I got kicked off the Wild Horses, BLM and Logical Solutions FB page after posting James McWilliams’ article on Mustang-Safe beef labeling and sticking around to debate it with the group members there. Don’t lament this, folks. It’s their page. They make the rules. And one of the apparent guiding principles is to center every discussion (and solution) around bringing WHB populations down to appropriate management levels (AML). That is their idea of “logical solutions.” But it isn’t mine.
So I went on over to the BLM’s WHB Program FB page and posted this:
“Let’s be real.
AML is all about preserving higher stocking numbers of cattle than wild horses, not about providing ecological balance under multiple uses. Livestock producers keep arguing that getting down to AML and adopting out a few WHB are necessary to reduce overgrazing, preserve public grass and forest land. But they don’t provide proof that it’s horses doing the damage.
There happens to be extensive proof on the other side: data showing the degree to which private livestock outnumber WHB. How long are those looking to remove more wild horses going to pretend this isn’t relevant, and keep trying to silence those who bring it up?
Yes, there are fewer livestock on public lands today compared to years past. This is obviously hard on ranchers. Yes, wild horses need to be managed on the range. But the constant drumbeat of “over AML” “adopt out WHB” “use PZP” and “join the WHB advisory board” won’t remove the giant gorilla in the room: the damage is on the livestock side.
Go look for research to the contrary (you can find a sample here on page 14). What little exists says that, because there’s no historical data on grazing by livestock in HMAs, that pinning damage on wild horses is impossible. Go seek out studies on the negative impact of livestock production, both in the US and globally. A search of Google Scholar turns up thousands of results. Read a sample of these studies (available here on page 13). They minimally mention other species (like wild horses) on the condition of public lands. There’s a reason for that.
The COP21 climate talks now going on in Paris will continue to escalate the discussion, and livestock production, as the public is becoming increasingly aware, has a carbon footprint to rival transportation’s, and a massive water footprint, to boot.
If you want to solve the environmental problems that keep getting threaded into the “over AML” argument, you are going to have to confront this preponderance of evidence.
The public is getting informed, albeit slowly.
Why not address the issue within the livestock sector honestly instead of kicking the can down the road? And part of that discussion needs to be the cost of public grazing allotments, which cost taxpayers much more than the WHB program. Frankly, both are burdens on taxpayers, but the federal grazing program is the biggest of all. There needs to be honest discussion on that. Who wants to participate?”
I’m very interested to see who steps forward.
A note to newcomers: I am a writer and journalist published on Forbes.com, Newsweek/The Daily Beast, Alternet, Salon, Laika and the site I run with James McWilliams, The Daily Pitchfork. I used to work for The New York Times, Forbes Inc., Dow Jones and spent some time at The New Yorker and Time Warner. So please do not call me a horse advocate. My only advocacy is to the public and its right to be correctly informed on important policy issues by the media. To this end, I seek out research on the federal grazing program, land use and climate change, as well as data missing from most MSM coverage because it is time-consuming to find and analyze.
As usual, I welcome your comments. Please be careful with personal attacks, don’t publish long dissertations, and keep the focus on the issues or your comment won’t appear. I always appreciate people who provide specific examples and links when disputing a fact. Thank you for dropping by.
On Thanksgiving day, the last thing I expected to wake up to was Tom McGhee of the Denver Post’s article, “Horse slaughter inhumane? Some say no.”
But here’s my response to it. Feel free to share.
November 26, 2015
I read your article, “Horse slaughter inhumane? Some say no,” with great interest, especially Temple Grandin’s words on horse slaughter being humane.
Back in 2012, I interviewed Ms. Grandin over videos of a slaughterhouse that she designed for horses in Quebec (Les Viandes de La Petite Nation, Inc.). That slaughterhouse was shut down after the videos showed repeat blows from the captive bolt gun (which Grandin describes as “humane”) failing to render horses unconscious (the legal definition of a humane stun, according to the law, is accomplishing that task with one blow). The Canadian authorities, upon reopening Grandin’s slaughterhouse, replaced the captive bolt guns there with firearms.
My article on Grandin’s slaughter house, including the videos (“Horse Slaughterhouse Raises Food Safety and Cruelty Alarms”), can be read on Forbes.com’s site:
Grandin and I watched the videos seven times together during the course of our interview. Throughout, she maintained that her system was working. Of course, the video, and the shutdown of the plant, prove otherwise.
I’ve been writing about the horse meat trade, and the intersecting wild horse issue, for four years now. My articles on it have appeared on Forbes.com, The Daily Beast/Newsweek, Salon, Alternet, the HuffPo, and my screenplay on the closing of one of the last horse slaughter houses in the US, Dallas Crown, has been optioned. A site I used for a lot of my research is kaufmanzoning.net, set up by the people in Kaufman, TX, who eventually succeeded in shutting down the plant there.
There’s a reason why Grandin’s claims are scoffed at by people who worked to close these slaughter plants. And, FYI, the EU may be in the process of winding down sourcing of US horse meat from Canada, as it did back in January, regarding Mexico. This industry isn’t just inhumane, it abuses communities and its lack of regulation poses food safety threats, as well. Those food safety hazards, by the way, are THE reason why a majority of Congress has voted to defund horse slaughter inspections.
As for it being humane, no humane laws are applied in this country. It’s a word people throw around, but when you study agriculture and write about it, you come to realize that all that humane talk is just another version of “greenwashing.”
I run, at this moment, a small site that was the second (after the Wall Street Journal) to break the story of Whole Foods top turkey supplier caught on video claiming humane handling while stuffing birds into barns that can only be described as revolting. You can find that story here: http://dailypitchfork.org/?p=992 (“There’s Nothing Humane About Whole Foods Turkey.”)
It is my sincere hope you may amend your story to reflect what the reality is — not just the one Grandin (a paid consultant to the meat industry) is painting.I am available, at your convenience, if you’d like to talk further or write another article.
Thanks for your important coverage — and happy Thanksgiving.
New York, NY
This post was updated on November 28, 2015 to include a 150-word Letter to the Editor, which I submitted through the Post’s web site:
RE: “Horse Slaughter Inhumane? Some Say ‘No'”
Horse slaughter is indeed inhumane and Dr. Grandin should know this. She designed a Canadian slaughterhouse (Les Viandes de la Petite Nation) whose horse operation was shut down for failing to humanely stun horses, even after repeat stunnings (the legal requirement is one stun leading to unconsciousness).
Grandin and I reviewed video footage together of the plant’s kill box for an article I published on Forbes.com. Throughout, she maintained that her system worked. Obviously, the video and subsequent shut down of the plant confirm otherwise.
Congress most recently acted to defund horse slaughter inspections because of food safety hazards (due to banned drugs in horse meat) and liability issues resulting from a lack of oversight. The business, when it was regulated by the USDA here in the US, overlooked ongoing humane and environmental violations as well. As a country, we are better off without this taxpayer-funded activity.
On November 12, a Las Vegas Review Journal editorial (“Have some horse sense“) concluded that “humanely euthanizing” wild horses is using “horse sense” to solve the “wild horse problem” outlined by 20 GOP lawmakers in a letter to BLM Director, Neil Kornze. Here’s my response:
Your recent editorial, “Have some horse sense,” is missing an important piece of data: the number of private livestock on public range and forest lands compared to wild horses and burros (WHB).
2014 grazing receipts of $17.1 million dollars for both Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and US Forest Service (USFS) grazing permittees translate to 2.1 million cattle. That was the number on 251 million acres of public land managed for grazing by both agencies compared to 56,656 WHB last year. That’s a ratio of 37 cattle for every wild horse.
A side-by-side analysis of that and other BLM and USFS-sourced data is available at http://dailypitchfork.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/BLM_USFS-grazing-analysis_2014_Daily-Pitchfork.pdf
Key findings of that analysis include that only 29.4 million acres (just 12%) of the 251 million acres contain WHB habitat. Cattle and sheep are allocated 97% of the total forage; wild horses just 3%.
Another key finding is the countless studies on the negative impact of commercial livestock production on overgrazing, fires, predator removal, damage to riparian areas and biodiversity, and climate change. Yet no comparable studies exist blaming wild horses. A logical deduction is that researchers don’t tend to study what isn’t a problem.
Further, have you checked what those federal livestock grazing leases lose US taxpayers each year? How does taking in $17.1 million dollars while losing $125 million constitute a wise use of taxpayer funds or “sustainable” land use policy?
Killing wild horses to solve what is essentially a cattle-caused problem isn’t using horse sense; it’s the antithesis of it.
The Daily Pitchfork
An open letter sent to New York Times public editor, Margaret Sullivan (email@example.com):
Less than a year ago, I examined 19 reader complaint letters sent to The New York Times regarding errors in the article “As Wild Horses Overrun The West, Ranchers Fear The Land Will Be Gobbled Up” (Sept. 30, 2014). I also collected the editors’ corresponding responses. No corrections were made.
