NCGA Disputes 'West Wing' Ethanol Discussion

Popular TV show inaccurately displayed benefits and costs of ethanol. Compiled by staff

Published on: Jan 28, 2005

NBC's popular show "The West Wing" aired a controversial program for farmers on Wednesday night. The National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) says the show's writers misrepresented the corn industry in it's show titled, "King Corn."

NCGA President Leon Corzine says although the program is fictional, it has an influence on shaping public opinion. "The West Wing is one of the most popular programs on television and certainly many viewers believe they are seeing realistic depictions of our political process, as well as current social and economic issues," he says.

In the episode ethanol was characterized as a "waste of taxpayers’ money" and a corporate "subsidy" for oil companies, agribusinesses and farmers. The program implied that politicians who support the ethanol industry are pandering to special interests. In reality, Corzine says, elected officials who support ethanol recognize their constituents’ interest in rural economic development, national energy security and a cleaner environment.

"The program neglected to mention all of the good things ethanol has done," he says. "Among other things, ethanol has created more than 200,000 direct and indirect jobs, reduced gasoline prices, cut crude oil imports, increased farm income and reduced greenhouse gas emissions. The West Wing episode chose not to point out any of those facts."

A character on the program also made the false claim that "producing a gallon of ethanol requires almost a gallon of oil." According to a recent study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, ethanol generates at least 67 percent more energy than it takes to produce.

The episode also made the suggestion that federal safety net programs and corn sweeteners are somehow responsible for America’s obesity crisis. Despite a firestorm of media reports to the contrary, no credible scientific evidence exists that links corn sweeteners to obesity, Corzine says.

Furthermore, farm support programs are designed to provide assistance only in the times when farmers need it most, Corzine says. Growers make planting decisions based on signals from the marketplace, not in response to so-called "subsidies" as the program implied. Americans enjoy the safest and most affordable food supply in the world, a fact that is often overlooked in discussions of federal support programs, Corzine says.

He says corn growers were also troubled by the program’s portrayal of American farmers as simple, unsophisticated people interested only in receiving a "handout" from the government.

"The program reinforced some of the negative stereotypes farmers have been battling for years," he says. "The show’s producers have a responsibility to do more thorough research on the subject matter they are addressing in their program. If they had done their homework, they would have recognized that farmers today are hard-working, intelligent people who make enormous contributions to our quality of life in America."

Corzine, a corn and soybean grower from Assumption, Ill., says NCGA plans to send informational packets on the corn and ethanol industries to the producers of "The West Wing." NCGA is also planning to deliver similar informational packets to legislators on Capitol Hill.