OF COWS AND MEN: Story Behind the Stories, Chapter 2 April 20, 2023 By Michele Meyer Leave a Comment You talking about us? THE LESSON: You need to aspire, take action—and ask the right questions—to succeed. When I applied for a national internship with the communications office at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, I thought my chances were nil. After all, I’d only been on a farm once in my life—and had no intention of returning. What’s that aroma? Shockingly, dear reader, I was hired. Ever since, I’ve pursued my dreams. Why not? I had nothing to lose, but a lot I could gain. Still, I had much to learn. The biggest surprise at USDA wasn’t that my boss nixed my first-day proposal to write a press release on a fascinating study that showed death-row inmates drink more milk than other people. And it wasn’t that I’d be able to attend press conferences where fine national journalists peppered the secretary of agriculture with questions. Making a splash with my first pitch–or not. We’d like to say, “No comment on the advice of our farmer.” It was how many scandals we hid. My task often was to remove incriminating pages from thick reports before they were delivered. No one who then received the reports asked where the missing pages were, so perhaps they just skimmed—as they’d done in school. I’d also churn out a flood of innocuous “news” releases to distract from wrongdoings about to surface. My colleagues taught me how to say “No comment,” yet appear helpful. That was “No comment. If you’d like, I can say it in French, Spanish, German, Italian or Russian.” Sometimes that wasn’t enough and we brought out our big gun: the “information” officer we dubbed “Mr. Doublespeak.” His gobbledygook should’ve been a signal that journalists should start digging. But they didn’t. No comment on the advice of Mr. Doublespeak. Yet one morning I awoke to find the headlines blaring a disgrace we had successfully squelched for months. How the heck? It turned out that Bob, the sharpest tool in the reportorial shed, had phoned a press officer at 3 a.m. And she spilled–everything. That taught me persistence pays when seeking deeply buried treasure. With my mother, who preferred boutiques more than bovines. A few years later I became an investigative reporter. Our team was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize for public service. Declaring my appreciation is long overdue. Thank you, USDA. I couldn’t have done it without you. U.S. Department of Agriculture, The Whitten Building, Washington, D.C. Oh, and of course you, beloved bovines.