Posts from the ‘From my blog on Forbes.com’ Category
I have a new post today on Forbes.com: Grand Opening of Horse Slaughter Plants Foiled Again. You can read it here.
The topic may seem obscure, but it’s probably my most important writing to date: exposing false reporting by the Associated Press in 16 different articles (as of this writing) that have, for a year and a half, made their way into every mainstream media organization in the U.S., misleading the public on critical facts about horse slaughter just as two and possibly three plants get closer to opening in America’s heartland.
I started tracking these errors across the media landscape in June, 2012 as they started appearing in a variety of mainstream news sites. As of yesterday, I picked up these same recurring errors in two new AP stories that have appeared on all the networks, in The Christian Science Monitor, Bloomberg, Huffington Post, Reuters, and countless online news sites. I’ve also picked up false reports in The New York Times, on NPR, and other news organizations that have a high standard of accuracy. The AP’s stamp was on all of them.
I approached the AP back in June of 2012, then again in April, and steadily from May onward, inquiring about errors I found and seeking correction.
The first person I spoke to was the AP reporter who has become the voice for Valley Meat for the American Press—Jeri Clausing. I called her again 10 months later.
Ms. Clausing did not take kindly to my inquiries. On my second call, during which I politely inquired as to her source for figures on horse overpopulation that I knew to be incorrect, she wouldn’t let me get a word in. She kept repeating, “you’re a horse advocate, you’re a horse advocate” despite my having offered my credentials as a journalist who had published extensively on Forbes.com and the Huffington Post (I have since been published in Newsweek), on the topic of horse slaughter.
Upon my strong objection to being spoken to in such a rude manner, Ms. Clausing responded: “You sound like a fucking bitch.”
So I reached out to Ms. Clausing’s news editor, Linda Ashton. I explained my concerns and she requested I write up my credentials and the errors I found in Ms. Clausing’s articles, along with links proving what was wrong and why.
I did so. I spent a month poring over seven articles:
- Jun. 6, 2012: Proposed Horse Slaughterhouse Polarizes Industry http://bigstory.ap.org/article/proposed-horse-slaughterhouse-polarizes-industry
- Aug. 1, 2012: Horse Owners Support NM Horse Slaughterhouse http://bigstory.ap.org/article/horse-owners-support-nm-horse-slaughterhouse
- Dec. 20, 2012: Meat Company Sues Feds Over Horse Slaughterhouse http://bigstory.ap.org/article/meat-company-sues-feds-over-horse-slaughterhouse
- Mar. 1, 2013: New Mexico Company: Feds May Allow Horse Slaughter
- Mar. 22, 2013: Horse Shooting Highlights Slaughter Debate http://bigstory.ap.org/article/horse-shooting-underscores-slaughter-debate
- Apr. 23, 2013: Lawyer: Inspectors Clear NM Slaughterhouse http://bigstory.ap.org/article/nm-slaughterhouse-ground-zero-horse-debate
- Apr. 30, 2013: NM Horse Slaughter Plant to Open Soon http://bigstory.ap.org/article/ag-secretary-nm-horse-slaughter-plant-should-open
As part of that, I reread each of the articles referenced above, researched Ms. Clausing’s sources in greater depth and reread materials referenced numerous times within her storyline (specifically, the June 2011 GAO Report).
What I found confirms my impression of bias throughout the seven articles favoring proponents of Valley Meat and their point of view, along with related errors.
Table I shows proponents enjoying a 69.4% share of voice compared to just 12.7% for opponents in the AP’s coverage. The figures were determined by doing word counts for groupings of similar text (talking points, reference materials, editorial commentary, photo captions, etc.). Neutral text (such as legislation and quotes from people without a discernible point of view), accounts for the difference between the two column totals (on the right) and the total word count (on the left).
Table II shows proponents and opponents represented in roughly equal numbers with regard to the individuals, organizations and constituencies (ranchers, horse rescues, public officials, livestock associations, etc.) named in the text. Where they diverge is the total number of mentions and talking time they get.
- Eight individual proponents get mentioned 46 times (5.75 mentions per individual).
- Six individual opponents get mentioned 18 times (3 mentions per individual).
- The same holds true for organizations and constituents named in the text. If they’re proponents, they get more frequent mentions and longer quotes.
