Right-wing media outlets have been in full freak-out mode this week, fabricating a myth that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been using drones to spy on Midwestern ranchers. In fact, the EPA has been utilizing manned flyovers -- not drones -- to investigate potential polluters since the Bush administration, in an effort to save money and enforce clean water regulations efficiently.
For the past ten years, the EPA has conducted intermittent flyovers "to verify compliance with environmental laws on watersheds," as Reuters reported:
"EPA uses over-flights, state records and other publicly available sources of information to identify discharges of pollution," said a statement issued by the EPA's Kansas City regional office. "In no case has EPA taken an enforcement action solely on the basis of these over-flights."
EPA has for 10 years used flyovers to verify compliance with environmental laws on watersheds as a "cost-effective" tool to minimize inspection costs, according to the statement.
This article originally said that the EPA was using drones to monitor feedlots, but a representative from Senator Johanns office has alerted us that in actuality manned aircraft have been used to monitor the feedlots. We apologize for the error.
Nevertheless, right-wing commentators began falsely throwing the word "drone" into their reports about the EPA's enforcement mechanisms. For example, Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly:
KELLY: You know, you gotta picture yourself, right, as one of these Midwestern farmers, because what's been in the news lately? The fact that President Obama's killed more terrorists with drones than any other president. That President Obama has a so-called "kill list." And that on that kill list, sometimes civilian casualties go as well, because if you're near an al-Qaeda terrorist, they assume if you're of an adult male age in a certain community, you also are a terrorist.
Even an American terrorist, an American al-Qaeda, was killed by a drone. So now you're in the Midwest, and you know you're not a terrorist, but nonetheless, you gotta get a little squeamish when you see a drone going overhead.
Earlier, I noted that last Tuesday, CNN gave airtime to Colby Bohannan, president of the Former Majority Association For Equality, a nonprofit that exists solely to give scholarships to white males -- and only white males. Bohannan and his group have enjoyed a flurry of media coverage in recent weeks despite the fact that as of February 24, the organization had been in existence for nearly a year, had not received a single scholarship application, and had raised less than $500.
Though its website says the organization was incorporated in March of 2010, FMAE doesn't show up in any news reports available on Nexis prior to February 25, 2011,* when the Austin American-Statesman profiled the organization:
The 501(c)3 nonprofit was formally incorporated with the state in March. The group hasn't received any applications, Bohannan said.
A search of public records indicates Bohannan pleaded no contest to charges of theft of property of less than $500 in 2001 and of issuance of a bad check in 2003. William Lake , the group's treasurer, pleaded no contest to issuance of a bad check in 2008.
Bohannan said he was charged with theft after authorities found a county speed limit sign in his Texas State dorm room and with writing a bad check for groceries, also while in college. Lake said he was charged with writing a bad check while managing a now-defunct business he started. Both said the charges have been disposed of.
Bohannan said the group is raising money — as of Monday, the group had raised $485, according to its website — and that he hopes to award scholarships by July 4. The money can be used to go to any college, not just Texas State, Bohannan said.
Bohannan's group isn't the first to offer scholarships only for white students. In 2006, Boston University's College Republicans created a program with similar requirements. A Republican group at a university in Rhode Island offered a similar award in 2004.
So in nearly a year of existence, Bohannan's group had raised only $485 and hadn't awarded a single scholarship or even gotten a single application. And there's nothing innovative about the group: It's been done before.
And yet several media outlets, led by CNN, decided that Bohannan and his organization were worthy of coverage.
On February 28, CNN's Christine Romans interviewed Bohannan. She didn't interview or quote anyone who disapproves of Bohanna's actions. On March 1, Romans repeatedly played clips of Bohannan and devoted a segment to asking CNN contributor Erick Erickson and guest April Ryan about it. On March 4, a CNN.com article used Bohannan's Former Majority Association for Equality as evidence of "signs of racial anxiety" and "A growing number of white Americans are acting like a racially oppressed majority." On March 5, Romans again played a clip of her interview of Bohannan and asked guests Michelle Rhee, Bill Bennett, and Harold Meyerson about it.
Though CNN has led the way in covering this obscure organization, it isn't alone. Fox News has devoted a segment to it, as has Fox Radio's Alan Colmes. Townhall.com has covered it, along with ABC News, Reuters, a Colorado CBS affiliate, the Texas Tribune, and New American magazine.
That last one isn't surprising: The New American is a publication of The John Birch Society. The question is why news organizations like Reuters and -- especially -- CNN think a tiny organization with no money that's never awarded a scholarship deserves all this attention?
* The March 4 CNN.com article appears in Nexis dated December 21, 2010, but this appears to be an error; the article has a Nexis load-date of March 5.