we can limit a visa program. This isn’t brain surgery. Somehow I think all the recent news media hyperventilation has a lot more to do with Trump-bashing than any crisis. Not that our good friends in media would stoop so low.
Here are two cardinal Washington rules. When a politician declares that something is “much ado about nothing,” it’s about something. And when politicians lie, it’s because they’re trying to hide something.
This brings us to the Trump-Russia connection, which President Donald Trump charges has been distorted by “fake news” manipulators conducting a political witch hunt. It’s neither; it’s raised serious issues that will cast a shadow over his presidency for the foreseeable future.
“If there is nothing there, nothing to hide, you open the doors and invite them in,” says John Dean, of Watergate fame. “When you start seeing a big pushback and blaming it all on the media, you know there’s something there.”
Dean, who has followed Trump-Russia revelations closely, brings unique insight. He was President Richard Nixon’s White House counsel as the Watergate scandal began to break in 1973, and he helped mastermind the coverup that ultimately brought Nixon down. He later pleaded guilty to obstructing justice and was a witness against some of the Nixon aides who were convicted in federal conspiracy trials.
Dean and other Watergate veterans have a sense of deja vu watching the Trump White House dissembling, enlisting accommodating Republicans to knock down credible stories and reacting to a drip, drip, drip of revelations.
Last week came more reports of contacts between Russian officials and Trump backers, along with the news that Attorney General Jeff Sessions met privately with the Russian ambassador in September and denied it during his confirmation hearing. Thus Sessions became the third Trump insider to be caught in evasions about Russia connections, after former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and campaign foreign-policy adviser Carter Page.
On Thursday, Sessions removed himself from any investigation of charges that Russia tried to sway the presidential election.
When Dean heard Republican Intelligence Committee Chair Devin Nunes declare recently that there’s “no evidence” of wrongdoing, he says he thought of Hugh Scott. Scott was the Senate Republican leader who in 1973 repeatedly said he’d spoken to the White House and concluded that Watergate was much ado about little.
U.S. intelligence agencies have already concluded that Russians were behind the hacking of emails from accounts of the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta, and that Russia gave the emails to WikiLeaks for dissemination of embarrassing particulars. In a public report, the intelligence agencies concluded that President Vladimir Putin directed the “influence campaign” to help Trump.
That much is already clear. What’s at issue is whether this was done in collusion with Trump operatives, something that might raise questions about criminality and the validity of the election result. Trump and his team vehemently deny this. Numerous news reports, citing intelligence sources, say there’s clear proof of multiple contacts though not of active coordination.
In contrast to ham-handed past episodes of Russian cyber hacking, last year’s interventions showed a nuanced understanding of U.S. politics. An example: On the eve of the Democratic National Convention in July, leaks surfaced showing that the party chair tried to tilt the nominating process against the insurgent challenger, Senator Bernie Sanders, infuriating his followers. The timing was exquisite and the impact strong.
Then there’s Oct. 7. That was the day that 17 U.S. intelligence agencies released a joint statement saying that the Russian government directed the theft of emails connected to the election. It was also the day when a videotape appeared in which Trump was caught making coarse boasts about groping women.
WikiLeaks, which usually released its material during morning hours, made an exception that day by posting private remarks that Clinton once made to Goldman Sachs executives just a few hours after the lewd video emerged.
Political pressure to investigate the connections is building. Republican lawmakers were pressed during the congressional recess last month to pursue formal probes. There’s a chance that the Senate Intelligence Committee will do so because of prodding by the senior committee Democrat, Mark Warner of Virginia, and a few Republicans led by John McCain of Arizona.
Dean thinks there should be both a congressional inquiry and a law-enforcement investigation led by a special counsel.
“These investigations need something to feed it,” Dean said.”The press can’t crack this by itself, but if there are real investigations, there will be leaks.”
Trump, he added, “is right on this: His problem is leaks.”