Conservative media focused their Earth Day coverage on the crime and trial of environmental activist Ira Einhorn -- convicted of murdering his girlfriend -- while pushing the unsubstantiated smear that he founded the holiday. Sensationalizing Einhorn's murder conviction distracted from the holiday's purpose and the true founder of Earth Day -- former Wisconsin governor and United States senator Gaylord Nelson (D), a passionate environmental advocate who was later awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom Award for his work.
Celebrated on April 22, 1970, the original Earth Day marked the beginning of the environmental movement and, as CBS noted, came "at a time when pollution was rampant and regulation was not commonplace." The popular support Earth Day helped engender led to the establishment of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and the Endangered Species Act.
The conservative smear machine used Earth Day 2013 to push articles claiming the holiday was established by Einhorn, an environmental activist who later became known as the "Unicorn Killer," after being found guilty of murdering his girlfriend, Holly Maddux.
The Daily Caller headlined its Earth Day recognition piece, "Earth Day co-founder killed, 'composted' his ex-girlfriend." Buried in the Caller's last paragraph of the article was Earth Day's purpose and that "most activists credit Wisconsin Sen. Gaylord Nelson" as the holiday's progenitor. Michelle Malkin referred to Einhorn as an "Earth Day co-founder" in a column she re-published from 2001, labeling him "[a] grisly Earth Day reminder." And Limbaugh weighed in as well, acknowledging Earth Day by saying, "Ira Einhorn, co-founder, Earth Day, convicted murderer" was being "celebrated today by environmental wackos because this is Earth Day."
Despite these reports, Einhorn was not a co-founder of Earth Day -- though Einhorn himself allegedly liked to claim he was. The 1970 Earth Week Committee of Philadelphia Earth Day, a group whose efforts helped make the holiday a reality, credits Nelson as the founder of Earth Day, not Einhorn. The University of Wisconsin outlined Nelson's efforts (emphasis added):
In 1969, Nelson devised a new approach to raise awareness and put pressure on politicians to act on environmental legislation.
Reflecting on the empowering effects of campus activism, Nelson proposed a day when citizens nationwide would host teach-ins to raise awareness of environmental problems. His proposal was met immediately with overwhelming support. The national media widely broadcast the plans for this so-called "Earth Day" and Nelson's office was flooded by enthusiastic letters.
But while Nelson established a small national office to offer support to the thousands of grassroots efforts, he firmly rejected a top-down organization. Instead, "Earth Day planned itself," he later reflected. An estimated 20 million Americans, young and old, gathered on April 22, 1970 to confront the ecological troubles in their cities, states, nation, and planet--and to demand action from themselves and from their elected officials.