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December 5, 2014

This critique has been updated 11 times, most recently on July 1, 2017. Click here to jump to that update.

A PolitiFactoid.com Critique of...

California Bans Coyote Killing Contests

as reported by Nathan Rott, NPR Morning Edition, December 4, 2014
(click here for the story at NPR.org)

This story follows the classic NPR model of selecting an issue that left-wingers either like or don't like, and then writing a story about it to draw public attention to the issue, with emphasis on the aspect that left-wingers either like or don't like. NPR uses this model repeatedly. This story is a good illustration of how it works. See PolitiFactoid.com's critique below, which appears as dark blue, indented type, embedded in excerpts from the story.

Story intro, read by Morning Edition host Steve Inskeep:
Some people profit from hunting coyotes. They take part in coyote hunting derbies, in fact. Hunters compete to kill the most or the biggest coyotes for prizes. Now California is moving to ban those derbies, the first statewide ban of its kind in the United States. NPR's Nathan Rott reports.

Good Lord – someone is turning a profit from hunting coyotes?? We can't have anyone profiting from anything, especially if it involves animals or guns. This horror about profit is the very first idea in the lede. Way to go, NPR. Use every opportunity to turn "profit" into a dirty word.

Nathan Rott:
We should start by saying that hunting contests for prizes are not unique to California or the west. Frenchville, Pennsylvania, saw 4,000 hunters sign up for its 22nd annual coyote hunt earlier this year. Florida has its Python Challenge, and Texas, its Big Nasty Hog Contest...

Rott goofs-up right away with an error of fact. Florida's Python Challenge is not an ongoing event, even though Rott makes it sound like one. The state only had one Python Challenge. It was held in 2013 and the state reportedly has no intention of holding another. (Source: UPI.)

So, it's erroneous to say that "Florida has its Python Challenge." Not only that, but Rott fails to mention that the Python Challenge was not intended for fun or profit. It was created by the State of Florida to bring public attention to a very serious problem about this invasive species (pythons) doing irreparable damage to Florida's natural ecosystem. (See Updates #1 and #1a below.)

Rott (cont.):
All of those events are legal, and all have opposition. Camilla Fox is a founder of Project Coyote, an animal rights group based in San Francisco.

Camilla Fox sound bite #1:
Killing a sentient creature for the purpose of a contest, derby, or tournament, for essentially fun and prizes – there's something that's just very fundamentally wrong about that.

That's why her group petitioned California's Fish and Game Commission to put an end to the practice here, a plea that became reality yesterday when the commission voted to ban giving prizes in hunting contests for non-game species. Fox says it's the first such ban in the country and not, she hopes, the last.

Note how Rott's phrasing affirms Fox's assertion that derbies are "fundamentally wrong" by citing it as the cause of her group's actions. Rott did not say that Fox's belief  that derbies are "fundamentally wrong" caused her group's actions, which is what he should have done. Instead, that alleged wrong-ness is assumed to be true, and it was the wrong-ness that led to the actions, not the belief  of the wrong-ness.

Fox sound bite #2:
We're at a place, just as we have – as a nation – banned cockfighting and dog fighting, I do think that we will see an end to wildlife-killing contests.

Rott makes a couple of choices here:

  1. First, he chose to subject us to this incindiary quote from Fox that puts coyote derbies in the same category as cockfighting and dog fighting. That notion is ridiculous on its face. Cockfighting and dog fighting are universially recognized (at least in this country) as exceedingly cruel and inhumane. Hunting is not viewed like that, in any way, shape, or form, except by the more wacko factions of the animal-rights crowd. Rott did not have to include this outrageous sound bite that unfairly criticizes the derbies – he chose to.
  2. His next choice was to let Fox's silly, yet damaging, analogy go unchallenged, i.e. he offered nothing in his report to counterbalance this invalid and inflammatory claim.

Both of these choices by Rott provide support to the anti-derby side of the story. And, when easily-misled persons hear things like this in the mainstream media, they start thinking that way, to some degree. Commentators use that phenomenon in news reports to issue prophecies they hope will become self-fulfilling. It's hard to imagine that Rott and his NPR editors don't know that.

