While the national media is fixated on the sexual antics of their East Coast anchors, and wealthy lawmakers, real news is taking place in Las Vegas, Nev., news that has a very real possibility of changing how public land is managed here and across the rest of The West.
But because sex sells, East Coast media moguls have turned off the flow of information on the so-called “Battle of Bunkerville” trial.
Let me refresh you:
Cliven Bundy and his sons and other supporters are currently on trial for their roles in the April 2014 standoff in which federal land management agents and others effectively surrounded the ranching family. The family called for help via social media, and hundreds of people from The West responded, many of them armed. I’m sure you’ve seen pictures of the subsequent standoff.
The coverage of Bunkerville was all over the TV in April 2014, when East Coasters were all too eager to paint western cattlemen as gun-toting thugs trying to steal public land.
Similar coverage erupted again in January and February 2016, when cattlemen and their supporters settled in for 41 days at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. East Coast media was all too eager, once again, to cast Westerners as gun-toting as usurpers.
But national media all but turned a blind eye on the cases earlier this year when related trials ended mostly in not guilty verdicts.
Fast forward to the last couple weeks. The trial of Bundy, his sons and others at Bunkerville began, but was temporarily halted because federal officials had refused to turn over evidence supporting defendant’s statements.
Initially, East Coast-controlled media was quick to point out western gunslingers were on trial for attempting to steal land. Then, coverage almost immediately halted when it became clear federal land management agencies had been spying on the family well before the standoff.
And then this past Wednesday, coverage was again shut off after a closed-door hearing forced the judge in the case to offer the defendants conditions of release.
I guess the facts got in the way of a good story. Instead of covering news that has national implications, East Coast media turned to sex scandals involving millionaires — some of whom are their own anchormen.
Meanwhile, you and I were left wondering what is happening in the Bunkerville trial and what could a verdict mean for those of us in The West. And it could mean a lot more than you think.
As you likely know, the case is primarily about a militarized federal Bureau of Land Management’s disagreement over the grazing rights of a longtime ranching family.
Don’t worry about whether the Bundy clan was right or wrong just yet. A jury will figure that out. Instead, think about the agency and what the case is really about.
The agency falls under the auspices of the federal Department of the Interior, which also oversees the National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife and other agencies.
Here in Washington state, those agencies — combined with a little public land managed by the Department of the Army and the Department of Agriculture's U.S. Forest Service — control about 33 percent of land. In Oregon, the percentage is about 56 percent and in Idaho, the tally tops 65 percent.
The massive fires we’ve had in the Pacific Northwest often hit land managed by these federal agencies, as well as like-minded state agencies.
While our forests and grasslands burn, those agencies publicly blame it on global warming. Meanwhile out of the public’s view, they continue to develop plans restricting access and use of the land “we the people” own.
The Bunkerville case is shining a light on the backroom deals to kick us off public lands or restrict our use of them. It’s also shining a light on the abusive activities these agencies are willing to engage in to wrest control from the public.
Unwittingly, it’s also shining a light on national media’s East Coast bias.
The Bunkerville trial has all the ingredients necessary to unveil the abuse and corruption taking place in land-management agencies. At the same time, the national media’s failure to cover it goes right to the heart of the East Coast bias.
It’s unfortunate the significance of the case is lost in the sex-sells mentality of East Coast media.
I don’t know about you, but I’m more interested in how the trial will affect our access, use of and recreation on public land than I am Matt Lauer’s sexual proclivities.
— Roger Harnack is the editor and publisher of The Daily Sun. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.