Are Good Headlines an Endangered Species?

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Spot-the-insidious-liberal-media-bias is, as a rule, not a game I have much patience for, but since Ron Bailey mentions the proposed amendment to the Endangered Species Act that would compensate landowners when they're effectively told their property is now a wildlife sanctuary, I just want to note that my first exposure to the proposal was through this New York Times story. How might you headline this piece? "Law Would Compensate Owners for Environmental Restrictions"? Or, taking a cue from Ron, "Bill Proposes Paying Owners to Save Species"? Nope, they went with: "House Bill Would Limit U.S. Power to Protect Species." And the lede:

The chairman of the House committee overseeing natural resources introduced a bill Monday that would make it more difficult for the federal government to set aside land it deems crucial to the health of endangered species.

Note also this unsourced tidbit: "the law is credited with preventing the extinction of hundreds of species of insects, plants and animals in the past quarter-century." Credited by whom? Everybody? The Sierra Club? The reporter's aunt Millie? The world may never know.

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  1. I would imagine the reporter lives in NYC, and really, what level of understanding of the issue do you actually expect from that most amusing of creatures, the urban environmentalist?

  2. Cedarburg,

    You can expect them to have a sufficient level of preserving species to the government, and giving the discretion to pay for species preservation people who don’t give a damn about protecting species, will “Limit U.S. Power to Protect Species.”

  3. Oops, that should read “…sufficient level OF UNDERSTANDINT TO REALIZE THAT INCREASING THE COST OF preserving species to the government…”

  4. The headline appears accurate to me.

  5. My point isn’t that the headline (or lede) is literally false, but it’s a tendentious way to present what’s going on.

  6. If you believe any of the nonsense about the Endangered Species Act, I would recommend Penn & Teller’s Bullsh*t….I wouldn’t wipe my ass with the NYT

  7. The most controversial part of the bill, and its biggest legal change, is that it would eliminate the need for “critical habitat” designations, which were part of the original ESA 30 years ago. There are all sorts of programs around that encourage private landowners to conserve wildlife habitat; doing more of that is, well, doing more, but not doing anything differently.

    So, Julian, it’s less tendentious than you think, or so I think.

  8. To save the planet, any cost is worth bearing, provided someone else bears it…

  9. Of course, even some environmentalists question whether the Critical Habitat rules are particularly effective, but “Bill Repeals Full Employement Act for Environmental Lawyers” would also be pretty tendentious.

  10. “I wouldn’t wipe my ass with the NYT”

    Many of the people who read publications like the New York Times read it to reinforce their preexisting opinions. …but there’s another group that likes reading things written by people who may disagree with them.

    There’s another group that doesn’t understand much of what they read anyway. …What they think is a crapshoot, or, rather, it’s determined by other factors.

    I used to read some of the opinion pieces in the Times, and I like the movie and book reviews. I always read the sports section of the Washington Post, but that’s ’cause I’m a D.C. born freak for the ‘Skins. If I was a fan of a New York team, I’d probably read the Times.

    …but there’s no question that the New York Times is biased. I’m more interested in why the people whose minds get blown by bias get so huffy. There’s a newspaper, or newspapers among others, that present the events of the world in a way that’s skewed to a certain world-view–big deal!

  11. Joe,

    Under the current system is it my considered advice as a former environmental law attorney, that if you find endangered species habitat on your land, burn it to the ground before anyone else notices it. Indeed this is exactly what is going on. Landowners and developers understand that endangered species habitat is essentially a death sentence to any plans to use the land, so they act rationally and destroy it before it gets designated. Perhaps, if we paid people fair compensation to maintain habitat, they might have less motivation to destroy the habitat. Make having endangered species habitat profitable and you will get more of it. Continue to make it a legal plague on landowners and you will get less and less of it, until the only habitat that will remain will be on military reservations. Compensating people for habitat is the best thing that could ever happen to endangered species.
    Saving species that way, however, would do nothing to destroy the capitalist system and would indeed strengthen it and might actually allow species to profitably coexist with man. Since these results are entirely inconsistent with the real goals of the environmental movement, their hostility to the idea is to be expected.

