Yesterday a pre-approved Christmas promotion was “stayed indefinitely” by the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture.
Intended to improve sales of a small U.S. agricultural industry without any cost upon consumers, the promotion related to Christmas trees got laid on the shelf, and by none other than rightwing media.
And, boy, is that industry mad.
Earlier this year, USDA approved the “Christmas Tree Promotion, Research and Information Order,” a commodity checkoff program calling for a 15-cent per tree fee on larger Christmas tree farmers. It was to go into effect December 8, right when this industry’s retail sales hit full-swing.
The program was directly requested by the National Christmas Tree Foundation after it received overwhelming approval from its tree farmer membership, and the funds collected were to be used for product promotion in following years.
After the USDA made a final, formal announcement of the checkoff in the November 8 Federal Register, however, one conservative and so-called “think tank” pulled a prank.
That same day, the Heritage Foundation began issuing articles and commentaries that misconstrued the Christmas tree checkoff plan by calling it a tax, falsely implying it was to be paid by consumers, and claimed this “tax” originated from the White House.
Rightwing media like the Drudge Report and Fox News took the story as avenue for their latest in “War on Christmas” and anti-Obama promotions. Mainstream media took the story not long after, and without verifying any of Heritage’s claims. And the public wound up littered with lies about this program.
The next day, USDA said it would reconsider the checkoff program. Yesterday, it more or less buried the concept with a “stay” status.
So where does that leave the Christmas tree farmers who overwhelmingly desired this promotional plan? Quite angry with Heritage, Drudge, Fox, USDA and everyone else who spread the false rumors or fell for them.
“It’s just so disappointing to have something like this happen because of an internet rumor,” Betty Malone, a tree farmer in Oregon, said in a NCTA press release.
“The program is not a tax – it is an industry-requested self-assessment to fund promotion and information programs to encourage American consumers to buy farm-raised Christmas trees. Here we were, a group of farmers trying to pool our own money together to sell more of our crop, and now we’re not allowed to because someone decided to call it a tax, when it’s not.”
Malone was chair of the NCTA committee that initially reviewed the checkoff opportunity, and which forwarded its formal request to USDA in 2009.
She’s not alone in her opinion, either, said Rick Dungey, NCTA’s public relations chair; “almost all (tree farmers and state tree associations) are upset.”
The NCTA still has confidence in consumers, however. “Only those who don’t read about the facts and just believe internet rumors” will be affected by the false press, Dungey said.
“Those who took the time all said, ‘Oh, (the checkoff plan) makes sense. Why would someone call it a tax?’”
That same question should be asked of the Heritage Foundation, though, and the media so quick to spread its oh-so un-Christmas-like falsehoods, too.
(Also read: Latest rightwing attack inappropriate for holiday season)