Curtis Wright sound bite:
They make it sound like we're just a bunch of rednecks running out there with guns killing everything, but that's far from the truth. We're more of a population control or balance control for predators.

Here is where Rott makes a token effort to give some time to the other side of the argument. I'm sure Rott had a number of different sound bites from Wright (a derby defender) that he could have put in this story, yet he chose this one, and only  this one.

This sound bite creates an image in listeners' minds of rednecks at coyote derbies running around with guns, killing everything. Even if Wright follows-up that image by stating it's far from the truth, the image has already been created, and it lingers. Surely Rott knows that.

The point about population control is mostly lost because of that lingering image. In this way, Wright's sound bite does little to defend the derbies, even though Rott is supposed to present both sides of the issue on an even and fair basis. And, don't forget – Rott chose to use this sound bite.

That's Curtis Wright, an avid coyote hunter in Southern California. He says coyote populations need to be controlled. They kill livestock, game, and pets. Hunting derbies accomplish that, free of taxpayer money...

Contrast the way Rott follows-up Wright's sound bite with the way he handled Fox's. Rott includes, "He says," before listing Wright's assertions about population control and its benefits. By doing so, Rott points out that these assertions are Wright's opinion, which means they might or might not be fact. He treated Fox's view about derbies being "fundamentally wrong" as a fact, without framing it as her opinion.

Rott (cont.):
Not all sportsmen support the practice, though. Carlos Garcia has shot scores of coyotes on ranches in Northern California, he says, when there was a reason to.

Carlos Garcia sound bite #1:
I consider myself a hunter. I don't consider myself a killer. These contests are more along the lines of killing.

Newsflash for Garcia and NPR listeners: If you've shot scores of coyotes, then you're a killer. Whether you kill a coyote during a derby or on your own, you're a killer. There's really no two ways about that. I'm not sure why Rott included this distinction-without-a-difference in his story, unless he was simply trying to make derbies look bad by describing them as "killing" instead of "hunting." Even the headline describes the derbies as "killing," not hunting. Rott also mentions that Garcia has killed coyotes "when there was a reason to," implying that participation in a coyote derby equates to killing without a reason.

He does think they serve a purpose in controlling populations, but...

Garcia sound bite #2:
They put us in a bad light, ya know, and there's other ways to go about it.

After giving token coverage to the pro-derby side of the story, Rott has quickly moved back to the anti-derby perspective. With Garcia, Rott seems to have specifically sought another stakeholder to provide information that directly attacks assertions made by Wright. Rott even briefly restates Wright's point about population control and follows it with a "but" that weakens the pro-derby argument and mentions the existence of alternatives to accomplish the same goal.

For some reason, Rott decided not to tell us what those "other ways to go about it" are, which means we're just supposed to trust him. Presumably, those other ways are just as effective or even better than the derbies, without being so horrible as the derbies. Just trust him on that. (That last part was sarcasm, in case you weren't sure. But, seriously, why would Rott mention "other ways" but say nothing about what they are? Keep reading.)

Hunters can still kill coyotes in California. And hunting contests are still going to happen in other parts of the country, that is unless other states copy California's change. Nathan Rott, NPR News.

In wrapping up his story, Rott uses a classic NPR technique, which is to tell listeners that this horrible thing covered in the story will continue... unless someone does something about it. In this case, these horrible derbies will continue across the country, unless other states start banning them the way California has. Rott and other NPR reporters may as well say, "Hint, hint" whenever they employ this technique, because that's what they're doing with it.

To conclude this critique, let's go back to the story's lede, which spoke about profiting from coyote derbies. That's how the story started, but Rott never went back to that notion about "profit." Maybe that's because the "profit" angle brings in a dose of reality that's missing from Rott's story.

