Tuesday, February 19, 2008

What does honesty mean?

In their story about the Hallmark Packing Plant in California, the Washington Post quotes the incredulity of management:

In an interview, Mendell expressed disbelief that employees used stun guns to get sick or injured animals on their feet for inspection.

"That's impossible," he said, adding that "electrical prods are not allowed on the property."

Asked whether his employees use fork lifts to get moribund animals off the ground, he said: "I can't imagine that."

Asked whether water was sprayed up animals' noses to get them to stand up, he said: "That's absolutely not true."

"We have a massive humane treatment program here that we follow to the nth degree, so this doesn't even sound possible," Mendell said. "I don't stand out there all day, but to me it would be next to impossible."

Now it goes without saying that this schlump is lying repeatedly and obviously. To be confronted with video evidence and then to say that what the video shows is impossible takes gumption (or desperation).

Still, what bothers me about the coverage of this admittedly disgusting episode is the way in which two factors are consistently left out of the frame:
  1. The media scrutiny is focused on the employees--those shown in the video and managers like Mr. Mendell. Now, I have no great love for managers, but they are, ultimately, just mediators. They are paid to do what is necessary to please the people with the capital. How would the stockholders respond to the video? Why was it shown to the manager, but not to the owners? Aren't the owners responsible for what happens on their property and at their behest? (This is not to excuse the fork-lift operators, the line bosses, or Mr. Mendell, but shouldn't the accounting be a bit wider, and trace things back to the first cause?)
  2. Also, there is this ridiculous statement included in the story, made by the president of the Humane Society: "To sneak downers past inspectors, Pacelle said, is 'penny-wise and pound-foolish.'" As rhetoric aimed at the owners of meat-packing operations, that's all well and good, I suppose, but the problem here is not one of fiscal irresponsibility!! The future that is destroyed by the factory-farm system is not reducible to future returns on our investments.