Weekend News Cafe: Hydrofracking, muckraking & rock ‘n’ roll

A muckraking columnist

Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times is both thoughtful and provocative. Consider two recent columns.

First, his take on a couple of studies of all the chemical junk fed to the animals that are the source of our meat.

My topic today is a pair of new scientific studies suggesting that poultry on factory farms are routinely fed caffeine, active ingredients of Tylenol and Benadryl, banned antibiotics and even arsenic … 

To me, this underscores the pitfalls of industrial farming. When I was growing up on our hopelessly inefficient family farm, we didn’t routinely drug animals. If our chickens grew anxious, the reason was perhaps a fox — and we never tried to resolve the problem with Benadryl.

My take is that the business model of industrial agriculture has some stunning accomplishments, such as producing cheap food that saves us money at the grocery store. But we all may pay more in medical costs because of antibiotic-resistant infections.

Better yet, a couple of weeks ago he took on Backpage.com.

Backpage accounts for about 70 percent of prostitution advertising among five Web sites that carry such ads in the United States, earning more than $22 million annually from prostitution ads, according to AIM Group, a media research and consulting company. It is now the premier Web site for human trafficking in the United States, according to the National Association of Attorneys General. And it’s not a fly-by-night operation. Backpage is owned by Village Voice Media, which also owns the estimable Village Voice newspaper.

He subsequently called out the site’s financial backers.

This emporium for girls and women — some under age or forced into prostitution — is in turn owned by an opaque private company called Village Voice Media. Until now it has been unclear who the ultimate owners are.

That mystery is solved. The owners turn out to include private equity financiers, including Goldman Sachs with a 16 percent stake.

Goldman Sachs was mortified when I began inquiring last week about its stake in America’s leading Web site for prostitution ads. It began working frantically to unload its shares, and on Friday afternoon it called to say that it had just signed an agreement to sell its stake to management.

Great stuff.

Follow the money

ProPublica, the New York Times of non-profit investigative reporting centers, has launched an initiative to involve the public in tracking political advertising on television.

Television stations are required by the Federal Communications Commission to keep a list of political ad buys and to make it available on request. Stations don’t post this data on the Internet, however, so the only way to get the records is to go in person.

We think this data is vitally important, and can reveal how big money influences elections. So to make it accessible to everyone, we started a project last month named “Free the Files” to recruit citizens and local journalists to visit TV stations and post these “Public File” documents online.

ProPublica’s focus is on spending by the Super PACs on behalf of presidential candidates, but the approach would work on local campaigns, as well.

Bet you didn’t know …

Natural gas reserves were first discovered in Chautauqua County. This timeline from Mother Jones gives a concise history of the evolution of natural gas extraction.

Meanwhile, ProPublica has produced a “best of” watchdog journalism coverage of hydrofracking.

Baseball politics

Bobblehead giveaways are a common promotion in minor league baseball. But the July 9 promotion scheduled for the Troy’s Single A team is anything but common. The first 1,500 fans through the gates will received a bobblehead of Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Then again, the promotion isn’t unusual for the Tri-City Valley Cats. It once gave away bobbleheads of Gov. David Paterson when he was in office. Then there’s the ballpark’s name to consider: Joseph Bruno Stadium.

Coming to a vacant hockey arena near you soon

The Sabres are toast, but First Niagara Cenrter won’t be empty for long. Bruce Springsteen is in the house Friday.

His tour set list includes “American Skin (41 Shots),” written in response to the police shooting ofAmadou Diallo in 1999. The Boss has revived the song in the wake of the recent fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin. Reminds us of how Neil Young, who wrote “Ohio” in response to the shootings at Kent State, rededicated the song years later in memory of the kids who died in Tiananmen Square.

So, for your listening pleasure, a twofer.

Now …

and then …

Check back Monday.