Here's what I mean: Suppose there's an area in California with a coyote problem. (By the way, there are dozens of stories and articles out there about trouble with coyote overpopulation. Use your favorite search engine to find them.) This hypothetical area in California with the coyote problem needs to be rid of harmful numbers of coyotes, which tend to kill livestock, game, and pets. You need hunters who are willing to spend time, energy, and ammunition killing coyotes.

How can you get them to do that? You could seek them out on an individual basis and hire them one at a time. However, that would be very inefficient, expensive, and time-consuming, and it's not likely to produce the desired result. A much more expedient, efficient, and cost-effective way would be to hold a derby and invite hunters to participate in order to win prize money.

Makes much more sense that way, doesn't it? Of course, it does. But, thanks to "Project Coyote," you can't do that in California anymore. Rott's story heavily depicts the coyote derbies as "essentially fun and prizes," which is how Fox described them. The story mentions, yet downplays, population control without going anywhere near reflecting the true reality about coyote overpopulation and how the derbies help control that problem. Is that because reflecting reality would disrupt the left-wing narrative?



UPDATE #1: (Jan 9, 2015) Florida officials have announced that they are now offering to train Floridians to humanely capture pythons instead of holding Python Challenges.

UPDATE #1a: (Aug 9, 2015) About 8 months after NPR aired this story, Florida officials reversed course by announcing that a second Python Challenge will be held in late January 2016. No word about why they changed their minds. Still, when Rott's story was written, the official position of the state was that the 2013 Python Challenge would not be repeated. So, this newest announcement does not get Rott off the hook.

UPDATE #2: (Jan 10, 2015) This is a tangential part of the critique, but I thought readers might be interested to know that the coyote advocates are very far from being satisfied with California's ban on coyote derbies. Barely one month has passed since derbies were banned, and coyote advocates have already moved on to what was probably their true objective all along – a total ban on all coyote hunting of any type in California. Click here to read about it.

I wonder when NPR will do a story about how left-wing activists are never happy when they get what they ask for, because there will always be some other, ever-expansive, left-wing objective that comes next, for which their previous victory was merely a stepping stone. That would be a very informative and revealing story for NPR to tackle... However, if you're complicit in that sort of behavior, I guess you're not likely to write a news story about it.

UPDATE #3: (April 27, 2015) Coyotes are invading the New York City financial district! Click here for a CBS report about it.

UPDATE #4: (July 22, 2015) Click here for a story from 2010 about coyotes attacking children in a New York City suburb.

UPDATE #5: (Aug 5, 2015) Yesterday, NPR aired another story about coyotes that focused on efforts to track the movement and behavior of "urban coyotes" in and around the Los Angeles area. In the story's intro, Morning Edition  host Renee Montagne says the following: "All over America, coyote populations have exploded. The wily Western predators have spread east and can be spotted in New York, Detroit, Atlanta, and other cities." However, Montagne and NPR failed to point out the irony of California's decision in December 2014 to ban efforts to control coyote populations while the nation is experiencing a coyote population explosion.

UPDATE #6: (Nov 30, 2015) Today I saw a news report about the most incredibly horrific coyote incident that anyone could ever imagine. This news was so horrible and terrifying that it might begin drawing attention to the coyote overpopulation problem. What made this story so horrible? It involved the merciless killing of someone's poor little household pet. For some people, that's probably the only horror that could possibly generate any concern about the coyote problem.

It seems a family in California (oh, the irony) witnessed a coyote making a hasty retreat from the family's home with a screeching chihuahua (a family pet named Eloise) clamped in its jaws. The pup was never seen again and almost certainly became a coyote snack. There was no mention in the story about how California's ban on coyote derbies nearly one year earlier could have contributed to the demise of Eloise, since the ban hampers efforts to control rampant coyote overpopulation in California. If anyone hears about NPR running a follow-up story about coyotes, especially one dealing with Eloise, please let me know.

UPDATE #7: (April 7, 2016) Today I encountered news about a product called the CoyoteVest being manufactured and marketed by a couple whose little dog Buffy was attacked and killed by a coyote in California (of course) in 2014. It seems that the threat to family pets from rampant coyote overpopulation has become such a problem that it's now fueling the need for products to defend pets from being attacked and killed by coyotes. The product and the story behind it have been covered by 17 different media outlets, according to the CoyoteVest web site, yet NPR is not among them, for some reason.

