Flashback — From The Harvester, fourth quarter 1994

— Crisis or opportunity? CBS comes to Belle Glade —

Sitting alone in a CBS videotape editing booth, CBS associate producer Christina Borgeson diligently watched hours of footage from the network’s news report archives. Borgeson took notes as each video clip reported on the state of farm labor in America. The most notable of which, the 1960 documentary Harvest of Shame, is regarded as both an example of benchmark journalism by the TV news types and an indictment by agriculturalists. This time, Borgeson was doing her homework for yet another visit to America’s farms by CBS News.

A few weeks later, Borgeson called Tom Morgan, communications director at A. Duda & Sons, to ask about the farm labor policies at his company. Instantly recognizing this as either a crisis or an opportunity, Morgan invited her to come to South Florida for a tour of Duda’s  farms.

“It was clear early on that her notions of farm labor were based on those earlier news stories, and that wasn’t today’s reality,” says Morgan. “I decided the best way to tell our story was to show her firsthand how things had changed since Edward R. Murrow reported from that South Florida farm more than 30 years ago.”

The farm tour paid off. CBS, while documenting farm labor problems at several locations around the United States, chose to profile Duda as an example of how sound ag labor practices can enhance a farm’s production and profitability. In addition to documenting labor management at Duda farms, CBS asked for an interview with Ed Duda and F.S. Duda.

“The general public, news media and politicians are not well-informed about agriculture,” says Ed Duda about his decision to grant the interview. “Most of it is our own fault because we won’t talk to them. And it’s really aggravating because most of my best friends are farmers or people associated with agriculture, and I have gotten tired of them getting beaten up over the past 30 years. So, I guess it’s time we spoke up.”

After several weeks of negotiations and scheduling changes, the stage was set for Dan Rather to come to Belle Glade to interview the Dudas. FFVA’s Communications Division Director Ray Gilmer stepped in to help provide media training in preparation for the interview and to assist in providing on-site supervision of the CBS crew.

“Even in situations like this where there’s a very positive story to tell, you have to prepare for the interview as if it were a performance,” said Gilmer. “You can’t get bogged down with trying to politely answer every question; sitting down to an interview is really an opportunity to share your message, and that’s got to be your first priority.”

Having reviewed a list of questions prepared by the documentary’s executive producer, CBS anchor Dan Rather arrived in Belle Glade looking the part in denim and boots. His production team had spent the morning painstakingly arranging lights, microphones and cameras for the interview at the Duda farm. The day’s schedule was tight, so it wasn’t long before Ed and F.S. Duda were sitting across from Rather with cameras ready to roll. After a short delay to prevent Rather’s chair from sinking into the rain-soaked muck, the interview finally began.

“It was soon apparent that we had anticipated the issues CBS raised in the interview,” remembers FFVA’s Gilmer. “In hindsight, we probably over-prepared for what turned out to be relatively easy questions, but that’s clearly better than being ambushed on camera.”

Except for some noisy birds that seemed to be competing for the sound engineer’s attention, the interview came off without a hitch. Already behind schedule, Rather and his crew skipped lunch and headed for a nearby radish field, the backdrop for shooting the introduction and conclusion to the documentary. By 4 p.m., he was headed for Miami to co-anchor the evening news.

Comments are closed.