What I learned from this exercise is that your statement that “Times leaders are listening to their readers” (from your October 7, 2015 article, “Readers Will Rule, Says The Times, So Don’t Be Shy“), doesn’t extend to readers who happen to be wild horse advocates, wild horse groups and anyone critical of The Times’ wild horse coverage (including, in this case, three PhD’s and two academics, one of whom published two New York Times op-ed pieces, five books and is a columnist on food and agriculture for Pacific Standard).
The reader complaints that I examined looked at various flaws in the Times article, but converged almost unanimously on a single point: the lack of data supporting both headline and storyline of “wild horses overrunning the West.”
The Times writer (David Philipps) cited rising wild horse population estimates from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) website; but he did not provide any corresponding livestock population stats. (The BLM doesn’t share these, even when asked; but they can be calculated from grazing receipts and AUMs listed in the BLM’s online section on “livestock grazing”, as well as through the agency’s rangeland administration database).
Phillips instead took the ranchers’ word that land was being “gobbled up” by wild horses.
One might ask how a reporter can determine that wild horses are overrunning and out eating cattle without knowing how many of each and, at the very least, providing photographic proof. Phillips’ article offered neither.
The complaining letter writers rightly pointed out that cattle do in fact outnumber wild horses by a significant margin, not just in protected wild horse habitat, but on millions of acres of public rangelands that are leased to private livestock producers and sought by energy and mining companies (but which have zero wild horses on them).
The problem arose, though, when they couldn’t cite sourced figures to back that up. Had they done this, The Times would have been hard pressed to stick with the story’s premise of “wild horse overpopulation” causing extensive rangeland damage.
For the record, 2014 BLM grazing receipts put the ratio of cattle “livestock units” to wild horses out West at roughly 17:1 (this translates to a ratio double that number since a livestock unit, as defined by the BLM, consists of a cow and a calf).
AUMs (a metric used by the BLM to indicate how much privately owned “livestock units” eat on public lands in a month’s time) can also be converted into a ratio of cattle/livestock units to horses. On land managed for grazing by the BLM and the US Forest Service, it’s 23:1 — again, a lowball figure given that a single animal unit = a cow and a calf (or five sheep).
By siding with ranchers and ignoring the subject of livestock totals, The Times turned a deaf ear to evidence provided by readers that would have undermined the headline “wild horses overrunning the west”and the story that followed it.
Advocates do the kind of research that reporters do not have time for. They read studies, go to BLM meetings, do FOIA requests, observe roundups, write letters and articles, start petitions, visit their elected representatives and follow new developments — day in and day out. But they are given short shrift in the media’s “he said/he said/he said/she said” telling of the wild horse story. Yes, they need to be cross-checked, as any source does — ranchers, included.
My experience, having followed social media groups on the wild horse issue, as well as writing more than two dozen articles on wild horses, public-lands grazing, and the horse slaughter trade in the US media*, is that the advocates’ knowledge of this issue is an asset to the public that journalists would be wise to embrace. (*Forbes, Newsweek, AlterNet, Salon, Huffington Post)
“I hear about improving commenting, about intrusive or confusing advertising, about the importance of journalistic fairness, accuracy and straightforward truth-seeking above all, and about the public-service mission to hold powerful people and institutions accountable. (And not necessarily in that order; in fact, probably the opposite.)”
— The New York Times Public Editor, October 7, 2015
The Times, for its part, heard from 19 different voices on the “she said” side, all pointing to a serious flaw in its wild horse reporting — and turned its back.
If The Times wants readers to “not be shy” about speaking up, heeding their expertise — and making necessary corrections — is a good place to start.
Executive Editor, The Daily Pitchfork
There had been some speculation that my Forbes departure had been spurred by Steve Forbes having grazing leases or that people with influence at Forbes did and that my exposing the federal grazing program was not to their liking. Would I be interested in writing a piece on rich welfare ranchers?
The idea of exploring that topic was attractive, even though I knew it would be challenging, so I agreed.
SourceWatch was created to address the media’s twin habits of single-source reporting while failing to disclose favored sources’ economic and political conflicts of interest.
“Forbes Billionaires Top US Welfare Ranchers List” is the culmination of an intensive amount of research, and contains a photo gallery of 12 of the US biggest welfare ranchers, including the Koch brothers, the folks who supply McDonalds french fries, and Ted Turner (but no Steve Forbes). Eight of the twelve are on one or more of Forbes “rich” lists.
The rancher series describes different aspects of the federal grazing program important to anyone who cares about Western politics, public lands and wildlife, and truth in media. Two of the segments examine research studies and one has a proposed reading list.
I hope you’ll read all four segments. To learn more, follow us on Twitter @dailypitchfork or become a Daily Pitchfork subscriber (you can sign up from our home page). Please join us!
The news that the Center for Biological Diversity’s excellent report, Costs and Consequences: The Real Price of Livestock Grazing on America’s Public Lands was picked up by only three publications (after being sent to easily 100 journalists covering ranching and public lands issues) got me googling. Was the press not interested in rancher and public lands issues since the report was published in late January?
This is why I’m writing a series in The Daily Pitchfork for our new SourceWatch feature: “The media adores ranchers. Here’s why they shouldn’t.”
Economic data isn’t iconic the way ranchers are. It doesn’t have that rancher-campfire smell about it. But still, I know journalists care about informing the public. So why does the only truth they’re putting out there have a big cowboy hat on it?
Swing on over here for Part I. And it’s a series, pardner. That means more romance is headed your way.
Today marks the debut of a media project I’ve been working on for a year with writer and historian James McWilliams: The Daily Pitchfork. It’s a web site specifically dedicated to bringing accuracy and context to the way media presents and analyzes animal issues. We will do this by showcasing the best animal journalism, constructively critiquing the rest, and providing the media with valuable resources to foster the most effective coverage.
Please hop on over and poke around. Our two debut features: “Grass-Fraud Beef” and “Misrepresenting Wild Horses At The New York Times,” are reviews of articles in the Wall Street Journal and New York Times that short-change readers on facts and relevant background, failing to disclose the extent of economic self-interest underlying the article’s main sources and their “information.”
The Times piece, in particular, stirred a large reaction among readers, many of whom shared with me their outreach to the Times over what it had gotten wrong. The Times’ refusal to make corrections on a deeply flawed story earned it an “F” from the Daily Pitchfork’s editors. The Wall Street Journal article earned a “D”.
If you’re wondering what we base our standards on, you’ll find them here.
We’ll be adding site features, notably a “subscribe” button and eventually, a deep database of experts, to help journalists get animal stories rights. Stay tuned—and our thanks for spreading the word.
My December 4 letter to New York Times reporter, Jim Dwyer, seeking correction:
Dear Mr. Dwyer,
I read your article about the DeBlasio plan to end the carriage trade in New York City
(“Carriage Horse Proposal’s Effects Might Not Be As Good as Its Intentions”) with great interest, especially the aspects relating to the closure of horse slaughter plants, a topic I’ve spent the last three years researching and writing about for the national news media (Forbes, Newsweek/Daily Beast, Huffington Post) as well as a 25-chapter book proposal and movie script (now nearing completion) on the same subject.
The following underlined and bolded portions of your article’s statement about the GAO report and what it found about abuse and neglect, unfortunately, are incorrect:
“The United States effectively banned slaughter of horses at the end of 2006, according to a 2011 report by the Government Accountability Office, but the story took some bad turns. “Horse welfare in the United States has generally declined since 2007,” the report found, citing increased abandonment and reports of neglect. Abandoned, abused and neglected horses present challenges for state and local governments, tribes and animal welfare organizations.”
The slaughter plants did not effectively close in 2006. They closed their doors in 2007. As the GAO’s June 2011 report itself states on page 1 (“What GAO Found”): “Since domestic horse slaughter ceased in 2007…”
For further proof, please see article from the Kaufman Herald, where Dallas Crown, one of the last three operating US horse slaughter plants, shut its doors.
The article “Dallas Crown sends workers home” is dated March 28, 2007. This is the same day that US Federal District Court Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly held that the slaughter of horses in America violated Federal law. ( see story here).
BelTex (Fort Worth), also closed in 2007 as did Cavel, the third plant (in Dekalb, IL), which operated until the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of a lower court’s earlier decision on the constitutionality of a state law banning the practice of horse slaughter. This happened on September 21, 2007. Cavel’s appeal was denied and its temporary injunction to operate was revoked, making it the last US horse slaughter plant to close — again, in 2007. (see story here).
The abuse and neglect you cited from the GAO report, like the claim that the plants “effectively shut” in 2006, has been widely misreported in the news media, particularly by the Associated Press, which I contacted when they made the same false claims. (AP now uses the correct date of plants effetively closing in 2007 and has dropped the correlation with rising abuse and neglect).
The reason is that the rising rates of abuse and neglect cited by GAO do not correlate with a 2007 plant closing date. Look at the chart. Here, you see ten years of data (only five years of which are referenced in the GAO report…2005-2009). You’ll see that for six different states, abuse and neglect rates rise during the entire time period that the plants remained operating. In Colorado, whose data the GAO singled out, you’ll see clearly that rising abuse and neglect rates are correlated with the years that the plans remained OPEN — not when they closed, as your article falsely claims.
