Right-wing media is supporting the GOP’s smear campaign to portray Bureau of Land Management nominee Tracy Stone-Manning as an eco-terrorist in an effort to tank her nomination -- and President Joe Biden’s climate agenda.
Biden tapped Stone-Manning in April to fill the land management position that former President Donald Trump had left vacant for four years. But Stone-Manning’s nomination quickly drew fire from conservatives over her supposed involvement in a “tree spiking” incident that occurred in 1989. (Tree spiking is a controversial and dangerous tactic involving driving metal spikes into trees to deter loggers from chopping them down; it is associated with radical and fringe environmental groups focused on forest conservation in the 1980s.) Despite her decades of public service and widespread support, ranging from ranchers to oil and gas producers to sportsmen and women, efforts to assassinate her character have gone undeterred.
Late last week, the GOP and right-wing media campaign reached a fever pitch when a former federal investigator submitted a letter to Senate lawmakers claiming that Stone-Manning was “uncooperative” and “the nastiest of suspects. She was vulgar, antagonistic, and extremely anti-government.” (As noted by Colorado Public Radio, the former investigator offered no proof for the claims made in his letter, and Stone-Manning later testified in court against two individuals for actually spiking the trees.) In response to the letter, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) called on Biden to pull the nomination. The White House has indicated that it stands by Stone-Manning.
Her confirmation vote in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee was held today -- amid the 30-year-old controversy that the GOP and right-wing media have worked to make the central factor in her confirmation process -- with the vote split evenly between party lines. Tracy Stone-Manning’s nomination will now be decided by the full Senate.
Right-wing media is amplifying the political smear campaign against Tracy Stone-Manning
Since June, Fox News has published at least 18 articles smearing Stone-Manning, including characterizing her as an eco-terrorist and framing the story of her nomination around the opposition to it. The New York Post, Breitbart, The Daily Caller, and the Washington Times have also piled on -- The Daily Caller produced four articles attacking Stone-Manning just between July 9-15.
In the past week, Fox has repeatedly reported on the “scandal” around Stone-Manning’s involvement with the 1989 incident and the calls for her nomination to be rescinded.
On the July 15 edition of her Fox prime-time show, host Laura Ingraham called Stone-Manning a domestic extremist -- while the segment also suggested the former investigator’s letter was submitted to push back against the media portraying her as a “bystander or victim.”
The network’s daytime and evening programs from both the “news” and opinion divisions -- including America’s Newsroom, The Faulkner Focus, Outnumbered, America Reports, The Story with Martha MacCallum, and Special Report with Bret Baier -- have also covered the scandal story at least once in the past week.
Karl Rove’s appearance on the July 16 edition of America Reports is illustrative of how thoroughly the right has misconstrued Stone-Manning involvement in the incident. Speaking to Fox anchor John Roberts, Rove compared Biden’s nomination of Stone-Manning to “what would happen if a Republican president said I'm going to nominate to head the BLM somebody who said I will use force of arms to threaten or kill federal agents who interfere with me on my use of federal land.”
It is worth noting, if only to point out Rove’s clear lack of understanding of the topic, that “tree spiking” is not a threat to kill federal agents and is intended to deter loggers from clear-cutting forests. However, those involved in inserting the spikes have said Stone-Manning had no involvement in the planning or execution of the tactic, and according to her original testimony, she agreed to copy and send a warning letter to authorities afterward because she wanted “people to know those trees were spiked. I didn’t want anybody getting hurt.”
In fact, The Washington Post reported that “former classmates and activists, as well as two former defendants in the criminal case, describe her as a cooling voice among passionate activists, someone who did not want destructive tactics to distract from the message of environmental protection."
Nevertheless, conservative outlets like Fox have continued to capitalize on the tree spiking incident to attack the Biden administration’s nominee.
Right-wing media has largely ignored the last 30 years of Stone-Manning’s career
Fox and other right wing media have almost exclusively focused on the incident from 1989 while deliberately excluding her experience, which includes leading the Montana Department of Environmental Quality and serving as chief of staff for Gov. Steve Bullock, and the wide breadth of support that has made her exceptionally qualified for this position -- evidence that right-wing media’s coverage has been part of a partisan smear campaign and is nowhere near a fair public vetting of Stone-Manning as a candidate.
