I couldn't believe
my eyes at first, but it was true: The New York Times took a final cheap shot at Judi Bari in her own obituary.
"I would describe the NYT obit as trivializing
Judi's work and methods," reporter Nicholas Wilson wrote in an e-mail. "Note the lack of notable details, like Judi's
organizing of the mass protests that put Headwaters
Forest on the map and the national agenda, drawing
thousands last September, or any mention of her
continued involvement with labor or any other issue
Wilson continued: "Note that filing suit against 'the government'
doesn't fully convey what naming the FBI would...
This certainly doesn't give the impression of
a person important enough for the California
Senate to adjourn in recognition of her death."
At his urging I read the March 4 obituary again. Yes, the Times did skirt some of those points, but it also described some of her remarkable achievements. Of the 1990 Redwood Summer protests, NYT writer Jesse McKinley said:
She and other Earth First members, outfitted in
spotted-owl costumes and camouflage, spent weeks
chaining themselves to redwoods and pleading with
loggers to spare the groves. In the process, Ms. Bari,
a confident orator, helped present a coherent message
for a group with a reputation as an overzealous fringe
That section's prominent in the obituary, paragraphs 4 - 6, and when I first read it quickly I found it approving. But viewing it again, I had to agree; intentional or not, the New York Times obituary was heavily slanted.
She called on college students statewide to join the
protests, evoking the civil rights spirit that had been
used in the summer of 1964 to draw student protesters
to the South.
As tensions rose between protesters and loggers, Ms.
Bari became a moderator between the parties. She
emphasized that protests opposed the actions of
corporations, not their employees, and renounced the
use of sabotage methods like "spiking" trees with
10-inch nails to destroy saws, which had seriously
injured at least one millworker.
with the last paragraph shown, and the lovely detail of "10-inch nails... seriously injured at least one millworker," which leaves much to gory imagination. Also note that it implies there were similar lethal "sabotage methods" used by the "overzealous fringe
organization." And consider the timeframe of that paragraph; as written, it appears that Bari called for a cease-fire during Redwood Summer, and only after confrontations with loggers.
That's completely untrue on several points. Bari and Earth First! had renounced spiking before 1990. The millworker was injured prior to Bari's involvement with the group, and it's unknown if the nail was even the responsibility of Earth First! (You can read more about this in the "Targeting Earth First!" section of her interview reprinted in the Monitor.)
By Redwood Summer, spiking was a non-issue to both environmentalists and loggers; the only parties who kept it alive as firebrand were far-right members of the "Wise Use" movement, the timber corporations, and the FBI, all eager to tar Earth First! with the "eco-terrorist" brush.
For a short, 52-word paragraph, that's quite a few errors. But I'd still be inclined to give the Times the benefit of the doubt; mistakes happen, particularly when those writing about the events are a great distance away. That is, I'd overlook that section if other mistakes a couple of paragraphs earlier didn't suggest that the Times indeed wanted to trivialize her.
Wrote the Times, "...She and other Earth First members, outfitted in spotted-owl costumes and camouflage spent weeks chaining themselves to redwoods." Front-loading the sentence with "spotted-owl costumes" makes it seem like it was all a mad or childish lark through the woods -- particularly when in truth, only a single activist had such a costume, and it was worn only during Forestry Board meetings and other public demonstrations.
What rankles most is again the obvious error. Bari wasn't "pleading with
loggers to spare the groves" that summer, in costume or not -- she was fighting for her life. On May 24, the bomb exploded under the front seat of her car, almost killing her.
Why the errors? The New York Times is famous for accuracy, particularly in obituaries; I can't remember the last time I've seen a correction. And Nicholas Wilson says that just the day before this appeared, he faxed a copy of his obituary that appeared in the Monitor at their request. And Bari's older sister,
Gina Kolata, is a prominent writer on the Times staff. It's not like the facts were hard to find.
found herself and Earth First! the target of media half-truths and outright lies. In 1995, she confronted still other tree-spiking rumors reported as fact. Writing in the
Mendocino Environmental Center (MEC) newsletter, Bari said:
Here in timber country, we are used to having our actions ignored or distorted by a hostile corporate press. But the news blackout of our Headwaters actions was stunning, even by the press' usual depraved standards.
One of the worst offenders was the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, a New York Times affiliate and the largest corporate paper on California's north coast. A few days before our rally, just as our mobilization was getting into full swing, the Press Democrat received a call from an anonymous individual falsely claiming that he had spiked the trees in Headwaters. It was easy to prove that the tree spiking report was false, because the scenario described by the caller would have been physically impossible. Maxxam/Pacific Lumber also has a documented history, known to the Press Democrat, of consciously distributing fake EF! press releases designed to make us look like terrorists, as was done just before the bombing in 1990.
Despite all this, the Press Democrat ran a story prominently on page B-1 titled, "Tree Spiking Claimed in Headwaters," in which they repeated the anonymous caller's claims but left out the discrediting details.
Running such an incendiary false story would be bad enough in itself. But it became inexcusable when the Press Democrat also decided to black out the true story of our nonviolent community mobilization. They printed not a word about our demos in the Santa Rosa main edition of their paper, and they buried and understated it in a few brief paragraphs on page B-3 of their north coast edition. Then, for a final insult, when I wrote a letter to the editor complaining about all this, they surgically edited it to limit and tone down my charges against them...
...The shameful dishonesty of the media in covering up news of our actions should remind us that we can't expect the corporate press to tell our story. In order to be successful, our actions must stand on their own without publicity, being directed at the company, not the media. The media will only cover us if they can marginalize us as a novelty, a freak show, or a band of terrorists. The very concept of an empowered community taking collective action to bring about change is too threatening to them. The revolution will not be televised...