The source of the data is state veterinarians. If you would like a more complete analysis of it, please see this document.
The report was prepared by the Equine Welfare Alliance. You can look at the methodology of collection and analysis. I have gone through it and find it accurately analyzes the data that your article (and other news organizations) got wrong. The longer story here is whether or not the news media should believe a small equine welfare organization, or the AP and the GAO. As one who has spent the last three years studying this topic, I can tell you that the EWA has got this right; the AP got it wrong. I don’t say that without having spent a lot of time looking at both sides and speaking extensively with AP editors, notably Traci Carl, and standards editor, Thomas Kent. And, as I mentioned earlier, the AP, beginning in January of 2014, has corrected itself, using the correct date of closing (2007) and dropping all references to the GAO and abuse and neglect. The New York Times should do the same.
Specifically, please print a correction to your story stating that abuse and neglect rose while slaughter plants operated and turned downward after their closing. As a further note, you might want to consider retracting your related statement of “an earlier example of good intentions with horses that went awry.”
I applaud you for looking at the carriage horse situation, but to compare finding homes for 200 horses to those that ended up abused and slaughtered back when these plants operated is a false parallel.
Thank you for your time and concern. Please reach out to me with any questions. I would be happy to provide further information to you and the editors of The New York Times to substantiate any and all of the above.
Very sincerely yours,
The facts are in: There are 10.6 times as many livestock as wild horses grazing public range lands in Utah’s Iron and Beaver Counties.
For anyone following the news about ranchers looking to round up 697 wild horses there on the taxpayers’ nickel, this is an auspicious (and overdue) piece of BLM (Bureau of Land Management) data. For everyone else, pay attention: that 10:6 to 1 ratio is significant to you as a U.S. taxpayer and citizen—and my latest article on AlterNet (“Ranchers Want Our Public Lands for Their Livestock, and Want the Govt. to Stick It to Wild Horses and Taxpayers”) explains why.
What’s auspicious about the figure of 10.6 to 1? Everything.
The story behind the story
The wild horse issue is a numbers story shaped by two taxpayer-supported federal programs: the BLM’s Wild Horses and Burros Program and the Federal Grazing program. Together, these two programs are responsible for the overgrazing by privately owned livestock of 245 million acres of public land. These programs are also responsible for the simultaneous blaming (and removal) of thousands of wild horses protected by an act of Congress. Both programs are huge money drains for U.S. taxpayers that exist to aid a declining population of ranchers in ten western states supplying two percent of the nation’s beef supply.
It’s a common misperception that the programs are justified because of what ranching contributes to western state economies. According to Western Watersheds founder Jon Marvel, however, these ranchers’ economic contributions are miniscule, both at the state level and within their own communities. In other words, neither program is justified on economic grounds. Neither are they justified on the basis of the ratios of cattle and sheep to wild horses and burros (which varies from area to area), nor on the basis of protecting wild horses, nor the range lands themselves.
The story I want to tell you here, however, is how I got that 10.6 ratio, and all the supporting BLM data that backs it up.
First of all, the BLM did not supply it. I asked BLM officials for it three weeks ago (Meghan Crandall, Lisa Reid and Elizabeth Burghard) and was stonewalled.
This explains how the media has so far put out story after story about wild horses overpopulating public lands—because this is the official BLM and rancher story and no data has so far existed to disprove it.
When the news therefore started breaking about Utah ranchers threatening to round up “overpopulating” wild horses unless the BLM did the job, I reached out to local reporters with a single question: “How many cattle and sheep are grazing those lands by comparison”?
Only one reporter got back to me. He said he’d asked the BLM, but not gotten an answer.
So I picked up the phone and called the BLM’s Cedar City Office.
Over the next few days, I contacted four different people, two of them in public and external affairs. These are the government folks that media people like me always get sent to when we come calling for information. It’s their stated job to guide the media—which generally means they supply what they want you to report on, not what you ask for.
Reporters, being hard-working people without the time or resources to go after data while on deadline, use what they can get their hands on. That set-up does not lend itself to factual, data-driven reporting on the wild horse issue, unsurprisingly.
I was told to email my questions to the BLM, and I did so. I asked for several bits of data: how many livestock in Iron and Beaver Counties vs. wild horses? How much does it cost to round up wild horses (per head), what method will be used, and who will pay the BLM’s bill (Utah or federal taxpayers)?
I asked these questions three weeks ago.
A week later, I was told by the BLM’s external affairs person, “we have pulled your numbers, but need to get them approved by our DC office.”
I’ve heard nothing since.
So I went looking elsewhere for data and found two groups willing to supply it. They actually mined the BLM’s Rangeland Administration System (RAS)to its depths —no easy task, but doable with a lot of patience and attention to detail. They examined every grazing allotment, every grazing permit holder, how many sheep and cattle they grazed, and on what rotation schedule for all the allotments overlapping herd management areas from which the wild horses were being targeted for removal in Iron and Beaver counties.
Their complete analysis is far deeper than anything I could fit into an article without overloading people with numbers. But these numbers demand to be looked at. They demand that similar numbers be provided for every area where the BLM is planning on rounding up wild horses for the coming months (and year) on the justification that “there’s an overpopulation of wild horses.”
Seen in light of how many cattle and sheep are out there, this story is provably false.
Please check out the data at The Cloud Foundation and Wild Horse Freedom Federation sites (link tk) and keep checking back as more BLM round ups are planned, to see what those plans will do to the already outsized ratios of livestock outgrazing wild horses on public lands.
The BLM may not be willing to inform the public and the media about how government spends its tax dollars, but there are, fortunately, grassroots groups dedicated to providing that information.
If you know of a reporter or media outlet that are putting out a false “wild horse overpopulation story,” please educate them. Give them a link to the AlterNet story or provide them more detailed data available through the Cloud Foundation and Wild Horse Freedom Federation sites.
And for more on this topic, please follow me on this blog and @viglet on Twitter or read my articles on Forbes.com.
A series of 18 AP news stories that repeated significant factual errors for a year and a half will not be corrected, according to AP West Editor, Traci Carl.
The articles, which Ms. Carl admits were not fact-checked, followed the attempts of a Roswell, NM, abattoir—Valley Meat—to slaughter horses based on the argument that it would diminish horse abuse and neglect. But there was a problem with that premise, which correlated data showing increasing horse abuse and neglect reported by the GAO (Government Accountability Office) with the closure of the last three domestic horse slaughter plants.
The AP reporter, Jeri Clausing, misreported the closing dates by a year, however, causing the correlation with the GAO data to turn on its head.
Instead of showing that horses suffered abuse and neglect when domestic plants closed, the GAO data instead showed the opposite: that abuse and neglect increased during years in which the plants remained open. But despite being informed of this and other errors, the AP kept repeating them, in most cases, simply cutting and pasting the same false statements—verbatim—into successive articles.
These spread virally across Bloomberg News and Reuters; ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox News; NPR; the Boston Globe, Christian Science Monitor, Huffington Post, Wall Street Journal and USA Today—and hundreds of other mainstream and smaller news providers. As of this date, only one of them—The Christian Science Monitor—has responded to requests to issue a public and formal correction.
The Political Consequences of False Reporting
The false claim that banning slaughter increases horse abuse and neglect was a godsend for Valley Meat and other plants looking to produce horse meat in the U.S. The cumulative audience for that message easily reached into the tens of millions, including lawmakers wrestling with whether to ban or welcome horse slaughter plants into their jurisdictions.
Last year, Oklahoma lawmakers argued erroneously but effectively in overturning a 50-year ban on horse slaughter that it would alleviate horse abuse.
On Friday, April 25, 2014, at 10:39 PM, after a great run publishing 23 articles and three photo galleries on horse slaughter, horse racing and wild horses on Forbes.com, the powers that be cut me loose.
Not quite sure why. A few people have suggested it may be on account of Steve Forbes keeping cattle on his New Jersey estate to reduce his property taxes. Others have mentioned Forbes partnership with FOX News.
Whatever prompted the decision, however, there was urgency behind it, coming the night before I was a featured speaker at the American Equine Summit, along with Victoria McCullough, Frank Biden and Senator Joe Abruzzo, and too many other national experts to mention. (See Victoria’s presentation here).
My topic for the summit: Disinformation in the Media. How’s that for irony? (you can view my presentation here).
I’d never gotten a word from Forbes editors that there were problems with any of my stories until Friday at 4:53 pm, when I was driving Jane Velez-Mitchell to the summit to be keynote speaker. (see Jane’s keynote speech here).
My editor, Jane Lee, who’s been very supportive and great, sent an email requesting some edits to a story—Federal Grazing Program in Bundy Dispute Rips Off Taxpayers, Wild Horses—that went live Friday afternoon.
This story got more views in a single day than any story I’ve written to date, BTW. Within a day, it reached 26,000 views and I’m told the link got more than 70,000 views on Cloud the Stallion’s Facebook page.
