Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Brucellosis -- who pays?

So far, so good, on keeping Montana's brucellosis-free status, with the final testing on Rep. Bruce Malcolm's Emigrant ranch coming up negative. It's not over, even in the short term, and especially not in the long term, about which more later.

But first, a Montana Headlines reader not familiar with ranching commented that the Billings Gazette headline a couple of days back of "Brucellosis ID'd in lawmaker's herd" (along with the accompanying article identifying Malcolm in the first sentence as a Republican lawmaker) gave the impression (at least to that reader) that the Gazette was saying that Malcolm had somehow been negligent, and had gotten busted.

That wasn't the MH impression of the article, but that was because we were leaping on to the potentially devastating implications of the findings for the state's livestock industry, knowing good and well that whoever the rancher was, no-one would say it was his fault.

Then we went back and started reading the on-line comments under the story -- perhaps a mistake -- and there it was, some of the most vile anti-Republican rancher stuff encountered in some time, including one reader making the allegation that Malcolm had taken out an insurance policy on his herd and intentionally infected it or allowed it to be infected.

Compounding the first mistake and reading even further, we encountered grossly ignorant statements such as the idea that ranchers graze public lands for free, and even the unbelievably grossly ignorant statement that public lands have been set aside for wildlife only. That would be news to the lawmakers who passed the Taylor Grazing Act back in 1934, codifying pre-existing grazing use going back long before the establishment of any National Parks.

So, apparently the MH reader's impressions were spot-on, since the message in the Gazette headline resonated with at least some people in exactly that kind of anti-Republican political way. Anyway, back to brucellosis...

While it may be true that, as the governor says, there is little chance that this was a direct transmission from Yellowstone Park bison, the emphasis is on "direct," since the postulated intermediary is elk -- which got it from the bison. As Sarpy Sam points out, "the problem is the reservoir of infection that is allowed to exist in the Greater Yellowstone Area." Anyone interested in getting the most knowledgeable opinions on this subject in the blogosphere should stay tuned to his site (and for anyone who hasn't visited his site, once you do, you'll become a regular.)

Cattle producers have spent a lot of money gaining and maintaining Montana's brucellosis-free status. It hardly seems like an accident that the cows that tested positive were from Emigrant -- and not Ekalaka. So yes, the Park is the source.

Since wildlife in the Park is the federal government's responsibility, it seems reasonable that the federal government bear the cost of addressing this reservoir of infection and that it bear the costs incurred by the State of Montana and by individual Montana ranchers.


Ed Kemmick said...

I think it's quite a leap to say "the message in the Gazette headline resonated with at least some people in exactly that kind of anti-Republican political way." Any regular readers of the story comments know that people don't need to be prompted by our headline writers to go off on their one-note tangents. It wouldn't have mattered what the headline said, or where in the story Malcolm's political affiliation was stated; the same comments would have been made.

It's a losing, never-ending game trying to read much wider meaning into those comments.

Montana Headlines said...

I agree with you, and in retrospect that particular leap connecting the comments with my reader's observation wasn't logical.

The question is how a more neutral reader unfamiliar with the issue would be struck by the headline. Since on this particular matter I am neither, I'm not the one to ask.

My interested reader was in that category, and interpreted the headline at first glance as implying that Malcolm was busted doing something wrong or negligent.

A headline that omitted reference to a specific individual (especially a lawmaker) and simply said something like "State's brucellosis-free status in jeopardy: disease confirmed in Emigrant" would have avoided any implications of personal culpability.

Frankly, I was so taken aback by the insurance fraud claim that I probably over-reacted to the comments and wrongly connected them to the headline.

Which probably reflects the kind of reaction the trolling commenter was intending to provoke.

And I do realize that headlines are meant to attract attention -- and putting the legislator in the headline would do just that, far more than my milquetoast proposed alternative.

Ed Kemmick said...

The person writing a headline it is naturally going to look for the most interesting elements in the story, with an eye toward cramming some of them into the headline. News judgment tells me that the rancher in question being a state legislator somehow made the whole story more interesting.

I would have mentioned that in the first paragraph, too, and generally speaking when we identify someone as an elected official, that is immediately followed by the party designation and place name, as in R-Emigrant. If this had been a Democratic legislator and we had not mentioned that until the jump page, I'm sure there would have been howls of protest from our reliably alarmist conservative commenters.

This reminds me of the big story from 10 or 12 years again when a massive range fire in central Montana was started by a legislator who was burning some slash piles and the fire got away from him. Did the fact that the fire resulted from the carlessness of a state legislator make the story a lot more interesting? You bet it did. Do I remember whether that legislator was Republican or Democrat? Nope.

Montana Headlines said...

Had it been a Democratic legislator, that would actually have been doubly interesting, since Democratic ranchers are a more rare species than are Republican ranchers.

For sheer interesting elements, the Gazette would therefore need to put the party affiliation in the headline itself!

Well, all very enlightening stuff -- very much in the spirit of your earlier expressed desire to explain how things work around a newspaper like the Gazette.

But don't expect me to stop being a "reliably alarmist conservative commenter" in my own way...

Thanks for the input.