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February 23, 2014
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Publisher's Notebook: Media haste wreaks havoc on realities of drought

I hadn’t met many politicians with calloused hands until I bumped into our state senator, Jeff Kruse, not long after landing here from California.

Most of the politicians I’ve known in my four decades of news gathering have had shiny fingernails and sweaty palms.

When I shook Kruse’s hand, it felt a lot like my foot, which looks a lot like a foot that belongs to Bilbo Baggins in “The Hobbit.”

Your feet would look like mine if they’d been where mine have.

In other words, I liked Kruse the first time I met him. How can you not like a politician whose office is a tractor?

Most farmers and ranchers I know are straight shooters. You have a lot of alone time when you are out in the fields with your herd or crops and it forces you to actually think more than you speak. Most politicians have that backward.

Farmers and ranchers are also more closely connected to the Earth than most politicians who only know what they’ve heard from their own advisers.

So when it comes to weather and crops, I’ll pay more attention to the advice of a farmer than the words of a politician, and even better if that person is a “hybrid” like Jeff Kruse.

After all, most politicians are mere special-interest mouthpieces.

Last week Kruse sent me a copy of his latest newsletter, wherein he wondered about the latest California drought. If you haven’t heard, it hasn’t been raining much in the Golden State and they are starting to panic.

We were starting to panic here in Oregon until it started raining three weeks ago and hasn’t stopped since.

And who better to lead that panic than the press? We love droughts almost more than we love a good plague. They make for great headlines where we get to use phrases such as “wreaks havoc.” It doesn’t take much to actually wreak havoc on something. A drunk can wreak havoc on a bar just as well as a tornado on a small Oklahoma trailer park. I just read a headline this morning that read: “Violence wreaks havoc in Ukraine.”

My media brothers and sisters in California have run with the notion that this latest drought could be the worst one in 500 years. I suspect that started innocently enough and before long most news outlets just kind of adopted it. A one-million-year drought sounds better, but 500 years will do for now.

Being the kind of guy who ponders such things, Kruse wondered how anyone would actually know that this California drought could be the worst one in 500 years.

“My first thought was wondering how the media could report such a statement as unarguable fact, as I’m pretty sure that nobody was taking measurements on the west coast in the year 1530,” Kruse wrote.

Actually, someone would have had to be measuring California’s rainfall way back in 1514, even before Portuguese explorer Juan Cabrillo sailed into Catalina Island and stumbled on a rock while exiting his rowboat, splintering his shin (he would eventually die from gangrene and if there was a paper back then, the headline would have read: “Rock wreaks havoc on explorer”).

And yes, Kruse is smart enough to know they can measure rings in trees to find out how old they are and then try to calculate moisture, etc., but it’s not likely anyone in California cut down a 500-year-old tree to compare rainfall.

Kruse also went on to suggest there may be some politicians jumping for joy over this latest California drought because it affirms their notion that the Earth is upside down and that unless humans stay indoors and quit passing gas, we are doomed.

“Last week Obama was in California and made the statement that he was going to spend one billion dollars to end global warming,” Kruse wrote in his newsletter.

He then wondered if Obama had discussed his billion-dollar spending plan with Congress, since we used to have a Constitution that included certain rules on who could and couldn’t spend a billion dollars without a note from Congress.

Kruse said he’s hearing the same kind of talk out of Salem, where lawmakers have been spending time of late in what is referred to as a “short session.”

“Last week the governor announced he was going to move ahead with his clean fuels program,” Kruse continued. “Meanwhile, in the Legislature, we are questioning several of the programs already on the books.”

Kruse reminded his constituents that alternative energy has become pretty big business, generating perhaps more millionaires than actual alternative energy.

“My favorite is the wind farms,” he wrote. “It takes energy to run them, even when they are not in the generation mode. The way the system is set up they do not operate on their own power. They purchase power from the grid at less than half of the price they sell the power into the grid for.”

He said none of the alternative energy projects are economically feasible without government subsidies.

The one thing we do know about the weather is that it changes (we went from “global warming” to “climate change” for a reason). If you don’t believe that, go to a San Francisco Giants’ night game and watch the temperature drop 40 degrees between the first and ninth innings.

“Cold wreaks havoc on Giants” was a typical next-morning headline.

Don’t get me wrong. The drought in California today is very real. There is no denying the rainfall totals and we’ll likely see produce prices skyrocket and raging forest fires this summer.

But there is always context and I share Kruse’s concerns that some may be using California’s latest weather to promote their own special interest agendas.

While fighting gangrene and angry, naked natives, Cabrillo probably didn’t have time to measure rainfall, nor wonder whether the total constituted page one headlines.

Jeff Ackerman is publisher of The News-Review. He can be reached at 541-957-4263 or

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The News-Review Updated Feb 23, 2014 12:04AM Published Feb 23, 2014 12:04AM Copyright 2014 The News-Review. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.