The coverage of California water by Fox News Host Sean Hannity last night was disappointing. It was simplistic, one-sided, misleading and, in some cases, flat wrong. And perhaps most egregiously, the famously “small government” host delivered his message on behalf of wealthy farmers who owe their very existence to the federal handouts and are still deep in debt to United States taxpayers.
Let’s be fair. Mr. Hannity got some things right. He is correct that unemployment is particularly high in many towns in the San Joaquin Valley. The food lines and human suffering are real. In 2009, water deliveries to farming communities on the west side of the Valley have been significantly reduced. And part of that reduction is due to the Endangered Species Act protections designed to protect Delta smelt from extinction.
But Mr. Hannity does not tell the whole story. He does not mention that these valley towns have had chronic unemployment and poverty problems for decades that have had nothing to do with water supplies. He ignores the finding by the California Department of Water Resources that the primary cause of the water supply reduction this year is drought and only 5% is due to protecting Delta smelt.
Mr. Hannity blames everything on the smelt, describing it as a “2 inch minnow”, and ignores the ecosystem collapse that has affected a wide variety of fish, including salmon. (He did allow Zeke Grader of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations a chance to speak, but did not acknowledge that unemployed fishermen are also part of the story and he repeatedly ignored Zeke’s invitation to visit coastal fishing towns.)
Mr. Hannity talked about impacts to many crops, and made special note of tomatoes. He did not mention that California is in fact expecting a record tomato crop this year. Nor did he mention that many farmers in the valley are getting full water supplies.
Mr. Hannity did not explain that his story was about a relatively small group of farmers who were the last to develop land in the valley were thus awarded the most “junior” water rights. For some reason he did not mention that many of the people protesting the Endangered Species Act were in fact paid to do so.
Mr. Hannity did not explain that these farmers are also hundreds of millions of dollars in debt to the United States for the cost of their water delivery systems – a debt that would be measured in billions were it not for the fact that they have carried loans for decades without paying a single penny in interest.
So Mr. Hannity was flat wrong when he said that these farmers do not want a government handout. They do. They owe their very existence to government-funded water delivery projects that they have not repaid. (And, by the way, they are lobbying Congress for billions more to clean up their toxic drainage.)
Finally Mr. Hannity did not mention that elected officials throughout the state are committed to finding solutions that really are “fair and balanced”. He did not mention that cities, farmers and environmentalists are working cooperatively to develop a Bay-Delta Conservation Plan to address the needs of the Delta and communities that depend on water exported from it.
Sean Hannity did raise a number of pertinent issues. But he told only a small part of the story. The public deserves to know the rest. It is unfortunate that Fox and Mr. Hannity devoted a full hour to water in California and reported so little ‘news”.
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