Media in Trouble: All the news thats UNfit to print!: Drilling for Caribou

"The information of the people at large can alone make them safe, as they are the sole depositary of our political and religious freedom." --Thomas Jefferson 1810

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Drilling for Caribou

ANWAR!!! Back in the news thanks to a recent slipping into some other bill that according to Alaska Senator Ted Stevens, is a wasteland barren and suitable only for drilling oil.

So Gwen Ifill had Fenton Rexford, and Eleanor Huffines on to discuss the matter. Gwen opens the discussion by asking the Parka sporting Mr. Rexford (you know so he looks like a real Alaskan), what the place looks like. The ensueing descriptions took quite some time. Now I know that PBS is strapped for cash, but they manage to get TV cameras all over the globe, it struck me that they can't outfit their Alaska correspondent with a TV camera and buy him a helicopter ride over the area so that we could have some visual aid to go along with Rexford and Huffines descriptions.

I digress... The following is how both viewpoint analyses of ANWR ended up
GWEN IFILL: You heard what Senator Stevens just said; he said it's not beautiful at all, that there's not much there.

FENTON REXFORD: Yes. Well, in the wintertime it's -- it is a wasteland. I mean, it is, you know, barren. There's no animals -- hardly any animals there in wintertime. So --

GWEN IFILL: So you think it would be a good idea to drill there?


ELEANOR HUFFINES: I have spent quite a bit of time there, Gwen. I'm not as fortunate as Fenton to live there but over the past 15 years I've traveled there numerous times and every time the arctic refuge surprises me: Wolves hunting caribou, nesting swans, the light on the Arctic Ocean. It's quite an incredible natural ecosystem in motion.

And then one of the more incredible things is that people often misrepresent drilling. It does not occur just in the winter. So during those critical summer months -- it happens all year round -- exploration, development, and production occurs.

GWEN IFILL: So you think it would be a bad idea to extend the exploration into that area?

We live in a time when journalists (including Gwen Ifill) walk on eggshells about making assumptions based on things their interviewees say. If there is one thing that the media is cautious about (since Rathergate), its to refrain from reduceing blather soup into an opinion glaze. How the hell does describing ANWR as either a barren wasteland or a beautiful garden of Eden add up to a stance on oil drilling there?

The conversation then turns to Caribou, and wether or not their habitat will be affected by say plopping on some gravel roads, oil pumps, rigs, trucks to and fro, pipelines, etc... in essense turning this:

Into looking more like this:

Righto Gwen, a good journalist would ask about the livelihood of Caribou with the guy who doles out licenses to shoot Caribou.

Yes the guy in the authentic Alaskan Parka is the Chairman of the North Slope Borough Fish and Game Committee.

Then gems keep comming form Gwen's illustrious mouth:
GWEN IFILL: It's your wildlife and your culture, Mr. Rexford. What is to be lost or gained if this were to happen?

You see Gwen, this is the problem, it may be Mr. Rexford belongs to a culture, and he may even co-exist with the wildlife you speak of, BUT HE DOESN'T OWN ANY OF IT. There is no deed signed off to Mr. Parka wearer that grants him ownership of his culture or the Caribou. Caribou may be good farm animals, they may even be able to milk Caribou and make cheese out of it. Mr. Parka wearer, however, isn't engaged in any of these activities that come with Caribou ownership. He isn't a Caribou farmer, he is the Chairman of the club for Caribou hunters and presumeably a Caribou hunter himself. Gwen didn't ask so the public won't ever know.

Then Gwen does the trendy thing and rams some Republican talking points down our eyes and ears:
GWEN IFILL: But economically this would be a boom to the region?

FENTON REXFORD: Yes, economically, jobs, schools, good clinics, good, you know, modern communications. We didn't have that just in the 1970s era.

GWEN IFILL: Ms. Huffines, you heard Senator Talent say it should be a no-brainer -- that we should be allowed to look for oil within our borders considering the fact that there are so many shortages and prices are going up. What's your response to that?

Nice... yes I had already heard Mr. Talent in the beginning of the segment Gwen, I don't need you to remind me of what he said.

Then she sprinkles some naivety into another question
GWEN IFILL: But if this is supposed to be only drilling in the winter and ice roads, which melt away come spring, what kind of footprint will it leave?

Oh, yes the footprint, I think I already addressed this with those pictures. But I will revisi. Somehow, Gwen's mind didn't come accross the notion that corporations willing to lobby and spur a national debate over drilling, will also play by the rules and always act in good faith. The Big Oil Corporations eager only to expand their profits will always stay within whatever imaginary boundaries they are given. They never "do whatever it takes" to get to the oil or anything like that...

Well she goes on to discussing quality of life for Mr. Parkawearer and he tells us that only in the year 2000 have they had plumbing and flusheable toilets.

The debate ends pretty soon after that. Somehow I felt like something was missing...

Somehow, in a discussion about drilling for oil, the topic of how much oil there actually is got lost. Also lost in the debate over Caribou was wether or not alternative energy sources could fuel the same economic booms to Mr. Parkawearer's community.