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October 30, 2010

"Hot in Kansas City” – And the Rest of Missouri

Today, Betty White left a warm and positive phone message (listen here) with about a half million Missouri women voters in support of Prop B—a different kind of robocall, given that this campaign tool is so often used to convey harsh and dishonest information about a candidate or issue campaign on the eve of an election. The legendary actress and life-long animal advocate, who at 88 seems at the top of her game, said "We need to deal with the state's terrible puppy mill problem. " She added, “Prop B will set common-sense standards for the care of dogs—adequate food, veterinary care, and exercise.”

Betty White recorded a phone message in support of Prop B in Missouri
david_shankbone/Creative Commons
Listen to Betty White's message for Prop B.

It’s about the dogs, and nothing else. Anyone who takes the time to read Prop B will see that it mentions just one species: Canis lupus familiaris, or the domesticated dog.

There is no other species mentioned. There’s no pig, chicken, cow, or deer to be seen in Prop B.

Yet the Missouri Farm Bureau and other agricultural groups have lined up with the puppy mill industry and mounted a major statewide campaign against Prop B, arguing that Prop B will be the demise of agriculture in Missouri.

It’s déjà vu. In 1998, The HSUS backed a ballot initiative in the state to ban the barbaric practice of cockfighting—taking the measure to the people because state lawmakers would not do the job themselves, just as they punted on handling the state’s notorious puppy mill problem. The Missouri Farm Bureau and the same cast of characters mounted a smear campaign arguing that the anti-cockfighting law would also ban all hunting and animal agriculture. Of course, after Missouri voters passed the anti-cockfighting law, it’s been interpreted to do one thing and one thing only: ban cockfighting. And in terms of the Farm Bureau’s corollary argument—first it’s cockfighting, and then it will be all other uses of animals—that proved false, too. There has not been one bill or ballot measure advanced to ban hunting or animal agriculture in the state in the succeeding years. In short, the record of activity over more than a decade has settled the question of the truthfulness of their claims.

It’s the same thing with Prop B. Their false claims are undercut by a simple reading of the statute. And time will prove that there is no grand scheme—achieved apparently through some sort of political alchemy—to transform Prop B into anything more than a set of responsible standards to improve the lives of dogs on large-scale commercial breeding operations.

The Farm Bureau and its allies can fabricate quotes, or take them out of context from a handful of animal advocates. The First Amendment allows them enormous latitude to say just about anything they want. But because they put something on a pamphlet or in a letter to the editor, or utter these phrases out loud at a pep rally or press conference, that does not mean there’s any truth behind the words they string together. In seeing their campaign of distortion, I am left to wonder, do these otherwise upstanding members of their community have no filters in terms of their outright misrepresentations?

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