Local Newspaper Editor Smells like Money. Or is that Hog Shit?

March 7, 2007

This is almost too predictable to comment on, given the nature of politics and money in small towns, but luckily I’ve got some free time. So here goes:

Smithfield Packing runs the largest single hog slaughtering facility in the world out of Tar Heel, North Carolina, which is located in close proximity to my own Pine Woods hometown. They slaughter some 32,000 hogs there every day, as Tim Wilins, the editor of the local paper, The Bladen Daily Journal, gleefully points out in his latest attempt at editorial journalism, entitled “Smithfield a Boon for Bladen County.”

Wilkins actually does a fair job of describing some of the more unpleasant aspects of the hog slaughtering process, peppering his editorial with mentions of throat slashing, blood splatter, entrails, and even feces. during his tour of the plant, he even attempts to describe the odor of the place:

“But the smell doesn’t seem to bother the employees, for whom it’s not the odor of freshly slaughtered pork, but the scent of money; Smithfield’s approximately 5,500 workers make, on average, $12.23 a hour — good pay for just about anywhere in North Carolina, but especially nice wages here in Bladen County.”

Wilkins is spot on about wages in the area. But when he presumes to speak for what does or does not “seem to bother the employees” at Smithfield, well, that’s my first solid clue that Tim Wilkins is full of Hog Shit.

  • Consider that the National Labor Relations Board found Smithfield guilty of intimidating, firing, and threatening employees with arrest by immigration officials in the months leading up to unionization votes in both 194 and 1997.
  • Consider that in January, immigration officials, in cooperation with Smithfield, arrested 21 employees on charges of being in the United States illegally. Hundreds of additional employees quit or stayed out of work in the following days for fear of arrest.
  • Consider that 400 Smithfield employees boycotted work on MLK day this year during an organized protest.

The bad smell emanating from Tim Wilkins intensifies as he goes on to praise Smithfield’s environmental record:

“The Tar Heel plant also does its part for the environment, boasting a water treatment plant on-site that cleanses the millions of gallons of water used daily to process those 32,000 pigs. The treated water — which surpasses all federal and state requirements for cleanliness and is almost drinking water pure when processed — is recycled to be used in the plant and eventually drains into the Cape Fear River.”

Wow. Just wow. Wilkins’ attempt at painting Smithfield as a vigorous protector of the environment serves as an undeniable confirmation that he is either a) astoundingly ignorant, b) inherently evil, or c) entirely gullible.

To understand Smithfield’s impact on the local environment, it is important to realize that the real problem does not necessarily emanate from the crystal clean effluvium of the monster facility itself. The arrival of Smithfield, you see, resulted in the establishment of hundreds and hundreds of high-intensity hog operations in Bladen County. the combined impact of these operations is described in a recent feature article on the company in Rolling Stone:

“Smithfield is not just a virtuosic polluter; it is also a theatrical one. Its lagoons are historically prone to failure. In North Carolina alone they have spilled, in a span of four years, 2 million gallons of shit into the Cape Fear River, 1.5 million gallons into its Persimmon Branch, one million gallons into the Trent River and 200,000 gallons into Turkey Creek. In Virginia, Smithfield was fined $12.6 million in 1997 for 6,900 violations of the Clean Water Act — the third-largest civil penalty ever levied under the act by the EPA. It amounted to .035 percent of Smithfield’s annual sales.”
And Rolling Stone isn’t the only publication to cast a spotlight on Smithfield. A cursory Google search performed in the few minutes I spent researching this blog post uncovered articles in The New York Times , a report from the Human Rights Watch, as well as numerous web sites like Justice at Smithfield and Change to Win.

But when you search the archives of the Bladen Journal for articles about Smithfield, the only other hint of any problems whatsoever at the plant, aside from Wilkins’ breezy mention in the aforementioned editorial, come in a 2005 letter from a reader defending the company against allegations made in another newspaper.

I can only imagine how difficult it is to run a small community newspaper, especially with essentially no budget. I worked for nearly two years in the same building that houses the Journal, mere yards from the high bluffs that slip down into the nearly ruined Cape Fear, and toward the end of my tenure I saw essentially the entire staff let go or resign, including the former editor.

Silence is one thing. Dumping a load of hog shit on your readers and calling it gold is quite another.

Tim Wilkins likes to refer to himself as a “working journalist.” If this editorial is any indication, his true profession is much, much older than journalism, and generally pays better, too.




  1. You really do your research, Duck.

    Seriously, where do Pine Wood folks go for reliable news? Since I’m not a local any more, I have to use the cussed BJ website. They have finally (and very recently) removed their 2-year old news (most of it, anyway). If you want to go online once a week (maybe) and find out who died—then the BJ website might prove useful, but other than that (morbid, I know)–I have no use for it.

    I guess I shouldn’t be too hard on the BJ. Transition times are never all that easy. I’ll give the BJ another year and then make my conclusions. But yes, with the Smithfield story–there is definitely a slant.

  2. This is an outrage!!!! Do you think Smithfield has any openings though…we are desperately looking for employment in Bladen Co.

  3. Inky, I am personally shocked! How does one say “sell-out?” Poor Duck puts his heart out there to expose this “hog-bleep” injustice, and this is the thanks he gets?

    Hmmm…your hubby is a white male? This could work. (I hear they have great benefits.)

  4. Duck,

    IN all seriousness, edit this down a tiny bit, cut all the shit, and SEND IT AS AN EDITORIAL to other NC papers. Hell, send it to yankee papers.


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