What is in this article?:
- Ag and sexual assault: Get your facts straight, Frontline
- Glaring factual inaccuracy
- Had PBS actually spoken with farmers or WAFLA, they would have found employers that are directly facing the issue of sexual assault.
PBS Frontline aired a documentary about sexual assault among farm workers. Much of the information for the documentary was provided by the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR), a progressive investigative reporting agency with offices in Berkley, Calif. The report and documentary can be found at bit.ly/14V7Ptq.
PBS planned the documentary to coincide with a multimillion dollar investigation and lawsuit brought by the EEOC on behalf of several farm workers against a family farm in Yakima. EEOC’s strategy is to pursue high profile cases in an effort to gain publicity about a problem it perceives. There are rarely any trials because most employers quickly agree to settle when faced with the enormous resources and coercive pressure brought by the federal government and other publicly funded lawyers.
But this employer chose to fight. And after more than two years, in early April, a jury - not a farmer or employer among them - returned a verdict in favor of the farmer on all counts. But the show must go on. So instead of airing a documentary that recorded the complexity of sexual assault and the steps that farmers are taking, PBS retreated into the stereotype of “big agribusiness” versus farm worker. When a multigenerational family farm grows to remain competitive, it apparently earns the label of agribusiness.
In this case, the EEOC also filed a retaliation claim against the employer which was thrown out by the judge. Now, instead of accepting the verdict and using precious resources to work with farmers and other employers on the issue, the EEOC has vowed to appeal the rulings in the hopes of gaining another million dollar trial. The clear message to employers: even if you did nothing wrong, it is futile to stand up to the federal government.
In America, a cottage industry has been created around the notion that farmers abuse workers. This industry is fueled by government grants and other public funding for groups who perpetuate this notion, but nothing could be further from the truth. Farmers and farm workers enjoy excellent working relations, and PBS was unable to get workers to say anything bad about this family farm in Yakima because it has a well-earned reputation as a great employer. In watching the documentary, it appears that this employer had one rogue employee who was not acting in line with the company’s high standards.
The PBS documentary was biased. The commentator stated that few employers would speak to PBS about sexual assault. If that were true it would not be surprising, but it is not true. The truth is that WAFLA provided unfettered access to every reporter who called, and spoke with reporters on over a dozen occasions. PBS never called, but its partner CIR did. And when they did, WAFLA arranged interviews with employers and tours of worker housing where reporters were free to speak with many workers. The only request that was denied – at the urging of the EEOC – was a CIR request to videotape a speech to farmers by the head EEOC litigator. Get your story straight, PBS.