The US livestock industry has enormous economic and political clout. But news reports consistently highlight a small segment of it — ranchers grazing livestock on federally-managed western grasslands — as news sources, granting them undue influence on policy issues in which they have a large economic stake.
This bias has occurred despite a decade’s worth of empirical evidence showing that public-lands ranchers — who rely on hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies but represent only 2.7 percent of the nation’s total livestock operators — fleece US taxpayers, public lands and protected species in order to graze livestock (mostly cattle) on the cheap.
The media bias seems endemic. Whether discussing wild horses, bison, predator species (wolves, coyote, cougars and bears), sage grouse or desert tortoises, livestock operators and lawmakers from western states are consistently allowed to present themselves in news reports as stewards of 230 million acres of grasslands, forest and wildlife habitat that nearly everyone agrees have been compromised. And they do this while suing the federal government to remove wildlife at public expense, block wildlife protections and gain control of federal land. Check out the linked articles and see for yourself.
The federal grazing subsidy gives them the political and environmental power they’re currently exploiting. But the media doesn’t mention it — and the ranchers never bring it up.
A lot of studies have, however, going back quite a few years. Just last month, The Center For Biological Diversity put out a report: Costs and Consequences: The Real Price of Livestock Grazing on America’s Public Lands.
Randi Spivak, Director, Public Lands Program for the Center of Biological Diversity, told me that she sent the report to 100 journalists, both nationally and in Western newsrooms. Only three outlets provided coverage: E&E News (a news bulletin covering energy and environmental policy and markets); the Idaho Mountain Express; and the Sierra Sun Times, Spivak said.
The rest? Radio silence.
For the media, the cowboy myth lives on.
This is Part I of a four-part SourceWatch series on ranchers in the media.
Part II: Sustainable Cowboys or Welfare Ranchers of the American West? (an economic analysis of subsidized public lands ranching; contains reading list of source materials)
Part III: Bad Ranchers, Bad Cows (peer-reviewed study of damage caused by cattle grazing in a national wildlife refuge)
Part IV: Forbes Billionaires Top US Welfare Ranchers List