Monday, April 21, 2008

Hunting, violence and politics

Watching anti-hunting campaigns is like watching political ads: The antis take some tiny grain of truth, twist it beyond all belief and mass-market the idea until it becomes embedded in the public's thinking.

Here's the latest example: the idea that hunting predisposes kids to violence.

Last week, a 19-year-old nutball from Orange County, Calif., was charged with animal cruelty after PETA found a 14-minute video he'd posted on MySpace showing himself torturing a pug puppy and a rabbit. (Click here for a local TV station's take on the story, and its edited version of the video.)

I don't often say nice things about PETA, but I salute the organization for doing something about this. And I have no problem with what PETA cruelty caseworker Kristin DeJournett told the Orange County Register:

“Orange County residents have reason to be concerned. According to leading mental health professionals and law enforcement agencies, perpetrators of violent acts against animals are often repeat offenders who pose a serious threat to all animals, including humans.”

This is consistent with everything I learned covering crime during my newspaper career. If you torture animals for fun, there's something wrong with you. Period.

But look what PETA does with this grain of truth in Wisconsin.

A couple weeks ago, PETA decided to take on Northwestern Middle School in Poplar, Wis., because it has a "hunting wall" where kids display photos of the game they've hunted. My friend Chris Niskanen wrote a story about it for the St. Paul Pioneer Press, and here's the relevant excerpt:

PETA's Sangeeta Kumar, who wrote the letter to (Principal Ken) Bartelt, said hunting and animal abuse lead to abuse of humans.

"There is a very strong connection between animal abuse and abuse toward human beings," she said. "As far as we're concerned, hunting is animal abuse. In these days of school violence, we shouldn't be encouraging kids to pick up guns."

The operative phrase there is, "as far as we're concerned."

Interestingly enough, around the same time these two stories were making news last week, FS Huntress wrote a post about a letter to Dear Abby from a man who was concerned about his 4-year-old grandson being exposed to hunting. His letter prompted a preschool teacher to share this with Dear Abby:

"(The) children who were the biggest bullies and least socialized were always -- and I mean ALWAYS -- the ones graphically exposed to the killing of animals... The gentle, studious, most popular children never spoke of hunting."

(Note to teacher: Just because they don't talk about hunting doesn't mean their families don't hunt. Duh.)

Now, I'm not suggesting that the preschool teacher had been influenced by PETA's statements last week. But obviously there's a notion going around that hunting for meat and torturing for fun are in the same league, and anyone who hunts - and who knows the sadness that comes with killing an animal - knows this is a bunch of crap.

So if reasonable people understand that hunting does not equal torture, why does it matter that PETA puts out this message?

This brings me back to the political ads. When I covered politics in Virginia, I liked to go out just before each election and talk to random voters on the street to get their take on things. One year, I asked each one the following two questions (among many): What do you know about the candidates for governor? What do you think about the TV ads?

Consistently, voters said they ignored the ads - didn't believe anything in 'em. And consistently, the things voters knew about the candidates came straight out of the TV ad transcripts. Yes, Virginia, there's a reason political campaigns spend millions and millions of dollars on those irritating 30-second spots.

And there's a reason organizations like PETA seize opportunities like the one in Wisconsin to make outrageous statements: It works.

Does that mean we should give up? Hell no. Failing to respond is the worst thing you can do. Just ask California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who let the California Teachers Association attack him with television ads for months in 2005 without responding, then watched all of his reform ballot initiatives go down in flames.

No matter how stupid PETA's remarks seem, the important thing is never to allow those statements to go unchallenged. That story by my friend Chris? The number of comments it has received is 442 and counting. A lot of 'em came from hunters. And it wouldn't hurt to drop by and add your own two cents.

© Holly A. Heyser 2008


Anonymous said...

I think this post is right on the money. PETA has an enormous amount of money, a unified membership, and whoever is running their marketing and publicity knows how to stay on message. I don't agree with how they operate or their message, but I certainly can admire how they get it out there.

You're also right, their message does influence people, even if those people aren't aware they're being influenced. That's why I talk so much about hunters and anglers needing to work together, and why I keep pushing for the pro hunting organizations to get more aggressive in putting out a pro hunting message.

NorCal Cazadora said...

Some organizations get it. The president of the California Waterfowl Association writes about it in pretty much every issue of the group's magazine.

Tough part is this: Groups like CWA spend a lot of resources on the stuff that makes hunters proud: conservation and habitat restoration. And I don't want them to stop that important work.

But as far as I can tell, PETA and HSUS focus full-time on waging culture war. A well-funded culture war.

Here's something interesting, though: A survey last week by the Vegetarian Times showed 7.3 million American adults - 3.2 percent - follow a vegetarian diet, and 54 percent of them cite animal welfare as one of the reasons. You can see the details here.

The widely respected U.S. Fish & Wildlife national survey found that 8.5 million American adults - 4 percent - hunt and fish. Another 21.4 million - 9 percent - just fish. (Details are on pages 61-62 of the report you'll find at that link.)

