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ABC News Program on Idaho Wolves tonight
It turned out to be a most biased program
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Sept. 3, 2002, update Sept. 4, Sept. 9, Sept. 18

"Call of the Wild," an ABC special airs tonight Sept. 3 at 9p.m. MDT (check your listing).

Earlier this year ABC News sent a television crew to Idaho to cover the conflict between wolf reintroduction and ranching to use as a current example of the historic tension between the states and the federal government in the American form of government. The result will be broadcast across the country as the first one hour segment of Peter Jenning's "In Search of America" series.

A lot conservationists talked with these folks. I had an hour interview with them, although my comments weren't used. They also spent a great deal of time talking with rural anti-wolf people and Idaho politicians. Given the blurb (below) I don't hold out much hope for the program, but I hope to be surprised.

I just don't buy the concept that these people suffered any harm from the federal government except a slightly reduced ability to push the rest of us around.  Whether the program sees the anti-wolf view as rural resentment turned into mythology or instead takes it at face value will make the difference.

"An Idaho community resists the power of the federal government in a battle over who controls their land. America is the most powerful country in the world but has always struggled with how to exercise power over its own people."
America's revolutionary generation was deeply fearful of the power of central government. The argument over states' rights versus federal power was the most heated battle among the founding fathers. Even today nearly every politician running for federal office seems to be running "against" Washington.
In Idaho, where mistrust of federal power often runs high, that profound skepticism has turned to anger and fear since the federal government mandated the return of the legendary gray wolf.
Between 1995 and 1997 under the authority of the Endangered Species Act 35 wolves were let loose in Idaho. Now there are at least 250 wolves in the state, and the population is growing. For Idaho's ranchers the reintroduction of wolves is seen as sentimental idiocy that threatens livestock, human beings and their way of life. For conservationists it is the federal government looking to the future and preserving a natural treasure, the government doing what it is supposed to do - protecting the whole nation from the narrow interests of a few."

"In Search of America's" first program was not a search at all. They knew what they wanted from the start. They just needed some video and quotes to go with the script they had already prepared.

The special was not just biased. They lied. Jennings said, "Almost everywhere we went in Idaho, including the state capitol, this was seen as a case of them in Washington versus us."

If this was true why weren't some of these Boise people on camera? Why were all of the anti-wolf sentiments spoken by ranchers far from Boise, or by Ron Gillette who owns a river floating operation in the tiny town of Stanley.

In fact the ABC crew attended the annual wolf conference in Boise, Idaho, sponsored by the USFWS, the Idaho-based Wolf Recovery Foundation and Defenders of Wildlife. I was one of the people interviewed. Over 90 % of the people at the conference supported wolves. About half were from Idaho. Even at the wolf conference, ABC only showed footage of those who spoke against wolves.  In the entire program, they didn't show any Idahoans except politicians, ranchers, wolf managers and one Boise State University political science professor.

They had the gall to film most of the program in the Sawtooth National Recreation Area, an area saved from sub-division by conservationists, not ranchers. It is a scenic but unproductive valley for grazing. The Sawtooth Valley regularly has the coldest temperatures in the state, but it was a pretty backdrop for their anti-conservation theme that Idaho had been subjected to the will of Americans who lived elsewhere.

They dwelt mightily on livestock losses to wolves, and not a word about how few cases they were talking about, nor about the wolf loss compensation program by Defenders of Wildlife. One could have imagined that 50,000 head of livestock were dead. Not a single numerical fact was given except that there were now close to 300 wolves in Idaho.

Finally, after 55 minutes, they quoted one wolf supporter -- Jon Marvel. They did so in an unflattering way, no doubt by choosing the 20 seconds they wanted, after an hour or so of talking with him on camera.

They came to do a hatchet job, and left leaving an axe murder.

Some implications-

People often wonder how accurate the TV news is as it shows and discusses events about which we have no first hand knowledge. When it is something you have first hand knowledge about, and the reporting is this one sided, you have to wonder about what TV tells you of the war on terror, events in the Middle East, or coverage of this year's elections.

In recent years, television has fallen under the domination of huge corporations, and at the very time so many have been guilty of misleading their stockholders. If they mislead those who provide money for their capital investment, would they not mislead viewers? It should also be noted that ABC is owned by the Disney Corporation.

A form to comment on ABC News programs is located at:


or try

or try the Search for America message board


For an in depth look critiquing our corporate filtered news, see FAIR's web site (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting).

9-4-2002. Jon Marvel, executive director of the Western Watersheds Project was the only pro-wolf conservationist who was shown in the special. I thought they made him look harsh by taking a quote out of context. He was trying to explain that ranching in the area is uncompetitive and is disappearing regardless of wolves, or not, and federal subsidies, or not. They can't compete.

At any rate, Marvel did not complain about his treatment, but he did write a letter to the ABC crew. I think it is a good summary of what was well done and what was bad about the program. However, I think Marvel was generous to a fault to the ABC program who used Idaho wolf supporters to locate anti-wolf ranchers so to make their one-sided presentation.

9-9-2002. Lynne Stone of Stanley, Idaho was another wolf-supporter misused by Jennings and crew. Stone is a brave person who has to endure local threats. It's a travesty the Jennings would come and interview the worst and add to the situation.

Stone's comments.

9-11-2002. Peter Jennings got enough mail that he is sending out a form reply.

9-10-2002 Jennings' reply.

9-18-2002. FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting) has put out an action alert. "Peter Jennings Cries Wolf."


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  Copyright 2002 Ralph Maughan

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