The desert tortoise has become a symbolic scapegoat for right-wing media figures running defense for an anti-government cattle rancher who's threatening to wage a range war against federal law enforcement officers.
Conflict has erupted in Nevada between the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the family and supporters of rancher Cliven Bundy, a man who has refused multiple court orders to remove his cattle from public land. Bundy has stated that he does not recognize federal law and in fact argued in court in 1998 that the United States government didn't own the land in question (he lost). Now BLM officers and contract cowboys have begun confiscating Bundy's herd. And the scofflaw rancher has emerged as a right-wing folk hero after repeatedly stating that he owns firearms and is willing to "do whatever it takes to gain our liberty and freedom back."
At the center of the controversy -- according to right-wing media figures -- is the formerly endangered (and still threatened) desert tortoise. When Bundy's grazing rights were modified by BLM in 1993, it was in part to protect the species, which inhabits the same publicly-owned desert areas trodden by Bundy's cattle and was at the time on the brink of extinction.
That's where the connection to the tortoise ends, however. In 1993, Bundy began refusing to pay grazing fees required by the new rules. This led to an escalating series of reprisals from the judicial system that culminated in an order to confiscate Bundy's cattle in order to repay $1 million in fines and fees that over 20 years later remained unpaid. The current enforcement has less to do with protecting the tortoise, and more to do with Bundy's refusal to comply with the law or recognize the legitimacy of the federal government.
Nevertheless, right-wing supporters of Bundy's stand have tried to pin the conflict on the tortoise and the Endangered Species Act (ESA), which is being depicted in negative terms ranging from being dismissed as irrelevant and economically harmful to becoming the basis for conspiracy theories about unlawful land grabs by Big Government.
On Fox, the situation afforded the network the opportunity to perpetuate the conservative narrative that the ESA unjustly puts the rights of wildlife above the rights of people. One host declared, "We're not anti-turtle, but we are pro-logic and tradition." His co-host sarcastically (and inaccurately) described the government's position as "get the cows off so they can have the desert tortoise live there in peace."
David Blackmon, a Forbes contributor, penned a piece titled, "Using Snipers To Protect A Tortoise." (It's since been taken down, but cached here). In it, Blackmon argued that protecting the desert tortoise was merely a pretext being used by the government "with the clear expectation of running the Bundys off the land entirely."
As evidence that the protection of the tortoise is a scam, some in conservative media have pointed to the Bureau of Land Management itself, claiming it's been euthanizing tortoises and/or "planting" them in the desert in order to make a case that they're endangered.
In fact, a BLM tortoise conservancy in Nevada was forced to shut down due to budget cuts. Prior to its closure, the Desert Tortoise Conservation Center had to make the difficult decision to put down the tortoises that carried disease or were too feeble to survive on their own. The others were released back into the wild.
But despite how real the concerns about the future of desert tortoise may be, the reality is that the right-wing media is simply providing cover to a rancher who refuses to obey the law.
From the March 18 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:
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Media coverage of nuclear power often suggests that environmentalists are illogically blocking the expansion of a relatively safe, low-carbon energy source. However, in reality, economic barriers to nuclear power -- even after decades of subsidies -- have prevented the expansion of nuclear power. While nuclear power does provide meaningful climate benefits over fossil fuels, economic factors and the need for strict safety regulations have led many environmentalists to focus instead on putting a price on carbon, which would benefit all low-carbon energy sources including nuclear.
The founder of the Weather Channel, now a local weatherman on a San Diego television station, dedicated nearly half an hour to climate change misinformation, including claiming that there are more polar bears because "Eskimos ... have now become more civilized."
John Coleman, who is a weatherman for the independent news station KUSI News after being "forced" out of the Weather Channel, said in a segment on climate change this week that polar bear populations have increased because "the Eskimos no longer kill the polar bears for the meat and furs in order to stay alive, it's -- we have now become more civilized in our Eskimo populations around the poles."
In fact, the majority of polar bear populations for which there are sufficient data are declining. Those population levels are somewhat higher than in the 1970s thanks to a ban on polar bear hunting with limited exceptions for traditional hunting by Inuit populations. However, despite conservative media claims to the contrary, this recovery in no way negates the ongoing existential threat that global warming poses to polar bear populations.
In the segment, Coleman -- who has accused NASA climate researchers of "lying" about temperature records -- hosted four paid associates of the Heartland Institute, which has received funding from the fossil fuel industry and once compared those who accept climate science to the "Unabomber." Coleman called Heartland Institute President Joseph Bast, who claimed in the 1990s that moderate smoking has "few, if any, adverse health effects" while simultaneously receiving money from tobacco giants Philip Morris, "a hero of mine."
Fox Business host John Stossel is dismissing New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's proposed ban on plastic foam containers by claiming the containers are "not so bad" for the environment. But the non-recyclable containers pose health and environmental risks and impose significant costs on the city.
