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This week in ass-grabbing journalism (Part II): Wild horse lies, and the media that spreads them.

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False narratives on wild horses have spread widely in the media. Can Snopes, the definitive fact-checking site make it stop?

Despite the media’s present war on “fake news,” it fluorishes, particularly on the wild horse issue, a red-meat topic that trends quickly, necessitating fast turnaround by reporters with no experience on the topic (and no editors who have it, either); no multiple sourcing; no independent fact-finding or research; and zero accountability. They just grab other similar articles, edit them to avoid the whiff of plagiarism, slap their name on it, and hit “publish.”

I call it ass-grabbing journalism. Here’s my second piece on it: a letter I wrote to Snopes (below), asking it to factcheck errors in wild horse media coverage, much of it originating with the Associated Press but also including The Washington Post, Smithsonian, The New York Times and National Geographic, among many others.

Does Snopes debunk false information spread by the media, or only internet schemes spread by trolls on Facebook? Let’s find out.

 

* * * * *

Dear Snopes,

I’d like you to fact-check a false story about wild horses destroying western public rangelands put out by the Bureau of Land Management, the agency that oversees wild horses and commercial livestock grazing leases on federal lands.

For years, this lie has been picked up and spread, primarily by the Associated Press, but also by other media. It is now being used to gin up support for an upcoming Senate Appropriations Committee vote to destroy wild horses in holding and also clear the way for more wild horse removals on public lands, just as it was used to help the same amendment pass the House subcommittee in July.

Interior secretary Ryan Zinke and Chris Stewart of Utah are the main proponents of the budget amendment, which purports to save taxpayers $10 million but is really a cover for continuing to fund the subsidized federal lease grazing program, estimated by numerous environmental groups to waste up to $1 billion of taxpayer funds a year.

Western public grass and forest lands are overgrazed; but they are being overgrazed by domestic livestock grazed under this wasteful leasing program — not wild horses. Cattle on public lands outnumber wild horses by anywhere from 50:1 to 60:1, depending on the specific BLM data used and method of calculation.

The BLM freely distributes wild horse estimates, but withholds livestock figures from reporters, keeping livestock grazing data safely hidden and the grazing program protected for numerous billionaires (Koch brothers, Walton heirs) and corporations (JR Simplot Co.) that hold the majority of leased lands.

Fact-checking by Snopes could expose the number of cattle and sheep vs. wild horses that are out there and how many hundreds of millions acres of public lands cattle graze compared to continually shrinking wild horse territory. Publish those ratios. They’ll show who’s destroying public rangelands: it ain’t the horses.

I, along with a handful of reporters, environmental groups and wild horse advocacy groups have done the hard work to collect this data and tell this story. If you want to save yourselves some time, and talk to me about it, I’ll share my data with you, or direct you to others working to educate the public.

These include the journalist Christopher Ketcham, the environmental writer Steve Nash (whose book on public lands was just published by University of California Press), and environmental groups like Western Watersheds Project, The Center for Biological Diversity, Wildearth Guardians, and PEER (Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility), all of whom devote considerable resources to protecting western public lands — for the public’s use.

I’ve reported on this complex and misunderstood policy issue for Forbes, Alternet, Salon and The Daily Pitchfork. Please let me know if I can help.

Sincerely,

Vickery Eckhoff
New York, NY

 

 

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This week in ass-grabbing journalism (Part I): Miss Bumbum, exploitation or empowerment?

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A year ago, in the wake of Donald Trump’s election, I vowed to quit consuming news content, disgusted by the mainstream media’s fondness for ass-grabbing anything that looks ratings-worthy, and squeezing it hard.

Despite all that, I really like how a trending story this week about Brazil’s “Miss Bumbum” contest is showing how fake the news media’s war on fake news — and especially sexual harassment — really is.

The contest to find “Brazil’s best ass” — which was reported on by the Washington Post, Newsweek, the HuffPost, and a host of other media outlets — features thong-clad contestants bending over before a panel of judges to win cash prizes, modeling jobs and a chance at celebrity.

No mainstream news outlets would have picked up on Miss Bumbum were it not for the words “Fora Temer” (“Out Temer”), which were appropriated from a protest against Brazil’s president and then scrawled on a flag held aloft by a 28-year old self-described “model and reporter from Amazonas who strutted and squatted her way to victory. And that’s how an ass contest was repurposed — as empowerment for the ladies!

The Miss Bumbum story started trending on November 7 in the Sun, known for its page 3 photos of scantily-clad women and female-friendly headlines like, “A stunnah with whoppas.”

By, 3:19 p.m., Miss Bumbum had been rebranded a political event by the HuffPost’s Newly Crowned Miss Bumbum Brazil Demands President Step Down, by David Moye.

Less than eight hours later, at 10:25 p.m., Newsweek’s Robert Valencia ass-grabbed it, publishing Woman who won best butt contest in Brazil demands President Temer resign. You’d never guess from that headline that he’d cut and pasted most of it, would you?

