by Carolyn Chase
ll of us involved with local vol- unteer efforts for Earth Day and the EarthFair in Balboa Park had an extraordinary time this year. Everyone agreed that the crowds were bigger than ever. For the first time, San Diego Earth Day, the small non-profit organization which produces the event, managed to retrieve and return every last one of the hundreds of tables, chairs, barricades and cones loaned to the event. There were no ambulance transports and no police incidents. Twenty tired team leaders made it to dinner by 8:30 that night. "Samurai" volunteers were unloading and returning equipment at 7:30am the next morning. All of us involved thought, "job well done."
Little did we know that another process was also going on: a hunting process at the offices of the San Diego Union Tribune. Earth Day is a big, slow-moving target, so it was really child's play to land some shots - and they did.
While an estimated 75,000 people came to the park to visit almost 250 exhibits, see a Children's Parade and the efforts of 300 community-service volunteers, the lead the SD-UT printed was, "EarthFair draws nudists, psychics - and ecologists."
Much worse was the selection, size and placement of the photo of one sarcastic t-shirt (out of thousands at the event, and available at other retail locations) saying "I Kill Hunters for Fun and Sport." The SD-UT knows that event organizers have little control over statements such as this nor can we stop publishers from printing such a message. But our question is, why choose this message? Out of 75,000 stories at the EarthFair, why choose this one? What exactly is the SD-UT trying to promote? What are they trying to attack?
Of the thousands of people walking past that booth, some were probably offended and most simply ignored it. But it was the SD-UT publication of the image that was seen by many hundreds of thousands. The following day's coverage in the sports/outdoor section was then utterly predictable, with the inaccurate headline "Earth Day t-shirt tees off hunters." It was not the t-shirt that teed off the hunters as much as it was the picture of the t-shirt the paper!
After receiving letters and phone calls, the SD-UT published five letters to the editor, including excerpts from mine under the headline, "EarthFair coverage missed the point." Good placement, thank you. I appreciate their printing of reader's letters stating the flaws of their EarthFair report.
But there has not been any statement from the editors about the photo choice or the practice of telling reporters to seek out the "weird and extreme." They hunted down that story, ran it, and then allowed Ed Zieralski to cover the publishing of that photo as "news" the following day, stating that the people selling that t-shirt at the EarthFair "did advocate murder." SD-UT reader's representative Gina Lubrano denied that they ran the picture to set up the coverage. She did not address the selection of that particular coverage.
Unlike the t-shirt sold by and to "animal advocates" who have a hard time killing anything the "outdoors" column is presumably read by people with guns. What's the bigger threat: selling a few stupid t-shirts to pacifists or selling hunters paranoia about environmentalists advocating murder? This is strong stuff. We deserve a better response.
Photo editor Robert York stated to EarthFair organizer Kari Gray that they had no obligation to report on the EarthFair accurately; their job was to get their story. Their predetermined story line was that Earth Day was getting more extreme. Their approach was not a sincere attempt to cover a community event. They knew in advance the story would yield the politically incorrect, and they could hold it up as what the entire event was about.
York further defended the photo in Lubrano's column stating, "The photo, taken in context with the story, reflects the changes taking place in Earth Day celebrations." This justification is nonsense. Bad t-shirts and nudists have been at the EarthFair for years.
A portion of my letter that was not printed called on the editors to apologize. At this point, I presume that they are not big enough to do so. Lubrano stated over the phone that she felt the coverage was "balanced," and further defended it in print stating, "I think the story reflected what took place April 20 when thousands of people, "converged on Balboa Park to rub shoulders with ecologists, psychic healers, nudist campers and people dressed as space aliens."
This is called adding insult to injury. Her claim that the coverage was "balanced" demonstrates that she is just kidding herself. It's called denial and is a common reaction when a person or the institution they are representing has done a shameful thing. A simple apology would have saved a lot of column inches.
I asked her, "How would you know what was balanced when you weren't even there?" This is the problem: anyone who wasn't there would probably assume that the coverage was balanced. It wasn't. If you saw that coverage, would you think "gee, that was fun, I want to take my kids to EarthFair to find out how to make a difference?" Or would you think it was just a bunch of freaks?
Exhibitors and guests at the EarthFair should and do exercise their freedom to look the way they want, exercise their good and bad taste, and try different things to make a better world. This freedom is also a part of the EarthFair it's called diversity.
Powerful institutions like the SD-UT should be called to account when they hold their chosen targets up to ridicule in such a shameful and potentially dangerous fashion. The bottom line is a lack of respect for the diversity, message and community production of the EarthFair, San Diego Earth Day, its volunteers, sponsors and exhibitors. In addition, it is the willful and irresponsible exercise of power and arrogance in justifying their actions after the fact. What we really need is for the SD-UT to apologize to organizers, environmentalists and hunters alike.
A lot of folks can't speak out against the SD-UT and I probably can't afford to either. But at some point, you have to demand accountability and hope that they will look upon you with some compassion. Since it seems the SD-UT folks don't have it in them at this point, I think that letters should best be directed to their boss: Publisher David Copley, Copley Press, 7776 Ivanhoe Ave, La Jolla CA 92037.
If you would like to send your thoughts about this to the SD-UT: San Diego Union-Tribune, P.O. Box 191, San Diego, CA 92112-4106; FAX: 293-1440, email: readers.repuniontrib.com, lettersuniontrib.com
And finally, on a lighter note, I would like to remind everyone that at least at the EarthFair the people all beam in, not out!