There were five recurring errors I highlighted in my letter to Ms. Ashton. The most egregious appeared in six of the seven articles I reviewed. It stated the following:
“A June 2011 report from the federal Government Accountability Office shows cases of horse abuse and abandonment on a steady rise since Congress effectively banned horse slaughter by cutting funding for USDA inspection programs in 2006.”
This quote gives credence to Ms. Clausing’s frequent mentions of “abused,” “abandoned” “neglected,” “starved” and “unwanted” horses (24 mentions in her first article alone) despite a GAO acknowledgement that “national data is lacking.” This admission appears on page two of the 2011 report and is briefly mentioned in Ms. Clausing’s first article, but is otherwise absent, along with any discussion about the lack of national and almost complete lack of state data.
A worse problem, however is her getting the events wrong that shut down the slaughter plants and when that occurred. This is the main topic of my Forbes.com article today.
In any event, Ms. Ashton repeated that the AP’s reporting was both factual and balanced, and started knocking my professional credentials to request a correction. She said, “I’ve looked at your articles, and I think they’re biased.”
Let me address that. It’s a valid point.
I don’t quote Rick de los Santos in my articles, though I do mention him in one. I have interviewed him, though, back in March when that video of his employee, Tim Sappington, came out shooting a horse in the head while swearing at animal rights activists.
The interview with Mr. De Los Santos was long and uneventful—so much so he gave me his cellphone number and asked me not to share it. The next day, however, his attorney, A. Blair Dunn, sent me the following note:
“You are receiving this correspondence because you communicated to a person associated with Valley Meat Company, LLC a degratory, defamatory or threatening statement or aided in deciminating the information necessary to conspire to do the same. As legal counsel for for Valley Meat Company this email shoud serve as notice I do not represent Tim Sappington, nor is he associated with Valley Meat Company in any capacity.
Because of the statements you have made it is my reccomendation that you retain your own legal counsel. At this time any communications you made that threaten or harass any person associated with Valley Meat Company will be referred to the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security for investigation and prosecution under the Animal Enterprise Terroism Act (SEE BELOW). Neither Valley Meat nor the Law Office of A. Blair Dunn will tolerate threatening or defamatory statements and will contemplate civil action against any individuals or groups that persist in that type of activity.
Thank you for your consideration.”
Mr. Dunn’s spelling errors and threats notwithstanding, I reached out to Mr. De Los Santos a second time, and got more harassing notes from Mr. Dunn.
I also reached out to several other individuals in Ms. Clausing’s articles to get quotes. None called me back. That’s not a result of bias on my part; it’s a result of bias on theirs. They don’t mind speaking to Ms. Clausing because she seems to take everything they say at face value. That’s not my orientation.
But back, again, to my correspondence with Ms. Ashton. Having gotten nowhere with my request for corrections, I decided to take my concerns up the chain at the AP.
I next wrote to the AP’s corrections line. I called, too. When I finally got someone on the phone, they wouldn’t direct me to an actual editor and told me to email them again. When I told them I’d done that already, they hung up on me. So I emailed them again. Again, no one got back to me.
So I contacted a very attentive editor named Stephanie Siek. She asked me to do a write up on what I found and vowed to send it on to the appropriate editor at the AP. Several weeks later, I was in correspondence with Traci Carl, whose title is West Editor. She oversees 13 different regions for the AP, including Albuquerque, Ms. Clausing’s base.
Ms. Carl’s response to my inquiry was pretty much what I expected:
“Stephanie Siek brought your concerns to my attention, as I oversee news for 13 Western states, including New Mexico. The Associated Press takes all potential errors seriously, and I’ve reviewed our stories and the facts called into question. At this time, I don’t see a need for a corrective. As you state, and as we reported, Congress cut the funding for inspection programs in 2006. And I reviewed the GAO report and found that it did cite a rise in horse abuse and abandonment, as stated in our article. Thanks again for your concern and interest.”
“Thank you for getting back to me about the errors in Ms. Clausing’s reporting.
