Attacking the media to defend rodeo is probably not the best of strategies

A story that recently broke in one of our sister papers; the Stettler Independent a while back, has once again opened the debate over the treatment of animals at rodeos and after a few ill-conceived comments by the story’s principle, has most likely set the image of one of Alberta’s most beloved summer activities back a number of steps.

In case you missed it, the article revolved around a chuckwagon driver from Bashaw named Reg Johnstone who took a big turn south following a collision that he was involved in during this year’s Rangeland Derby at the Calgary Stampede which resulted in one of his horses being uthanized.

When he was interviewed shortly after the collision, Mr. Johnstone immediately jumped to the offensive and went into a tirade in which he was highly critical of the media regarding another collision that happened on the same track more than a year previously.

In his rant, Johnstone suggested the media were “vultures” and that, “The story ain’t good enough unless it’s blood and guts, right?” Further, he also suggested, “(Journalists) don’t write anything about the good stuff that happens at the stampede, but somebody loses a horse, they’re like a bunch of vultures.”

Johnstone chastised the media for reporting on the deaths of three horses that occurred following a crash at the 2007 Calgary Stampede while showing no sympathy for chuchkwagon driver Tyler Helmig who was hospitalized for more than four months with a smashed hip and broken elbow.

In an editorial comment that appeared in the following edition, Independent editor Mustafa Eric suggested that while rodeos continue to draw huge crowds to their events, the industry must begin to acknowledge animal rights activists and, at the very least, hear them out. He also suggested that while rodeo participants stand to gain huge financial and personal gains in their vocation, the reality of the situation is that it is the animals, in fact, that are doing all the work. During equestrian events at the Olympic Games, shouldn’t the horses get the medals?

But “absolutely not”, claimed a letter to the editor that was also published in the paper.

In the letter, the submitter suggested, ”Most of these animal activists who holler the loudest about animal cruelty concerning rodeos are badly misinformed or just do not want to face the truth.”

Oh really? Considering the fact that the media is forced to deal with “the truth” all day, every day, the letter writer may want to reconsider that statement as well.

After all, if “face the truth” means accepting the fact that each and every event at a rodeo comes down to the exploitation of an animal, than the media is more than willing to “face the truth” and even report “the truth”.

In that light, now who’s “badly misinformed” and now who “does not want to face the truth”?

Apparently, both Mr. Johnstone and the letter writer seem to have forgotten about the ill-fated Moscow Circus, which was a staple for decades across North America when they would tour the continent with a number of Asiatic brown bears.

That is, of course, until the media started to bring the inhumane conditions that the bears were forced to live in to the public’s attention.

That was back in 1991.

Within a week or two, the public was so outraged with the coverage supplied by the very same media that Mr. Johnstone was so quick to attack, that they refused to have anything to do with it, and the tour abruptly ended, has never returned, and never will.

There’s no denying that rodeos attract huge crowds every summer in Alberta, but how many people would go if animals were taken out of the equation? For example would you pay $10 or $20 each to watch Mr. Johnstone and seven other chuckwagon drivers in a foot race with each other?

Later in the interview, Johnstone further suggested, “If you don’t want to see the accidents happen, stay out of the grandstand,” and added, “If you don’t want to see it (dead and crippled animals), don’t go and watch it.”

But you’ve just got to believe that someone in the Moscow Circus said exactly the same thing some time in 1991, and where are they now?

He may very-well have been a bit pre-occupied with his assault on the media, but animal rights activists who read the article may have found it very curious to note that throughout his interview, Mr. Johnstone never mentioned one single, solitary word about his just – euthanized horse, which seems a bit odd coming from a guy who claimed in the same interview that, “These horses are better looked after than most family’s kids are.”

In the case of both the letter writer and Mr. Johnstone, attacking the media to defend rodeo most likely wasn’t the best strategy to take.

Right about now the media probably isn’t Mr. Johnstone’s best friend, but what he apparently fails to realize is that like the Moscow Circus, the media is also more than capable of going on the offensive and can quickly become his worst enemy; even if it’s only a small town weekly newspaper and especially in an editorial.

Mr. Johnstone may want to consider that the next time he drives one of the Creator’s most magnificent animals to a horrible death for money.

To reference this article online, visit: stettlerindependent.com. The story appeared in the July 16 edition and you’ll find it under the “Sports” tab; the letter to the editor appeared in the July 23 edition and is under the “Letters” tab, and Mr. Eric’s editorial appeared in the July 16 edition and is under the “Opinion” tab however you may have to search for it a bit.