My article covered some of the same territory that Paul Krugman of The New York Times, Chris Hayes and Rachel Maddow of MSNBC, and Jon Stewart addressed for millions of viewers. The only difference is that mine exposed why the grazing program was not only a bad deal for tax payers, but wild horses. Oh, and I got the boot while they got ratings!
For some reason, my story rattled Forbes’ corporate cage and hours later, without so much as a phone call, Forbes pulled the plug. These were the first edits I’d been asked to make in more than two years, I made them as requested in a timely manner and notified them that I had done so. The topic was hardly controversial.
Importantly, in my writing for Forbes.com on this subject, I’ve never been challenged on a single fact. I’m proud of that, given the complexities of the horse slaughter trade and wild horses issues. Readers, too, were enthusiastic, praising the series for its research and accuracy, as well as Forbes for running it.
Let me say, I am grateful for the opportunity, which allowed me to explore a difficult subject with Forbes’ credibility behind it, when other media didn’t fact check, got the details plain wrong, and refused to make corrections when their errors were called to their attention.
I’ll continue writing on this topic, aiming for a more mainstream news audience, to reach the kinds of readers who really care about their taxes being wasted by the Federal Government on wild horse roundups and a grazing program that damages public lands at the public’s expense. One would think this was right up Forbes’ alley—the story appeared in its “Taxes” section—but, apparently…no.
I thank all of you for following me on Forbes.com and ask you to read the article and comment, if you haven’t already done so. FYI, my account there is locked, so I cannot call out any comments as I usually would, or even reply to them as author. Forbes has even removed my ability to comment as a reader to other articles. How’s that for gratitude for the two and a half years of free content I provided them?
Maybe they thought I’d go all Cliven Bundy on them, but that’s not my style. Yes, the relationship with Forbes is over; no, I am not dropping this bone.
If you feel the desire to do something, please send a link of my Forbes article— http://www.forbes.com/sites/vickeryeckhoff/2014/04/25/federal-grazing-program-in-bundy-dispute-rips-off-taxpayers-wild-horses/ — to your Congressmen. Please also tweet the article, using the hashtag #BundyRanch and include this short link: http://onforb.es/1kcTdwD
You can also politely let Forbes editors know how you feel. The link to do that is firstname.lastname@example.org. (PS: They did not fire me as I am not an employee, just one of their many contributors.)
And please check Equine Advocates site to see all video presentations of the American Equine Summit, including my presentations from 2013 and 2014. The speakers were fantastic, and many of them have made huge personal sacrifices in speaking out, like Dr. Ray Kellosalmi, whose horses were poisoned after he went on TV exposing the horrors of the PMU industry supported by drug companies like Pfizer.
Compared to that, losing an unpaid writing gig is minor stuff.
“For more than a century and a half, men and women of The Associated Press have had the privilege of bringing truth to the world. They have gone to great lengths, overcome great obstacles – and, too often, made great and horrific sacrifices – to ensure that the news was reported quickly, accurately and honestly. Our efforts have been rewarded with trust: More people in more places get their news from the AP than from any other source.”
So reads the first paragraph of the AP’s “News Values & Principles” page. It goes on to state:
“In the 21st century, that news is transmitted in more ways than ever before – in print, on the air and on the Web, with words, images, graphics, sounds and video. But always and in all media, we insist on the highest standards of integrity and ethical behavior when we gather and deliver the news.
That means we abhor inaccuracies, carelessness, bias or distortions.
It means we will not knowingly introduce false information into material intended for publication or broadcast…”
Also heartening to read are the AP’s words on making corrections:
“Staffers must notify supervisory editors as soon as possible of errors or potential errors, whether in their work or that of a colleague. Every effort should be made to contact the staffer and his or her supervisor before a correction is moved.
When we’re wrong, we must say so as soon as possible. When we make a correction in the current cycle, we point out the error and its fix in the editor’s note. A correction must always be labeled a correction in the editor’s note. We do not use euphemisms such as “recasts,” “fixes,” “clarifies” or “changes” when correcting a factual error.
A corrective corrects a mistake from a previous cycle. The AP asks papers or broadcasters that used the erroneous information to use the corrective, too.
For corrections on live, online stories, we overwrite the previous version. We send separate corrective stories online as warranted.”
And woe to those who fail to apply the rules:
“The policies set forth in these pages are central to the AP’s mission; any failure to abide by them is subject to review, and could result in disciplinary action, ranging from admonishment to dismissal, depending on the gravity of the infraction.”
This is all a great set-up for the letter I sent this past week to 28 AP executives and editors asking them to correct errors appearing in 18 different articles—errors I started bringing to the AP’s attention back in May of 2013, and which I brought, over a period of months, to the attention of several editors, without a single correction being made and with some rather unfortunate name calling (on their part, not mine).
It’s co-signed by six national experts—people who know more about horse slaughter than anyone. Associated Press, meet Paula Bacon, John Holland, Susan Wagner. Meet Ginger Kathrens and Dr. Ann Marini. Meet James McWilliams.
Here’s the letter. Let’s hope it gets the kind of response it deserves.
January 3, 2014
Mr. Gary Pruitt
President and CEO
450 West 33rd Street,
New York, NY 10001
RE: Corrections Sought for Errors in 18 AP Articles on Valley Meat and Horse Slaughter in the U.S.
Dear Mr. Pruitt:
The U.S. public is currently facing a pressing food safety, environmental and humane issue: whether or not to allow the slaughter of horses on American soil or their continued export for slaughter in other countries. In order for constituents and their Congressional representatives to make informed choices regarding this matter, it is essential that information presented in the mainstream media be accurate.
Unfortunately, this has not been the case. I’m writing to you because of errors repeated in a series of AP articles that misreport pivotal facts about the closure of the last three horse slaughter plants on U.S. soil. These errors come at the very moment when several plants are on the verge of winning approval to slaughter horses once again in rural America. They are not random details. In fact, they have the power to directly shape the outcome of this contested process.
In eighteen separate articles on the Valley Meat Company in Roswell, New Mexico, the AP repeatedly misstates the facts on the following issues: the legislation that effectively shuttered the horse slaughter industry, the year that this took effect, and the impact that closed horse slaughter plants have had on horse welfare. (see Appendix I, p. 4-9)
Specifically, all the articles erroneously state that it was Congress’ defunding of horse meat inspections in 2006 that effectively shut down the last three operating plants. The articles then correlate this claim with GAO data showing a rise in horse abuse and neglect between 2005-2009. As I will detail below, both claims are not only wrong, they are mistakes that bear directly on a basic assumption shaping how Americans and their representatives think about this issue.
To begin with, while Congress did approve defunding horse slaughter inspections in 2005 (to take effect in 2006), the USDA and the three remaining horse slaughter plants (Dallas Crown and Beltex in TX, and Cavel in IL) arranged to self-fund their own inspections, allowing them to continue slaughtering horses until 2007 (over Congress’ objections).
In 2007, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a 1949 ban on slaughtering horses in TX (that had previously gone unenforced) applied, thus shutting down Dallas Crown and Beltex in March. Cavel shut down in September, as a result of an IL state ban. Congress’ defunding of slaughter inspections in subsequent agricultural appropriations bills thus kept new plants from opening until the defunding language got removed by three Congressmen in a November, 2011, conference committee session (after it had been approved for FY 2012). Congress’ defunding of inspections therefore never banned slaughter and never shut a single plant, contrary to what the AP has reported 18 times. More important, horse slaughter continued well after the AP reported that it had ceased. (see Appendix II, p. 10-12).
This detail is profoundly important: Using the correct date of closure (2007), the related claim—that horse abuse increased with closure—is immediately undermined. The data cited by the AP on rising abuse and neglect, in light of the correct time of plant closure, now correlates with abuse and neglect rising while the plants remained in operation and falling in the years after they shut.
That correlation shows the opposite of what the AP’s coverage has been asserting in articles published between June, 2012 and November 4, 2013. These false reports, however, have been picked up by every major news organization both in the U.S. and abroad. They have influenced the general public, lawmakers, and courts attempting to shape policy and effect legislation on horse slaughter. They have allowed proponents of horse slaughter to argue—seemingly with evidence—that it is more humane to slaughter them than to keep them alive. They have also completely failed to highlight one of the most important reasons to not slaughter horses at all: that is, food safety issues specific to banned drugs in the majority of U.S. horses that pose known and serious health risks for the public. These include the commonly administered painkiller and anti-inflammatory, phenylbutazone—a known human carcinogen—as well as 117 other drugs (Appendix III, p. 13-17).
Mr. Pruitt, you are receiving this letter because repeated and detailed attempts to correct these errors have been made going back many months to Reporter Jeri Clausing, News Editor Linda Ashton, the AP’s corrections department and West Editor Traci Carl. The information provided to them documenting the AP’s errors has gone ignored.