  12. Joe, under the current system, people shoot, shovel, and shut up or wreck the habitat before it can get designated.

  13. I worry that selected landowners will lobby for regulatory takings and compensation. Sometimes it is easier to allege that your swampland has high development value rather than it is to actually do the development.

    If the landowner is small and unwealthy, then I doubt she could move politicians to strategically regulate and compensate — on the other hand, if the land is big and coastal — who knows what kind of influence you may have with the party in power.

    In theory (and maybe practice), out and out takings would be subject to similar “lobbying” abuse. However, when the landowner gets to keep the compensation and the land, that sounds like a clearer invitation to play games, to get compensation for stuf you weren’t really going to do anyway.

  14. Oops, I forgot to add that that sort of sagebrush mentality goes unnoticed by many urban dwellers, at least a lot of the ones in my Natural Resources Law class.

    Double oops, John made a similar point about ruining habitats.

  15. Yes, fellas, I was the first one to bring up that point on the ESA thread, below. As a matter of fact, I brought it up as a possible benefit of the proposed bill. Maybe a little less with the assuming everyone who disagrees with you is ignorant.

    And what does that have to do with my comment, anyway?

  16. “Under the current system is it my considered advice as a former environmental law attorney, that if you find endangered species habitat on your land, burn it to the ground before anyone else notices it.”

    This is your professional opinion? Here in California, depending on what you local fish and game people are saying, mitigation can be five to one acres! …Destroy habitat–knowingly or unknowingly–and you could end up owing five times more than your property’s worth! …and that assumes you don’t hear form the Army Corps!

    …Oh, and we haven’t even talked about the potential for criminal penalties. A lot of the fish and game people carry guns and badges and handcuffs, you know? …You know why? …It’s to arrest people.

    …And this is your professional advice?

  17. Tom Crick,

    I agree with your points. I don’t like the Times, because despite all the hype, I don’t think it is a well-written/edited publication past the “A” section, the WSJ is a much better newspaper….Also, anyone in NY who likes sports would never, EVER, look to the NYT for sports…

  18. 16 comments and nothing yet on how the Free Market would save endangered species if just left on its own?

  19. My point isn’t that the headline (or lede) is literally false, but it’s a tendentious way to present what’s going on.

    Oddly, it reminds me of the spin that the White House put on that global warming report. Not entirely incorrect, but definitely with a political angle.

  20. Re: “the law is credited…” Ah, the joys of the passive voice. Saves you from having to explain details like who’s actually doing something! I have heard that there was once a time when writers were enjoined from using the passive voice, but lately it seems like newpaper editors are secretly being instructed to use it in order to sneak things in.

  21. TomCrick,

    thanks. As a Calif atty (not environmental), I really wanted someone to say something about the destroying-the-habitat plan. I have no idea what proportion of owners get caught, but some do and they do get into big trouble.

    side note: I have a vague recollection of a recent thread where John said he had “legal training,” which is sort of a tenditious way to mean ex-lawyer. I wonder whath the real deal is there.

  22. “Since these results are entirely inconsistent with the real goals of the environmental movement…”

    Ooh, I just love it when someone talks about a single monolithic “environmental movement,” then attributes to it eeeeevvviiiillllll intentions. It reflects such an admirable fairness and clarity of thought.

  23. Thus is the main criticism of the “libruh media” and “FAUX news”. Not necessarily the quality of reporting (this article is thorough and fairly well-written), but the nature of headlines, and disproportionate percentage of time/space promoting your “side”.

  24. side note: I have a vague recollection of a recent thread where John said he had “legal training,” which is sort of a tenditious way to mean ex-lawyer. I wonder whath the real deal is there

    My opninion is that John is a lawyer in the same way that Star Jones is a lawyer. They are “lawyers” whenever they want their opinion carry more weight then everyone elses.

