Easiest job in Washington? McInnis’ fact-checker
Question of the day: How many lies can a Congressman tell before some enterprising reporter calls balderdash on him? Answer: We have yet to find out.
If anyone deserves to be called on the journalistic carpet, it’s western Colorado Republican Rep. Scott McInnis. Like an old-time gunslinger, McInnis likes to shoot from the hip. But this ain’t Hollywood. His bullets tend to fly wild. Let’s take a look at his record.
n When forest fires raged in his home state this summer, McInnis took the floor of Congress, trying to blame the fires on environmental groups. In particular, he singled out the Wilderness Society as fire-stoking obstructionists. Truth is, a Wilderness Society ecologist was the first to sign the Western Governors’ Association bipartisan fire management plan a couple years ago. That strategy called for thinning forests, particularly near rural homes. Had the U.S. Forest Service applied this strategy earlier, perhaps some of the destruction could have been avoided in Colorado this summer.
n In Washington State in 2001, McInnis was among the first to blame the Endangered Species Act in the tragic deaths of a crew fighting the Thirtymile fire. McInnis broadcast a rumor that federal regulations surrounding endangered salmon delayed water drops that would have saved the firefighters. A year later, investigative journalists, the Forest Service and Occupational Safety and Health Administration thoroughly investigated the Thirtymile snafu. There is plenty of blame to go around, but no facts back up the scenario spelled out by McInnis. The Endangered Species Act was not the culprit.
n In December 2001, beltway conservatives crowed about another alleged “scandal” in Washington State. This time, Rep. McInnis prattled over allegedly corrupt biologists who he suggested planted lynx hairs in a DNA survey, trying to skew the science to lock out loggers. Facts? Both an internal Forest Service investigation and an independent, outside investigation cleared the field biologists of any conspiracy. There was a disagreement over project protocol, which was not followed, but there was no attempt to doctor evidence. There was no scandal until McInnis trumped one up.
McInnis’ style is as transparent as it is dishonest. He holds a news conference, fires off a press release and calls for investigations while throwing out baseless allegations and vaporous innuendoes.
McInnis is skilled at grabbing the camera with lurid allegations in the middle of a hot story. The initial allegations make the front page, but when the dry truth emerges months later, it’s stale news and relegated to cold storage in the back pages. Radio and television generally ignore the later stories all together.
Perhaps most cynical is how McInnis abuses people who are legitimately concerned about crucial public issues. Keeping workers at work, protecting lives and property from wildfire are important and emotional problems.
McInnis exploits these feelings – and the credibility of his own office – for political gain. He exploits fear. He exploits tragedy. He exploits death.
McInnis’ lies are pernicious and have become part of the debate surrounding natural resources in the West. Read the letters to the editors, listen to talk radio and you’ll hear the urban legends sparked by McInnis: Those crooked biologists cant be trusted; the Endangered Species Act handcuffs fire-fighters; forget the drought and fire suppression over decades, the summer’s fires are the environmentalists’ fault. If you think this is an accident, ask yourself this: Has McInnis ever lifted a finger to set the record straight? Has he spent one drop of ink to rein in the misinformation he let loose? Congressman McInnis is a verbal arsonist who leaves the truth in ashes. We can only hope that his constituents wise up.
Ben Long is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News in Paonia, Colo. (hcn.org). He writes in Kalispell, Mont.
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