The point being made isn’t when Congress cut funding (2006), as you suggest. It is about Ms. Clausing stating that the removal of funding effectively shut the plants down in 2006 when that didn’t happen until 2007 (they were kept in operation by fee-for-service inspections, which the court found illegal, shutting the plants down). The closure of plants and the stated correlation with an alleged rise in abuse and abandonment in 2006 are central features of all Ms. Clausing’s coverage. This correlation falls apart given the true date of closing.
In fact, that abuse and neglect went up for a year prior to the plants’ closing proves the two are not correlated. That abuse and neglect figures declined after the plants closed also proves that point.
The AP’s coverage makes the case that keeping horse slaughter plants open is a more humane option and uses the wrong date of closing to prove that point. Please explain why 14 articles and hundreds of spin-off articles based on a false date and a false correlation do not require correction.
I’ve been writing articles on this subject for two years. I’ve been writing letters on this to the AP since May seeking correction. May I please have the courtesy of speaking to you about what is admittedly a very complex topic in person.”
Ms. Carl’s next response was more promising:
“Again, thank you for your enthusiasm and interest in this story. We do want to get it right.
I have to admit that I’ve gone through the story and your emails several times, and I’m still struggling to understand the errors as reported by the AP. The concerns you raise seem like they should be directed at the GAO and their report.
Please let me know if I’m not understanding the situation. If you raise a specific error in our reporting, I will vet it and correct it for the record.”
So I wrote back with the following:
“Thanks for looking at this further and for your assurances that the AP wants to get this right. I appreciate your question about whether you understand this. The answer is no — it’s way more complicated than you or the AP reporter, Jeri Clausing (or most people) understand. So let me lay out what happened in detail, and what Ms. Clausing misstates in 15 different articles, specifically:
- That Congress defunded inspections in 2006
- that this effectively caused the plants to close in 2006
- that the GAO report showed a corresponding rise in horse abuse and abandonment”
To that, I appended a very long timeline (a feature of today’s Forbes.com post) detailing all the events that occurred between when Congress voted to defund horse slaughter inspections (in 2005) and when the plants actually shut down (on account of state bans in TX and IL) in 2007.
Clearly, I expected that this would prove my point. The AP had screwed up the dates as well as which events led to what outcome. What I got back from Ms. Carl showed otherwise:
“I’ve reviewed our coverage, and we are clear that the vote to cut funding came in 2005, and that Congress’ intention was to effectively ban horse slaughter with that vote. You are right that we don’t mention efforts by Illinois and Texas to get around that vote, but it doesn’t change Congress’ intent, which was at the heart of the horse slaughter debate. I don’t see a need for correction or clarification on that point.
As for the Colorado data, by your own reporting and facts below, cases did rise after funding was pulled in 2006, so I don’t see a need for a correction or clarification on that point. Again, thanks for your passion and interest in this topic.”
“I am a bit perplexed by your message.
Nowhere in any of the (now) 15 articles does Ms. Clausing state the vote to cut funding came in 2005. I have aggregated all the text for all 15 articles into one word doc and there is only one mention of “2005” in all of them, and it has nothing to do with Congress. Further, I only find three mentions of “intent” and none have to do with Congress.
What I find repeatedly—and have pointed out in all my correspondence to you—is Ms. Clausing saying Congress “effectively” banned slaughter in 2006. This is factually and demonstrably incorrect. Congress intent to defund it and Congress actually defunding it did not close the plants and it is the “effective” closing of them that Ms. Clausing is correlating with a “consistent increase and abuse and neglect”. This also did not happen, either, as the data shows abuse going up while plants were still open and going down after they closed.
Again, it was state laws that closed the plants in 2007, a full year after Ms. Clausing said they closed. I don’t know how I can be any more clear in proving this point to you.
Can you please address these specific errors? Thank you!”
The answer to that was: silence. I sent an email asking who I could talk to since she wasn’t willing to take it further. She said: “I’m the person you should talk to at AP, and I believe I’ve addressed your questions.”
The AP, as of today, has now put out 17 articles, 16 of which carry the error I described above. The other article has different problems with it. The entire series is riddled with them. Yet I chose the most easy-to-spot error— a false date—to prove the need for a correction.
How many meaningless corrections are made to news stories that are date-related (getting a birthdate wrong) while significant errors go uncorrected, simply because a news organization has sunk its credibility into some really unfactual coverage, and doesn’t want to come clean?