  25. “Every day, the New York Times carries a motto in a box on its front page. “All the News That’s Fit to Print,” it says. It’s been saying it for decades, day in and day out. I imagine most readers of the canonical sheet have long ceased to notice this bannered and flaunted symbol of its mental furniture. I myself check every day to make sure that the bright, smug, pompous, idiotic claim is still there. Then I check to make sure that it still irritates me. If I can still exclaim, under my breath, why do they insult me and what do they take me for and what the hell is it supposed to mean unless it’s as obviously complacent and conceited and censorious as it seems to be, then at least I know I still have a pulse. You may wish to choose a more rigorous mental workout but I credit this daily infusion of annoyance with extending my lifespan.”

    -Christopher Hitchens

  26. I like to read the Times opinion pieces too (well, I did until this week) – but I more-or-less stopped reading their front page news when someone there decided that almost every story had to have a racial angle.

  27. 16 comments and nothing yet on how the Free Market would save endangered species if just left on its own?

    Comment by: Danimal at September 23, 2005 12:16 PM

    why is it the job of ‘free markets’ to save species? species have come and gone for the history of our planet , why make it the burden of landowners to stop mother nature?

  28. Danimal says : 16 comments and nothing yet on how the Free Market would save endangered species if just left on its own?

    why is it the job of ‘free markets’ to save species? species have come and gone for the history of our planet , why make it the burden of landowners to stop mother nature?

  29. I like to read the Times opinion pieces too (well, I did until this week) – but I more-or-less stopped reading their front page news when someone there decided that almost every story had to have a racial angle.

  30. Danimal said : 16 comments and nothing yet on how the Free Market would save endangered species if just left on its own?

    Why is it the job of a ‘free market’ to protect endangered species? various species have come and gone for millions of years. why burden property owners with trying to resist ‘mother nature’?

  31. Uh, yeah, the species die-offs that are happening are just Mother Nature taking her course.

    Passanger pigeons? Mother Nature. The dodo? Mother Nature. DDT and lead nearly wiping out the bald eagle? Mother Nature.

  32. Passanger pigeons? Mother Nature. The dodo? Mother Nature. DDT and lead nearly wiping out the bald eagle? Mother Nature.

    If man is part of nature, then man’s actions are part of nature.

  33. “If man is part of nature, then man’s actions are part of nature.”

    …which is not the same as saying that any environmental consequences of our actions can be shrugged off as “mother nature taking her course” and cheerfully ignored.

  34. And if man is only partially part of nature?

  35. Why is it the job of a ‘free market’ to protect endangered species?

    You’re framing the question wrong. How’s this: Assuming that there is some value, or values — scientific, ecological, aesthetic, entertainment, whatever — in species preservation, is it more properly the role of the state, or of markets, to accomplish it? Or is the optimal answer some combination?

    To me, a world without . . . oh, I don’t know, elephants, is less aesthetically and scientifically pleasing than one with them. Therefore, there is value to me in seeing the species preserved. (I realize there aren’t exactly herds of heffalumps thundering across the plains of America. I’m just choosing a species people can generally agree on.)

  36. Why can’t we ever accidentally wipe out mosquitoes? If the environment can do without dodos, surely it can do without mosquitoes.

    What do we want?

    Mosquito genocide!

    When do we want it?

    Now!

  37. No mosquitoes, no mosquito larvae, no fresh water game fish.

  38. On the subject of biasing in headlines:

    This reminds me of one of my favorite news days, when I woke up, looked at CNN.com and saw the headline, “16 Insurgents Killed in Falluja Fighting.” Then on over to the Al Jazeera website, where the exact same fight was described with the headline, “American Forces Admit to Bloodbath in Falluja.”

  39. This is a site which includes lessons and a game for spotting big government bias in news stories:

    http://www.centerforsmallgovernment.com/

  40. joe:

    I’ll take it. Nearly all the tastiest fish are salt swimmers anyway, and the other ones I would eat don’t need mosquito larvae. Trout eat mostly fleas, I know. I would take the trade in a heart beat if I’m only losing something like small mouth bass and crappie.

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