Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues
It's bad enough that politicians want to make you think the government is trying to stop your kids from hauling hay to your own barn, but now some journalists are adding fuel to this non-existent fire.
In mid-March, presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney said President Obama's overzealous Labor Department is trying to prevent farmers' own children from doing chores on their farms. A quick fact check showed that was not true; in fact, the department was trying to formalize a policy the Bush administration had put in place around 2002, limiting the exemption to farms "wholly owned" by the child's parents. After criticism, the department withdrew the rule and said a revised version would take into account the various business structures farmers use among families and generations.
The well-regarded conservative blog, The Daily Caller, this week seemed not to care about those facts. A story reported criticism that the administration is getting from some rural members of Congress, and from children. The story (read here) quotes a college student saying she fears losing her 4-H and FFA projects because she would be prohibited from handling livestock at her home. That is not true.
Here is paragraph three of the proposed change in the Fair Labor Standards Act: "The proposed agricultural revisions would impact only hired workers and in no way compromise the statutory child labor parent exemption involving children working on farms owned or operated by their parents."
Another aspiring farmer bemoaned the loss of the work ethic and love of agriculture because of what he perceived to be Obama's desire to have children stop working on the farm. That was clearly a misreading of the situation, and the Daily Caller did nothing to clear up the confusion. This, even after Tennessee's senior Senator Lamar Alexander, who co-sponsored the bill to stop the revisions, a bill called "Preserving America's Family Farm Act," was called up short by PolitiFact Tennessee in The Tennessean.
Much of the debate about the regulations has centered on the wide range of ownership options for farms. What constitutes a family farm anymore? Does it include grandparents, uncles, aunts, nieces and nephews? These are legitimate issues for discussion, and even partisan or ideological news sources should keep their facts straight and avoid misrepresentations.