It’s easy to talk about wanting to get things right. But 17 articles riddled with errors that go uncorrected isn’t “getting things right.” It’s covering your ass.
This is having a profound impact on how the public is responding to what could soon be plants opening in New Mexico and possibly Missouri and Iowa. Essentially, the majority of Americans are against horse slaughter, but there are still people making up their minds about whether or not this is a good or bad idea. And a lot of false information from the AP and other generally credible news sources doesn’t help them do that. The news keeps changing: the plants are opening; the plants aren’t opening; restaurants are gearing up to serve horse meat. The news cycle feeds off the crazy factor—none of it with a basis in reality.
If this matters to you, here’s what you do:
- Write to the Associated Press and every news source that’s picked up the AP’s coverage. Tell them your concerns. Give them a link to my Forbes article and ask them for a correction.
- Keep asking. Then, start demanding.
I’ve done my part. I’ve put the story out there. It’s your turn, now to raise hell. But be polite. If anyone speaks to an editor the way that AP reporter spoke to me, your concern will go nowhere.
There’s power in your words and most importantly, provable facts. Use them!
The latest egregious example is the New York Daily News, which falsely reported that NYC carriage horses would go to slaughter if the carriage trade is shut down—which it certainly will be regardless of who is elected as the city’s next mayor in this Tuesday’s coming election.
You can read Forbes’ response (“NYC’s Mayor Bloomberg Doesn’t Know Manure About Carriage Horses”) here.
The original Daily News articles are a too-common example of media disinformation—this time, with an authoritatively misinformed Mayor Michael Bloomberg as the source. The Daily News picked it up and ran with it—citing numerous “experts,” four of whom were not even named, and none of whom had a clue about rehoming horses.
Sure, you can dig up an expert—but their words only count if they happen to be TRUE regarding the specific claim: in this case, NYC carriage horses and whether or not they’d go to slaughter.
As it turns out, the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries, IS an expert on this topic, and reached out to its broad network of horse sanctuaries, assuring everyone that the horses would have homes if their owners couldn’t find them, themselves.
Some of you may know of my long battle with the Associated Press to correct documented and serious errors repeated in 15 different articles published by the Albuquerque AP news bureau about Valley Meat, a Roswell NM slaughter plant that wants to be the nation’s first to start slaughtering horses.
Correcting the news media is everyone’s concern, however—not just mine as a journalist.
I’m therefore inviting all of you who demand better researched, fact-checked and correct information about this issue, or the carriage horses, to write to the corrections departments of every media organization that gets the story wrong.
Write them and do this: demand they perform their duty. All of them have corrections departments. If they don’t correct, why are they there?
Mayor Bloomberg doesn’t know carriage horses, and he probably doesn’t care if he’s wrong. But I do, and you do.
Take the time to reach out to every media source—including the writer but especially the corrections department—demanding accuracy and accountability.
Be polite, be factual and be persistent—and don’t ever think they don’t hear you.
They do listen, even if they don’t act.
It’s been a busy week in equine America.
The racing community’s been debating the breakdown of horses at Aqueduct, on the set of “Luck” and in general. Separately, the equine welfare community’s been fighting new legislation and proposals to open horse slaughterhouses in Tennessee, Missouri and Oregon, while consumer and humane watchdog groups are fighting “ag-gag” rules, one of which was just signed into law by Utah’s Governor.
I hope those interested in fixing what’s broken in horse racing will focus on the larger humane and agribusiness issues, because they are all related. Unfortunately, ag-gag and horse slaughter aren’t on racing’s radar pretty much because racing’s focus is nearly always inward-facing. This is especially true of people and industries whose fortunes are tightly tied to how they’re publically perceived.
Racing’s image is tarnished right now as is PETA’s, the insular animal rights group that is often mistaken as the only group in America with a voice on issues relating to animal welfare, legislation and advocacy.
This has a lot to do with Ingrid Newkirk’s talent for creating spectacles (like her statement about bringing horse slaughter back to the U.S.) but also the manner in which PETA exposes things that do, in fact, need exposing. As it turns out, PETA provoked the racing industry and race fans to fury, first by asking questions about two horses that died on the set of HBO’s “Luck” series, then by demanding changes and third, by dragging the producer, trainer and a vet associated with “Luck” in front of the Los Angeles DA on what many in the racing community say are false and misleading charges of violating a California humane statute.