We, the undersigned, request immediate and formal correction for these errors and omissions in all eighteen AP articles—and subsequent articles—to set the record straight. This action would be consistent with the media’s duty to correct false reporting in the name of the public’s right to know the truth—about food safety risks, abuse and neglect and other impacts of concern to the majority of Americans. Your response to this request for correction is eagerly anticipated. Thank you!
Kathleen Carroll, Senior Vice President/Executive Editor
Mike Oreskes, Vice President/Senior Managing Editor
Andrew Oppmann, News Editor, Middle Tennessee State University
Paul Colford, Director, Media Relations
ASSOCIATED PRESS MEDIA EDITORS
Debra Adams Simmons, President, The Plain Dealer
Alan D. Miller, Vice President, The Columbus Dispatch
Teri Hayt, Secretary, The Repository
Laura Sellers-Earl, Journalism Studies Chair, EO Media Group
Dennis Anderson, Treasurer, Peoria Journal Star
Bill Church, Herald-Tribune Media Group
Michael Days, Philadelphia Daily News
Alan English, Shreveport Times
Kurt Franck, The Blade
Gary Graham, The Spokesman-Review
Joe Hight, The Gazette
Eric Ludgood, Fox 5 News, Atlanta
Aminda Marques Gonzalez, Miami Herald
Martin G. Reynolds, The Oakland Tribune
Monica R. Richardson, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Mark Baldwin, Rockford Register Star
Chris Cobler, Victoria Advocate
Angie Muhs, Portland Press Herald
Jim Simon The Seattle Times
David Arkin, GateHouse Media
Autumn Agar, The Twin Falls Times-News
Meg Downey, The Tennessean
Thomas Koetting, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Pivotal Errors Repeated Throughout 18 AP Articles on Valley Meat
On September 12, 2013, Stephanie Siek of the AP was provided with the following list of excerpts contained in 14 separate articles that repeat wrong dates for the last plant closings, misstate the events that closed them, misrepresent GAO data on horse abuse and neglect and falsely correlate the closings of plants to a decline in horse welfare.
These errors have since appeared in four more articles, resulting in a total of 18 repeating the same misinformation. They are listed below in reverse chronological order.
By JERI CLAUSING Nov. 4, 2013 10:19 PM EST
A vote to end that funding in 2006 had effectively banned horse slaughter until the money was restored in 2011.
The debate over a return to domestic horse slaughter has been an emotional one that centers on whether horses are livestock or companion animals and what is the most humane way to deal with the country’s horse overpopulation, particularly in the drought-stricken West. Supporters say it is better to slaughter unwanted horses in regulated domestic plants than to ship them thousands of miles to sometimes inhumane plants in Mexico.
By JERI CLAUSING Nov. 1, 2013 7:15 PM EDT
But De Los Santos was making plans to get to work, two years after converting his struggling cattle slaughterhouse to take advantage of a shift in Congress that lifted a ban on funding for inspections at horse slaughterhouses. A vote to end that funding in 2006 had effectively banned horse slaughter until the money was restored in 2011.
The debate over a return to domestic horse slaughter has been an emotional one that centers on whether horses are livestock or companion animals and what is the most humane way to deal with the country’s horse overpopulation, particularly in the drought-stricken West. Supporters say it is better to slaughter unwanted horses in regulated domestic plants than to ship them to sometimes inhumane plants in Mexico.
By JERI CLAUSING Oct. 8, 2013 4:03 PM EDT
Congress effectively banned horse slaughter by cutting funding for plant inspectors in 2006. The ban was lifted in 2011, and Valley Meat Co. has been battling ever since for permission to open its converted cattle slaughterhouse.
Supporters of a return to domestic horse slaughter argue that it is a more humane solution than shipping unhealthy and starving animals south of the border to facilities with unregulated and often cruel circumstances.
By JERI CLAUSING Aug. 16, 2013 3:26 PM EDT
Horses were slaughtered domestically for decades until Congress cut funding for inspections for horse plants in 2006. That funding was restored in late 2011.
Supporters of the domestic horse slaughter note that the practice is already occurring. They argue that horse slaughter in federally regulated facilities is better than having the animals starve or shipped to inhumane facilities in Mexico.
Horse abuse and abandonment cases have increased since the slaughtering of horses was banned in 2006, and many owners in the West and Great Plains were left with fewer options to care for or euthanize their animals, according to a 2011 report from the federal Government Accountability Office.
The company slaughtered cattle for more than two decades but decided to convert its operations to horse slaughter after Congress lifted its ban on inspections for horse plants in late 2011, effectively legalizing domestic horse slaughter after the last plants were shuttered in 2007. It fought the USDA for more than a year for its permit, only getting the necessary approval after suing the USDA to force it to conduct the inspections necessary to win a horse slaughtering permit.
Grant Schulte reported from Lincoln, Neb.
JUDGE ORDERS BOND POSTED IN HORSE SLAUGHTER CASE
By SUSAN MONTOYA BRYAN — Aug. 8, 2013 2:54 PM EDT
Supporters also say it is better to slaughter the horses in regulated and humane domestic facilities than to let them starve or be shipped to other countries for slaughter. They point to a 2011 report from the federal Government Accountability Office that 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.
By JERI CLAUSING — Aug. 2, 2013 8:02 PM EDT
FILE – This April 15, 2013 file photo shows Valley Meat Co., which has been sitting idle for more than a year, waiting for the Department of Agriculture to approve its plans to slaughter horses. A federal judge in Albuquerque is expected to decide Friday, Aug. 2, 2013 whether companies in New Mexico and Iowa can begin legally slaughtering horses, for the first time in the country since it was effectively banned in 2006. (AP Photo/Jeri Clausing, File)
The move stops what would have been the resumption of horse slaughter for the first time in seven years in the U.S.
Groups in federal court to block horse slaughter
By JERI CLAUSING—August 2, 2013 5:08 PM
FILE – This April 15, 2013 file photo shows Valley Meat Co., which has been sitting idle for more than a year, waiting for the Department of Agriculture to approve its plans to slaughter horses. A federal judge in Albuquerque is expected to decide Friday, Aug. 2, 2013 whether companies in New Mexico and Iowa can begin legally slaughtering horses, for the first time in the country since it was effectively banned in 2006. (AP Photo/Jeri Clausing, File)
Congress effectively banned horse slaughter in 2006. But the ban was lifted in 2011, renewing an emotional and divisive national debate over whether horses are livestock or domestic companions, and how best to deal with untold thousands of unwanted, abandoned and often starving horses.
Judge to decide whether companies may resume slaughtering horses after 2006 ban
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
FRIDAY, AUGUST 2, 2013, 9:02 AM
A federal judge in Albuquerque is expected to decide Friday whether companies in New Mexico and Iowa can begin legally slaughtering horses, for the first time in the country since it was effectively banned in 2006.
The groups sued the Department of Agriculture in June after it issued permits to the companies, which would be the first to legally slaughter horses in the country since Congress effectively banned the practice in 2006. The ban was lifted in 2011, renewing an emotional and divisive national debate over whether horses are livestock or domestic companions, and how best to deal with untold thousands of unwanted, abandoned and often starving horses.
Supporters of domestic slaughter point to a June 2011 report from the federal Government Accountability Office that 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.
They also cite USDA statistics compiled by the Equine Welfare Alliance that show the number of U.S. horses sent to other countries for slaughter has nearly tripled since domestic horse slaughter ceased, with many of shipped thousands of miles south of the border to unregulated and inhumane facilities. They say it is better to slaughter the horses in regulated and humane domestic facilities than to let them starve or be shipped to Mexico.
By JERI CLAUSING Jul. 22, 2013 10:17 PM EDT
The denial came the same day that Redford and Richardson joined the fray, announcing formation of an animal protection foundation whose first act was to seek to join a federal lawsuit filed by The Humane Society of the United States and other groups to block the planned Aug. 5 opening of Valley Meat and another recently approved horse slaughterhouse in Iowa. The plants would be the first horse slaughterhouses in the U.S. to operate in more than six years.
By JERI CLAUSING— Jun. 28, 2013 9:00 PM EDT
With the action, the Roswell, N.M., company becomes the first operation in the nation licensed to process horses into meat since Congress effectively banned the practice seven years ago.
The plant would become the first horse slaughterhouse to operate in the country since Congress banned the practice by eliminating funding for inspections at the plants. Congress reinstated the funding in 2011, but the USDA has been slow in granting permits, citing the need to re-establish an oversight program.
Proponents of a return to domestic horse slaughter point to a 2011 report from the federal Government Accountability Office that shows horse abuse and abandonment have been increasing since slaughter was banned in 2006, leaving fewer humane options for horse owners who can’t afford to care for or euthanize their animals.
They say it is better to slaughter the animals in humane, federally regulated facilities than have them abandoned to starve across the drought-stricken West or sold at auction houses that then ship them to inhumane facilities in Mexico.
The number of U.S. horses sent to other countries for slaughter has nearly tripled since 2006, the report says. Many humane groups agree that some of the worst abuse occurs in the slaughter pipeline. Many are pushing for a ban on domestic slaughter and a ban on shipping horses to Mexico and Canada.
