As an armed militia’s occupation of a wildlife refuge in Oregon entered its third day and first prime news cycle Monday, national outlets such as CNN, the New York Times and NPR dispatched reporters westward to cover what they perceived as a reignited sagebrush rebellion led by Nevada cattle rancher Ammon Bundy, son of the infamous Cliven Bundy. Some seemed mystified by the whole affair (“Like, where is this anger coming from?” asked Morning Edition’s David Greene on NPR); others, breathlessly swept away by the romance of it all (“Clad in boots, cowboy hats and camouflage…” wrote Kirk Johnson, Richard Perez-Pena and Erik Eckholm for the New York Times); almost all released some type of “explainer” (What do they want? What happens next?), belying their ignorance of an issue that some 74 million Americans live and breathe from birth.
Enough of that nonsense. Although there’s plenty of good native coverage of what’s going on (we’re looking at you, High Country News), it’s time the West gave the parachute reporters an explainer of our own. Let’s start with the Bundys, since they’re in Desert Companion’s neck of the woods.
- For every Cliven Bundy, there’s at least one Roger Scholl (state chair of Friends of Nevada Wilderness). They may not be as glamorous as a bunch of gun-slinging outlaws, but they show up to support so-called "federal land-grabs." If you’re going to cover public lands issues fairly, then you have to give as much air time to those in favor of conservation as you do to those who are against it. In this case, maybe you could start with the Friends of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge?
- The Bundys are extremists. Many Nevadans believe, as the Bundys do, that regulations governing public land use are too onerous. Most, however, don’t break the law or take up arms to make their point. Instead, they advocate for legal change at the local level (albeit unsuccessfully, so far). Stop treating the far-right like it’s mainstream.
- Much of the Bundy rhetoric is easily debunked propaganda. Look, we don’t expect you to know the history of every square mile west of the Mississippi, but at least question the hype. Here’s an example: On Monday, Ammon Bundy told CNN, “This refuge alone is 187,000 acres. And in order to make that 187,000 acres, it took 100 ranchers’ homes and livelihoods and everything in order to make it. And so, we have just a very good example of how government is taking and destroying livelihoods to make theirselves a little park.” In fact, a grassroots group, the Audubon Society, petitioned President Theodore Roosevelt more than 100 years ago to set aside unclaimed land — most of it wetlands — as a refuge, which is now a popular destination for bird-watchers, fishermen and -women, hunters and other outdoor recreation enthusiasts.