Media-bombing Earth First! With Unabomber

The reputation Earth First! has garnered over the years as the eco-terrorist organization was reinforced when ABC news recently hitched the radical environmental group to Unabomber suspect Theodore Kaczynski.In its lead story on Friday April 5, ABC news reported that one of the Unabomber's victims was associated with companies appearing on a "hit list" of environmental enemies published by "a radical environmental journal." The Peter Jennings-led newscast then cut immediately to Earth First!er Leslie Hemstreet saying "We cannot be held responsible for what people do with the information we publish." Hemstreet just happens to be one of the editors of Earth First! Journal, which just happens to call itself (right on the cover) "a radical environmental journal."The report, to just about any observer, was pretty damning and made it look like Earth First! was in the fray with the Unabomber. Except for the fact that the Earth First! Journal, which is published in Glenwood, OR, had nothing to do with the "hit list" in question. An anonymously published anarchist-environmentalist 'zine from Berkeley called Live Wild or Die actually printed the "Eco-Fuckers Hit List," a fact that ABC missed. The ABC story also reported that Kaczynski may have participated in an environmental conference in Montana attended by "top-level members of Earth First!" Yes, Earth First! was at the conference, says Craig Beneville, a staffer at the journal, but so were more than 400 people representing a variety of other organizations -- including the U.S. Forest Service. ABC also aired footage of a violent melee involving Earth First! and described the group as "violent." Relying on unnamed sources, ABC said the FBI "is very interested in pursuing a possible connection to Earth First!" But the footage, says Beneville, was misrepresented during the newscast -- it was actually from a 1988 incident in which loggers attacked Earth First! protesters blocking a gate at the Bull Run timber sale.Furthermore, says Benneville, ABC's source for several pieces of the misinformation was Earth First! nemesis Barry Clausen, the self-described private investigator who wrote a book about Earth First! after "infiltrating" the group. Earth First! describes Clausen as a shill for the timber industry whose credibility was suspect from day one but whose money the group happily accepted anyway. Earth First! has a copy of a deposition in which an FBI agent's deposition declares Clausen an unreliable source, according to Hemstreet. Apparently, ABC didn't get a copy.ABC spokesperson Arnot Walker, in fact, responded to all of Earth First!'s objections to the newscast by saying: "We're standing by the story as reported."But Earth First! apparently isn't the only one that has problems with the ABC report. "I wasn't happy with it," says Roxanne Bezjian, an ABC freelancer from San Francisco who came to Eugene to interview Earth First! Journal staffers for the story. Even though Bezjian quickly tried to unstate her comment with an "I take that back. I didn't say that," she obviously had some misgivings with ABC's treatment. In fact, Beneville says that when he talked to Bezjian she was "horrified" that ABC had implied that the Earth First! Journal had printed the hit list. In response to the ABC story, Beneville says the Journal has received angry calls from ABC viewers and inquiries from The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times and a long list of other national media. "ABC wanted an exclusive." says Beneville, "and they were willing to bend any journalistic rules to get it."

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