According to the
National Christmas Tree Association, 36 million American homes
will be adorned with a real Christmas tree this December. It’s
probably just a matter of time before NBC’s Matt Lauer sits down
with Julia "Butterfly" Hill to rue this mass Yuletide slaughter.
achieved celebrity status for depositing herself atop a giant
redwood tree in northern California for two years, with volunteers
hoisting food and other necessities up to her using ropes and
pulleys. It was a stunt designed to block lumbermen from the Pacific
Lumber Company from harvesting the tree, which the company owned.
The protest ended in December, 1999, when Hill agreed to pay Pacific
Lumber $50,000 obtained from royalties, T-shirt sales, and
donations; the company promised it wouldn’t cut down the tree, which
Hill calls "Luna," or other trees within a 200 foot radius.
Some regard Hill as a ludicrous figure; after she descended from
her perch, a wireless company called OmniSky put out an ad featuring
a grungy tree-living woman who used OmniSky technology to contact
someone who could come to the woods and wash her with a big soapy
sponge. Hill sued. "The very concept [of the ad] degrades the
sacrifices Ms. Hill has made to further the cause of protecting old
growth forests," her lawyers humorlessly stated in their complaint.
But the gang at NBC’s Today has never giggled about Hill’s
cause. Instead, they have promoted her and her views on at least
three occasions, most recently a lengthy segment on November 30 when
host Matt Lauer seemed extraordinarily troubled by the fact that
someone used a chain saw to anonymously cut into the redwood, which
the NBC star also referred to as "Luna."
Lauer seemed overwrought by the tree’s plight. "I know this is
not the interview you wanted to do with me," he sympathetically told
Hill before inquiring, "You went and saw Luna. How hard was that for
Continuing to refer to the redwood tree as if it were a sick
person instead of a hardy evergreen, Lauer asked, "What’s the
condition of Luna? And what are people doing to save it?" While he
was talking to Hill in the studio, Today showed
previously-taped footage of her loudly weeping at the base of the
cut tree. Lauer also raised the specter of an axe-wielding assassin:
"Do you think this is a random act of violence, or do you think this
was the work of a professional who symbolically was targeting this
particular tree because of your, your live-in in this tree?"
Today also gave Hill the chance to slam, in her words, "those
who believe that jobs are more important than protecting
biodiversity and old growth forests and ecosystems," and to smear a
business as corrupt: "Companies like Pacific Lumber Maxxam
Corporation violate the law right and left. They violated the law
over 300 times in three years and continue to get violations." No
Pacific Lumber — a company which has helped preserve thousands
of acres of redwood forest — was given a chance to respond, although
Lauer did ask if Hill meant to blame the lumber company for cutting
the celebrity redwood.
"I’m not alleging anyone who did this," Hill blithely responded.
The point of all of this, of course, is to get audiences to
applaud the grit and determination of activists from the most
radical fringes of the environmental movement, while their views are
protected from serious cross-examination. Yet these fringe players
have proven themselves unrelentingly hostile to industrial activity
and economic development. They regard human beings as little more
than a cancer on planet Earth, which would otherwise be a utopia for
a diverse array of plants and animals. Over the past year, all of
the networks implicitly or explicitly cast Hill as a heroine because
of the extent of her personal sacrifice, but never offered an
even-handed examination of her philosophy — namely, that jobs and
the well-being of human beings are lower priorities than
ABC, for example, saluted Hill in its Planet Earth 2000
special which aired on Earth Day, April 26. Reporter Chris Cuomo
called her "the stubborn woman in the tree," who he suggested was
secretly "admired" by some employees of Pacific Lumber. "Now Julia
travels across the country," Cuomo related, putting Hill on a
first-name basis with his audience, "telling her story of personal
power and responsibility....the woman who nourished a small deed and
watched it grow over 200 feet tall."
Today has been an especially sympathetic forum for Hill. Last
April, she was also interviewed by Lauer, who went out of his way to
"remind people that you never went up in that tree intending to
spend over two years up there; you thought maybe a month. And you
also don’t like to be associated or, or labeled as one of those kind
of granola-crunching hippie types who does this thing all the time."
After her late November appearance, Today’s web site directed
viewers to the Circle of Life Foundation site, where they could give
money to the "Luna Preservation Endowment."
Imagine Today giving viewers instructions on how they
could send donations to conservative, free-market foundations.
During the recently-concluded campaign season, the networks went
out of their way to resist covering what they considered
manufactured news events, i.e., events which were constructed merely
for the sake of attracting reporters and which, in the absence of
media attention, would not have existed. CBS’s Dan Rather, for
example, even went so far as to blast both the Republican and
Democratic nominating conventions as infomercials; "Popeil
politics," he sneeringly labeled them in honor of Ron Popeil, who
has sold millions of rotisserie barbecues and inside-the-egg
scramblers on TV.
When Julia Hill climbed Luna, she and her supporters created a
made-for-TV event, and a sympathetic media helped her win her goal
of saving a single, elderly redwood. But her unremittingly hostile
view of both the lumber company and anyone else who sees value in
jobs and human well-being is a long way from even what most liberals
think — and Today should know better than ruin viewers’
mornings with a seriously one-sided presentation of such laughable