Mark W. Leonard sounds like a genuinely nice guy. Last year, he brought a cotton farmer from Mali in West Africa to church gatherings near his farm in Holstein, Iowa, to discuss U.S. farm subsidies.
But being a nice guy doesn't mean that Leonard, who, according to a Wall Street Journal article, is a Republican candidate for agriculture secretary in Iowa, cannot also be terribly wrong.
The article, written by Scott Kilman and Roger Thurow, the reporters who bushwhacked National Cotton Council Chairman and Mississippi producer Kenneth Hood in another attack on U.S. farm programs, cites Leonard as an example of farmers who are becoming disenchanted with U.S. subsidies.
Kilman and Thurow's article contains several inaccuracies. (Example: A Wheaton, Ill., housewife who have traveled to Honduras Kenya to meet with farmers in those countries, talks about cotton being picked with a combine.)
But that's small potatoes compared to the tired premise of the article: U.S. farm programs are responsible for poverty in the cotton-producing countries in Africa.
The article follows the standard format for Page 1 features in the Journal. Find a person who can serve to put a face on a particular problem or trend and then build the evidence to support your cause.
In this case, the authors selected Leonard, a farmer who accepts subsidies, but has seen the light about the supposed evil that U.S. farm subsidies are doing in places like Africa. “From a Christian standpoint, what it is doing to Africa tugs at your heart-strings,” the authors quote him as telling a group of his neighbors.
The article then talks about “unusually broad” anti-subsidy sentiments that are growing in the United States. The headline says farmers are “joining forces” with that movement, but the article mentions only one other grower, from Kansas, who is also a field representative for OxFam America.
Most of it is devoted to celebrities like the U-2 singer, Bono, college students and groups of businessmen concerned that the current impasse in the Doha Round negotiations may deprive them of new markets for their goods and services.
It includes a reference to criticism of farm programs by the White House Council of Economic Advisers. This is the same group whose chairman said last year that out-sourcing was good for the U.S. economy.
Nowhere do the authors note that the African farmers woes might be homegrown. They never explain how U.S. farm programs could have anything to do with the diversion of 18 cents on every pound the African farmers grow into someone else's pockets.
Nor do they explain how taking money away from U.S. farmers who have endured embargoes, trade sanctions and environmental red tape from their own government will help the first farmer in Africa.
Unless well-meaning people like Mark Leonard wake up, they may force the dismantling of U.S. farm programs, throwing thousands of farm families off the land. African farmers won't be any better off than when they started.