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

November 15, 2017

Vickery Eckhoff

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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4 Comments

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  1. Maggie Frazier #
    November 16, 2017

    Hopefully you will get a response – will be interested to hear it!

  2. Sandra Sell-Lee #
    November 16, 2017

    Bless you.

  3. Jean #
    November 17, 2017

    Thank you, Vickery, for continuing to advocate for the wild horses and to shine a light in the dark corners of the BLM.

    • November 17, 2017

      Hi Jean,

      I actually don’t consider myself a wild horse advocate, but an advocate for the public’s right to be properly informed. I advocate for journalism doing the right thing by the public. And that means shining a light on abuses by government agencies, as well as media practices that give it a pass.

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