Sunday, May 29, 2016

Metro centricity in media attitudes about the Newton County hog CAFO

A few days ago I posted here the op-ed I co-authored about the Newton County hog CAFO, which has been the topic of numerous posts over the past three years or so.  Now I want to share two other items regarding the hog CAFO and how the only state-wide newspaper in Arkansas, the Democrat-Gazette, has covered it.  After I submitted my Op-Ed but before the Democrat-Gazette ran it, the editorial board ran this editorial, "About those hog farms" on May 18.  
He says, she says, they all say, over and over again. Isn't this where we came in? This grand but not so glorious hog-tussle has to be the state's longest-running bore. It's been going on since the memory of man runneth not to the contrary, with the usual sides taking their usual positions on the not-so-great Hog Farm Question:

Shall we allow such operations to pollute/enhance the beautiful Buffalo River watershed? Pity the state's poor Pollution Control and Ecology Commission, which is always expected to referee this match that's been in overtime for approximately forever?

"Recent data on hog farm raise dust-up" read the headline in last Sunday's paper, which really ought to be kept in type. For it never seems to go out of date. But here's a way out of this nigh-eternal question: Why not lock both sides up in the same room and let 'em have at it? While the rest of us step out for a beer and never return?

It's a conceit of Cartesian man that science never changes, but the scientists certainly do. And despite their reputation for impartial analysis, they can get mighty personal about it, with one school taking on its opposite or maybe all comers. Who needs it? It's all as useful as hogwash.
Needless to say, I was not impressed.  What?  the only statewide newspaper punts on the science?  I guess they are also climate change deniers.  A colleague who is a journalism professional said--after I forwarded this to her for her assessment--that she thought she was reading satire until she was well into it.  For me, the real clincher on that point is the flippant suggestion that a 6500-hog industrial farm might "enhance" the Buffalo River.

In any event, I kept my mouth shut until I was able to get my own op-ed published (might the editors have run their absurd editorial in order to undermine my op-ed, which they had already decided to publish a few days later) but then was delighted to see this Letter to the Editor respond to the Democrat-Gazette editorial.  It is from Gordon Watkins of Parthenon, which is in Newton County, Arkansas, home to the infamous hog CAFO:
It's well-known that journalists are trained to be skeptical, but two recent editorials about the hog factory in Mount Judea reveal a flippancy and lack of sensitivity that does not serve the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette well.

"About those hog farms" and "No more hog farms" bemoan the ongoing controversy about the risk to our Natural State's most iconic natural treasure, the Buffalo River, characterizing further discussion about impending pollution as tedious, boring, and useless. It would almost seem that the editorial writers have not visited the Buffalo and lack an understanding of its importance to our distant corner of the state.
If more local landmarks like the Clinton Library, Oaklawn, or Riverfront Park were under threat of destruction, would they be so glib and insensitive? If Central High was on a path to be condemned to the wrecking ball, would they be so dismissive?

At some point, we all will feel a threat to someone or something we hold precious, and that threat will be real and palpable, and perhaps ongoing. In those moments, imagine hearing the words uttered by the Democrat-Gazette--"we're sick and tired of the whole subject, distraction and sideshow. Enough!"--and you get a sense of how callous, disappointing and even childish this position is from our state's most prominent newspaper.
The Letter ran under the heading, "Disappointing stance," and ran on March 23, 2016, the same day that my op-ed ran.

One of my favorite aspects of the Letter is that it essentially calls out the Democrat-Gazette for its metro-centricity--the Clinton Library, Little Rock Central High, and Waterfront Park all matter because they are in "the city," but the Buffalo River doesn't because it's in the rural northwest part of the state, what Watkins calls a "distant corner."  Disappointing, indeed.  

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