Farm Broadcaster Ousted After Ripping Monsanto's Goon Squads
If you have heard of Learfield Communications, it is probably from listening to college football and basketball games.
The Jefferson City, Missouri based Learfield is one of the nation's largest broadcasters of college sports.
But it also produces news programming heard throughout the farm belt.
Learfield was started 35 years ago by Clyde Lear and Derry Brownfield.
Lear went on to be the chairman of the company. He bought out his friend and partner Brownfield in 1985.
Brownfield went on to do market news reports for the Learfield news division until 1997 or so, when he started broadcasting a daily call-in show called The Common Sense Coalition.
Derry Brownfield would broadcast The Common Sense Coalition from the studios of Learfield Communications.
Learfield would subsidize the program and allow Brownfield to use its studios and satellite hook-up.
Monsanto happens to be a big advertiser of the Learfield news division -- to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.
Brownfield happens to think that Monsanto is an evil corporation.
Therein lies the rub.
For weeks, Brownfield had been ripping Monsanto on air for its policies of enforcing its seed patents against farmers.
On the April 16 show, Brownfield's topic was seed industry concentration in America.
His guests were Fred Stokes, president of the Organization for Competitive Markets, and Michael Stumo, general counsel of the group.
Stokes and Stumo were promoting a new project to study corporate concentration in the seed industry.
Monsanto is the dominant player in the global seed industry and has a reputation for playing rough.
On air, Brownfield quoted from a newly published Vanity Fair article titled "Monsanto's Harvest of Fear" by Donald Barlett and James Steele.
"Monsanto relies on a shadowy army of private investigators and agents in the American heartland to strike fear into farm country," Barlett and Steele write. "They fan out into fields and farm towns, where they secretly videotape and photograph farmers, store owners, and co-ops, infiltrate community meetings, and gather information from informants about farming activities. Farmers say that some Monsanto agents pretend to be surveyors. Others confront farmers on their land and try to pressure them to sign papers giving Monsanto access to their private records. Farmers call them the 'seed police' and use words such as 'Gestapo' and 'Mafia' to describe their tactics."
After reading from the Vanity Fair article, Brownfield then begins to riff on the Mafia theme.
"Multinational corporations are doing everything possible to change agriculture -- and not for the better," Brownfield says on the show. "I know a little bit about this -- not a lot, just a little bit -- but Monsanto literally they have Mafia goons out, do they not? They show up on farmers' property, they try and harass them, they say if you don't sign this, we are going to take you to court. They have literally tried to destroy agriculture as we know it. They have a goon squad. Maybe that's not what they like to be called. But if it was the Mafia, we would call them the goon squad."
Calling Monsanto's patent enforcers goons was apparently the straw that broke this camel's back.
Brownfield's stint at Dearfield was about to end.
Last week, Brownfield was told that he could no longer broadcast out of the Dearfield studios. His buddy, Clyde Lear, posted a blog on the Learfield web site saying that Brownfield's last show will be in mid-May.
"The Common Sense Coalition grinds to a halt on our system," Lear wrote.
"Most of his listeners loved him as did his affiliates," Lear wrote about his buddy. "He didn't mind controversy or taking on giants like the Monsanto Corporation. He thought they were bad for farmers, too big for their britches and generally bad for America. Increasingly he's been saying so, without seeking balance, in my opinion."
And then later, in response to listeners who were upset that Brownfield was being let go, Lear wrote:
"Some seem to think the reason Derry is leaving is because Monsanto threatened to stop advertising if we didn't put a gag on him. If that were the only reason Derry was asked to leave, then I can see why they think we are selling out. We've parted ways because accusations being made about not only advertisers, but individuals, corporations, government, (fill in the blank) were based on fear and lies with absolutely no truth to back them up. I abhor radio talk shows like Rush Limbaugh...and Derry Brownfield where half-truths are articulated. I won't be a part of them. And, that's my right."
But in an interview with Corporate Crime Reporter, Lear admits that the Monsanto issue is what drove his buddy Brownfield out.
"If the Monsanto issue had not come up, we would not be here today," Lear said.
Lear said that the President of Learfield Communications, Roger Gardner, talked recently with John Raines, Monsanto's director of public affairs.
"John Raines talked to Roger Gardner about the difficulties they felt Brownfield is giving them," Lear said. "(Gardner) told me he talked to John Raines about the Vanity Fair article."