Associated Press writer Mary Clare Jalonick in Washington, D.C., contributed to this report.
By JERI CLAUSING — Jun. 6, 2013 5:51 AM EDT
The issue of whether the plant needs the federal permit was first raised by some of the groups opposed to congressional action in 2011 that restored USDA funding for horse slaughter inspections, essentially legalizing the practice that had been banned in 2006 when Congress cut the funding.
Proponents of a return to domestic horse slaughter point to a 2011 report from the federal Government Accountability Office that shows horse abuse and abandonment have been increasing since slaughter was banned in 2006. They say it is better to slaughter the animals in humane, federally regulated facilities than have them abandoned to starve across the drought-stricken West or shipped to inhumane facilities in Mexico.
The number of U.S. horses sent to other countries for slaughter has nearly tripled since 2006. And many humane groups agree that some of the worst abuse occurs in the slaughter pipeline. Many are pushing for a both a ban on domestic slaughter as well as a ban on shipping horses to Mexico and Canada.
NM HORSE SLAUGHTER PLANT TO OPEN SOON
By JERI CLAUSING — Apr. 30, 2013 3:09 PM EDT
The Obama Administration opposes horse slaughter. Its recent budget proposal eliminates funding for inspections of horse slaughter houses, which would effectively reinstate a ban on the practice. Congress eliminated that funding in 2006, which forced a shutdown of domestic slaughter facilities. But Congress reinstated the funding in 2011, prompting Valley Meat Co. and a handful of other businesses around the country to seek permission to open plants.
At issue is whether horses are livestock or pets, and how best to control the nation’s exploding equine population. Supporters of horse slaughter point to a 2011 report from the federal Government Accountability Office that shows horse abuse and abandonment have been increasing since 2006. They say it is better to slaughter the animals in humane, federally regulated facilities than have them abandoned to starve across the drought-stricken West or shipped to inhumane facilities south of the border.
The number of U.S. horses sent to other countries for slaughter has nearly tripled since 2006. And many humane groups agree that some of the worst abuse occurs in the slaughter pipeline.
LAWYER: INSPECTORS CLEAR NM HORSE SLAUGHTERHOUSE http://bigstory.ap.org/article/nm-slaughterhouse-ground-zero-horse-debate
By JERI CLAUSING— Apr. 23, 2013 4:09 PM EDT
And Tuesday, it moved one step closer to becoming the first plant in the country in more than six years to slaughter horses, with a successful inspection by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Still others are pushing for a return to domestic slaughter. Proponents include several Native American tribes, the American Quarter Horse Association, some livestock associations and even a few horse rescue groups that believe domestic slaughter would be more humane than shipping the animals elsewhere.
They point to a 2011 report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office that found horse abuse and abandonment increasing since Congress effectively banned horse slaughter by cutting funding for federal inspection programs in 2006. Because rescue groups can’t take care of all of the horses in need, tens of thousands have been shipped to slaughterhouses in Mexico.
HORSE SHOOTING HIGHLIGHTS SLAUGHTER DEBATE http://bigstory.ap.org/article/horse-shooting-underscores-slaughter-debate
By JERI CLAUSING— Mar. 22, 2013 8:04 PM EDT
But others — including some horse rescuers, livestock associations and the American Quarter Horse Association — support the plans. They point to a 2011 report from the federal Government Accountability Office that shows horse abuse and abandonment have been increasing since Congress effectively banned horse slaughter by cutting funding for federal inspection programs in 2006. They say the ban on domestic slaughter has led to tens of thousands of horses being shipped to inhumane slaughterhouses in Mexico.
NEW MEXICO COMPANY: FEDS MAY ALLOW HORSE SLAUGHTER http://bigstory.ap.org/article/new-mexico-company-feds-may-allow-horse-slaughter
By JERI CLAUSING— Mar. 1, 2013 5:12 PM EST
Others, however, including some horse rescues, livestock associations and the American Quarter Horse Association, support a return to domestic horse slaughter. They point to a 2011 report from the federal Government Accountability Office that shows horse abuse and abandonment have been increasing since Congress effectively banned horse slaughter by cutting funding for USDA inspection programs in 2006.
MEAT COMPANY SUES FEDS OVER HORSE SLAUGHTERHOUSE http://bigstory.ap.org/article/meat-company-sues-feds-over-horse-slaughterhouse
By JERI CLAUSING— Dec. 20, 2012 3:59 PM EST
Some others, however, including some horse rescues, livestock associations and the American Quarter Horse Association, support a return to domestic horse slaughter. They point to a 2011 report from the federal Government Accountability Office that shows horse abuse and abandonment have been increasing since Congress effectively banned horse slaughter by cutting funding for USDA inspection programs in 2006.
Last year, 68,429 horses were shipped to that country and 64,652 to Canada, according to USDA statistics compiled by the Equine Welfare Alliance, a nonprofit dedicated to ending horse slaughter. That compares to total exports of 37,884 of the animals in 2006.
PROPOSED HORSE SLAUGHTERHOUSE POLARIZES INDUSTRY
By JERI CLAUSING— Jun. 6, 2012 3:10 PM EDT
Supporters of horse slaughter point to a June 2011 report from the federal Government Accountability Office that 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.
In Colorado, the GAO report states, investigations for abuse and neglect increased more than 60 percent after horse slaughter was banned domestically, from 975 in 2005 to 1,588 in 2009. Although national data is lacking, the GAO report says California, Texas and Florida have also reported a rise in the number of abandoned horses since 2007.
The number of U.S. horses sent to other countries for slaughter has nearly tripled since domestic horse slaughter ceased. Last year, 68,429 horses were shipped to Mexico and 64,652 to Canada, according to USDA statistics compiled by the Equine Welfare Alliance, a nonprofit dedicated to ending horse slaughter. That compares to total exports of 37,884 in 2006.
Timeline—How and When Slaughter Ended in the U.S.
On October 15, 2013, Traci Carl, West Editor for the AP, was provided with the following timeline to corroborate the actual dates of plant closings, as well as what happened in between Congress’ 2005 vote to defund horse slaughter inspectors and the actual court decisions that finally forced the doors of Beltex, Dallas Crown and Cavel shut two years later. This followed several previous emails attempting to explain what the AP had gotten wrong in its coverage.
Ms. Carl consistently expressed confusion over the issues being raised, but declined offers to discuss them by phone (instead of email). All requests for correction were refused.
Back on November 11, 2005, Congress added a defunding provision to the FY 2006 Agriculture Appropriations Bill prohibiting the use of federal funds to pay for salaries and expenses of personnel to inspect horses being slaughtered for human consumption (HR 2744).
This followed strong bipartisan floor votes of 269-158 in the House and 69-29 in the Senate, according to news sources. The provision effectively precluded the USDA from inspecting horse slaughter facilities as required by section 603 of the Federal Meat Inspection Act (FMIA) and section 903 of the Federal Agriculture Improvement Reform Act (FAIR). At this time, the USDA spent an estimated $5 million annually for oversight and inspection of three foreign-owned, U.S. based horse slaughter plants.
The inspections ban should have begun at the beginning of the fiscal year (October 1, 2005), but the budget conference committee (including Herb Kohl, Jack Kingston, Conrad Burns, and Larry Craig) delayed its implementation.
On November 23, 2005, horse slaughter plants in Texas and Illinois quietly petitioned the USDA and FSIS behind Congress’ back to pay for their own inspections, allowing them to continue slaughter operations despite a lack of federal funding, by paying USDA inspectors out of their own pockets.
On January 13, 2006, an article in the Washington Times explained, “Last year, Congress voted overwhelmingly to include an amendment in the agriculture appropriations bill that would, in the words of Sen. John Ensign, “end the slaughter of America’s horses for human consumption overseas.” Mr. Ensign was a co-sponsor of the bill, as was Sen. Robert Byrd, who said the amendment would “stop the slaughter of horses for human consumption.” In the House, amendment co-sponsor Rep. John Spratt said, “This amendment in simple terms will stop the slaughter for human consumption of horses. So, we learn with surprise that this amendment apparently “does not prevent horse slaughter at all,” according to Department of Agriculture General Counsel James Michael Kelly. All it does, Mr. Kelly wrote in a letter to Congress, is prohibit ‘expenditure of funds provided under the 2006 [appropriations] Act to pay the salaries and expenses of personnel to inspect the horses.’ In other words, the only purpose of the amendment is to cut a little grist from the federal budget.”
On February 7, 2006, the USDA’s fee-for-service arrangement was announced. As the Washington Times stated in its article, Town Seeks an End to Horse Slaughtering: “Since law has always required such inspections, it [Congress’ ban on funding inspections] seemed to put an end to a growing controversy. Passed by the House and the Senate, the Ensign amendment was considered by its sponsors as an absolute end of U.S. horse slaughter for human consumption. But a concerted campaign by Belgian-owned slaughterhouses soon uncovered a loophole in the congressional edict. Now, nearing the end of a six-month delay, the USDA has announced that the new order (no USDA-paid inspections) actually did not halt horse slaughter and that private companies could simply pick up the tab for inspection costs.”
