After he was fired from his job at a chicken processing plant, Virgil Butler morphed into an animal-rights crusader. A little over a week ago, the Los Angeles Times featured Butler on its front page, proclaiming that he has “electrified animal-rights activists around the globe.” Perhaps that’s so — with a little help from his friends at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). But a stunning correction published yesterday by the Times reveals that Butler is simply not credible.
The original Times story — which was picked up by several other papers, including the Chicago Tribune — begins with pure melodrama:
In his dim trailer in the pines, Virgil Butler writes of killing. He once shot a man to death in the parking lot of a bar. He served in the American invasion of Panama and recalled killing enemy soldiers at close range. That is not the violence that drives him to his keyboard. He is haunted, instead, by the nine years he made his way in the world by slaughtering chickens. In the chilled dark of a Tyson processing plant, Butler killed 80,000 birds a shift.
That certainly sounds like a compelling story. But take a look at the correction. Those words were little more than an exercise in make-believe:
An article in Monday’s Section A included incorrect information about animal rights activist Virgil Butler. It said that Butler took part in the U.S. invasion of Panama, where he recalled killing enemy soldiers, but the Army has no record of his service. The article stated that Butler shot a man to death in the parking lot of a bar and went to prison for manslaughter. In fact, he was convicted of felony burglary, and the shooting could not be confirmed. The article said Butler killed 80,000 birds a shift at a Tyson poultry plant. He did not slaughter every chicken personally but was part of a nine-person team.
After taking 108 words to correct the first 86 of a nearly 2000 word story, we can only guess at what other false claims it contained. For his part, Butler seems to have found nothing wrong with the Los Angeles Times article. On his website, he thanks the author for her “great work” and notes that “you are hard-working and honest, and you definitely dig for the whole truth. You worked really hard, and it shows.”
Questions about Butler’s truth-telling abilities haven’t stopped United Poultry Concerns, Farm Sanctuary, Compassion Over Killing, and other animal rights groups from working with him and publicizing his complaints. But if using trumped-up stories were an Olympic sport, PETA would take home the gold. According to the Los Angeles Times: “Butler made $500 off his activism this fall, when PETA sent him undercover to try to corroborate his claims of chicken abuse.” The Times also quotes PETA’s Bruce Friedrich saying that Virgil “has turned more people vegetarian than anything else we did last year.” Anything else? It sure sounds like PETA considers Butler just one more project to promote. Finally, Butler himself writes:
I also have to thank Bruce Friedrich for all his help in setting up things for me and Cem Akin for his tireless, probing questions in his research of the story, as well as his help in making a lot of this happen. Everyone at PETA has been great.