There are more wild horses and burros living in long-term holding pens today than roaming free. Who thinks that’s a good idea?
Who would have even imagined that 40 years after the passage of the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971, that we would even be having this conversation? And yet that’s the state of things today, thanks to the Bureau of Land Management.
Don’t spread this around, but I remember when that legislation was passed. I was a seventh-grader, an avid pony clubber, and I was outraged by what was being done to the mustangs. I was also rabidly anti-Nixon, mostly because of the Vietnam War and also because my dad liked him and I decided that whatever my dad stood for politically, I was against.
Still, the legislation passed while Nixon was in office and even if I didn’t like him as a president, the passage of the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act made me feel as though our government stood for some of the right things. It stood for wild horses and it stood for the will of the American people who overwhelmingly called for the mustangs to be protected. For a moment, I thought it also stood for me because, you know, I was a seventh-grader and a horse lover. And who pays seventh-graders and horse lovers any mind?
I used to love horse racing. I grew up with horses, did Pony Club, mucked out stalls with a pair of rubber gloves and bucket and dreamed about horses, horse shows, horse anything. I even went to college in Saratoga.
Then, the summer before my freshman year, the unthinkable happened: Ruffian broke both sesamoid bones in her foreleg racing Kentucky Derby winner, Foolish Pleasure, at Belmont Park.
I remember the race, the day, the sight of Jacinto Vasquez trying to pull her up as she galloped on her pulverized leg and later, the news she’d come out of surgery only to smash her cast while thrashing in her stall. The news she was gone was unfathomable. An estimated 20 million people watched the race. I can’t imagine that anyone wasn’t affected.
Ruffian was the second horse I’d love, but the first I’d lose. She had every gift in life, but length of years, as the late Ted Kennedy would say in his eulogy for JFK Jr. Ruffian, the hope of horses and of one college-bound, horse-obsessed girl, was no more.
College in Saratoga was grand. I lived off campus my last two years in a Victorian townhouse at 176 Regent Street and dated a bartender at the famed racing hangout, Siro’s. We went to the track a lot. It was exciting and then, I saw another horse break down. Not a big horse, not a famous one. An anonymous one.
It lay on the track as the crowd watched a van drive up, erect a screen, and then, minutes later, drive away.
Friends, I’m happy to announce a departure from my regular grim programming with a new Forbes.com post: Is Your K-Y Jelly Cruelty-Free? Do You Care?
Apparently, the topic is resonating with a lot of people. Are they K-Y users? I think not. Mostly, they’re people like me who caught a glimpse of how much animal testing is still going on. If you haven’t, check out these products from Procter & Gamble that are all tested on animals:
Always, Aussie, Braun, Christina Aguilera Perfumes, Clairol, Downy, Crest, DDF, Dolce & Gabbana, Dunhill Fragrances, Escada Fragrances, Febreze, Fekkai, Gillette Co., Gucci Fragrances, Halo, Head & Shoulders, Herbal Essences, Hugo Boss, Iams, Ivory, Joy, Lacoste Fragrances, Max Factor, Mr. Clean, Natural Instincts, Nice n Easy, Olay, Old Spice, Oral-B, Pampers, Pantene, Physique, Puffs, Scope, Sebastian Professional , Secret, SK-II, Swiffer, Tide, Vicks, Vidal Sasson, Zest
Have you bought any? I have. Lots of them.
As it happens, Forbes conducted a survey last year asking consumers to rate CPG companies on a range of attributes, including “trust.” Guess who’s considered among the most trusted companies in America? You got it. P&G. And they’re in good company.
Incredulous, I asked an editor if the subject of animal-testing came up in the survey, and she said “no.” They hadn’t thought about it. This made sense and yet it seemed ridiculously dumb. Consumers care deeply about animals. That they didn’t know what they were buying also made sense to me. How would they? And yet, I felt as though I should have known. The Forbes editors should have known. The companies should have been transparent.
It’s a new day and I’m sharing this experience in the hopes of shaking things up. Please share if you want to join me. Thanks!
