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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.

Forever Wild: Notes from an Adirondack Camp

August 18, 2013

Vickery Eckhoff

An old postcard of my forever wild place

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. Raccoons 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 down 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 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 than that alternative.

On Memorial Day: A Reluctant Dragon, Still MIA

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My mom exchanged many letters with Ben while he was serving in the Pacific. What did he miss? Swimming at our summer cottage.

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.

Uncle Bennett, second from left, bottom row.

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.

The Statesman

December 11, 2011

Vickery Eckhoff

For Davey—Washington Square Park, NYC

Original post from March 27, 2010

My sister became a widow yesterday, for the second time. Her husband, David, was very shy in person, so I guess this would be a shock to him, to become the subject of a blog a day after passing on.

He really did his best to remain out of sight, though he was extremely talkative over the phone, happy to discuss recipes, slow cooking and his fondness for making art. He was a big man with a big heart, but he had a tiny footprint. In fact, for the last year of his life, he left basically no footprints at all—not in the outside world. Beside his recent trip to St. Vincent’s, where he passed away yesterday morning, he had not set foot outside at all. Not even into the hallway of their fourth floor walk-up in the West Village.

She said he was like the third Collyer brother. Indeed, in the time they were married (17 years) their small apartment filled up with stuff to the point that there were boxes piled on top of other boxes with cookbooks and vintage comic books and two small dogs (beagle and dachshund) competing for a very small amount of available floor space. You might wonder how one average-sized woman and a plus-sized man managed this in a 400 square-foot apartment, but that, I think, is a measure of their modesty and also a skill that some New Yorkers have for living within their means, but many do not. Neither ever called much attention to themselves; they just quietly went about their business, which is something I aspire to do but have yet to achieve. Read more

Last Days at Nirvana Farm

May 2, 2010

Vickery Eckhoff

In the end, it wasn’t moving out of our home of more than 30 years that got me. It wasn’t packing up and selling off the last of our family belongings or even sweeping the house when it was empty, locking the doors and driving away. It was two photographs that arrived in my e-mail box from someone I barely knew, after returning to my studio apartment in New York City.

Like many townspeople in Bolton Landing, NY, she had came to the two-day tag sale we’d staged the weekend before closing. It was an opportunity, for some, to pick up cheap armchairs and rugs and wicker porch furniture. For others, it was a time to see the inside of the house for the first time, one of the great ones built on Millionaire’s Row on Lake George. And for several who’d actually worked on the property, it was a time to come back, sit on the porch, and reflect on what Nirvana Farm had meant to them.

“I’m sure it is with mixed feelings that you close up shop at the farm and move on,” my new friend wrote eloquently in her e-mail. “What a beautiful, peaceful spot it is.” Read more

Meet Ouchy

November 11, 2009

Vickery Eckhoff

 

photo: Galina Arlov

Dear Fellow Spinster:

What does “the premier provider of adult clown services” have to do with the Stupak amendment in the health care bill—and why should you care?

Before I answer that, a caveat. Ouchy the Clown and I aren’t “friends.” I don’t use his services or contribute to how he makes a living. How does he do that? Besides being a DJ and doing “straight razor shaving,” he offers this rather unusual service to clients. Are you ready?

“I am a trained, certified meeting facilitator. Oh, and I am a clown. Did ya miss that part? I specialize in:

  • Brainstorming sessions
  • Conflict resolution
  • Organizational development”

Ouchy, whose tagline is “Happy to Beat You,” is well aware of the irony. ” Sure, it’s weird to have a clown facilitator,” his web site admits, “but you’ve seen stranger things, I’m sure.” Read more