The media in recent months have been full of articles about raw milk. While many of them now quote proponents of raw milk, the writers color the articles heavily with fear mongering, like this from the Chicago Tribune. Even those written by supposed raw milk drinkers, like a smarmy one in The Atlantic, talks about raw milk containing “a rogue’s gallery of bugs.”

I just kind of shrug at most of these as reflecting the long-held bias of the media in favor of officialdom. I figure many of these publications are on their way to extinction anyway, and I know it’s in significant measure because they are so far out of touch with the marketplaces they supposedly serve.

But the reporting of the Minneapolis Star Tribune about three illnesses attributed to raw milk from the Hartmann Dairy Farm takes the anti-raw-milk fear mongering to a new level of insidiousness.

I wrote in my previous post how the Minnesota Department of Health issued an announcement saying illnesses had been “traced to raw milk” from the Hartmann dairy. Just to confirm the agency’s unbiased position, the next heading in the announcement stated, “Consumers warned against consuming unpasteurized products.”

Yesterday, the Minneapolis Star Tribune came out with an article headlined, “Raw milk farmer Michael Hartmann has rebel history.” The subheading: “E. coli investigators are focusing on Minnesotan Michael Hartmann, described as anti-government.”

Next you learn that the Star Tribune has three reporters assigned to write the article. This is big-time coverage by any newspaper. For businesses under tremendous financial pressure, as the Star Tribune and all big-city papers are, this is a huge commitment of resources.

The way they report the story tells us of the cozy relationship between officialdom and the media. “State officials said Thursday that the investigation of his dairy is continuing but said they have little doubt it produced the raw milk containing a deadly strain of E. coli.” In other words: We’ve got inside sources, and they tell us exclusively, we’ve got our man.

But what’s even more damaging is to learn what kind of man. We already know from the heading he is “anti-government.” That could mean a lot of things–anything from encouraging overthrow of the government to being pro-Republican and anti-Democrat.

But the strong suggestion is it’s more likely the former, when the article says, “He has kicked inspectors off his property, refused to tell a judge his name in court and asserted he is a ‘natural man’ with a constitutional right to raise and sell food without government interference.”

There are two very telling points in the article. First, there’s this: “Randy and Kathy Ahlbrecht run a nearby dairy farm and have known the Hartmanns for decades. She described Michael Hartmann as a generous, church-going man who is always fighting the government…”

Consider this: When does a team of newspaper reporters go questioning neighbors about the subject of an article? Let’s see. Terrorist cases. Child molestation cases. Spousal murder cases. Typical quote in those cases: “He seemed so normal.” Or “He was very quiet, kept to himself a lot.” No matter what people say, the message is the same: this is a very serious case and the target is a creep.

Then there’s this observation: “As that case ground through the courts, the Agriculture Department discovered the dairy selling its raw M.O.M.s milk out of a truck in an Excelsior parking lot in 2004. This time, it was Hartmann’s brother, Roger, who was caught in a sting operation, but when the case was presented to Hennepin County prosecutors, they declined to file charges,..Kassenborg said she doesn’t know why the case was dropped, but said the sale of raw milk wasn’t considered a big problem then…”

Implied messages: Raw milk is now “a big problem.” In fact, the message is much more alarming than that, as in: Public officials had an opportunity to get this creep, and they were lax on the job, and now look what he’s done.” Sounds like we should fire the prosecutor and launch a special investigation.

There’s lots more troubling material in this article, such as the bit about Hartmann having demanded to know why a feedlot inspector wanted to conduct an inspection (is that an unreasonable request?) and chickens “defecating” in the milk parlor (awful, why can’t the chickens use toilets, like people).

WI Raw Dairy Consumer got the message clearly (before softening) that what we have here is “a conspiracy theorist and whack job.”

Hartmann’s main error, if it can be called that, was refusing to be interviewed by a reporter (or maybe by three reporters). Could it be he was advised by his lawyer not to speak publicly? I’m not sure there’s anything he could have said to have answered the reporting team, but I’m certain they appreciated him not commenting, since it gave them totally free reign to put together their package depicting lax prosecutors letting a sociopath run free to poison people with contaminated milk.

Fortunately, lots of people now see through such questionable media tactics, as is apparent in many of the comments following the Star Tribune article. And it  helps explain why lots of people are foregoing the major media for other news sources.

By early today, Hartmann and his lawyer had composed a statement that read in part:

Michael Hartmann and his family have taken great care for more than 15 years to provide wholesome and nutritious products to private individuals who choose to consume his farm natural foods, produced without dependence upon pesticides, herbicides, antibiotics, or genetically modified grains.  

“The family had not received any information from any consumer about concerns, or allegations of E. coli. contamination of any food product until the farm was subjected to the execution of a search warrant by the Minnesota Departments of Agriculture and Health. Aided by the Sibley County Sheriff and eight armed deputies, the department officials seized samples of milk, cleaning water, waste barrel contents, and manure, along with copies of records of customers, phone numbers, and delivery sites.  

“No results of sample testing have been released to the family.  When the results are made available, everyone will be better able to understand the identification of any bacteria and its source.

“The Hartmann family is seriously concerned for the health and welfare of the individuals who became ill. The family would be surprised to be found the source point for these illnesses and looks forward to the opportunity to review any evidence the State may have.

“While the family received a copy of the search warrant, it has been unable to obtain a copy of any affidavit or testimony provided to the Judge to support the issuance of that search warrant.  The family has only been able to contact two of the individuals reportedly diagnosed with E. coli  Illnesses.  Of these two, one is not a customer, and the other has denied consumption of raw milk product. The family is continuing its efforts to identify the remaining consumers who became ill.  Of course, this task would be easier if the State disclosed the names of the complainants or the content of reports of product consumption.

“The Hartmann family requests that its farm not be pre-judged by the media. Please be aware that farm producers, and particularly those who engage in the private sale of raw milk to individuals who make that choice, have been the subject of intense investigations and enforcement actions in a number of states, including Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and New York.”

Sounds like a real creep, huh. A creep who asks to be considered innocent till proven guilty, and who expresses concern about  people who became ill.

It may be that the illnesses will be traced to the Hartmann dairy. What then? I’d normally say the legal and regulatory systems should take their course. The problem is that we won’t be able to trust the  systems at that point. The Minneapolis Star Tribune has intentionally stirred up a cloud of fear and suspicion, not only for consumers but for public officials already accused of being lax in going after a small farm that sells milk and other foods privately to eager buyers.

You have to wonder if this is where the anti-raw-milk forces are going, having failed to scare people away from drinking raw milk. Officially sanctioned witch hunts can do the job…unless the people see them for what they are.