No cable network is better at ginning up controversy than Fox News, especially after a Mesquite, Nev., rancher recently defied the law and the federal agency enforcing it.
The story begins with the Bureau of Land Management seeking to confiscate Cliven Bundy’s 500 cattle to cover the $1 million he refused to pay the agency after letting his cows graze on public lands for 20 years.
Bundy says he doesn’t recognize the authority of the United States government so any fees he owes it are illegitimate.
It costs $1.35 per head, per day to graze cows on public lands administered by the BLM. Few Western ranchers quibble about the fee because they know it’s a bargain.
The Bundy kerfuffle has gone on for more than a decade in southern Nevada with nobody paying much attention until, finally, a judge ordered the BLM to round up Bundy’s cattle to pay off the rancher’s debt.
Fox producers, always ready to smear President Obama, developed an incendiary script: right wing rancher stands up to progressive big government.
Bundy clearly relished his top billing as the oppressed Marlboro Man sick and tired of Washington telling him what to do.
The setting was as colorful as the unfolding drama, rugged desert mountains in the background serving as a metaphor for Bundy’s tough, gun-toting individualism.
The rancher and his cowboy hat quickly became a fixture on Sean Hannity’s show, the host enthusiastically encouraging Bundy’s anti-government tirades and threats of violence against the BLM if it tried to take his cattle.
Scores of heavily-armed militia types got the message and rushed to Mesquite, trigger fingers itching for a shootout with the feds.
When BLM employees appeared at Bundy’s ranch to carry out the court order, the cow pies hit the fan. In New York, Fox producers could scarcely believe their good fortune. Perhaps, just maybe, one of the militia yahoos would open fire on the BLM personnel and a full scale gun battle would erupt. It might even be another Waco or Ruby Ridge.
Along with Benghazi and the IRS, Fox would have another unfounded smear: Obama sends federal agents to Nevada to murder American citizens!
BLM management defused the tense stand-off by simply turning Bundy’s bovines loose out of “concerns about the safety of employees and … the public.”
“Serious bloodshed was narrowly avoided” noted the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
He didn’t get OK Corral, but Sean Hannity applauded the patriotic pluck of law breaker Bundy and the mob of camo-clad militia who aimed their loaded assault rifles at government workers going about their lawful business.
Ironically, Fox staged a shot of Bundy victoriously riding the range on horseback waving an American flag, symbol of the country whose authority he doesn’t accept.
The show appeared to be over, but the star-struck Bundy, unwilling to relinquish the limelight, demanded an encore.
“I want to tell you one more thing I know about the Negro,” Bundy blurted as the clock ticked down on his 15 minutes of fame. “They abort their young children, they put their young men in jail, because they never learned how to pick cotton. … Are they better off as slaves, picking cotton … or are they better off under government subsidy?”
Appalled conservative pundits who had embraced Bundy disowned their racist rancher.
“This is a man who said that he doesn’t recognize the authority of the United States of America,” moaned Fox contributor Charles Krauthammer. “That makes him a patriot?”
“Those comments are downright racist,” snarled a red-faced Hannity. “It’s beyond disturbing.”
More disturbing yet was Hannity’s attempt to incite a bloodbath, noted a St. George (Utah) News editorial:
“The Bundy Range War was perpetuated by an irresponsible media ... and an ill-informed and willfully ignorant public.”
Kevin Foley is an author, writer and public relations executive who lives in Kennesaw.