STAFF NEWS & ANALYSIS
Times Article on Forest Fires Shows Why the Mainstream Media Is in Trouble
By Staff News & Analysis - August 11, 2014

Fools at the Fire … In the heat, in the still gloaming, we set up camp near a snowbank across from a glacier and a symphony of waterfalls. North Cascades National Park, a few hours' drive from Seattle, can always be counted on as a compress to the rest of the country's fever. Then, out of the park a few days later, down the valley to the arid east, it seems as if half of Washington State is on fire. Smoke, devastation, ashen orchards of charred fruit, standing dead pines. More than 250,000 acres have burned in the largest fire in the state's history, the Carlton Complex. About 300 homes have been destroyed. A small army of firefighters, at a cost of $50 million so far, is trying to hold the beast in the perimeter, between days when the mercury tops 100 degrees. With this kind of loss comes blame. It's President Obama's fault. Why? Because everything is his fault in the inland West, where ignorance rides the airwaves of talk radio. – New York Times

Dominant Social Theme: People who hate government are ignorant fools.

Free-Market Analysis: When little fires are denied, big ones are inevitable. But this rant in the New York Times doesn't even mention fire suppression. Instead, it tries to make political points and thus inadvertently becomes yet another exhibit in a long line of articles and analyses posted at the Times that seem uninformed, purposefully or not.

Here's more:

Amid the conservative cant, a great irony: People who hate government most are the loudest voices demanding government action to save their homes. Those flares will die down. What can't be so easily dismissed is what the fires say about an emerging American ethos of delaying long-term fixes for our major problems.

Smart foresters had been warning for years that climate change, drought and stress would lead to bigger, longer, hotter wildfires. They offered remedies, some costly, some symbolic. We did nothing. We chose to wait until the fires were burning down our homes, and then demanded instant relief.

We have a Congress that won't legislate, an infrastructure that's collapsing, a climate bomb set to go off. We won't solve the immigration crisis even as desperate children throw themselves in the Rio Grande. Income inequality threatens to make a great democracy into an oligarchy.

The nation that built an interstate highway system, and cleaned up its filthiest rivers and most gasp-inducing air, has become openly hostile to long-term investment or problem-solving, says Paul Roberts in "The Impulse Society — America in the Age of Instant Gratification," a cautionary tale to be published next month.

"We can make great plasma screens and seat warmers and teeth whiteners and apps that will guide you, turn by turn, to the nearest edgy martini bar," writes Roberts. "But when it comes to, say, dealing with climate change, or reforming the financial system, or fixing health care, or some other large-scale problem out in the real world, we have little idea where to start."

As an optimist, I was skeptical of Roberts's master narrative. The Gilded Age was a binge of self-indulgence by the few. The Roaring Twenties were a bathtub gin party that never closed until bounced by the Great Depression. "Greed Is Good" Wall Street ruled the Reagan years and beyond. We survived. Tried to get better. But the wildfires of 2014 provide fresh evidence of Roberts's premise.

… This fall, California will burn. Already, there have been more than 1,300 fires there. And the first seven months of 2014 were the warmest ever for the Golden State. This, at a time of its worst drought in modern memory. When the fires race through that lovely landscape, with all the media attention to the here-and-now but little to the elsewhere-and-future, only a fool will be surprised.

This is the kind of simplistic writing that is gradually reducing the Times to rubble. To write about forest fires without mentioning fedgov policies and misguided efforts at fire prevention do the subject a disservice. The article is making the very kind of political points it is railing against.

To speak of the Roaring Twenties without mentioning that the decade was virtually created by Federal Reserve monetary stimulation is to create an analogy that is not rooted in reality. The author wants to make the point the US body politic – especially the Right Wing – is greedy and simplistic. "Foolish" is his chosen term. But the Roaring Twenties were a product of government action.

Government created the Fed and then those who ran the Fed printed more money than they were allowed to based on the enabling legislation. This was the crime that sparked the Roaring Twenties – not greed or "foolishness" but deliberate monetary inflation that created a terrible asset boom and a horrible bust.

It was, in a sense, the product of a government program. And so are these wildfires, from what we can tell. Contrast the Times article to one that appeared in July entitled, "Dark Legacy of Decades of Fire Suppression is Destroying Washington State Forests by Catastrophic Wildfire!" This article is posted at OpEd News, a media facility that didn't exist before the Internet.

In the past, there would have been no avenue for this article to have been distributed, no way for any rebuttal of the Times article to take place in an easily accessible manner.

Here's an excerpt:

The entire town of Pateros has been evacuated and people told not to return to their homes on Friday due to one of the seven wildfires burning throughout Washington State according to NBC News. These fires have now devastated over 60 square miles of forest and grassland ecosystems in the state.

… Such hazardous conditions are prevented by light natural fires or by prescribed burning. Controlled burning, or prescribed fire, is used to simulate natural fire in such light fire ecosystems where fires can no longer be allowed to burn naturally.

What a sad state of affairs as hundreds of millions of acres of light fire ecosystems are being devastated annually by 120 years of misguided government fire exclusion policies and Smokey the Bear propaganda claiming falsely that forest fires must be suppressed.

What we have now is a widespread culture of fire suppression in the United States and around the world that is very difficult to change into one of good fire management. No matter how much scientific evidence we now have that fire is a necessary part of earth's ecosystems, nothing seems able to counter the decades of past government brainwashing of the public that fire is bad for nature.

Making things even worse is that special interests are now making billions a year in the fire suppression industry. What we need now is not more multi-million dollar tanker planes that only contribute to the debris buildup through fire exclusion.

The author of this article has written a book entitled Fire in Nature, A Fire Activists Guide, and seems to have studied his subject. The New York Times article provides us with no such assurances.

This is the problem that legacy media faces, one encapsulated by these two articles. It is death by a thousand proverbial pinpricks. Each drop of ignorance purveyed by the mainstream is inconsequential itself. But over time these drops join together and create a tidal wave overwhelming the credibility of those producing them.

The Times article strikes us as a good example of the kind of portmanteau meme that we discussed in a recent article entitled, "Portmanteau Memes: A New Media Wrinkle."

In this case, the two dominant social themes being conflated are the efficiency of government and the dangers of global warming.

The article is making the case that government efficiency is being made harder by "fools" who want reduced government services except when they require them. The corollary is that the same group doesn't believe in global warming even though the current devastation in Washington is a result of climate change.

The article takes global warming as a given even though the news today dwells on efforts by warmists to explain a 15 year hiatus in rising temperatures. Global warming is by no means "established science." The Times article also ignores the fundamental cause of modern forest fires and doesn't properly explain the causes of the Roaring Twenties.

A quick survey of search engines shows that federal facilities are now claiming a policy of "controlled burns" and have been since 1995. But not to mention such an incendiary issue in an article on wildfires is to do the reader a disservice. Our hunch is that these burns are not being administered aggressively enough – and an article dealing with these policies would have been an informative one. The Times author is not interested, though.

After Thoughts

In our humble opinion, this article is one of the better examples of why the mainstream media and the Times in particular continue to face an uncertain and even troubled future.

Posted in STAFF NEWS & ANALYSIS
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