by David Kopel
Mar. 1, 2003, Rocky Mountain News
The week before last, my old boss from the Independence Institute, Rep. Tom Tancredo, spent five days at the Arizona-Mexico border to promote what I consider to be his all-time worst idea: militarizing the Mexican border. The Denver Post sent a reporter who produced a fair and accurate story.
The Rocky Mountain News (Feb. 22) didn't do so well.
The News wrote that "Tancredo is extremely interested in the Mexican's military's alleged incursions into the United States." The Mexican incursions aren't "alleged"; the United States Border Patrol has documented more than 200 such incursions over the last five years.
Tancredo examined a sheet-metal fence that seals off the border in the town of Naco, Ariz. The fence has apparently succeeded in stopping Mexican drug-runners from driving in and out of town at high speeds. Tancredo said that he would like a fence extended across the entire border. The News reported that a Border Patrol agent worried that a Mexican could jam a shotgun through a gap in the fence's joints and ambush a Border Patrol car driving by. "Tancredo hears the agent out, but waves him off, convinced of the wall's superiority," said the News.
The News story made Tancredo seem obstinately dismissive of a serious danger. The News did not report Tancredo's reasoning: there are observation towers along the fence, and electronic sensors could be added, making it difficult for anyone to lie in wait. Nor did the News report that Tancredo had pointed out a nearby fence consisting of tall steel poles a few inches apart. That fence allowed visibility, thus preventing both ambushes and illegal border crossings.
On Feb. 24, the News did a good history backgrounder and time line on Iraq. But the feature omitted some important events with particular modern relevance. In World War I, the British invaded Iraq, which was then ruled by the Ottoman Empire. Expecting a speedy victory, the British lost 50,000 lives in a four-year campaign against Turkish forces. Early in World War II, Iraq's government tilted toward the Nazis. So the British attacked Iraq again; despite being outnumbered 3-to-1 by the Iraqi army, the British conquered the country in a few weeks.
The Baghdad Stock Exchange is doing great - up 47 percent since August, and up 2 percent in the recent weeks. The News covered the story with an Associated Press article (Feb. 18) quoting the exchange's director: "We aren't afraid of Mr. Bush's threats. The proof is that our people are putting their money here for investment." The AP failed to point out that in Iraq anyone who expresses the slightest public doubt about the government is arrested and tortured. Asia Times (Feb. 21, www.atimes.com ) took the story further, quoting anonymous Iraqis who were economically optimistic because the impending war would (presumably after Saddam's downfall) lead to the end of trade sanctions against Iraq.
The News (Feb. 22) ran a picture of a Palestinian Islamic Jihad member at a rally holding a Quran in one hand and a grenade in the other. The caption for the photo was "A strange pairing." Actually, there's nothing strange about the pairing at all, since there are millions of Muslims who support violent jihad to exterminate people of all other faiths, and to kill non-extremist Muslims.
National Public Radio station KSUT (Ignacio) boasts that it provides "Diverse programming for a multicultural world." But as the Durango Herald (Feb. 7) reported, in a story that was picked up by Fox News, not all kinds of diversity are welcome at KSUT. The station refused to air a commercial from a dentist whose motto is "Gently restoring the health God created."
"Affordable housing" was the subject of a front-page story in the Post, which was continued on a full page on the inside (Feb. 24). Not once in the lengthy editorial-masquerading-as-news did the Post present the position of any skeptic of government price controls or subsidies for housing. Nowhere did anyone explain the viewpoint that "affordable housing" laws result in windfalls for some people, while driving up housing costs for everyone else, including the poor.
Kudos to the News for a fine investigative series on the health and pollution disaster at Mayak, the former Soviet nuclear weapons production facility. But the series' tagline, "Russia's Rocky Flats," was sensationalistic and inappropriate. Compared with Rocky Flats (which has had plenty of problems with environmental compliance), Mayak is orders of magnitude more dangerous. And while Rocky Flats and Mayak did both produce nuclear bombs, the News story acknowledges that Mayak was a near-identical copy not of Rocky Flats, but of the Hanford nuclear facility, in Washington state.
Giving such prominent play to "Russia's Rocky Flats" created unfair guilt-by-verbal-association for Rocky Flats. It would have been just as unfair to describe the Soviet propaganda rag Pravda as "Russia's Rocky Mountain News."