PEER Strikes Out
The news reports were suitably horrifying: park rangers at Grand Canyon
were under strict orders to dodge visitor questions about the canyon's
geological history. Why? Because the theocratic Bush administration wanted
it that way. Too many of Dubya's friends were upset by any suggestion
that the earth might be more than 6,000 years old.
"In order to avoid offending religious fundamentalists, our National
Park Service is under orders to suspend its belief in geology," stated
Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) Executive Director
Jeff Ruch. This denial of reality has extended far beyond the personal
beliefs of park officials, affecting all employees and visitors. Employees
of the park are not permitted to give an official estimate of the canyon's
geological age, and are instead required to reply with "no comment"
if posed with the question. (Emphasis added.)
The shocking news, this past December, made headlines quickly. Columnists
shook their heads, letter-writers fumed, and even Doonesbury weighed
in at this latest example of the Bushite tyranny in action. One more abuse
of the Constitution by the gang of thugs that brought us the Patriot Act,
chipped away at habeas corpus and used "signing statements" to
ignore separation of powers. When's it going to end?
There's only one trouble: the horror story wasn't true. There was no
gag order; rangers at Grand Canyon were giving out solid geological information
to anyone who asked. The only concession made in recent years to the religious
fundies was the presence of one book, with a creationist viewpoint, on
sale among many others in the park bookstore... annoying, perhaps, but
far from catastrophic.
Jeff Ruch and PEER were telling a great big fib.
And because the Bushites have done so many mind-bogglingly despotic things
in the last six years, people were ready to swallow PEER's baloney.
When I first heard of PEER, back in the 1990s or so, it seemed
to consist of a bunch of U.S. Forest Service employees concerned with
their agency's spotty record toward environmental protection. The organization
provided a way that workers from the Forest Service, and later on, other
agencies, could help bring public scrutiny to bad decisions made by the
agencies supposedly looking after our public resources. Sounded like a
good idea to me; the Forest Service has long been far too cozy with Big
Timber. I was pleased when the group began to show interest in National
Park Service affairs, too; Lord knows, government employees with consciences,
no matter what their uniform, need all the help they can get.
However, PEER changed focus over the years. Somewhere along the line
it turned away from the original vision of an environmental watchdog,
expressing the concerns of dedicated public servants. By the new millennium,
PEER reconstituted itself as a pressure group, advocating a narrow and
elitist view of the way our public lands should be managed. Public access
counted for nothing, in their view; "recreation" was a dirty word. Historic
preservation went out the window; in their view, parks should eradicate
signs of human presence wherever it was found.
How did this happen? Perhaps because the composition of the group
shifted. Inspection of PEER's web page these days shows a management staff
consisting largely of veteran activists and litigators, with only a minority
listing any background in public land management agencies.
In other words, PEER got hijacked- by the sort of people who don't mind
embellishing a story if it gets better press than the truth.
When it came to the Grand Canyon story, it didn't take too long for people
to realize that they'd been hoodwinked. My fellow flat-hat blogger, Ranger
X, did a wonderful review of the unfolding meltdown of the PEER hoax-
if you want the play-by-play, check his blog.
A couple of columnists wrote angry, "I was had!" follow-ups, but mostly,
of course, the story just faded away. Sensational charges make the front
page; corrections are buried inside, if they appear at all. Plenty of
people, I'm sure, still believe PEER's nonsense.
PEER's own follow-up press release on the affair eschewed any apology,
and tried to pretend nothing amiss had taken place. Instead, Jeff Ruch
and Co. just repeated some other, less-sensational complaints about Grand
Canyon and hoped, apparently, that everyone would forget about that groundless
National Park circles were abuzz about the whole business, of
course. First, there was the "Can you believe this latest Bush BS?" reaction,
then the response from Grand Canyon people: "Wait a minute, everyone- this is crazy! It's just not true."
Once the truth got out, the natural reaction from most National Park
people was, "Well, that's the last time I believe anything from PEER without
checking it out for myself."
Most park folks, yes, but not me. PEER did not lose a drop of credibility
with me over the Grand Canyon hoax, since I'd already seen them in action,
and gotten a good look at their standards of accuracy.
Continue to Part Two
"When you hear it from PEER,
check their sources, my dear".