The power of the media, part one

Apr 29th, 2011 | By | Category: Youth Blog

When I want to know the news, I go straight to Google News, but a recent story has me thinking that it would be approriate to take a couple of posts to discuss how we should interpret  the presentation of issues in the media. My first victim  will be “Budget bill cuts federal wolf protection. Environmentalists howling.” from the Christian Science Monitor. The article suggests that, with wolves being  deregulated as part of  recent budget cuts, environmentalists are overreacting – while everybody else isn’t worried. Let’s take a look!

The first issue I see with this article is the  mention of “wily, carnivorous wolves” – true, wolves are intelligent and carnivorous. But the particular phrasing is slightly negative – especially when the article proceeds to state:

It seemed to be a winning outcome all around. Except for one other species: those who saw wolves as a threatening competitor to domestic livestock (which wolves feed on now and then) and to hunters who now had to work a little harder to bag that trophy bull elk.

So the first issue here is that the article has sneakily (OK, not so much) managed to suggest that many people aren’t happy about the protection of wily, carnivorous animals. If you didn’t like wolves before, this article certainly isn’t  going to change your mind.

The bigger point is that the article suggests a greater consensus among everybody-but-the-environmentalists than is really true: apparently “all interested parties were working on a plan to ‘delist’ the animal under the Endangered Species Act,” which seems unlikely given the disagreement posed by the environmentalists later in the article.  Moreover, I’m particularly moved by the following passage:

It was a bipartisan move, pushed by Sen. Jon Tester (D) of Montana and Rep. Mike Simpson (R) of Idaho, who emphasized that wolves had long since met the recovery goals set under the Endangered Species Act. “This is more than a victory for Montana,” said Senator Tester, a farmer with a general liberal voting record who chairs the Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus. “It’s a win for rural America, for jobs, and for our wildlife – and it’s what’s right for the wolves themselves. This was never going to get done with partisan games or grandstanding.”

The first three alarm bells: (1) the “long since” idea disagrees with the scientists mentioned below, (2) Tester is a farmer and a sportsman, and (3) Tester feels this was a victory for rural America, jobs, and Montana – a fact which confuses me, seeing as funding for wolf protection creates jobs for wildlife managers – so here comes the big question: is Tester as good as he sounds? He  may have a liberal voting record, but there’s one source I trust for environmental records, and that’s the scorecard put out by the League of Conservation Voters. Taking a look at his scorecard, we see the following facts:

  1. Tester is a first-term Senator, though he has been around since 2005: this suggests “long-standing” is not the  best word to describe his voting record.
  2. Here are the committees he’s on: Appropriations; Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs; Homeland Security and Government Affairs; Indian Affairs; Veteran’s Affairs. None of these  are strictly environmental committees.
  3. He  has a LCV score of 57% (ie. of all the environmental votes he’s made, that percent were “good”) for the 2010 term, but in previous years has been around 80-90%, which is good.

So the moral about Tester: he’s a good environmental voter, but not an expert on conservation issues – and we shouldn’t see him as such. Now let’s take a look at Mike Simpson, our republican friend from Idaho who helped make this “bipartisan move.” Again, we go to LCV, and what we find this time:

  1. He is a 7th term Senator – i.e. he’s a politico who’s been around a long time. “Partisan games” are probably not his greatest enemy.
  2. He’s only on Appropriations and Budget. So not only is he not  too environmental, he’s essentially only involved in the most financial decisions – and as the wolf deregulation came as part of the recent budget cuts, this makes sense – so we can presume he’s not doing this for the good of the wolves.
  3. Beginning in 1999, his LCV scores have been for each year: 0%, 0%, 6%, 3%, 12%, 17%, and for 2010, a whopping 10% environmental friendly voting record. He especially has a bad record in the attempts to drill in the Artic National Wildlife Refuge, consistently making the “wrong choice” from an environmental perspective.

This guy clearly cares about a lot of things, but protecting parks – and the wildlife inside them – clearly  doesn’t rank too high in his list of priorities.

So the  moral of the story is this: the story suggested that environmentalists were unhappy despite a bi-partisan, scientifically-sound move. Don’t forget to understand who’s being quoted – LCV is generally a good place to start. I, for one, am now rather disgusted with both the Honorable Sen. Tester and Rep. Simpson. Nice going, guys.

Next time…. more tools to dig deeper than the surface of the media!

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