Here in timber country, we are used to having our actions ignored or distorted by a hostile corporate press. But the news blackout of our Headwaters actions was stunning, even by the press' usual depraved standards.
One of the worst offenders was the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, a New York Times affiliate and the largest corporate paper on California's north coast. A few days before our rally, just as our mobilization was getting into full swing, the Press Democrat received a call from an anonymous individual falsely claiming that he had spiked the trees in Headwaters. It was easy to prove that the tree spiking report was false, because the scenario described by the caller would have been physically impossible. Maxxam/Pacific Lumber also has a documented history, known to the Press Democrat, of consciously distributing fake EF! press releases designed to make us look like terrorists, as was done just before the bombing in 1990.
Despite all this, the Press Democrat ran a story prominently on page B-1 titled, "Tree Spiking Claimed in Headwaters", in which they repeated the anonymous caller's claims but left out the discrediting details.
Running such an incendiary false story would be bad enough in itself. But it became inexcusable when the Press Democrat also decided to black out the true story of our nonviolent community mobilization. They printed not a word about our demos in the Santa Rosa main edition of their paper, and they buried and understated it in a few brief paragraphs on page B-3 of their north coast edition. Then, for a final insult, when I wrote a letter to the editor complaining about all this, they surgically edited it to limit and tone down my charges against them.
The San Francisco city newspapers did not fare much better than the Press Democrat, although at least none of them printed the fake tree spiking report. On the other hand, they also did not print one word about our actions. This is particularly odd, since both the SF Chronicle and the SF Examiner have been covering the Headwaters story, reporting on the legal developments and on the company's plan to log. The Sunday joint edition of the SF Chronicle and Examiner even carried an amazing, strongly written editorial condemning Maxxam's plan to cut Headwaters and calling for a debt-for-nature swap. Yet they systematically blacked out any hint of our successful actions up north, or of a demonstration that was held in the Bay Area a week earlier, in which 75 EF!ers protested at the Mill Valley Pacific Lumber office, and one demonstrator was arrested.
None of these omissions were caused by our failure to notify the press. We did so both before and after the demos. Finally, in a last ditch effort to break the Bay Area blackout, a press conference was planned at which the lead speaker was Terrance Hallinan of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, announcing a resolution that the Supes had just passed calling for the preservation of Headwaters. The press conference was accompanied by a rally in the city, held at a convenient time and location for the media, and including speakers from several mainstream environmental groups. The press conference went great except for one problem. No press. Only public radio stations KPFA and KQED even sent reporters. The newspapers stayed away, and of course, printed nothing.
In fact, KPFA in San Francisco, and the awesome KMUD community radio in Garberville provided the only decent coverage around, both sending reporters to the demos and producing dramatic live news reports. Local newspapers such as the Ukiah Daily Journal followed the lead of the Bay Area big boys, reporting the legal developments and company pronouncements, but omitting even a hint that our demonstrations took place. The big exception on the local front was the Eureka Times Standard, the closest paper to the place where the actions were. The Times Standard is usually the most subservient of all to their corporate masters at Maxxam. But this time, they not only reported on our demonstrations, they said there were 1000 people at the log gate, instead of the 500 that were really there.
That's the first time I can remember them exaggerating our numbers in that direction. The only thing I can figure out is that seeing all those hippies scared them so much they went apoplectic and started seeing double.
The shameful dishonesty of the media in covering up news of our actions should remind us that we can't expect the corporate press to tell our story. In order to be successful, our actions must stand on their own without publicity, being directed at the company, not the media. The media will only cover us if they can marginalize us as a novelty, a freak show, or a band of terrorists. The very concept of an empowered community taking collective action to bring about change is too threatening to them. The revolution will not be televised.
Update - Latest Press Atrocity (note: 1995)
Press Release from TREES Foundation, Mendocino Environmental Center (MEC), Willits Environmental Center (WEC), Mendocino Coast Environmental Center (MCEC), and Environmental Protection Information Center (EPIC)
ed. by Betty Ball
On Sunday, May 28th, the Santa Rosa Press Democrat (PD) ran a story by reporter Bleys W. Rose that brought journalistic standards to an all-time low, even for the PD, with their history of non-and/or biased-coverage of environmental and social justice issues and activism. The article by Bleys Rose centered around a "Bley-tantly" false and inflammatory allegation about Judi Bari. The source of the vicious accusation was a man named Irv Sutley. Sutley's charge is based on third-party hearsay, and is acknowledged as a joke even by Sutley's closest associates. The person alleged to have been the source from which Sutley concocted his charge was not even interviewed by the PD; nor were any of the many people who work closely with Judi. Judi, herself, was not interviewed for this "story".
With this latest example of ridiculously undocumented, one-sided journalism, the PD has once again proved a pawn in efforts to target and malign Judi Bari, specifically, and discredit the environmental and social justice activist community in general. In fact, Irv Sutley has dedicated the bulk of his political activism in the past year to attempts to publicly discredit Judi, as her false arrest lawsuit against the FBI (which the PD has consistently not covered) quite successfully makes its way through the legal system. But for Sutley's absurd story to be picked up and embellished by Bleys Rose, and for the PD editors to allow such a piece to run as if it were a legitimate news story, shows a shameful lack of journalistic standards, the result of which is to further marginalize and endanger Judi and other activists.
Please let the editors of the PD know that this kind of continuing unprincipled, biased, irresponsible, slanderous reporting will not be tolerated. (For further information or a copy of this outrageous article, call the MEC at 707-468-1660.)
Call PD Executive Editor Bruce Kyse, Managing Editor Robert Swofford, or Bleys Rose's editor Cathy Barnett at (707) 526-8585 (outside the 707-area code, call 1-800-675-5056).
Send letters to the editor to: Editor, Santa Rosa Press Democrat, PO Box 569, Santa Rosa, CA 95402.
Gary & Betty Ball
P.O. Box 1415
Ukiah, CA 95482
May 29, 1995
The Press Democrat
Editorial Director: Peter Golis
427 Mendocino Avenue
Santa Rosa, CA 95401
Is COINTELPRO alive and well at the Press Democrat, or have you simply lowered your journalistic standards to the point where the ugliest personal biases of your staff writers are now given credence as serious news stories?
For many years we have been shocked at the vehement anti-environmentalist sentiment that your staff writer Bleys Rose has managed to print in your newspaper, but his hit piece on Judi Bari on page B1 of this Sunday's Press Democrat is beyond belief. Based only on third-hand hearsay, this "article" amounted to nothing more than cheap-shot character assassination of the sort that would not be able to find its way into print even as a letter to the editor in respectable newspapers. The fact that the hearsay was obtained from an individual who has an axe to grind with Bari makes the "article" just that much more deplorable.
Assuming that your editorial staff does not entirely consist of symps for the Wise Use movement, we must ask if there is no limit to how low the writers on your staff can sink before personnel changes are made? The statement alleged to have been made by Bari was denied by her as false. This fact alone, in the absence of any other evidence, should have been enough to stop this piece from going to print. Bari's accusers even admit that they thought the statement was a "big ha ha ha." However, even if the alleged statement is true, so what? Divorcing couples often say similar or worse things. Does that make their statements "news"?
You allowed this story to be printed with no further justification than that Bleys Rose enjoys venting his spleen at environmentalists in general, and at one of the most effective organizers in our community in particular. If you are going to continue to employ this man, at least have the good graces to require him to write under a nom de plume. That will probably not help you though. This sort of stench by any other name would still be Bleys Rose.
Gary & Betty Ball
Copyright Mendocino Environmental Center 1995
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