Political scientists call them “symbolic issues,” as opposed to tangible issues.

Symbolic issues have become more and more prominent in recent years in the United States, not just in Wyoming. Such issues that evoke non-economic values eclipse economic issues — the issues that really affect the material welfare of individual people and the nation. This development is, according to some, not an accident.

The Jackson Hole News and Guide has a pretty good analysis. Both sides cry wolf. In the debate over wolf management, politics and values prove as compelling as science. By Noah Brenner.

Other issues like this are where the Ten Commandments may or may not be located, debates over the Flag, the Pledge of Allegiance, etc.  Those groups who are superior in social rank would often rather have people taking about this kind of issue than why so many lack medical insurance or the extreme inequality of wealth in the present day United States.

 
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About The Author

Ralph Maughan

Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University with specialties in natural resource politics, public opinion, interest groups, political parties, voting and elections. Aside from academic publications, he is author or co-author of three hiking/backpacking guides, and he is President of the Western Watersheds Project.

8 Responses to Both sides cry wolf. Politics of wolf is similiar to politics of abortion

  1. avatar Robert Hoskins says:

    Actually, Noah Brenner’s piece in the Jackson Hole News & Guide is not very well done, and simply repeats what we’ve been hearing for some time about the cultural conflicts over wolves, the federal government, etc. He accepts as fact things that are not fact–for example, the claim we hear constantly from Wyoming State officials that 10 of 11 scientists approved of Wyoming’s wolf plan in a FWS sponsored peer review. That certainly is not true. How many people have read the peer reviews? Certainly not Noah Brenner. The peer reviews, which are not very well done in the first place, did note many problems with the Wyoming plan. They did not approve it. The big mistake of the reviews is that they assumed that all three state plans would conserve wolves, with focus on the quality of Montana’s plan to pull Wyoming and Idaho out of the fire.

    The fact is, there most certainly are factual disputes, such as, the claim that wolves are wiping out elk and moose herds. We know for a fact that this is not true.

    Yet it’s virtually impossible to get the press to look directly at the facts; all it would rather do is look at the politics and assume that there are no factual disputes.

    Science does have a role, and quite frankly, science is getting shoved out of the way so the politicians and bureaucrats can pontificate.

  2. You are right about the “peer review,” but I do like it when reporters see that the wolf issue is not really an economic issue and has its emotional counterparts in completely difficult policy areas.

  3. avatar Halia Szyposzynski says:

    Perhaps people who do know the facts should counter the inaccuracies of reporters such as Noah Brenner by contacting them directly in an organized manner. A sort of direct action enviro media watch. At least reporters would start to learn that people are paying attention. Posting rebuttal comments to a specialized website doesn’t do that. An alternative is letters to the editor, but getting those published is hit or miss, usually based on continuing an emotional instead of a factual discourse. I recently spent time responding to an unsolicited e-mail send to 6 other people that forwared a link to Israeli research disputing human causation of global warming. I’m not well-versed enough in the “cosmic ray fluctuation” explanation of globl warming to reply to the researcher himself or post to, but at least the 6 people learned some alternative ideas about research agendas and the precautionary principle.

  4. avatar Denise Johnson says:

    I agree with Robert…
    There is an alarming trend to ignore the science now-a-days.
    Which is compounded by polictical/ symbolic issues.
    Like Ralph am happy to see a reporter actual report it!
    Long over due ahey!

  5. avatar Robert Hoskins says:

    I will say that I spend an inordinate amount of time writing directly to reporters to correct mis-statements of fact in their stories and to urge them to go beneath the surface to understand and report on context of an issue.

    I’d say that half the reporters I write to write back; yet, I rarely see significant changes in the stories these reporters write. Part of the problem is that newspapers are not in the least interested in getting all the facts right or going underneath the surface to report on the contexts of things. Reporters don’t set editorial or news policies; the publisher does. And these days, publishers aren’t interested in the news.

    This is most evidence where science is concerned.

    Concerning the peer reviews of the wolf plans of Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho, I have been writing reporters since the peer reviews were published 3 years ago, and I have yet to see any story that actually explains what the peer reviews said. Instead, the newspapers parrot what the politicians and bureaucrats assert continually in the press, that Wyoming wolf plan is scientifically sound. It isn’t, and it never has been.

    Hell, even the guy in Wyoming Game & Fish who wrote Wyoming’s wolf plan, Dave Moody, said that the plan wouldn’t work at the Defenders Chico Hot Springs wolf conference 3 years ago. For being truthful, he got cut off at the knees, as it were.

    The issue is that it is easy to play around with the cultural conflicts because no one has to think about them, rather than address the facts of an issue in such a way that people have to think.

    It’s all fluff.

  6. avatar sagebrush says:

    Well, the thing that links all the three things the writer highlights – abortion, death penalty, wolves – is the effort to control and dominate women, t0 control and dominate the land and wildlife (what the anti-wolf ranching culture is all about), and to control the world around you so much that you feel a need to kill a “criminal” to somehow feel secure. Basically, a Dominate All mindset based on some kind of sick insecurity. And the industries and interests that benefit from these distractions knows how to play them like a fiddle …

    Also, the Freemuth quote makes no sense to me:

    ““The idea that the Bush administration’s Fish and Wildlife Service is trying to do this because of ‘politics’ just doesn’t resonate with me,” said John Freemuth, professor of political science and public administration at Boise State University. “They have no interest in perpetuating [federal wolf management].”

    How is that not politics – it is all about the politics of killing federal control of anything – and turning everything over to the bottom feeding state and local controlniks who seek to “manage” and incrementally privatize public lands and wildlife? What alternate Idaho universe is Freemuth in?

  7. I think contacting reporters directly and pleasantly is useful when it appears they really don’t know something or have missed something obvious.

    That is one way blogs are useful. Blog discussions often result in a consensus about what it wrong in an article. Then the reporter has the benefit of group wisdom.

  8. avatar Alan says:

    I’ve been in journalism — military and civilian — since 1974, when I interned at the Power County Press in American Falls, Idaho. I could tell readers of this blog horror story after horror story of bad reporting, sloppy reporting, “deadline” reporting and just plain bad journalism. With few exceptions in the West (see Seattle Post-Intelligencer, with its beat environmental reporters, and a few other print outlets including the Idaho Statesman), most journalists cranking out copy on natural resource issues are generalists. They go from one story area to another story area daily, perhaps reporting on a court case one minute before heading over to a city council meeting. This is neither good nor bad; it’s just how things are. And it’s likely to continue, as publishers cut back in search of the 20-percent profit margin and, perhaps, sell their property to the next big profit-hungry conglomerate that comes along. And don’t even bother talking about electronic media outlets (radio and tee vee). Both are vast wastelands, especially on the local level, where crime, celebrity crime, and more crime dominate precious airtime. Ralph is correct. Most reporters enjoy hearing from readers and learn from the exchanges. Some certainly don’t or just don’t care. But a solid journalist will (1) admit shortcomings; (2) accept new information presented fairly and timely; and (3) correct errors. Few journalists, though, have the luxury of research time. And that’s where getting solid, accurate info to them in a timely fashion is likely to pay off later.

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‎"At some point we must draw a line across the ground of our home and our being, drive a spear into the land and say to the bulldozers, earthmovers, government and corporations, “thus far and no further.” If we do not, we shall later feel, instead of pride, the regret of Thoreau, that good but overly-bookish man, who wrote, near the end of his life, “If I repent of anything it is likely to be my good behaviour."

~ Edward Abbey

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