Robert Price

Saturday, Apr 19 2014 02:57 PM

SOUND OFF: Enough lies! Sic BLM on border and leave rancher alone

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    Robert Price is The Californian's executive editor. Email him at rprice@bakersfield.com.

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By Robert Price

Reader: I'm calling about your article in today's (April 15) paper in the Opinion section about the Nevada showdown by Debra Saunders ("Nevada showdown: All hat, no cattle"). I want to say it's a shame that you are printing lies and distortion on your Opinion page. Because this person (Saunders) did not go to Nevada and find out what went on. She didn't see the jackbooted thugs going against American citizens. The Bureau of Land Management should be down on our border protecting us from the invasion that is coming across our border.

You got an article in the paper about these drug people who are running drugs in California and they have been doing an investigation for a year and are finally arresting these people, but they didn't stop them at the border like they should've. The jackbooted thugs should have stopped them at the border. Instead we are spending millions of dollars trying to stop them after they've got into the country.

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But you will print an article that is full of lies by an arrogant newswoman who didn't even go down there and find out what was really going on. Your paper is disgusting sometimes. You people do not know what is going on but you're going to find out.

-- Unidentified caller

 

Price: You didn't say exactly which portions of Saunders' column were lies and distortions, so I can't address that part of your complaint. I do know that Saunders, a columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle who runs neck and neck with the National Review's Rich Lowry for the title of our most conservative syndicated contributor, is paid to express her opinions, and she seems to have done so here without misrepresenting the essential facts of the situation.

To recap: Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy has brought the debate about states' rights back to the fore. When the BLM seized 400 cattle belonging to Bundy, saying he had been grazing his herds on federal land without a permit, anti-BLM protesters -- some of them allegedly armed -- gathered at a barren stretch of Clark County, Nev., to show their support. BLM, which finally agreed to return the cattle, says the issue is not settled, citing the fact that Bundy owes $1 million in grazing fees accumulated over 20 years. Bundy, who has declared he'll never pay, says he recognizes the "sovereign state of Nevada" but does not view "the United States government as even existing." (That might strikes the framers of the Nevada Constitution as odd because the document says a citizen's first loyalty is to the United States.)

Saunders concludes that Bundy should be channeling his outrage in a way that supporters can honor at the ballot box, rather than suggesting people engage in a "range war." "That's the American way," she writes. "Threatening to shoot law enforcement officers who are simply carrying out court orders is not." I'll second that.

You suggest the BLM send its "jackbooted thugs" down to the border to deal with the "invasion" and leave this rancher alone. The BLM is specifically tasked with managing the millions of acres of land owned by the U.S. government. Sending anyone from that agency to the border makes as much sense as sending Amtrak staff. Wrong agency.

I assume the massive drug bust you're referencing is from the story we published April 15 on a Tulare County-based trafficking ring, "11 arrested in valley drug raids." California Attorney General Kamala Harris, who announced the arrests Monday, wouldn't give details about how the drugs had been flowing into the U.S., except to say the traffickers were organized into complex and secretive networks, made all the more powerful by their tremendous wealth. That suggests to me these weren't all a bunch of mules with backpacks that a few hundred more Border Patrol (or BLM) agents might have nabbed at Juarez.

Finally, to your suggestion that Saunders should have packed up and visited Bundy's ranch for a more accurate sense of the circumstances: Sure, a journalist's analysis is always more informed and nuanced when she's at the scene, but plenty of commentators have managed to offer some strong opinions from the air-conditioned comfort of their studios. Take Fox News' Sean Hannity, who, comfortably ensconced in New York last week, suggested that a violent raid by federal officers could be imminent.

Well, if that happens, we'll report it. And we'll most likely print what our syndicated columnists have to say about it, too, disgusting and not.

***

Reader: A reader of the Bakersfield Californian recently questioned the newspaper's coverage of citizen response to the Affordable Care Act ("Yep, we would have put ACA's failure on page 1," April 6). It seems that the fact that more than 7 million people signed up for Obamacare was relegated to a report on page 23, whereas failure to meet sign-up goals would likely have been front-page news. Unfortunately this says a lot about modern journalism. When misinformed or malicious people predict dire events, front-page coverage is warranted; when the events do not transpire, it's not news. Chicken Little and his followers are thriving: "The sky is falling!" is covered on page 1; if the sky doesn't fall? not a big news story.

Media coverage of Obamacare has also been inadequate in terms of defining the success of the program by initial accessibility to a website. Despite media reports to the contrary, the success of universal health care will not be measured by the ability of a website to provide immediate access to millions of citizens. Difficulties in accessing high-volume websites are commonplace and should not have been the focus of media coverage. Ultimately the success of the ACA should be determined by the number of citizens served and the level of health care provided.

