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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.

 

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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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Horse slaughter humane? My response to the Denver Post.

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Temple Grandin's "humane" horse slaughterhouse was shut down after authorities found it did not succeed in humanely stunning horses.

Temple Grandin’s “humane” horse slaughterhouse was shut down after authorities found it did not succeed in humanely stunning horses.

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.

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November 26, 2015

Dear Tom,

I read your article, “Horse slaughter inhumane? Some say no,” with great interest, especially Temple Grandin’s words on horse slaughter being humane.

http://www.denverpost.com/news/ci_29167415/horse-slaughter-inhumane-some-say-no

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:

http://www.forbes.com/sites/vickeryeckhoff/2011/12/06/horse-slaughterhouse-investigation-sounds-food-safety-and-cruelty-alarms/

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.

Sincerely,

Vickery Eckhoff

New York, NY

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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'”

Dear Editor:

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.

Sincerely,

 

Vickery Eckhoff

Address

Phone number

 

My letter to the editor of the Las Vegas Review Journal

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F. Martin_ Cattle_Wikimedia

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:

Dear Editors,

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.

Sincerely,

 

Vickery Eckhoff
Executive Editor
The Daily Pitchfork
Dailypitchfork.org

Welfare Ranchers, Riding High (Again)

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Stewart and BundyNearly a year ago, following Forbes response to my writing about Cliven Bundy and the federal grazing program, I was approached by AlterNet with a proposition.

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.

Today, almost a year later, I’m proud to publish “Forbes Billionaires Top US Welfare Ranchers List” on AlterNet and also the Daily Pitchfork.

The article is the fourth part of the Daily Pitchfork’s “SourceWatch” series on ranchers in the media (you can read the first three parts here, here and here).

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 media/cowboy love fest is getting out of hand.

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Rancher romance photoThe 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?

Umm. No.

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.

Cliven Bundy Ended My Forbes Gig

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Stewart and BundySo, the word is out.

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 readers@forbes.com. (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.

 

September 11, 2001 Church Street, NYC

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99 Church Street entrance. I stood here and watched people jump from the North Tower.

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.

Girls Eating Summer Cherries

August 18, 2013

Vickery Eckhoff

Girls Eating Summer Cherries

What A Seventh-Grader Taught Me About Wild Horses

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Photo Courtesy of Laura Leigh

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?

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A Christmas “Howdy” From Capitol Hill’s Pro-Slaughter Gang

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Larry Craig: a key member of Capitol Hill's horse-slaughter power posse

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.