Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Regulating Lies



By Bob Ferris
We have a president who lies (1,2,3).  Part of this is because he constantly feeds himself from a trough of fake news and either lacks the intelligence or principles to sort wheat from chaff.  That is not to say that he does not just lie for his own sake or allegedly help create fake news that benefits him. I am concerned about fake news and this comes to mind today because of rain barrels.  What?

A friend from college recently posted on Facebook about her new rain barrels in drought-plagued California.  A good effort and commendable.  But in the comments thread someone posted a comment cautioning folks in Oregon from capturing rainwater as it might lead to a trip to the pokey.  This caught my attention because I live in Oregon and have three rain barrels.   I also live across the street from someone with roughly 2000 gallons of capacity in their system.  The interesting thing is that our neighbor works for EWEB or the Eugene Water and Electric Board.  In Eugene rain barrels are not only legal, but systems below 5000 gallons are encouraged by the City and larger ones are considered with proper permitting.    


When I posted a link indicating that water collection via rain barrels was not illegal in Oregon, the response was a link from a piece in on the AccuWeather site  that was illustrated by the photo of the rain barrel shown at the top of this piece.



But when you go to the source of this claim and the reason for the jail sentence we see the above illustration of one of the three illegal reservoirs created by the "gentleman" in question.   This is hardly about rain barrels or casual water harvesting.  But here we are with sloppy or misleading reporting taking us unnecessarily to a point of distress, anger or paranoia.  

The commenter on the thread removed his comment and therefore my replies.  I am sorry he did that because this is how these dialogues should go—facts and arguments presented back and forth until resolution is hammered out.  He did nothing wrong posting something that he had every right to believe was truthful and accurate.  It was after all AccuWeather.com not Wearelyingabouttheweather.com.  

This taking of an egregious act and using it to create panic in a community that is not in any way, through scale or practice, subject to these consequences is a classic, anti-regulation tactic.  I am just surprised that the “victim” in question was not more sympathetic—perhaps a blind grandmother with cancer.  (Yes, this latter part is cynical.) . Naomi Klein and others have written much about this tactic.


I do not know whether the AccuWeather piece was sloppy or purposely deceptive, but I am not sure it really matters.  We in the US have become way too accepting of bad journalism in all its many forms including propaganda.  I say this because I have experienced editors and editing where questions are actually raised about accuracy and the agreement between illustrations, headlines and content.  Many are rightfully pointing out that we are living now with the political consequences of our inattention to the quality of journalism.  I think that is true.  We need to do better.  We need to ask more questions and we need to look critically at all that is feed us.  Because a lot of it seems to have passed through a large male bovine before it ever reached us.

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