On Thursday's edition of Fox and Friends, Stossel said that we need not worry about waste from the plastic foam containers colloquially called "Styrofoam" because "we're not running out of landfills":
But shifting from products that end up in landfills to products that can be recycled can save the city money, and the health and environmental risks of Styrofoam are indeed "bad."
Using recyclable products rather than Styrofoam saves the city money. Even if there is room for more landfills, as Stossel claims, it will be cheaper for the city if recyclable products replace Styrofoam containers. The Associated Press reported:
It costs the city an average of $86 per ton to landfill some 2 million tons of garbage a year; by contrast, the city nets a payment of at least $10 a ton for recycling paper and about $14 a ton for recycling glass and plastic, [New York City's head of recycling, Ron] Gonen said.
Reuters added that Styrofoam imposes costs on the city's recycling program:
An estimated 20,000 tons of Styrofoam enter the city's waste stream each year, and it can add an estimated $20 per ton to the cost of recycling because it needs to be removed from the recycling stream, the city said.
The largest single source of trash, or municipal solid waste (MSW), is containers and packaging, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
As around 70 percent of paper and steel containers, and over a third of aluminum and glass containers are recycled, replacing Styrofoam containers with these alternatives could save the city significant amounts of money.
Styrofoam can leach chemicals that are likely cancerous. The U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) has listed styrene as a likely human carcinogen. Polystyrene, the technical name of Styrofoam, can leach this chemical into foods, according to the NIH:
The Wall Street Journal's Kimberley Strassel is claiming that newly-minted Interior secretary nominee Sally Jewell is part of the "environmental fringe," suggesting she is hostile to business and was chosen by President Obama to "kill traditional jobs." In fact, she boasts a wealth of business experience, and her support of national parks conservation bolsters a multi-billion dollar outdoor recreation industry that sustains millions of jobs.
Strassel dismissed Jewell as an "activist" who will "Lock up land, target industries, [and] kill traditional jobs," which she exemplified as mining, logging and farming. Strassel pointed to REI as an example of a company "on the radical extreme" because it has supported rules such as the Roadless Area Conservation Rule, which safeguards National Forest lands from road construction and logging, and criticized the National Parks Conservation Association, on whose board Jewell serves, for its "efforts to kill jobs."
But Jewell's conservation efforts have helped support the multi-billion dollar outdoor recreation industry. According to a 2012 report by the Outdoor Industry Association, an industry trade group, Bureau of Economic Analysis data shows that outdoor recreation generates $646 billion in annual consumer spending, or nearly twice as much as the pharmaceuticals industry. According to the group's analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics data, outdoor recreation spending directly supports some 6.1 million jobs -- from retail jobs to park rangers to lodging operators -- nearly three times as many as the American Petroleum Institute claimed from the oil and gas industry in 2007:
On Wednesday, the Discovery Channel aired "an inside look at American gun culture" starring controversial National Rifle Association board member and Washington Times columnist Ted Nugent. Discovery Channel documented Nugent shooting a scimitar-horned oryx, an animal extinct in the wild, and also showed him spending time with a group of heavily armed doomsday "preppers."
Now the question remains: Will the Discovery Channel continue to allow Nugent to use the channel as a "resource" to help him win the "culture war"?
In a September 26 press release, Discovery Channel billed Ted Nugent's Gun Country as a "one-hour special." But during an appearance on Armed America Radio, Nugent stated that the Discovery Channel "want[s] to do it as a regular feature." He told listeners to "expect that there will be at least a dozen shows a year."
MARK WALTERS, HOST: Ted, is this going to be a regular series?
NUGENT: Well just the title, Ted Nugent's Gun Country, I mean even if Discovery doesn't air anymore shows it's still alive and well. They want to do it as a regular feature. We expect that there will be at least a dozen shows a year.
NUGENT: Every month. And we are really excited about it. I think it came off great. We trained with a bunch of zombie killers, we did a lot of ammunition testing.
A graphic accompanying an October 1 promotional appearance on NRA News described Ted Nugent's Gun Country as a "series."
Last night, the Discovery Channel aired "an inside look at American gun culture" featuring Washington Times columnist and National Rifle Association board member Ted Nugent. Media Matters previously noted that Nugent often uses inflammatory language against the Obama administration, women, religious and ethnic minorities and members of the LGBT community.
On the day that Ted Nugent's Gun Country aired, Nugent accused the "lying enemies of America" Obama administration of treason and "criminal complicity to murder." In promotional radio appearances for his special, Nugent accused "anti-American" Barack Obama of only feigning respect for veterans and declared his intention to use the Discovery Channel as a resource to help him win the "culture war."
Last July, the Interior Department suspended one of its employees, Arctic biologist Charles Monnett, pending an investigation into allegations of scientific misconduct by an anonymous Interior Department employee. Monnett was best known for co-authoring a peer-reviewed paper on drowned polar bears that was cited in the 2008 decision to list the polar bear as a threatened species, along with many other papers establishing the threat that climate change poses for polar bears.