Bari had other gripes with the Santa Rosa newspaper. As she described in the section of her interview titled, "News Blackout at the Press Democrat," she found their editors wouldn't print evidence she had obtained from the FBI that contradicted the eco-terrorist spin favored by police and timber companies.
"The Press Democrat wouldn't print the photos," Bari said. "This paper spent more ink saying I bombed myself
probably than any other paper in the region,
and when I came up with the police photos,
they said: 'This isn't a story.'
I had to pay them $2500 for a half page ad
to get them to print the photos at all."
she was attacked, Bari fought back eloquently. She liked to say that if challenged to a duel, her choice of weapons would be words at 10 paces. And the press attacks on her and Earth First! were relentless, and would have worn down a lesser person.
I close this with a reprint of a letter of hers that appeared on the San Francisco Examiner Op-Ed Page, April 21, 1991, along with an introduction she wrote for it, and corrections to show what changes the Examiner made. When you've finished, find her New York Times obituary and read that. And then ask yourself the question that I raised in my last editorial; who do you trust to bring you the news?
My esteem for the Times sank after reading their obituary; bias never has a place in the news, but their review of her life revealed far more about the mean spirits of her enemies than of her personal triumphs.
Jeff Elliott, Editor
Why I Hate The Corporate Press
by Judi Bari
Last Sunday the San Francisco Examiner
printed an Op-Ed article by me in answer to the outrageous "ex-CIA agent"
attack on Earth First! that they ran the week before. Basically the article
came through as I wrote it. But the editors couldn't just let it be. The
made subtle and not-so-subtle changes that brought the words printed under
my byline more in compliance with their own biases. Here is the article,
with the changes marked:
San Francisco Examiner Op-Ed Page, 4/21/1991
'Tabloid attack' on Earth First
By Judi Bari
When I looked at my Sunday paper last week, I thought I had accidentally
picked up the National Enquirer. But no, it really was the Examiner,
running a supermarket tabloid-style article called "Tale of a Plot to
Rid Earth of Humankind."
"It's a strange story," the article begins. And indeed it is. Apparently
an ex-CIA agent claims that Earth First has "small organized clandestine
cells" of highly educated scientists working to develop a virus that will
wipe out the human race while sparing other species.
Not only is this claim preposterous, it is also unsupported by any
evidence. The ex-CIA agent who is the source of the story offers no details
or proof. The best the author of the article can come up with is an anonymous
letter-to-the-editor from a 1984 edition of the Earth First Journal,
carefully excerpted for maximum shock value.
The Examiner does not take responsibility for the views of every
screwball who writes a letter to the editor, and neither does Earth First.
Did the article's author pore over 10 years of tiny print in the journal's
letters column to find this "gem," or did the ex-CIA agent point it out
as his own source?
Lacking evidence to support the "mad-scientist" theory, this article
then goes on to try to discredit Earth First by associating us with violence.
It says Earth First co-founder Dave Foreman is under federal charges of
conspiracy to "blow up" power lines.
This is false. Earth First doesn't advocate use of explosives. It
has never been involved in their use -- except as a target in the car bomb
attempt on my life last year. [I wrote "except as a victim
in a car-bomb assassination attempt on me last year." (Assassinations
are political, attempts on peoples' lives don't have to be.)]
The charges against Foreman stem from a $2 million FBI program to infiltrate
and disrupt Earth First. In May 1989, three people led by admitted FBI
provocateur Michael Fain [I wrote "three people, not including
Foreman, led by admitted FBI provocateur Michael Fain . . ."]
were arrested for supposedly trying to cut down, not blow up, a power-line
tower in Arizona. That was allegedly part of a plot to sabotage lines
from nuclear plants. [I did not write this sentence!!! They inserted
it without my knowledge. I would never say such a thing, because there
was no "plot to sabotage power lines from nuclear plants." That's an
FBI lie, and I don't repeat FBI lies, even with the word "alleged" in
front of them. How dare the Examiner put their words in my Op-Ed.]
Foreman was arrested for conspiracy, but there's no real case against him.
The view of Earth First as isolated and violent flies in the face of
reality. We have actually been in the forefront of the environmental movement,
seeking to protect the Earth from the ravages of this destructive society.
This doesn't mean we want to eliminate humans, but we feel that we must
drastically change the way we live or we will destroy the ecosystems that
support all life.
Who needs a virus to kill humans when the real mad scientists have
given us nuclear holocaust, toxic waste, deforestation, ozone holes and
the greenhouse effect?
The real reason Earth First is being targeted by ex-CIA agents and
FBI provocateurs is that we are effective.
Earth First is involved in a political struggle for logging reform.
[I wrote "Earth First! is involved in a legitimate political
struggle for logging reform."] It was Earth First that identified,
mapped, named and made an issue of Headwaters, which Gov. Wilson now cites
as a top priority for preservation. We brought thousands of nonviolent
demonstrators to the north coast for Redwood Summer last year, and made
a national and international issue of redwood destruction. The forestry
reforms now being proposed by both the timber industry and the mainstream
groups follow our activism.
Several spokespersons for Earth First are based in Northern California.
The Examiner knows us and knows how to get in touch with us. Why
is it buying crackpot articles about us from second-rate news services?
This would be no more than an annoyance if it weren't for the intensity
of the struggle. Tales of secret plots to wipe out humans may sound like
a joke but people in the rural timber-dependent areas are being led deliberately
to believe they're in danger from Earth First. The more marginal we can
be made to appear, the easier it is to incite hatred against us. And, as
I certainly know, this hatred often translates into violence.