UPDATE #8: (July 26, 2016) Coyotes are not the only canine predators whose growing population is threatening livestock, pets, and people, as well as the ranching industry overall. See this story at The Pew Charitable Trusts, describing a disturbing situation with gray wolves in several western states. When wolves hunt and harass livestock, not only are livestock killed, but the ones that survive tend to reproduce in significantly lower numbers, which can drastically reduce a rancher's profitability.

The gray wolf has been listed as an endangered species for many years by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, but, due to rebounding populations, gray wolves have been de-listed in Montana and Idaho and in parts of Washington, Oregon, and Utah. In Montana and Idaho, gray wolves may be hunted by private citizens under tight restrictions. In the de-listed parts of Washington, Oregon, and Utah, state governments may eliminate wolves that prove to be a menace to livestock, dogs, or people.

Quick Sidebar: In 2011, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determined that gray wolves were no longer endangered in Wyoming and decided to de-list gray wolves in that state, but a U.S. district court judge put a stop to the Wyoming de-listing after "conservationists" filed a lawsuit. That ruling is still under appeal. (Note: See Update #10, below.)

In Idaho, a "predator derby" was held in 2014, similar to the coyote derbies that are now banned in California due to the efforts of Project Coyote. Guess which group now has its sights on Idaho's predator derbies. Yes, you guessed it – Project Coyote, according to Reuters. Since the group is expanding its scope, perhaps it will soon change its name to "Project Canine Predator" and maybe eventually to "Project Animal."

I'm sure of one thing – Project Coyote and its sympathizers will probably not stop expanding their horizons until they've managed to end all hunting everywhere on the planet, aided by their friends at NPR and other mainstream news outlets. Then they'll move on to some other left-wing mission, again aided by NPR, etc., which could be something like a quest to save vegetables such as peas and carrots from the cruelty of being cultivated, harvested, cooked, and eaten. Then the group can change its name to "Project Non-human Organism." (Note: See Update #11, below.)

UPDATE #9: (August 25, 2016) Today, The Washington Post gave us even more news about the worsening wolf situation in western states. Officials in Washington state are now planning to kill every wolf in an 11-member pack after a string of cattle attacks that started last month. This will be the second such action taken by the state in the past four years.

In 2012, an official indicated that the state did not want to kill-off another wolfpack because the "social acceptance is just not there." Nineteen confirmed wolfpacks make their homes in Washington state, according to the Post. The article did not indicate whether Project Coyote (or whatever it might have changed its name to) has started protesting or lobbying government officials to halt the wolfpack's extermination. Only time will tell. However, other animal advocates are outraged, according to WRAL News, and these wolf advocates blame the problem on the cattle because cows have no business getting in the wolves' way.

I'm also waiting with bated breath for NPR's Nathan Rott to report negatively on Washington state's extermination decision and to find a rancher in the state who opposes the killings because "there's better ways to go about it."

UPDATE #10: (March 4, 2017) Yesterday, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia overturned the lower court's ruling in the Wyoming lawsuit (mentioned in Update #8). The appellate court ruled in favor of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's decision to de-list wolves in Wyoming. So, we're right back where we started, and the whole process only took six years and who knows how many of your tax dollars! And, it's not over yet because the "conservationists" could still demand further appeals, thereby wasting even more of your tax dollars. Hooray!

UPDATE #11: (July 1, 2017) Today I noticed that the insightful host of the game show Wheel of Fortune agrees with the tongue-in-cheek sentiment I expressed nearly one year ago in Update #8 (above), which was the notion that left-wing animal rights groups like Project Coyote are likely to expand into plants rights before long. See Pat Sajak's Twitter post on April 4, 2017, in which he predicts that such a movement is only five to ten years away. Yes, he's probably just making a funny, but the reason it's funny is because it's within the realm of possibility.


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