Sometimes we are amazed what the news media will do to manufacture “controversy,” an overused word that purportedly will ensnare readers and viewers.
For a case in point, one needed but turn to CNN.com late this morning and glance at the “Only On CNN” section. There three items were promoted, including one headlined “Hawaii’s new sanctuary stirs controversy.” (Consider us ensnared.)
A quick click would have taken you to the page carrying the four-day-old story, where it bears the fuller headline “New designation of Hawaiian waters stirs controversy.”
What is this “controversy” of which CNN speaks? Could the network be talking about President Bush’s move last week establishing the vast, remote Northwestern Hawaiian Islands as a national monument — perhaps the most farsighted act of his presidency, and one that has drawn acclaim far and wide?
Why, yes, it is.
First a little context. The St. Petersburg Times editorial board said Bush’s creation of “the largest marine reserve in the world” — thereby protecting “almost 140,000 square miles of uninhabited Hawaiian islands, ocean and coral reefs” — meant that “a significant part of Bush’s legacy will be forever linked to this act of environmental heroism.”
Referring to “Bush’s natural wonder,” the Los Angeles Times said his creation of the monument (which is larger than 46 states and “bigger than all U.S. national parks combined”) was “inspired, heartfelt, glorious — and atypical.”
Even the New York Times and Bush agreed on this one, with a Times editorial admiring how the islands are being protected “for their own sake, for science and forever.”
Meantime, the first 15 paragraphs of Marsha Walton’s CNN story had more of the same, with Dan Basta, the director of NOAA’s National Marine Sanctuary Program, saying “This is huge. This is an incredibly bold stroke by this president.”
So where’s the controversy?
In paragraph 16 CNN finally brought the goods (such as they were), with Walton writing that “The monument designation is not being welcomed by everyone in Hawaii. One consequence of the president’s declaration is that within five years fishing in the area must cease.”
As it turns out, not even a dozen commercial fishermen will be affected; as Walton notes, “Currently there are only eight fishing permits allowed in NWHI.”
Walton quotes Kitty Simonds (executive director of the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council) and one upset fisherman who both argue that well-regulated fishing and a sound ecosystem can coexist. (She also quotes an Ocean Conservancy senior scientist who “said a comprehensive look at fishing populations there over the past 15 years … shows the area has been overfished in 11 of the 16 years from 1988 to 2003, even with a relatively small number of commercial fishermen.”)
And that was CNN’s controversy — a bold act of selfless preservation of an entire ecosystem by mankind means that eight fishermen will be forced, after five years, to fish somewhere else.
That’s not a controversy. If anything, it’s a tiny spritz of dissent in an ocean of unanimity.