I’m almost chicken to eat chicken (but I do); we need journalists free of commercial pressure…

I’m way over cautious, paranoid if you will, when preparing things in the kitchen using eggs or chicken or fish or any kind of raw meat really. I mean I put paper or even a plate down on the counter so drippings will be less likely to fall onto the counter itself. And I wash my hands with warm water and soap and try not to use the same towel again and again and of course I wipe down the counters afterwards with warm water and soap — kind of exhausting really. But salmonella scares me. And it’s distressing to learn that USDA inspections of poultry have not kept pace with the reality of anti-biotic resistant strains of salmonella that have resulted in deaths and sickness to consumers.

But I still eat chicken.

Now I can’t say that I have ever been infected — well actually I think I was once a few years ago when there was that tomato scare from Mexico, the one I think that was not really tomatoes but peppers (not sure about that). I ate an omelette at a restaurant and I think it must have been contaminated. I got very sick. But as far as from chicken or eggs or other meat products — whoops, both my late wife and I did got extremely sick from what we expected was from an omelette served at a bed and breakfast. But at home, don’t think so. But it could happen.

But anyway I just watched a PBS Frontline story on my computer about deadly salmonella outbreaks in the poultry business. It told about how one major poultry producer was in denial about an outbreak but finally had to admit it had a problem. The disturbing thing was that this producer passed government inspections. That’s because the inspections were just visual and at some poultry plants that may run thousands of birds day, only one was tested per day — and apparently not thoroughly or via outdated testing. I could not find out whether the situation with the testing has improved but the producer in question claims to have taken major steps to improve safety.

It was also disturbing to find out that even though government officials had evidence that contaminated chickens were being sold they did not have the power or the will to shut plants down even after deadly salmonella was traced back to them. I think the average consumer just assumes everything is tested and they could not sell things if they were not safe — a rather naïve assumption to say the least.

Okay, the tone of the documentary I saw was extremely negative and accusatory toward the particular producer, but the fact seemed to be that the producer originally tried to ignore the problem and only moved to improve things under extreme pressure from both the bad publicity and the government regulators.

It confirmed my feeling that journalists have to be free of commercial pressure to dig these things out, that is unless you just don’t want to know. And I know of what I speak. I was once a journalist. My big disillusioning incident is once when I was doing an investigative piece involving the accidental death of a child. There was a question — only a question — as to whether the deputy coroner/ambulance driver (a bad combination for sure) and sheriff deputies and others did all they could have to possibly save the boy. I wrote a story (and it did not conclude that anyone was necessarily at fault but it might have at least called some things into question). Just so happens the deputy coroner/ambulance driver was also into real estate and was a major advertiser in the newspaper. He threatened to sue if we pursued the story. Our general manager killed the story (newspapers run by general managers, totally business-oriented types, have a hard time putting out real journalism). In later years I also learned quite by chance that a high official in the sheriff’s department helped kill the story too. At least he claimed he did to me. He was so ignorant that he did not even realize who he was talking to. I had been away for some time (I had quit that job) and was back working for a local radio station. He was filling me in as to how they like to cooperate with reporters and had a good relationship with the local newspaper. Sounds like it was pretty cozy.

PBS has the advantage that it does not have to please commercial sponsors — well not exactly I guess, they do run what amounts to commercials these days for corporate contributors. But PBS apparently appeals to the more altruistic values from that sector.

On the other hand, traditional news sources, especially newspapers, have been hit hard with falling revenues and have felt that pressure. The LA Times some years ago forced its staff to write puff pieces for a special advertising section, something that staffers at small so-called newspapers have had to do for years (yep I did a little of that).

Of course there is all kinds of non-traditional news reporting on the internet now — but there is no control on it as to accuracy and authenticity — the gatekeepers are gone.

But my brush with the power of advertisers and government officials was decades ago. But you see, we need journalists to keep an eye on things — companies do not police themselves, the government does not always protect you, and almost always the commercial entities themselves have a major hand in writing the regulations they are supposed to abide by — seems like a conflict of interest.

Of course sometimes journalists are not accurate and regulations could be written in such a way that they are overkill and stifle the economy. But you know, that’s why we have Republicans.

Anyway, wash your hands before you prepare that chicken.







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