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Love That Hegemony

Last time we checked, the amount of Nevada’s land controlled by the national government had grown to 89 percent. That adds up to about 97,727 square miles.

Now comes the Las Vegas Sun with a glowing story about an emerging “partnership for federal lands.” The Oct. 24 feature waxes poetic about the wonders of modern-day collectivization and quotes longtime Nevada politico and regent Thalia Dondero as saying, “We have a real treasure here. This is really one of the only places in the country that has all four of these (federal) jurisdictions.”

Lucky us.

This propaganda piece goes on to praise the emerging cooperative (read hegemonic) love fest among the Forest Service, Park Service, Fish and Wildlife Service and BLM (Bureau of Large Mistakes). In a statement that is both obvious and ominous, Park Service manager Bill Dickinson says of the agencies: “Our similarities are far greater than our differences. We’re no longer focusing on things that are just inside our own boundaries.”

Sun reporter Susan Snyder never skips a beat. And she never bothers to assess the economic implications of keeping millions of acres off limits to development. Instead, she gushes over local do-gooders’ efforts to—get this—raise money to help the poor benighted feds tighten their control.

It’s little wonder that the U.S. Department of Justice agreed to keep the Sun on life support via a joint operating agreement with the Review-Journal. With willing mainstream mouthpieces like this, who needs PR?

A Message from the Oracle

While we’re on the topic of failed mainstream reporting on Nevada’s federal lands issues, another high-profile journalistic pratfall took place in public on Nov. 28. It also was authored by the Sun’s Ms. Snyder.

A 2,512-word Sunday feature on Elko County’s on-going confrontation with the U.S. Forest Service [see “Elko: Life Under the Federal Thumb”], the piece initially shows promise with clear, engaging writing and provocative quotes. Unfortunately, by the eighth paragraph it becomes apparent to informed readers that Ms. Snyder labors under the main disability often afflicting contemporary establishment journalists.

That eighth paragraph is where Snyder begins uncritically regurgitating the forest service portrayal of the confrontation: “Lurking behind the cowboy banter and postcard innocence is a seething hostility that makes federal workers afraid to live in Elko County.

“How bad is it?” she continues, blissfully happy to uncritically present her story in the forest service’s skewed terms. Does Snyder know how skewed the agency’s account is? Almost certainly not. But the clear presumption by Ms. Snyder is that Elkoans are quaintly courteous yet potentially violent rural rednecks. That presumption alone reveals the rank (if smiling) prejudice with which she approached the story. And not incidentally, it illustrates perhaps the core problem in American journalism today.

Late-’90s establishment journalists are suckers for self-aggrandizing interpretations of events. Huge chunks of reality are routinely—if unconsciously—ignored when they create dissonance with news folks’ own favored political myths of the day. For example, the record on water adjudications in Nevada is massive with federal land agencies’ abuse of power and disregard for state and federal law. But to establishmentarians like Snyder, that record is entirely invisible, since the shibboleths mouthed by the federal agencies are the shibboleths they share.

Probably every newswriter alive has, at times, furtive temptations to actually delve into genuine (gasp) fact-gathering. But such impulses—on many high-valence political issues—can create dissonance within the smug contemporary consensus. And so America today has an entire class of news folk who draw very good pay for not indulging such impulses. Rather, on these questions they learn the satisfactions of condescension, of viewing and publicly painting certain outgroups—especially those dissenting from the political opinions that reign among the news folk—as benighted bumpkins.

In this crafty trade there’s no need to track down the actual facts regarding the history of the South Canyon Road along the Jarbidge River, or whether the USFS has legal authority to do what it is doing. There’s no need to see if the bull trout is actually threatened, to find out who Gloria Flora really is or to check the record on her allegations about personal threats to USFS employees. (Nevada’s U.S. Attorney Kathryn Landreth and Regional Forester Jack Blackwell both say the record does not support the Flora allegations.)

No, let’s skip the stage of mere inquiry and jump directly to our desired conclusions: Those of course have to be that rural Nevadans are misled and the easy-to-phone-up functionaries of the current power-sharing consensus—i.e., the government bureaucrats—are right.

And so Snyder ingenuously obliges. In the end she even drops her mask as a reporter of fact. In the last paragraphs of the article she declaims, oracularly: “The time for revolution and tea parties is past, and county officials would do better by their constituents to make peace with the federal employees who must live in Elko County and manage almost 90 percent of its land.”

Of course informed opinion has its place, and had this story at all attempted to probe the basic questions at issue in Nevada’s and Elko County’s confrontation with the feds, the author’s point of view would have possessed some credibility. As it is, however, it has none. NJ


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