For example, the editorial boards of the Missoulian and Billings Gazette -- two of the main newspapers in Montana, where 30% of the state constitutes public lands managed by the federal government -- have publicly endorsed Stone-Manning’s confirmation, while a letter signed by “more than 100 conservation, Western, recreation, and public lands advocacy groups” urging the Senate to confirm her was submitted last month. But these recommendations have been absent from right-wing media’s coverage.
Recent coverage by The New York Times even suggested that all the conservative hand-wringing about her alleged involvement in the incident is phony and likely a cover for the GOP’s war against climate policy (which also aligns with the fossil fuel industry’s opposition to Biden Interior Department nominee Deb Haaland):
The vote over [Stone-Manning’s] nomination, scheduled for Thursday in the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, sets up a battle between Republicans and Democrats over an agency at the center of climate policy.
The Bureau of Land Management is an agency within the Interior Department that oversees grazing, logging and drilling on 245 million acres of public land and manages 700 million acres of mineral rights. It is responsible for balancing oil, gas and coal extraction with recreation and the protection of natural resources. It also is key to President Biden’s goal to phase out oil and gas drilling on federal lands — a plan that is being challenged by 15 states led by Republican attorneys general.
“The concerns that many folks have about Stone-Manning’s nomination is that she’s going to be more on the side of protecting public lands for public uses, and the folks who want public lands to be used for more development don’t like that,” said Mark Squillace, a professor of natural resources law at the University of Colorado Boulder.
“These other issues are being used as a way to block her confirmation,” he said. “I don’t think anybody really cares what she did 32 years ago.”
Fox is also using Stone-Manning to reinforce its narrative that Biden is “a bloodthirsty radical”
Tanking Stone-Manning’s confirmation because she will attempt to reduce production of oil and gas on federal lands certainly tracks with Fox News’ environmental coverage, which consistently advocates for increased fossil fuel production. But the controversy around Stone-Manning is also ripe for Fox’s agenda to paint Biden as a radical who has been co-opted by extreme elements of the left -- a strategy to scare away moderate voters and keep Trump voters engaged.
For example, Fox recently ran with a completely manufactured story to convince viewers that Biden was planning on banning hamburgers. One Fox host even called Biden “a bloodthirsty radical” -- and just last week, prime-time host Sean Hannity said Biden has “the most radical, extreme socialist agenda I've ever seen in any election.”
Now, Fox is using Stone-Manning’s nomination to further push the narrative that Biden and the Democrats are not-so-secretly in cahoots with radical leftists. The July 20 edition of The Faulkner Focus is a good illustration:
PETE HEGSETH (FOX & FRIENDS WEEKEND CO-HOST): So, it is eco-terrorism, what we’re missing about it is that she is one of many extremists who have been put into the Biden administraton and Biden cabinet. There is a long history of this on the left. … This administration puts people who are on the far end of the left spectrum into positions of power. I mean, you’ve got the Labor Department is run by a former union boss. That’s their prerogative but that’s also their priorities. We also have a long history of this. Think about the Weather Underground, Bill Ayers, remember the controversy that happened of how close Barack Obama, then-candidate, was to Bill Ayers. He denied a close connection but there is evidence they knew each other and there was some influence there. The media will defend them, cover it up, minimize it -- that’s what happened in that particular case -- and here, you’re not going to get the kind of scrutiny a conservative nominee would get. We'll see what happens if the temperature turns up enough. You shouldn't be in charge in the Bureau of Land Management if you once were at least sympathetic toward eco-terrorism committed against loggers. That can’t be OK.
Hegseth’s reference to scrutiny of conservative nominees underscores the actual qualifications of Biden’s pick compared to his predecessors. In fact, notable of those figures was Trump’s pick for the BLM leadership position, William Perry Pendley, who was never confirmed in part because he advocated for selling off all public lands managed by the agency, among other fringe views and statements, and was an overt racist. Pendley ultimately refused to leave his tenure at the agency, which courts had deemed illegal, suggesting that right-wing media figures don’t actually care about character or qualifications to hold the position.
The truth is that right-wing media are in lock step with the GOP on this smear campaign against Stone-Manning because she represents an opportunity to push their agenda: attacking the Biden administration and common sense climate policy at all costs.