You almost never hear people described as “gutsy,” anymore. Ballsy is popular. Brazen. But neither accurately describes Paula Bacon, the former Mayor of Kaufman, Texas.
Paula Bacon, a two-term mayor of Kaufman, is gutsy. In her last year in office, she managed to rid the town of a plague it had suffered for two decades: the Dallas Crown horse slaughter plant, which had been dumping horse guts, tainted blood, manure and legal expenses on the town since the ’80′s.
Today’s post on Forbes.com, “Texas Mayor Paula Bacon Kicks Some Tail,” is about that fight. It’s also about what life is like in a slaughter town: the costly sewage problems, foul smells, legal battles, vermin and falling property values. It’s about the sights and sounds of slaughter, the horses, the humane issues and outspoken residents like Jualine and Robert Eldridge, a nurse and a respiratory therapist, who lived with Dallas Crown in their backyard, preventing them and their neighbors from using their backyards for two decades because the stench was so overpowering.
War Horse opened this week, an event chronicled in today’s Forbes.com blog post, “Can War Horse Beat Clooney For Golden Globe”?
I sure hope so, not just because I’m a sucker for a good horse movie and fine film making, but because of War Horse’s ability to elevate a simple moral message so easily lost on the red carpet: compassion’s ability to neutralize brutality, compassion’s essence to survival.
Horses are recipients of both compassion and brutality, perhaps no more so than today, when there are people who actually say such things on Facebook as, “For so long feeding a horse for a month was under $50, and now within the last two years it has escalated to over $100 per month per horse. I am so tired of every horse out there being called a rescue. My wish for Christmas this year was that every rescue horse was taken for slaughter reducing the demand for hay. It is now getting so hard to feed the remaining horses I have that I am getting angry at the mere thought of Un-Wanted Horses not being slaughtered.”
It got 13 “likes.” Worse, this is someone’s Christmas wish.
Which state representative puts horse meat recipes like “Filly Filet” on one of her many Web sites? Which former Congressman-turned-lobbyist pocketed thousands of dollars in farm subsidies while writing billion-dollar farm bills? And which prominent Democrat made the request to slip language into a conference report that sent untold thousands of wild horses and burros to their deaths in the 107th Congress?
You’ll find the answers in Who’s Who in Capitol Hill’s Power Posse, a photo gallery on Forbes.com. It’s a follow-up to my Dec. 21 post on Forbes.com, “How Many Congressmen Does It Take To Screw A Horse?” Now, you can put the Congressmen’s names, photos and actions together.
By the way, the Democrats have been very naughty here. And a republican—Bob Goodlatte—turns out to be both a Christian Scientist and one of the original birthers.
Mary Baker Eddy would not approve.
It gives me no joy to feature Larry Craig on my blog just days before Christmas, but he’s here to represent the U.S. Congressmen, horse-slaughter lobbyists, advocates and journalists who are the topic of today’s new post on Forbes.com, “How Many Congressmen Does It Take To Screw A Horse?“
You’re familiar with the marginalization of “We the 99%”? Say hello to “We the 70%”. This is the percentage of Americans opposed to horse slaughter who were screwed when Senators Herb Kohl and Roy Blunt, along with U.S. Representative Jack Kingston went behind closed doors to remove language banning slaughter inspections from the recent Agriculture Appropriations spending bill.
A lot of people are wondering how that went down in light of all the widespread support for The American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act of 2011, both in Congress and among average Americans. Today’s post looks at the culprits, the bills they’ve blocked over the years, the tactics used and how many horses have been screwed in the process.
It also reveals the USDA’s dismal record in regulating horse slaughter and the flaws in the GAO Report that President Obama and the U.S. Congress relied on for guidance in deciding to refund USDA horse meat inspections after a five-year ban. Finally, it examines the biased, suspiciously-timed media coverage that has misled and confused so many Americans on what the facts are.
A key part of today’s post is a photo gallery I’m working on putting names and faces to Capitol Hill’s horse-slaughter power posse. It’s almost ready, so I hope you’ll come back and look for it.
Not what I wanted to be working on the week before Christmas. I will celebrate that, good will, and peace on earth even as I continue to probe how our government has been wrapped up and stuck under the Agriculture lobby’s very own, possibly genetically-modified, hopefully cage-free Christmas tree.
Deck the halls.