MIKE BRAUN Deer-in-orange-vest story redux
Getting bamboozled once is enough to make one feel and look foolish. Getting fooled twice only confirms the fact.
Such is the case with an honest-to-goodness Youngstown-oriented urban legend that surfaced in these parts at the end of 2000.
The story involves Ohio's white-tailed deer, hunters, orange vests and the folks at PETA.
First, a little background. The story came to my attention in December 2000 when an outdoor writer for the Buffalo News called me and requested information on an Associated Press story he had been e-mailed that deer in the greater Youngstown area sporting hunter orange vests.
The story: The e-mailed AP story recounted how members of PETA - People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, a very vocal animal-rights group - had managed to place orange vests on some 400 white-tailed deer here in order to confuse hunters and protect the deer.
The confusion, apparently, was generated from the fact that hunters would not shoot anything wearing orange since, again according to the e-mailed dispatch, Ohio hunters were "required" to wear 400-square-inches of the color themselves when they hunted.
The story continued with an enterprising Youngstown man figuring he could "spit in the face of PETA" by promoting a contest offering a bounty on the deer. The story said the man, Guy Lockey, supposed owner of an operation called Guy's Outdoors, had managed to collect more than 300 vests from area hunters.
The story even quoted, anonymously, a hunter saying the deer were easy pickings since they were wearing orange and one could see them for miles away.
Anonymous source: Furthermore, an "anonymous" Ohio Department of Natural Resources official was concerned enough to criticize the PETA "plan" and worried that it might get a hunter shot or a deer tangled in the underbrush.
The story concluded with season information on Ohio deer season.
It wasn't hard to debunk the story right from the start, which I did, explaining to the New York state newspaperman several problems with his e-mailed information.
First, unless you are working with farm-raised deer, it would near impossible to find, catch and "dress" 400 wild white-tailed deer with vests without some of the deer being hurt or dying from shock.
Also, needless-to-say, some deer range into the 200-pound class and have antlers. SHARP, many-pointed antlers. Anybody out there wanna try to put a vest on a struggling 200-plus pound 8-point buck? Without tranquilizers?
Blithering idiot: Second, a hunter would need to be a complete, blithering idiot to shoot at ANYTHING wearing orange. Granted, there are probably some in Ohio who fit that description, but more than 300? Uh-uh.
Furthermore, there are no requirements on the amount of orange hunters must wear, only that they wear some sort of orange garment -- coat, jacket, overalls, something other than just an orange hat.
Finally, there is no Guy Lockey, no Guy's Outdoors, the Associated Press would never quote an ODNR official anonymously without seeking comment from another ODNR official for confirmation or denial and, the icing on the cake, the story's information on the Ohio deer gun season was just plain wrong.
That was in December 2000. That for the rest of the story.
Surfaces again: Earlier this month, I got a called from Andy Ware, public information officer for the ODNR in Columbus. Ware told me he had heard several national news organizations had broadcast or used the orange-vested deer story and had I heard about it?
Ware said he knew of a broadcast by Fox News and use of the information on the Web sites of The Wall Street Journal and ESPN.
"Other than one outdoor e-zine [I think it was Buckmasters], no press called to confirm the story," he said.
Furthermore, Ware contacted FOX News in New York, The Wall Street Journal, ESPN, and others to let them know the story was false.
Ware said Brit Hume of FOX News, a respected national news commentator who had used the fake story Jan. 8, also broadcast a retraction the next day.
Maybe it's just me, but I can't fathom how major, national news organizations could be so loose with the facts to run such drivel without checking it in detail first. There is no way any of that story could have or should have been used if the facts had been checked.
So check 'em: One of the primary tenets of this business is to check your facts BEFORE you use them. And especially these days, with all the loose info flying around the Internet, that tenet is doubly important. Something that seems so silly and strange and that came to a reporter or editor via the Net I would think would bear stringent examination before being used.
Hopefully, the next time this story surfaces, and you know it will, news organizations will be a bit more circumspect. Unfortunately, I can almost guarantee that there will be at least one media outlet somewhere that won't be.