Friday, July 30, 2004

The Washington Times is a scam operation 

Proof positive:

But [Times reporter] Audrey [Hudson] (and [Republican CO Congressman] McInnis) had their biggest collaboration in 2001. Audrey broke a story about Federal Wildlife biologists who had planted the hair of rare lynxes in the Cascade mountains so that the Endangered Species Act would close off federal land to the public, and confiscate private property. You know, as part of one of those radical environmental conspiracies. Ten articles, two editorials, and a couple of congressional hearings later, it turned out that the biologists hadn't planted any fake lynx hair, they had just included some blind samples of regular lynx hairs to be tested by the Forest Service's DNA lab, because they had (justified) doubts about the lab's reliability. No land was going to be confiscated. No lynxes were driving Cadillacs and wearing Rolexes as they cashed their welfare checks.

Here's part of a very interesting Audubon Mag article about the matter:

Perhaps the most astonishing aspect is the circulation of lies by America's mainstream media. Of all the reasons to disregard or at least rigorously vet a story, few are better than reading it in The Washington Times. Whatever possessed the Associated Press to recycle it 24 hours later? ...

Right-wing talking heads prattled gleefully. The property-rights community puffed and blew. Feeding the ravenous media were members of the U.S. Congress, most notably Senator Larry Craig (R-ID) and Representatives Scott McInnis (-CO), chair of the Forests Subcommittee; James Hansen (R-UT), chair of the Resources Committee; Barbara Cubin (R-WY); and Richard Pombo (R-CA). Craig called for oversight hearings; McInnis and Hansen scheduled them. In an open letter to the directors of the Interior and Agriculture departments, Pombo, Cubin, McInnis, and 16 other Republican representatives condemned the "unethical behavior [and] malicious activities that support the closet agenda of the 'green' community" and called for the termination of "those officials who knowingly and willingly planted unauthorized samples."

What makes the behavior of The Washington Times astonishing is not its willingness to shatter innocent lives in an effort to sell newspapers. This is expected of the Times. What's astonishing is its effort to use the mess it made to sell an ad.

Two weeks after the Times ran its original story and three iterations, the FSEEE got a call from the paper's advertising department. The guy said that the biologists were getting the bejesus kicked out of them by the editorial department and that the really smart thing to do would be to purchase a full-page ad for $9,450. That way the FSEEE and the biologists could tell their side of the story.

Overcoming speechlessness, Stahl feigned interest. "This wasn't just some ad rep operating on his own," he said. "I made sure he went to his department and that the Times sent me a mock-up of the ad. It's their brand of ethics: 'For a small price you can fix some of the damage we've done.'"

[Holy Mafiosos...]

I am unable to determine how the Times could not have known the "bio-fraud" tale was false before it published at least six of its "news" stories and two of its editorials. Audrey Hudson, who wrote all but one of the 12 stories, told me she got the investigation report that vindicated the biologist of "biofraud," a word the Times invented, from PEER's web site. PEER says it posted the report during the last week of December.

This raises three disturbing questions: How was Hudson able to reference the report and selectively pull information from it in the paper's first story, on December 17? Why, on January 18, was she still repeating the untruth about the biologists planting fur in the forests? And why was the Times still accusing the biologists of "fraud" on March 2?

This was my conversation with Hudson.

TW: "Are you going to issue a retraction and apology?"

AH: "No. We stand by our story."

TW: "But you've known it was false at least since December. . . ."

AH: "I reported what the Forest Service told me. We stand by our story."

TW: "But the Forest Service told you in its investigation report that your story isn't true. . . ."

AH: "I'm not going to quibble with you."

I guess that means that PEER and/or the FSEEE will have to write the Times's retraction and apology for it--provided, of course, that the paper has ad space available.

Here's part of the FAIR report on "Lynx-gate":

The Washington Times turned this incident into a crusade, dedicating 10 articles, two editorials and an opinion piece to this "biofraud" over the course of a month after breaking the story on December 17. Lynxgate illustrates the power of the Times--a newspaper founded in 1982 as a vehicle to promote the right-wing views of Rev. Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church--to promote a conservative agenda and feed it into the mainstream media environment.

The Times’ Audrey Hudson broke Lynxgate with a front-page piece headlined "Rare Lynx Hairs Found in Forests Exposed as Hoax" (12/17/01), citing "officials" as the source for her allegation that biologists had planted lynx fur. "Had the deception not been discovered, the government likely would have banned many forms of recreation and use of natural resources in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest and Wenatchee National Forest in Washington state," her story falsely asserted. The one-sided article quoted a variety of conservative government and non-governmental officials, many with a dislike of the Endangered Species Act or federal land management policy. To give the appearance of balance, Hudson quoted the National Wilderness Institute, a think tank with an anti-environmentalist bent.


The "false premise," actually, is that a few fur samples could "shut down" forests--a claim repeated throughout Times coverage. In truth, the existence of lynx would have to be verified by live trapping and other measures before any changes in management would take place, a process that could take years. Even the proven presence of lynx would not close the forests; recreation and even logging goes on in forests inhabited by lynx. But presenting such facts does not serve the conspiratorial storyline.


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