The Wasatch Behind: no news is good news?
There was an important event at the state capital last week that got almost no news coverage. A rally and news conference was held on Wednesday to protest recent actions by the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.
SUWA is resurrecting a proposal to lock up 9.1 million acres of public lands in Utah as wilderness. That's an area as large as Connecticut, Rhode Island, Delaware, and the District of Columbia combined.
It's disgusting how the news people choose to cover some events and not others. There were reporters at the rally, but I flipped channels and checked newspapers for two or three days after the event and saw almost nothing about it anywhere. I'm sure that if the rally had been sponsored by SUWA to protest ATV riders, it would have been front-page for a week. That's the world we live in. News outlets try to shape pubic opinion and promote political agendas through omissions and distortions.
So for those of you who missed it, I'll do my best to recap the event. In the interests of full disclosure, I should say that I wasn't at the rally, but I've watched a video of it made available through an email by one of the sponsoring organizations, the Utah Shared Access Alliance, of which I am a member.
Several members of the state legislature attended the rally and lent their support. There was a lot of talk about the need to keep our public lands open for multiple uses and not locked up as a wilderness playground for the rich and famous. It was pointed out that Utah would lose billions of dollars of economic benefits if the SUWA proposals were implemented. Gas, oil, coal, and tar sands development would be severely curtailed in this time of war when we are already overly dependent on foreign nations to supply our energy needs. Revenues from school trust lands would be heavily impacted and thousands of jobs lost. There are also issues concerning access for traditional activities like camping, hunting and fishing, livestock grazing and motorized recreation.
Richard Beardall, president of the Americans with Disabilities Access Alliance, spoke about how the SUWA proposals would discriminate against disabled and elderly people by denying them access to public lands. He also spoke about how road closures would have a negative impact on tourism in the state.
But when rally organizers asked for questions from the press, all the reporters wanted to talk about was a letter the legislators had sent to SUWA. It seems that on March 1 of this year, 45 of the 75 members of the Utah House of Representatives signed an official letter asking SUWA for full access to their financial records. They have also suggested that if SUWA doesn't comply within 30 days, they might seek a subpoena from the attorney general. Of course, this is causing much heartburn for the wilderness advocacy group. They call it "malicious."
Not surprisingly, most of the questions asked by the press had more to do with motive than substance. Was the letter timed to coincide with SUWA's new wilderness proposal? Do legislators really have authority to question what SUWA does? Rod Decker from Channel 2 even implied that legislators were simply picking on SUWA.
Talk about fair and balanced.
What the news people didn't want to hear was that the legislators are calling for an investigation of SUWA's finances because two of the organization's top officers, treasurer Mark Ristow, and former trustee Bert Fingerhut, are both serving terms in federal prison for securities fraud. The men made millions by cheating credit union members in two separate scams. The legislators want to know if any of the illegal money was channeled to, or through, SUWA, or if SUWA, as an organization, was used as a front to accommodate illegal activity. A legitimate question in my opinion, and the legislature does have authority to do this. SUWA is a tax subsidized, non-profit outfit.
And I think the reason the anti SUWA rally received so little attention on the evening news is that there's no way to paint SUWA in a positive light on either of these issues. And so, instead of hearing about something that affects everyone who visits the public lands in Utah, we heard about a gorilla at the zoo who needs an operation. Just the kind of first-rate news reporting we've become accustomed to.
Will it ever end?