The recent television story that appeared on Arizona Public Media (AZPM) about the Center for Biological Diversity is so slanted and even dishonest that it is tantamount to an infomercial for the center. There are several reasons for this.
First, the reporter, Vanessa Barchfield (who is identified in her AZPM profile as a “reporter/producer”) never questions why the claims and assertions made by the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) should be believed, given that the organization was found by a jury to have promulgated and disseminated a malicious lie in defaming Jim Chilton, an Arizona rancher.
In 2005, a jury found CBD defamed Chilton by publishing defamatory information and making defamatory statements about alleged ecological damage caused by Chilton’s cattle. In reality, as the jury found, the evidence cited by CBD was bogus, false, misleading, and CBD knew this, which rose to the level of defamation. Due to the jury verdict, which was affirmed on appeal to the Arizona Court of Appeals in 2006, Chilton was awarded $600,000 in actual and punitive damages. CBD’s appeal to the Arizona Supreme Court in 2007 was denied. CBD’s defamation of Jim Chilton was no mere accident or oversight: it was done knowingly over the course of five years, from the initial publication in 2002 to appeal to the Arizona Supreme Court in 2007. Furthermore, CBD has never apologized or showed any contrition.
Why Not Ask the Right Questions?
All of this would seem to raise serious questions for any curious reporter about the Center for Biological Diversity’s accuracy, honesty, integrity and ability to be truthful. Yet, Ms. Barchfield did not pose one simple question to the three members of the Center for Biological Diversity interviewed: why should what they are saying now be believed when the Center for Biological Diversity was found previously to have lied?
In particular, why did Ms. Barchfield not ask questions about CBD lying to Kieran Suckling, one of the group’s co-founders, whose words take up approximately 3:22 of the AZPM story, which constitutes 23% of the story’s entire duration? Suckling was one of the defendants who was called to testify at the Chilton defamation trial in 2005. In addition, Suckling never took any responsibility or apologized for his role in promulgating and spreading a malicious lie. Yet no mention is made of this in the AZPM story, and no questions are posed by Ms. Barchfield to Suckling about the role he and his organization played in lying about Jim Chilton.
Second, of the story’s 14:40 minutes, only 3:20 were spent interviewing people critical of the Center for Biological Diversity; Jim and Sue Chilton. This is not surprising, because the Ms. Barchfield was in such a rush to interview the Chiltons. She initially claimed not to have time to visit any of the sites on the ranch that were key in the defamation trial, and she even refused Sue Chilton’s offer to make lunch for her and her crew. Jim and Sue Chilton have hosted over 100 reporters and crew from around the United States and world, who are mostly interested in the Chilton’s perspective on the U.S.-Mexico border, which borders their ranch for fourteen miles. Jim and Sue pride themselves on their hospitality (they have had the scores of media spend the night and eat meals at their ranch), and are deeply committed to educating the public, through the media, about issues they face.
Facts Matter Unless They Don’t Fit the Narrative
Despite Ms. Barchfield’s rush to interview the Chiltons only after Jim gently cajoled her, did she and her camera crew visit one of the sites where the Center for Biological Diversity purposely took misleading photographs in order to allege ecological damage due to grazing by the Chilton’s cattle. This and other photographs were key to proving CBD defamed Jim Chilton. The reluctance of Ms. Barchfield to spend much time with the Chiltons, and especially to see first-hand evidence of how the Center for Biological Diversity lied until she was prevailed upon by Jim Chilton, is troubling. At best, it suggests Ms. Barchfield had already decided her story’s conclusions before visiting the Chiltons and that interviewing them was done to provide plausible deniability to any potential claim of biased and slanted reporting.
Third, the issue with which Jim and Sue Chilton take issue is that their interview is sandwiched between interviews with staff of the Center for Biological Diversity. By doing so, Ms. Barchfield diminishes the significance of the defamation case, as well as other points made by the Chiltons, such as Jim’s focus on the need for jobs to sustain rural Arizona and Sue’s point about CBD tactic of using endangered species to stop human activity. After the story’s 3 minute 20 second segment on the Chiltons, Ms. Barchfield does not then follow-up by querying CBD staff about defaming Jim Chilton.
Fourth, the possibility Ms. Barchfield had already decided the story’s conclusion prior to reporting it is reinforced by how people interviewed are portrayed. The three staff with the Center for Biological Diversity are depicted as soft-spoken and thoughtful.
Fifth, Ms. Barchfield’s bias in favor of the Center for Biological Diversity also shines through in the misleading portrayal of the Southwestern Communities Coalition. She states the coalition is “a group advocating for The Villages at Vigneto, a large housing development outside of Benson, Arizona.” Ms. Barchfield chose to omit key information, specifically that the Southwestern Communities Coalition advocates for far more than The Villages at Vigneto. Had Ms. Barchfield bothered to look at the coalition’s website, or interview Brian Seasholes, the coalition’s Executive Director and only full-time employee, then she would have gained a fuller view of the coalition, including that it advocates for sound conservation of natural resources. Or perhaps Ms. Barchfield would have discovered that Brian Seasholes testified before Congress on September 24, 2019 about how endangered species conservation can be more effective; something he has written about extensively. Instead, the short shrift given to the coalition by Ms. Barchfield is yet another indication of her biased and slanted reporting.
Sixth, the final 50 seconds of the AZPM story consists of a monologue by Kieran Suckling that lays bare Ms. Barchfield’s and AZPM’s bias in favor of the Center for Biological Diversity. These are the story’s concluding words, as spoken by Suckling: “The best solace is activism, and if you feel bad, if you feel depressed, get up, do something. Take an action: you’re going to feel better; you’re going to feel energized; and it’s what the world needs. And that’s been pretty much our motto from day one.”
It is entirely fitting and appropriate the AZPM story ends with these words, because by choosing to do so Vanessa Barchfield’s agenda is laid bare. These words alone are essentially a free television advertisement for the Center for Biological Diversity. When the rest of the story’s slanted reporting is added in, the result is essentially a 14 minute and 40 second infomercial for the Center for Biological Diversity. Vanessa Barchfield and editors at AZPM should be ashamed of their advocacy masquerading as journalism. At least their shameless agenda is plain for all to witness.