The right-wing media used the investigation not only to reject Monnett's findings, but also to dismiss all the science on polar bears and global warming. Fox Nation promoted an Investor's Business Daily editorial claiming the Monnett investigation was exposing "the global warming fraud" with the headline "Global Warming Industry Rocked by Polar Bear Fraud." Fox Nation also promoted a New York Post op-ed on the Monnett investigation with the headline "Global Warming Theory Faces Sudden Collapse."
But the Interior Department cleared Monnett of all scientific wrongdoing. Monnett was officially reprimanded for an unrelated issue: forwarding government emails to local government and university officials that "ended up being used in litigation against the government." Jeff Ruch of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, which provided Monnett legal representation, said that Monnett leaked the emails under the Bush administration to expose suppression of scientists' concerns about the environmental risks of offshore drilling in the Arctic.
Steve Doocy promised last year on Fox & Friends to "keep [viewers] posted" on Monnett's case. But so far Fox News remains silent not only on Monnett's case but also on the record arctic sea ice loss this summer that portends danger for polar bears.
UPDATE (12/6/13): The reprimand has been removed from Monnett's file and he has received $100,000 in a settlement with the Department of Interior.
Today CNN aired Newt Gingrich claiming that "the Obama administration is trying to use the EPA to cripple the development" of natural gas. CNN offered no pushback to this claim and instead turned to a farmer who has leased his land to a natural gas company and supports Mitt Romney to assess the impact of EPA regulations. But the Obama administration has embraced natural gas, and the EPA's air pollution and chemical disclosure rules have drawn praise from the industry for their restraint.
From CNN Newsroom:
Contrary to Gingrich's claims, the Obama administration has boosted natural gas development, including a major gas project on federal lands. The Environmental Protection Agency has just begun to regulate a process that is quickly spreading across many areas that have never before dealt with extensive drilling. As National Journal reported, "Obama directed the Interior Department to allow hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, under new rules that are not very different from a law that conservative Republican Gov. John Kasich just signed in Ohio."
The EPA issued a regulation to reduce emissions of smog-forming air pollution that even the right-wing Wall Street Journal editorial board praised for its "restraint." And the EPA proposed a rule that would require the gas industry to disclose chemicals used during fracking on public lands, but gave what the New York Times described as a "significant concession" to the industry by only requiring that companies reveal the composition of fracking fluids after drilling. The EPA also required that the gas industry reduce cancer-causing chemicals released during fracking, a rule that will also reduce the emissions of methane -- a greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change. Bloomberg reported that several companies supported the rule, which could prevent a "backlash" that would shut down production.
If CNN is seeking to inform its audience about the energy policies of the presidential candidates, it should probably be turning to experts. And if CNN is seeking the human face of natural gas drilling, it might also want to talk to landowners who have been stuck with the bill after natural gas companies polluted their land.
Arctic sea ice is declining much faster than scientists expected, which has important implications for the rate and impacts of climate change. But the major TV news outlets have largely ignored the record sea ice loss this summer, while making ample time to cover Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan's physical fitness.
Fox News is ignoring the gasoline savings that newly finalized fuel economy standards will provide for consumers in order to hype the cost of new fuel-efficient cars. The standards, which will substantially reduce our dependence on oil, are expected to provide consumers significant savings at the gas pump that will more than offset the sticker price increase.
Carbon dioxide emissions are not just warming up our atmosphere, they're also changing the chemistry of our oceans. This phenomenon is known as ocean acidification, or sometimes as global warming's "evil twin" or the "osteoporosis of the sea." Scientists have warned that it poses a serious threat to ocean life. Yet major American
news outlets covered the Kardashians over 40 times more often than ocean acidification over the past year and a half.
Rising carbon dioxide emissions have caused the oceans to become around 30 percent more acidic since the Industrial Revolution, and if we do not lower the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere, the ocean surface could be up to 150 percent more acidic by 2100. At that level, the shells of some plankton would dissolve, large parts of the ocean would become inhospitable to coral reef growth, and the rapidity of the change could threaten much of the marine food web. According to the National Research Council, the chemical changes are taking place "at an unprecedented rate and magnitude" and are "practically irreversible on a time scale of centuries."
Despite a boom of recent scientific research documenting this threat, there has been a blackout on the topic at most media outlets. Since the end of 2010, ABC, NBC, and Fox News have completely ignored ocean acidification, and the Los Angeles Times, USA TODAY, Wall Street Journal, MSNBC, CNN, and CBS have barely mentioned it at all.
Over the last year, the Orange County Register has published numerous editorials that falsely portray California's pollution reduction program as costly, ineffective and arbitrarily imposed by state regulators. In fact, the program -- which incorporates a cap-and-trade program -- is part of a bipartisan law expected to benefit the state's economy.
In strikingly one-sided reports, Fox News assailed an anticipated regulation protecting streams from mountaintop coal mining waste. Among other misleading claims, Fox accused the Obama administration of punishing a contractor who said the rule would kill jobs, when in fact, extensive evidence indicates the contract was halted simply because the firm did shoddy work.