On February 13, 2006, in the United States District Court, District of Columbia, six national humane groups representing over 9.5 million members and several individuals filed a complaint in federal court against Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns and Food Safety and Inspection Service Administrator Barbara Masters, challenging the USDA’s decision to create a fee-for-service inspection system that facilitates the continued transport and slaughter of tens of thousands of American horses for human consumption abroad each year. The lawsuit was unsuccessful.
On February 22, 2006, the HSUS filed for a preliminary injunction to prevent the inspections of horsemeat until a pending lawsuit against the USDA prohibiting the fee-for-service inspections could be settled. The Court dismissed two of the three claims filed in that lawsuit on grounds that the plaintiffs lacked standing.
Fee-for-service inspections commenced on March 10, 2006. On Tuesday, March 14, a federal judge ruled in favor of the USDA to allow fee-for-service inspections to horsemeat processing plants despite efforts of the HSUS and other animal welfare groups to prevent the inspections and thus close the plants.
On January 19, 2007, a panel of judges from the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans ruled that slaughtering horses for meat was illegal in Texas. This decision tied up an earlier case dating back to August, 2003, when Texas Attorney General John Cornyn issued an opinion on a long-forgotten piece of legislation (Ag Code 149) that had gone unenforced since it had been passed in 1949. Specifically, Cornyn’s August, 2003 opinion stated that the law applied to both Dallas Crown and Beltex. The two Texas plants responded to an order by the Tarrant County Assistant District Attorney to shut down by filing a suit challenging the law. Their argument? That a ban would violate the Constitution’s commerce clause and federal meat inspection laws.
In 2006, a judge ruled in favor of the plants, but this decision was overturned by the New Orleans appellate court. Even though it upheld the Texas ban on slaughtering horses, however, the plants did not shut. They continued slaughtering horses. Within 14 days of the Fifth Circuit Court decision, Dallas Crown & Beltex asked for an enbanc by the Fifth Circuit.
In February, 2007, Dallas Crown and Beltex took their case up to the Supreme Court, which rejected their appeal. But the plants continued slaughtering horses.
On March 5, 2007, the entire Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed an earlier panel decision upholding the Texas state law (Ag Code 149) banning the sale of horsemeat for human consumption.
On March 23, 2007, the The Kaufman Herald, reported that Dallas Crown had finally sent its employees home. This left just Cavel, in DeKalb, IL, operating.
On March 29, 2007, U.S. Federal District Court Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly of the Federal District Court in the District of Columbia effectively blocked the USDA from providing horsemeat inspections for a fee. She ruled that the USDA violated the National Environmental Policy Act by failing to conduct an environmental impact review of its decision to allow the continuation of horse slaughter. Technically,,America’s remaining slaughterhouse could no longer kill horses for human consumption.
On May 5, 2007, Cavel, The DeKalb Illinois slaughter plant, which had been forced to close for several weeks, won the latest round in a long battle over the processing of horses, scoring a win in the Federal Appeals Court in Washington that allowed the plant to re-open. The court issued a stay on an order banning USDA inspections.
On May 24, Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich signed HB 1711 banning the slaughter of horses for human consumption, making it illegal for Cavel to continue operations. On May 25, the Belgian-owned company filed a lawsuit claiming the new law banning the slaughter of horses intended for human consumption was unconstitutional.
On June 1, 2007, U.S. District Court Judge Frederick Kapala granted a temporary restraining order preventing state and DeKalb County officials from enforcing the slaughter ban passed in Illinois while the suit was being considered.
Slaughter continued pending a restraining order set to expire after Jun 14. Hearings in the case were scheduled for June 12 and 14. On June 17, Kapala granted a 10-day extension to Cavel while he considered whether to make the order permanent. On June 28, an order keeping the last U.S. horse slaughter plant in DeKalb open was set to expire.
A Federal judge refused a request from Cavel to stay open. On July 5, an Illinois law banning horse slaughter was upheld in Federal Court. However, Cavel appealed stating that the ban on horse slaughter for human consumption was unconstitutional.
On July 18, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals granted a motion by Cavel International, allowing the plant to temporarily resume horse slaughter operations. The facility was allowed to operate while the appeal was pending.
On September 21, 2007, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in support of a lower court’s earlier decision on the constitutionality of a state law banning the practice of horse slaughter for human consumption. Cavel’s appeal was denied and its temporary injunction was revoked. Cavel became the last horse slaughter house in the U.S. to close.
Source: Forbes.com: “Grand Opening of Horse Slaughter Plants Foiled Again” by Vickery Eckhoff (http://www.forbes.com/sites/vickeryeckhoff/2013/11/06/grand-opening-of-horse-slaughter-plants-foiled-again/)
What’s In Your Horse Burger? Chemicals That Pose a Serious Health Risk
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.
Twelve years ago, at 8:46 AM, I was walking down Church Street to my freelance job at Moody’s Investors Service, one block north of the World Trade Center, when the sound of a low-flying plane caught my attention.
It was over the West Side Highway when I noticed it, and I wondered “who’s buzzing the city at this hour?” Several seconds later, it was close enough for me to notice an American Airlines logo on the tail. Instinctively, I knew that a passenger plane did not belong in that air space.
I watched a few more seconds as it lined up with the World Trade Center. As it kept getting closer, I thought, now why doesn’t that pilot turn? And before I knew it, I was saying, “turn. Turn! TURN!!!”
The plane cocked its wings to the right and hit the building. There was a fireball, and then I saw papers blow out of the building into the air. I do not remember the sound.
I was yelling and the half dozen other people on the street were yelling “Oh my God! Oh my God! Oh my God!”
I contemplated returning home, but thought, “no, it’s an accident,” so I kept walking to work.
By the time I got to Moody’s, eight blocks south, a crowd had gathered in the entrance at 99 Church. Now, I was staring up at the North tower. I’d never looked at it from that perspective before. In fact, the previous day, I’d enjoyed lunch outside in the plaza. It was my new favorite lunch spot: open and breezy. Clear blue skies. Warm. Perfect.
On September 11, I looked up to see people leaning out the windows high in the north tower. Within minutes, someone in the crowd screamed and I glimpsed stick figures falling. They were so small, just tumbling through the air. I considered for a moment that here I was safe on the ground, and yet I could see people leaning out the upper windows of the tower and they weren’t safe. I’m afraid of heights and could not imagine anyone staring out those windows, hanging out those windows, jumping. It was incomprehensible how close their terror was to my safe spot, there on the street.
We could see each other. I still can’t get over that.
I heard a woman next to me say that it was a terrorist attack, and I thought, no. Had to have been an accident. Almost instantaneously, a fireball blew out the side of the south tower. I’d seen the first plane hit from Church and Franklin, but the south tower now loomed directly overhead.
I recall seeing steel beams blow out of the side of the building like a spray of water. (I later learned that debris from the attack had landed on Moody’s roof, making a hole in it.) People screamed and ran. I drew back into the doorway of the building. I expected to see planes flying in next, dropping bombs. I waited a few moments until the crowd had dispersed and started walking. I never looked back.
Where was my sister, Karen? She worked at WTC, for U.S. Customs. Was she in one of those towers?
I headed uptown and people were in a daze. I saw shoes abandoned on the sidewalk, like a war zone. Further north, I saw a toddler walking and said to her mother, “put your baby in the stroller and get the hell out of here.”
She swore at me.
Sometime, further north, I tripped over a curb and fell. People kindly helped me up. I limped home, still not looking behind me. I kept calling my sister Karen’s cellphone. She did not answer.
I walked a jagged course uptown. Along Broadway, taxicabs were pulled over to the side of the street, radios broadcasting the news, people gathered around.
I reached my home on Tenth Street, I don’t recall the time, and called Karen again. Finally she picked up. She’d been working in one of the smaller towers and was safely home. It was only then that I turned on the news and saw the towers had fallen. I suddenly realized that they were falling as I walked home. I could have turned and watched, but I was unaware.
It was a monstrous, strange thought. I changed my shoes and walked the three blocks down to Washington Square. I walked to the south side of the park, and looked right down Laguardia Place, to where the towers were always visible and saw they were gone.
Only then, I cried.
The wild turkey walked down the slope behind our house this morning, right up to the kitchen windows, and peered in. I first noted him while lying in bed, staring out the back window of our camp on Tongue Mountain from the second floor, warm under an ancient wool blanket and wondering what I might glimpse in the woods at that hour. I was looking for signs of wildlife and the turkey appeared to be doing the same.
I’d been rewarded on the Fourth of July with a glimpse of my first bald eagle flying past our front porch overlooking Lake George. Bald eagles had built a nest in Deer Leap further north of our place on Tongue Mountain point, I’d been told years earlier. But I had yet to see one. I’d heard, too, of a return of bob cats and even mountain lions. I wanted to see those, as well as moose, of which there had been several sightings.
