By admin | April 25th, 2014
The rise and fall of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy this month has been, well, fascinating. The roots of Bundy’s issues with the United States Bureau of Land Management go back to the 1990s and center on years and years of unpaid cattle grazing fees, but recent developments brought national media attention from a wide range of news sources – from CNN News to the Daily Show and more. The short version of what has gone on – in early April, BLM officials began rounding up cattle owned by Bundy that were grazing (trespassing) on federal land. While they were doing so, they were confronted by protesters and armed supporters of Bundy. The Los Angeles Times even used the term “range war” in a headline from April 7. Bundy and his family have done interview after interview after interview.
From April 10 (the day of the first big confrontation) through April 23, there were 10,434 U.S. media mentions about what was happening in rural Clark County, Nevada. Commentators and politicians, of course, have weighed in with opinions. The Washington Times published this summary of the how varied the public view of the story had been – “Rancher Cliven Bundy’s standoff with the Bureau of Land Management has prompted a national debate over whether the elderly Nevada cattleman is a patriotic freedom fighter or a lawless renegade.” In addition to a range of conservative media supporters, U.S. Sens. Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, and Dean Heller all, in some way, were positive about Bundy. And then an April 24 New York Times story broke.
Reporter Adam Nagourney quoted Bundy addressing a group of supporters on April 19, and those quotes rocketed across the media sphere. In part, the Times reported that Bundy said “And I’ve often wondered, are they (African Americans) better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things, or are they better off under government subsidy? They didn’t get no more freedom. They got less freedom.” Bundy’s recent supporters, especially elected officials, couldn’t distance themselves fast enough.
Fox News’ Greta Van Sustern posted “LET ME MAKE THIS PLAIN: I CONDEMN WHAT CLIVEN BUNDY SAID ABOUT AFRICAN AMERICANS” the day the Times story came out. Media mentions of Bundy just on April 24 jumped to 2,970 in the United States alone. Notice how the story popped on April 10th, and then peaked on April 24th. Is it over?
The lesson to take away from all of this is that you take risks anytime you decide to lend support to someone’s cause without fully understanding all aspects of that person. This sort of incident doesn’t rise to the level of a fatal PR mistake, but it sure is embarrassing. And embarrassment is bad enough.