All dirty tricksters know about the indelible damage wrought by making false accusations. Our trickster-in-chief is a master at it. As the predominant “birther,” he falsely accused his predecessor of being an alien and therefore illegitimate as a president. He falsely accused his opponent in the last election, “crooked Hilary,” of being a criminal. And he freely and falsely accuses news outlets, and fundamentally the whole journalistic community, of being lying swine and purveyors of “fake news” who are out to get him. And it’s not just the trickster-in-chief, but his whole political party.
The “fake news” accusation is a demoralizer. It has tainted an entire industry. Without trustworthy sources of information, the optimism that is needed to oppose dangerous policies and propaganda absurdities often fizzles out.
But accusations of “fake news” don’t seem to have taken hold as a universal condemnation when it comes to local news, thanks be to the powers of sanity. New Mexicans are rich with local and regional journalistic and analytical talent.
When Governor Susana Martinez last week, for instance, failed to sign a bill that would reinstate tax incentives for purchasing solar equipment, she contributed in a deeply disturbing way to a potentially lethal intensification of climate change and should never be allowed to forget it. I learned about this by reading Laura Paskus’ regular assessment of environmental news in New Mexico Political Report. It’s a superb and necessary resource.
When I needed a deep dive into the complexities of fracking around Chaco Canyon, home of one of the world’s greatest archaeological sites, I turned to High Country News (HCN) out of Paonia, Colorado and found the definitive piece on the subject to date by Jonathan Thompson in the March 5 edition, “Drilling Chaco.” HCN has a long and rich tradition of meaningful journalism about the environment in the West. And under new editor Brian Calvert it’s gotten sharper and more useful than ever.
I recently continued my research into nuclear fallout from atmospheric testing around the world and upwind of us in Nevada, and from hundreds, if not thousands, of very small radioactive above-ground blasts of plutonium and polonium at Los Alamos over the years, as well as the health impacts, especially cancer risks, of careless hazardous waste disposal. In that research I turned to another great job of reporting that was conceived and compiled in Santa Fe at the School for Advanced Research in 2007 called “Half-Lives and Half-Truths: Confronting the Radioactive Legacies of the Cold War,” edited by Barbara Rose Johnson. This 326-page book turns out to be the “bible of the sport,” as they say. It’s the best and most thorough resource on the subject that I know of.
If being in the dark leads to feelings of helplessness and pessimism, especially in a world of crazy fast, swirling change like our own, aggressive and trustworthy sources of information can be powerful antidotes that can lead to a sense of empowerment and even optimism — if not about the future, then at least about one’s own capacity to make sense of what’s going on in the world. Activism requires that we become autodidacts, self-taught experts, steeped in updated, verifiable news. The first thing would-be autocrats try to do is pinch off information, bury it alive under bureaucratic red tape or snuff it out with secret police terrorism. In an information age like our own, there’s no excuse for any of us to be in the dark for long about virtually any topic that has our attention. And the place to look first is that great open field of enterprise reporting known as “local news” in all its many forms.
Here’s a sample from “Half-Lives and Half-Truths,” an anthropological look at radioactivity and the cold war, which is locally produced and full of information vital to local issues, if not fully the work of local authors. Its editor Barbara Rose Johnson, from the University of California Santa Cruz writes, “Fallout is by no means the only Cold War legacy troubling host communities. Uranium mining, enrichment, and weapons manufacture have also left their distinct radiogenic footprint on the planet, with heavy health consequences experienced by host communities.” These include in New Mexico Navajo and Pueblo miners and their families in western New Mexico and Hispanic farmers, their families and pueblo communities in northern New Mexico. These New Mexicans know that Johnson writes the truth when she says that “because the health effects from past (radioactive fallout) exposure can include degenerative conditions that emerge only after the passage of many years, exposures fifty years ago still have health implications today, and the health implications of Cold War-era testing will continue into the future.”
In a summation of findings from the 13 chapters of the book, which cover everything from Navajo Uranium mining and Rocky Flats, to Soviet Union security and secrecy about fallout, and American and French atmospheric testing in Polynesia, Johnson writes how nuclear weapons “reshape and deform” societies. One way is that “new and formidable practices of secrecy that corrode public dialogue have profoundly deformed public debate and citizens’ abilities to hold government accountable.” Another deformation of values that anthropologists found in this volume is the “reliance” of “nuclearism” on mass practices of “othering,” which allows a population to even consider the thought of incinerating millions of “others” in the mass destruction of their societies.
Jonathan Thompson in HCN’s “Drilling Chaco” issue writes in depth about the economic impact of fracking on the allotments around Chaco, the immediate gain to family owners of small plots and the complete absence of any community economic development in the region, owning to its isolated, rural nature. He gets readers up to speed on land ownership, fracking practices, “moon dust” from the endless crisscrossing of trucks, and the ubiquity of pumpjacks in the area, some that even “grace the Farmington golf course sand traps.” The most interesting section of the piece to me was about The Diné-Pueblo Youth Solidarity Coalition. Marissa Naranjo of Santa Clara Pueblo, a co-founder of the Coalition “emphasizes that despite divisions, the fight to save ancestral Pueblo homelands, and the fight to protect current Navajo homelands are one and the same.”
When you go to Laura Paskus’ environmental news on New Mexico Political Report, you will get an idea of how much activism, litigation and controversy flows through the current circumstances of New Mexico’s environmental reality. She often cites the work of other reporters and news outlets. Her information is rich in detail. Last week she covered not only the governor’s veto of solar incentives, but water drilling for Campbell Ranch, “a 3,990-home resort community” planned for the drought-stricken east mountains, as well as recent research on potential water flow from proposed projects to dam the Gila River. She also informed her readers about the Nuclear Regulator Commission’s recent acceptance of an application from a company to store spent nuclear fuel from commercial reactors in southeastern New Mexico.
Fake news is, of course, a false accusation, except when it comes to supermarket scandal rags and the propaganda of corporations and the government. No place in America is a fake news accusation-free zone, but we New Mexicans do live in a zone of disbelief and skepticism. As inhabitants of a journalistically rich region, we are freer than most to make up our own minds. And what a gift that is.
*Nullius in verba: take nobody’s word for it