"The pressure I got came from the president of the news division, Stan Koenigsfeld," Lear said. "Stan is the guy that has responsibility for selling and maintaining the financial viability of our news division. Stan is a no nonsense guy. So, Stan comes in and says -- why are we doing this? Why do we continue to do this? We give him all of these things and he spits in our face by lambasting our good advertisers, without giving them an opportunity for fair and balanced reporting. And it is not reporting -- it's just entertainment. Why do we continue to do this?"
Lear says that the complaints have been mounting over the past five years about Brownfield.
"And I've been saying to Stan, settle down, it will all be alright," Lear said. "But I imagine Stan is getting a lot of pressure from his sales executives. We have three that call on Monsanto for different products. And I would assume that he is getting pressure from those sales executives. When those sales executives call on Monsanto, Monsanto is complaining to the sales executives. That is where the connection happens. But you would have to talk to them about the kind of leverage Monsanto is putting on them. They have never to my knowledge threatened to pull any advertising."
Lear finally confronted Brownfield.
"I went to him and said -- Derry, look, lay off of this," Lear said. "Lay off of this Monsanto thing. I am getting a lot of complaints."
Lear said he was the only one in the company who could approach Brownfield.
"I'm the only one who can talk to him," Lear said. "No one else in the company will go to him. He is kind of persona non grata. He is one of the guys who helped start the company years ago. He was my partner for years until 1985 when I bought him out. He is a dear friend of mine. So, there is no one else -- all of the rest of the guys are half my age. They won't go to him. They are afraid of him. They just won't go and talk to him."
"They all came to me and said -- go talk to Derry," Lear said. "We've got to quit doing this. Plus, it came at a bad time. It came during the same week that the National Association of Farm Broadcasters national convention was being held in Kansas City. And at that convention, of course, Monsanto was omnipresent. They are there trying to woo farm broadcasters, because they want them to say nice things about them, right? So, here are all of the Monsanto people at this convention. And their advertising agencies -- Osborne & Barr out of St. Louis -- among others. They were all there. And it was embarrassing, because all of that week, Derry is lambasting Monsanto."
"We have explained to Monsanto, in any way we can, that the Brownfield Network has nothing to do with Derry's show," Lear says. "This is a completely independent show that he puts on. Well, Monsanto says - he's doing it from your studios, isn't he? And we say yes, we give him space because of the history."
"And they ask -- how else do you help him? If he weren't doing the show, would this problem disappear?"
"So my guys came to me and said -- we've got to do something about this."
"So, I went in to Derry and I sat down with him," Lear said. "It was very good natured. I wasn't angry. I wasn't planning on doing anything. I said -- let this Monsanto thing go for awhile. Just let it go."
"He said -- 'Clyde- - Monsanto is an evil empire,'" Lear recalled. "'This is evil. He said -- every farmer hates Monsanto. You know what they have done -- and then he would lambast Monsanto and lay out this litany of stuff that they do. It included milk. Apparently there is a human growth hormone that they put in the milk. I don't know a thing about it, but apparently they won a court case that prohibited milk retailers from putting on the milk carton the label -- hormone free. I didn't know anything about this, but Brownfield was complaining about how the liberal judges of America are siding with the evil empire. And Monsanto pays them off. All kinds of allegations which I'm sure are not true. But Derry believes them."
"So, I said -- will you let Monsanto be on the air? And he said -- I'm not going to give them a forum. But then he changed his mind and said -- yeah, bring them on. I'll let them on the show."
Lear then went to hole up with his executives. And his execs told him -- "It's bigger than this now. We just don't need to be associated with him."
"So, I just walked back there and said to Derry -- you say you are not going to lighten up. And he said no, I'm staying the course. And I said -- not with us you are not. You are going to have to find some other way to distribute your program, and you are going to have to find some other office to do it out of."
Given that he was willing put Monsanto on his show, why not keep him on?
"Maybe we should have," Lear said.
Would you reconsider your decision?
"I don't think so," Lear says. "It is just not a business I want to be in anymore."
Lear says he feels sad about parting with his old buddy, but he wants to help set up an internet radio studio for Derry out of Derry's home office.
"We are helping him build a new facility in his home," Lear says. "But we won't have a connection to him. Then we can easily say to Monsanto -- we don't have a thing to do with Derry. We don't have a thing to do with him. He's not on our property. We can't control him."
Brownfield said he couldn't comment on the situation until after May 30.
Russell Mokhiber is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Corporate Crime Reporter.