Sunday, June 07, 2009

"What we have here is a failure ... to communicate"

This weekend I received an email from a friend with the following video attached (not this youtube link, but the same video):

While this appears to be 'timely', the actual news story was reported by KATU ...

- By Melica Johnson and Web Staff

SALEM, Ore. - Some English-speaking firefighters are losing their jobs because of an Oregon state law that requires them to be bilingual.

The Department of Forestry enacted a law three years ago that requires them to be bilingual, but this year they're actually enforcing it.

2002 was such a devastating wildfire season, contractors were scrambling to find firefighters.

Hispanics often filled their needs on the fire lines.

Jim Walker of the Department of Forestry said "what we do know is 85 percent of the crew make-up is of Hispanic decent."

But many of the Hispanic fire fighters do not speak English. Walker says the language barrier is a concern.

Those concerns led the state to draft a new rule that all firefighting bosses speak English, and the languages of crew members who don't speak English.

Jaime Pickering, a squad boss overseeing 20 firefighters, says the rule means "job losses for Americans. The white people."

Because of the state's language requirement, Pickering can no longer work as a crew boss and supervise 20 firefighters, he can only manage a squad of four.

Pickering says that "if you have one Spanish guy on the crew, as an English crew boss, you can no longer be a crew boss, you have to step back to a squad boss, which is a demotion."

While the state made the rule change in 2003, it decided to strictly monitor the law this year as Hispanics continue to fill fire lines.
As I say, this was reported by KATU ... on June 22, 2006!

Yes, the story is over three years old.

Not only that, but the interpretation of the original story has been questioned by the Oregon Department of Forestry, in an un-dated article saying "This is not the case, here are the facts ..." (see the link).

A further blog article (June 26, 2006) on the "La Shawn Barber's Corner" Blog cites a Department of Forestry employee who also states categorically that:

"Rod Nichols, an information officer for the Oregon Department of Forestry, responded to the e-mail I sent Jim Walker. He said the story I linked to is inaccurate." The article goes on to hit several bullet-points disproving the accuracy of the original reportage.

But why is this ageing canard still circulating through the Urban Legend Mill?

Perhaps it's because of this article from this forum subject in under the topic heading "Oregon firefighters out of job becuase [sic] they speak english[sic]"
The topic was started January 15, 2008 and the last entry was date-stamped January 25, 2008. The original entry even embedded the video which (two years after the original article) was loaded to YouTube.

It is not my intention to criticize -- open forums are subject to a lot of misinformation, and in fact it may have been the general unwillingness of forum members to accept the validity of the charge which led it to an early death. (The forum topic, not the website; it's still going strong.)

Granted my websearch was not the result of a deep and intensive effort, I only looked at a few pages (less than 100 hits) under "Oregon firefighter supervisors' and "oregon firefighters speak english". Still, I found only the single 2008 forum entry which was more recent than the original 2006 KATU article.

Given that the references I found were overwhelmingly inclined to repudiate the charge, my guess is that it was a misinterpretation of a quote from a single person, which may not have been cross-checked for accuracy prior to press time. It's unfortunate that Fox News picked it up and ran an on-line report with no further accuracy checking.

Full Disclosure: I'm no better than KATU or FOX-TV. My fact-checking took me about ten minutes. On the other hand, I turned up enough information to doubt the article, and I'm only "a guy sitting in his living room in his pajamas writting" without "multiple layers of checks and balances". Fox and KATU are those "Professional Journalists" ... like Dan Rather. Granted, KATU did make one contact with a Forestry Department Official, but that resulted in the charges by a single quoted source with (arguably) his own axe to grind. Pardon the pun.

So why are you reading all of this after-the-fact commentary on a blown story?

Because after all these years, that misleading video is still making the circuits of email mass-postings, and every time I receive an email about an "outrageous situation" it's impossible for me to resist throwing the spotlight on it.

Here's hoping that my friends and family will take this to heart and do their own fact-checking before they forward bogus Urban Legends (or in this case "Forestry Legends").

Here's the Box Score:
  • A local news station to run a bogus story without confirming the facts: a reporter's career.
  • A network affiliate picking up the story and running it on Network TV without confirming the facts: undermines a MSM Network's reputation.
  • A lone blogger putting a stick in their professional eyes 3 years after the fact: priceless!

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