Not to be outdone, the next day, 11/8/17, the Washington Post’s “Morning Mix” team of Kyle Swenson and Samantha Schmidt took a more serious swipe at it, publishing First Miss Peru, now Brazil’s Miss Bumbum: In South America, the beauty pageant is the new political platform.

Wow! Deep. But still a wolf-whistle in sheep’s clothing.

A day later, on November 10, Alabama Judge Roy Moore and comedian Louis CK were thrust into the company of Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, James Toback, Brett Rattner, and, the pussy-grabber in chief we elected a year ago. There were other names: so many they’re hard to recall.

Kudos, though, to the three WaPo reporters (Stephanie McCrummenBeth Reinhard and Alice Crites) who broke the story Woman says Roy Moore initiated sexual encounter when she was 14, he was 32”, putting Moore’s candidacy in jeopardy. Great job, WaPo. Mean it.

But did the Miss Bumbum story published a day earlier merit coverage by two reporters who appear to have aggregated it — the essence of fake news reporting — from the internet? Couldn’t an intern have done that, on their lunch break?

This is the essence of “trending” content, the bread and butter of every news outlet, for which there is no accountability; no independent research or analysis; no original interviewing; no multiple or independent sources, or even sourcing one can fact check, in this case, to see if the winner, Rosie Oliveira, really is a reporter herself or, as WaPo reporters Swenson and Schmidt call her, a “journalist.”

Is she one? Did anyone care enough to check?

For that, you’d have to click the link to the contestant’s page that the Morning Mix reporters cut and pasted into their “reporting”. There, you’ll find videos of Ms. Oliveira, posing in thong and high heels, as well as her ass measurements (100 cm) — all of it in Portuguese, not English. How’s that for effort?

Fortunately, the HuffPost provided other details that Swenson and Schmidt (as well as Newsweek’s Robert Valencia) lifted, including this deep-but-not-political thought from Oliveira herself:

“My biggest dream is that politics in Brazil improves, that we can have peace of mind and guarantee health, education and security to all. I want to live to see a political reform. I have no children and the country we live in keeps me from this dream. I wish I had children and that they live in a better Brazil than we live today.”

What the Morning Mix duo missed, however, was Oliveira’s aspiration to use international media to get more modeling jobs — not to fix what’s wrong with politics. This may be a dream of hers, the way “world peace” was, for a generation of beauty queens before her. But an aspiration is not an occupation, and Ms. Oliveira’s occupation happens to be — well, you be the judge:

“I decided to participate [in Miss Bumbum] because I’m a model,” Oliveira confirms in her contestant profile. “I already participated in the Gatas do Brasil contest and I was runner-up. Since then I have been accompanying Miss Bumbum and every year it grows more and has international media. I have seen opportunities to expand my career, do some catalog work and magazines outside Brazil.”

No mention of schooling or studying journalism; no mention of reporting she’s done or wants to do.

A subsequent Google search confirmed what I suspected: tons of ass photos, but no traceable work online for Oliveira as a journalist other than TV interviews with Sabrina Sato, a television personality, and TV-cosmetic surgeon Dr. Robert Rey.

Does that make her a reporter? It may. But as a journalist who has spent anywhere from a month to a full year researching a story, I’d thoroughly question any winner of Brazil’s best ass contest about her interests in politics and journalism before welcoming her to the club.

The audience for this piece (and most of the writers) were, however, men; the photo gallery of Miss Bumbum contestants that the HuffPost published unapologetically just another perk of being male and harassment-free. Why even bother with an article? It’s like that joke about Playboy. No one bought if for the literary content.

No wonder that harassment has become normalized; that the hand of sexual predation keeps grabbing victims. The media’s making money off exposing women and condemning their exploitation (as well as fake news) all at the same time.

But back to Swenson and Schmidt: I’m still curious why two reporters both contributed to a cut and paste job, with minor editing?

Did “Morning Mix” editors decide that a male/female byline showed balance, making it more legit?

I”ll note that Swenson (the male reporter) posted the article on his Twitter feed. Schmidt (the female reporter) did not; so perhaps there’s your answer.

I have no quarrel, though, with the Washington Post putting three women on the Roy Moore piece. Besides enabling a faster route to publication for a story requiring significant investigative work, it obviously prevented potential rape and death threats from falling heavily on one person. If there’s anything all the #metoo reports of sexual harassment can teach us, it’s that there really is safety in numbers.

That said, the entertainment industry for years has set up young women as prey for powerful men. The media has capitalized on this behavior as well, publishing article after article on how to put the brakes on sexual harassment, abuse and assault. It is also constantly wringing its hands over fake news, while putting more and more of it in our news feeds by the hour.

Here’s an idea. Pay reporters more. Hire fact checkers. And stop grabbing at every piece of ass story that walks by, just to get ratings. It’s not just women who deserve a break from this. Men do, too.