-- Linda Schrom

 

Price: I agree with your last line (provided said service doesn't bankrupt the country, which I seriously doubt will happen). As for the rest, I'll just have to reinterate what I told the previous reader. Chaos makes news and relative order does not. About 30,000 commercial passenger jets took off and landed safely on Friday. None of them crashed. No story there.

Is that ghoulish? Is it wrong? I don't know, but I can tell you that our analytics reveal that crime and disaster stories are usually the best-read things in the paper, along with the baseball box scores. Is that a reflection of "modern journalism"? No, it's a reflection of journalism probably since its inception. Even more basically, it's a reflection of human nature, of our fascination with narrative arc, crisis and resolution, heroism and schadenfreude.

That doesn't mean we shouldn't and don't report "good news" as well. But what constitutes "good news"? Often it's simply a positive outcome to a situation that was, at one point, of great concern. That is to say, in many cases it was bad news before it was good news. Before there was a cancer cure there was cancer.

Your suggestion that "when misinformed or malicious people predict dire events, front-page coverage is warranted" needs some support. Responsible skepticism from qualified critics may get prominent coverage on occasion, but "misinformed or malicious people" don't often make the front page unless they've just been monumentally duped by a scam artist or sentenced to a prison term.

As for judging "the success of universal health care," I guess we can worry about that when we actually get universal health care. What we have now, for the most part, is more vigorous regulation of the health care insurance industry, including, primarily, private, for-profit insurance companies.

If your underlying concern is that we haven't covered the ACA's successes as thoroughly as we've covered its shortcomings, I just don't buy it. We have tried to offer a wide variety of articles from an assortment of news organizations on the long-running national debate, and in our Opinion columns we've skewered the Ted Cruzes of the world just as enthusiastically as the Kathleen Sebeliuses.

All that said, I'll keep an eye on this and try to make sure we report new developments relative to Obamacare as fairly as possible.

***

Reader: I was reading with amusement the letter from Dr. Jim Nuanez about how you buried the 7 million enrolled under the Affordable Care Act on page 23 ("Yep, we would have put ACA's failure on page 1," April 6). It is too bad you could not have wrote him the truth, and just say the number is just BS and wanted to bury it. The major networks would not even give the President time to brag about the number. Instead of just repeating what left leaning news outlets give you, how about some investigative reporting. Since this president has been caught in so many lies (oops I mean mistruths or half truths, Libs do not like the word lies) why not tell the rest of the story?

That the original number was 9 million, that the deadline was pushed back. An administration that is tech savvy in winning elections cannot give you the break down on what the 7 million is composed of, they just do not have the data, how convenient! What inquiring minds want to know is how many out of the 7 million are young people, I bet not too many. How many actually have health care, paid premiums, are actually enrolled? Sooo many questions sooo little answers. So we as intelligent human beings are supposed to believe these numbers after the Government has plead the 5th (IRS scandal), cannot get us E-mails for three years (IRS Scandal), I could go on and on. This government is forcing us to buy a product we do not want, and people that are in the blessed favor of this so called President get exemptions! 7 million out of 317 million and counting, that is not an impressive percentage.

Why are you not asking these and more questions? Or at least bring up issues you cannot get answers to. What you should do is unleash your PIT BULL with lip stick, Lois Henry, on Washington, I bet she could get some answers.

-- Judd Stacy

 

Price: I have no reason to believe that the 7 million figure is inaccurate, and I haven't seen any legitimate skeptic or news organization question it. Having said that, plenty of people have questions about who those 7 million people are, who they aren't, and why 7 million is a magic number. I doubt our pit bull with lipstick, Lois Henry, would have more luck than any other journalist cracking that nut from her corner office here in Bakersfield, but I'm sure she appreciates the vote of confidence.

What we do know is that the U.S. uninsured rate is at its lowest since 2008, with just 14.7 percent of adults lacking coverage in the last half of March, according to a Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index survey. That means that, theoretically, only 14.7 percent of U.S. adults consider the ER their first and last option for health care -- incredibly expensive care that you and I typically pay for one way or another.

Thanks for your useful insight on liberals' aversion to the word "lies." I had been under the impression pretty much everyone felt the same way about it.

 

Executive Editor Robert Price and The Californian welcome your comments and suggestions. To offer your input by phone, please call 395-7649 and leave your comments in a voice-mail message or send an email to soundoff@bakersfield.com. Please include your name and phone number. Phone numbers and addresses won't be published.

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