Strangely, I’d discovered that Tongue Mountain was a favorite of deer hunters, without ever once seeing a deer at camp. Just rattlesnakes, which occasionally climbed the steps and came into the house; raccoons that fed off the corn cobs we tossed under the trees; chipmunks, squirrels, muskrats; crows, seagulls, swallows, and hummingbirds.
I’d seen my first bear cub in the fall—all critters you could see in the suburbs near New York City, where I live. But there was something different about seeing them here.
Here, there are no roads. There is occasional boat traffic. There are a few other camps like ours, but where our property ends, and it does not extend far, the land is forever wild.
I don’t know what my great grandfather had in mind when he bought this place and built our cottage in 1904. Photographs from that time show the mountain was nothing but stumps, the lake brown from run-off caused by over logging. Somehow, he envisioned an escape from the paint and varnish business. He’d founded the Brooklyn Paint and Varnish Company; traveled the West, collecting rugs and objects from Indian reservations and somehow found this property, bought it, and built the camp. He named it Tongue Eyrie.
The materials were hauled across the frozen lake in winter by a team of horses. The furnishings came from a Sears catalogue and his guests, judging by photos, were mostly chorus girls. He built a small cottage off to the side for his servants, Max and Emma. He brought over a piano, long since gone.
Two weeks ago, I swam the small bay next to our dock. I went to check out what looked to be a muskrat swimming in the water, but was really just a fallen tree sticking out of the water, and examined a large rock with six map turtles sunning themselves. I met three mergansers that had stopped by the island where my great-grandfather built a gazebo and, to access it, a small stone arched footbridge that had since fallen into the water and had been reformed by tree roots into a natural bridge between the island and the shore.
As I sat high on the rocks, I noticed two kayakers in the bay and asked them, when they were close to shore, to not disturb the turtles. They said they were only in the bay, picking up garbage blown or tossed overboard by boaters who anchor there on hot summer days. I invited them up for a visit. What I heard during our hour-long conversation cheered me.
They’d been camping on Lake George for decades, and traveled the U.S. as well. The waters of Lake George, they said, were unsurpassed in terms of clarity. You could see the rocks deep down, but in other noted lakes, you couldn’t see the bottom. There was too much sediment in the water, or invasive plant growth, or species like Zebra mussels.
They went on to tell me of watching a rattlesnake eating a chipmunk on a recent hike. The subject of rattlers always came up when discussing Tongue Mountain. The dens were up the mountain from our house and I’d seen maybe 15 in my life, mostly on the path to the house, in several woodpiles, and one living under our gazebo (and long since removed by a local biologist), just feet from where I sunned on the rocks with guests and small children.
I’d since, though, stopped being afraid of them, as I had been of the many spiders that lived in our house. I knew they were doing their part; the spiders ate the mosquitos and other bugs. The snakes ate the mice.
My two visitors who arrived by kayak told me of a hiker that had recently been reported for shooting rattlers he found along the Tongue Mountain trail—using a revolver.
Isn’t the purpose of forever wild to walk softly, at most to carry a stick—and nothing but a stick? Frankly, I prefer a rattler in the kitchen.
I wrote these lyrics a couple of years ago when I was channeling my inner dude. They desperately need to be set to music. Any brave guitar-pickers out there?
LET’S GET PERSONAL
My girlfriend left me for another guy, she said I’d waited too long. So I called up a friend with a wife and kids and asked him what went wrong. He said “make a long list of what you like—now don’t leave off a thing. You can get what you want if you know what you want and if won’t cost a goddam ring.”
So I put my list together, it took five minutes—it came straight from my heart. Don’t need a piece of paper to prove my intentions, to show we’ll never part. I know there’s a girl, who’s just my type, a girl who’s off the charts. Then I joined a dating service, it made me nervous, and this is how it starts:
“I want a drop dead, beautiful, purely indisputable, red head with double D’s. Doesn’t smoke, doesn’t drink, doesn’t tell me what to think, and stands only five foot three. She’s sharp, prodigious, and not too religious, a babe with a PhD. She’s anti-marriage and baby carriage — now this is the girl for me.”
I got a few answers on the second day, but none of them were right. Some were nice, some were sassy, and only one seemed bright. so I picked up the phone and called her number and said, “Can I see you tonight?” She said maybe I could if I looked real good, and could help her solve her plight.
She wants a handsome, charming, super disarming, A-list movie star. He’s manly, intellectual — not a metrosexual — a man who will really go far. He’s talented, arty, knows how to party —he’ll let her drive his car. He’s smart, he’s happy, he dresses snappy, and knows how to play guitar.
I said, “I’m your man, I’ll see you at seven, say could you meet me downtown? My Benz is in the shop, hit a deer in the Hamptons and the engine completely shut down.” She said “I’ll come over, fix you a meal, let’s cut right to the chase. If you’re a movie star with a talent for guitar then I’ll meet you at your place.”
Well she wasn’t pretty, she wasn’t busty and she didn’t have red hair. She smelled like smoke, I thought it was a joke, and she said “Honey, au contraire.” She said “You’re not handsome, your tie’s too wide, But you’re strangely debonair. I’ll overlook the car, and even the guitar,” and on the spot we became a pair.
I told her: “You wanted handsome and I’m not handsome” and she said, “honey yes, I know. And you wanted busty and pretty and small” and I said, “Indubitably so.” “We’re not made for each other but we found each other, so please, hon, don’t lose your nerve. You might not get what you ask God for but you get what you deserve.”
I knew my Uncle Bennett by small mementos: the photo of him in uniform in the library of our summer cottage; letters my mom received when his plane was shot down; my grandmother’s poetry when he died; his purple heart; a fraternity mug from Williams college, which he attended before enlisting.
I also knew him from a photo album that showed him, horsing around as a teenager in summer, swimming in the lake and his tombstone in the local cemetery, on which my grandparents had inscribed a few lines from a Robert Louis Stevenson poem:
Here he lies where he longed to be, home is the sailor, home from the sea and the hunter home from the hill.
My dad said Bennett was the co-pilot of a plane with 16 guys on it shot down over Marcus Island on May 9, 1945, just before the end of World War II.
My grandparents found out on their anniversary. Everyone on the plane died and no one was found. The plane was seen going down and is now likely disintegrated on the ocean floor. It was so long ago. I wasn’t born then.
Nina, my older sister, dug up that his squadron was called the Reluctant Dragons and that he flew a Liberator. Here is a photo she found, too.
I like to think of the reluctant dragon that was my uncle and not the one who got lost at sea and became a phantom to me and my four sisters. But the latter is sharper in that way that absences have.
My mother never spoke about Bennett to me. I don’t know why. I’d like to replace my memory of him with something living, not just a photo or small objects and lines of verse. But I don’t know how.
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.
Yesterday, the Canadian Horse Defence Coalition released a new undercover video investigation and report about a slaughter facility designed by Dr. Temple Grandin. Shot on July 13-14 at Les Viandes de la Petite-Nation, Inc., in St. Andre-Avellin, Quebec, the video is the topic of my “Fat Cats” blog on Forbes.com today.
I’d seen the footage on Sunday morning and contacted Dr. Grandin Sunday night to get her comments. She hadn’t seen it yet and agreed to watch and discuss it with me. Dr. Grandin reviewed the video once on her own and then we synched up the video on our computers and watched it together—horse by horse, death by death—three more times.
I asked her a lot of questions about the stunning methods, which worked on only 6o% of the horses. I was particularly interested in her reaction to the scenes of the horses panicking, slipping and getting shot multiple times without being knocked out. We spoke for about 50 minutes.
The first time I read about Dr. Grandin’s efforts to improve the welfare of livestock and especially her work to make slaughter more humane, I wondered how she could do it. I still do. You can read about her observations in today’s post on Forbes.com. Read more
Part two of my Forbes.com series on Thoroughbreds, horse racing, and the horse industry chronicles the story of Princess Madeline, a racehorse who was sold to a feedlot, priced for kill buyers, and rescued on July 16 by me and my sister Nina.
The story on Forbes.com traces her path from the racetrack to Camelot Horse Auction in Cranbury New Jersey, and Camelot Horse Weekly, the volunteers that networked her and 28 other horses through their Facebook group to get them into permanent homes.
If you want to buy a horse, a donkey, a pony or just want to know more about horse rescue, this is a great group to follow—and there are many rescue groups on Facebook that could use donations to help them rescue horses or, in some cases, just buy halters for those at auction. Most arrive with halters, but the auction proprietors remove them to make the horses appear anonymous, unwanted and uncontrollable. If you want to help the horses, you can donate to Halters of Hope. Read more
This post kicks off a new blog I’m writing on Forbes.com called Fat Cats. Racing Industry Silent on Slaughtered Thoroughbreds, my first post, appeared today, part of a series on the horse industry and its darker side.
As some of you may know, this summer, my sister Nina and I rescued a five-year-old former racehorse. The process taught me so much about what goes on in the racing world—a topic covered regularly in Forbes.com’s lifestyle section.
The first two posts in my new series trace the route of several horses from the track to auction—but it’s a vastly different sort than what Forbes generally covers. Read more