Animal Advocacy, the Media, and Democracy

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Animal Advocacy, the Media, and Democracy

By Susan Gordon
30 Jul 2009

Will mourning for Walter Cronkite also encompass mourning for the no-longer-extant professional journalism by the mainstream press -- the consummate journalism of Cronkite and Edward R. Murrow?

Instead of Cronkite's Vietnam commentary and Murrow's exposes of villains in high places, we have media as the mouthpiece of corporate power (and corporate-controlled government). Obligation to the truth and loyalty to citizens be damned.

Case in point is the mainstream media's cheerleading for every self-serving pronouncement from state and federal hunting agencies. Despite the fanciful titles (such as Connecticut's Department of Environmental Protection, Wildlife Division), these agencies' sole raison d'être is to produce live targets. No hunting, no game agency salaries.

No matter that hunting creates or exacerbates every situation for which it is pushed as the only solution.

This bamboozling of the public is financed and orchestrated by the weapons industry and gun lobby. The only power that the latter actually has is that ceded to them by fainthearted, servile politicians.

Media scrutiny of this alliance of scoundrels has left the room. Promoting the dishonorable is not sufficient; the accompanying strategy is to malign the courageous who take on the hunting industry goliath.

Hence, the Connecticut Post's editorial, "Advocates for deer must use restraint" (7/24/09), in which attempts to educate the Fairfield Conservation [sic] Committee by a venerable, 52-year-old animal advocacy organization was labeled "a disturbing dust-up brought on by the antics of a group calling itself Friends of Animals [FoA]."

The editorial damns FoA with faint praise: they are "well-intentioned" and "persuasive as some of their data is"¦" Where then is the journalistic follow-up on how this persuasive data indicts the dissipated, wobbly justification for hunting?

With the disappearance of investigative journalism, the lofty job of informing the public is left to activists. Here then is what the Connecticut Post should have revealed.

Hunting does not lessen the incidence of Lyme disease, since deer do not cause Lyme disease. Hunting may actually increase it. Ticks congregate in higher densities on the remaining deer or they seek alternate hosts.

Deer are not carriers of Lyme disease; the main carrier/transmitter of Lyme disease is the white-footed mouse (whose populations increase in forest fragmented by human overdevelopment). Deer, like humans, are simply one of the host species who provide a blood meal to the ticks.

The ticks can be found on 49 bird and at least 30 mammal species. It is biological folly to kill deer while inviting birds into our backyards with feeders.

These alternate hosts have more food and cover after a deer slaughter, and therefore will increase their numbers -- providing more hosts for ticks.

Increases to white-footed mouse populations directly affect the number of infected ticks in an area. When deer are killed, the ticks will then feed mostly on mice, increasing their chances of becoming infected.

Since mice, not deer, are the cause of Lyme transmission, lowering the deer density does not lessen the incidence of Lyme disease.

By hunting season, most of the ticks have already dropped off the deer to lay eggs, anyway. And the decrease in deer numbers from a slaughter is temporary -- there is not a single instance where hunting has not either increased deer breeding capacity or kept it at high levels. Game agencies count on this, to create more victims for hunters.

As a sufferer, for 20 years, of chronic Lyme disease, I abrogate, in perpetuity, any attempt to use myself as justification for hunting.

The Connecticut Post does not stop at blaming deer for a disease exacerbated by human activities. It also blames deer-car accidents on deer, rather than laying this at the feet of the responsible species -- again, humans. Aside from people driving too fast or driving while distracted or drowsy, deer-car accidents are caused by hunting itself, as terrified animals flee their killers and run onto roads. Transportation agencies, body shops and auto insurance companies document that deer-car collisions increase as much as five times on the first day of the killing season.

In 1975, CBS aired an expose of hunting, "The Guns of Autumn." The backlash, from every

"Deliverance" aspirant who could string two words together, was taken up by the NRA's media handmaids. At the time, historian Garry Wills, commenting on how all but one brave sponsor had pulled their ads, said, "There is something deeply "¦ pathological about the gunmen's fear that they will be deprived of their weapons."

Despite the fact that CBS aired, three weeks later, a follow-up about the controversy that erupted after the expose, giving the killers equal time to defend their hobby, Michigan hunters sued CBS for defamation. It took five years for a federal district court to find in favor of CBS (a decision later affirmed by the 6th District Court of Appeals).

When profit, government machinations, and perverse pleasure are allied, an independent media is most needed. The organized whining, bolstered by hunting industry dollars, was a sucker punch to daring journalism (and to the democracy that cannot flourish without it) -- there has not been a comparable, mainstream media expose of blood sports in the past 34 years.

That journalistic titan with whom this piece began, Walter Cronkite, said, "The perils of duck hunting are great -- especially for the duck."

And that's the way it is.


Susan Gordon is a family social worker and board member of the New Jersey Animal Rights Alliance.