OK, so there are 7.3 million of them, and nearly 30 million of us -people who not only eat animal flesh, but go out and get it ourselves, just like our animal kindred. And we can't get our message out? What's the problem?

The problem, I think, is that we live and let live. If you want to learn to hunt, we'd be happy to show you, but we don't believe you must hunt to be a good person. And if you want to be a vegetarian, bully for you.

But the anti groups believe we are bad people, and they want to change not only our behavior, but our diet. It's not enough for them to follow their own beliefs; they feel they must eradicate ours.

The question is, why does that message resonate with so many people? Or does it?

Blessed said...

From my years as the managing editor of a weekly paper (awesome years I might add) I know that one reason PETA gets there message out is because they send press release after press release after press release and those press releases are outlandish themselves and are usually accompanied by outlandish photos or other marketing pieces. In the newsroom they get noticed and talked about even when they don't get used. Granted I worked for a weekly paper - we had a small staff and a relaxed environment for most of the week. But I can't help but think that if I'd had a reporter that leaned toward agreeing with PETA's message that they would have asked if they could follow a lead from one of those press releases.

I'm not sure I'm saying what I'm trying to say here - but my point is that PETA gets their message out by repeating it over and over again. I also saw press releases from organizations like Ducks Unlimited and NWTF and the local groups and even the state conservation department but they only sent releases when announcing an event, a area that was being opened a new employee - they didn't wage the publicity war that PETA and a few of the other anti groups did.

Everyone wants to think that they are an "independent thinker" but really, as those of us in marketing know - they mostly think what we tell them and they remember what they hear the most and if a message is sandwiched in an outrageous demonstration - like the ones PETA does - they are going to remember it.

NorCal Cazadora said...

You worked at a newspaper with a relaxed atmosphere? Never heard of such a thing!

But you're 110 percent right. Some of the things PETA does literally have to be covered, because the public's going to wonder what stopped traffic on the bridge yesterday, etc.

And that last line: You totally nailed it!

NorCal Cazadora said...

Wow, just found another example of this out of New Hampshire in my morning email:

Here's the first article, and here's the response.

Blessed said...

Well lets just say that it wasn't stuffy - that is probably a better description - we were still hopping all the time even though we only came out with a full paper once a week - Deadline day was anything but relaxed, especially once I had to get on the phone to my cover story reporter who ALWAYS pushed the deadline. It's funny - he works for NPR now, whenever I hear him on the radio I remember yelling at him to get his copy in...

NorCal Cazadora said...

Funny, I too had a deadline-pusher who now works for NPR! It's endemic. One of my former students works for a company where they give her no real deadlines and she's having a hard time functioning.

Blessed said...

The funniest thing was I left that job when I got married (because I moved an hour and a half away) and started working in the prepress department of a print shop - they wanted to make sure I understood what a deadline was. That was a joke, I had a better concept of what a deadline was than they did! I'm still friends with everyone I worked with there - nothing quite like a local newspaper office as your first long-term real job.

NorCal Cazadora said...

Thanks to Kristine's Community Wednesday, I just found this very cool non-hunter's reaction to the Dear Abby thread, which links to this article that cites an interesting study on kids who get guns from their parents and how they have lower crime rates.

Good stuff, folks. Remember, you have the right to be armed with information, too.

Lori said...

You are so right. They will sieze any opportunity to put this in front of the public because advertising works. And there will people who will sieze on what PETA puts out there because it fits their agenda, and there will be people who don't or can't give the item any deep scrutiny who will remember what PETA says and think it's the gospel truth. Thanks for bringing this to our notice.

-::brown sugar::- said...


NorCal Cazadora said...

LOL! I <3 my students.

And thanks, Lori - nice to see you again! And nice earthquake story - 5.4 will definitely wake you up.

Othmar Vohringer said...

Excellent post Holly. Unfortunately PETA and CO often mix fact and fiction, real statistic and face statistics and sell it as the truth to support their twisted agenda.

Not so long ago I read a PETA article in which they state that statistics have shown that meat eaters are more likely to commit violent crimes than vegetarian. Two week ago a father stabbed his own children aged 4, 6 and 10 in our future home town. He was a vegetarian and loved his dog. Adlof Hitler, Idi Amin, Pinochet and Mao Zedong all where vegetarians and strongly opposed to hunting yet obviously had to problem torturing and killing millions of people.

As an interesting side note and what not many people know about. PETA uses less that .2% of the millions they make from donations on animal welfare programs. The money is exclusively used for advertising, junk science and legal fees for convicted animal rights and environmental terrorists.

PETA kills more animals per year than any other animal shelter. Many of the animals never will arrive alive at the shelters. Currently there are several cases against PETA staff for cruelty to animals. (The methods PETA staff members chose to dispose of unwanted animals is not that humane.) There are also several cases known to authorities where PETA staff deliberately inflicted pain and suffering to animals to get realistic video footage. According to Ingrid Newkirk, President and founder of PETA; “Unfortunate at times this becomes necessary at times to drive our message home.” In other words it is not okay for a schoolboy to torture animals (Of course it is not), but according to PETA it is okay to beat a puppy dog to a bloody pulp to gain realistic video footage. Talk about double standards.