Monday, October 29, 2007
Bees Obscene and Not Heard
If there's anything I hate more than crap science, it's crap journalism. Gone are the days of Hunter S. Thompson, Joan Didion, and Tom Wolfe, savvy observers of the American political, social, and cultural scene who before ever putting pen to paper, first totally and fearlessly immersed themselves in the topics they were covering, whether those topics included California car culture, Russian revolutionaries, or the inner workings of the Hells Angels.
Today, we rely primarily on television "news" shows to bring us investigative stories and in depth profiles. And for ages it seems, 60 Minutes has been considered the cream of the crop. But over the past couple years, the show I've been watching has slowly devolved into something with all the journalistic integrity of The Tyra Banks Show.
Witness last night's coverage of the collapse of hundreds of bee colonies across the United States. Most of us know the gist of what's happening: over the past several years, millions of bees have simply up and left their colonies. Not died, but just, well, left.
While no one has as yet discovered the reason our bees are disappearing, no one is in dispute that they are. (I don't dispute it, either, although, oddly, my own garden has never been as lush, as healthy, and as overrun with bees as it has been these past 2-3 years. Hmmm . . . )
Like almost all of the newspaper, magazine, and online coverage of colony collapse, last night's show focused exclusively on the disappearance of honey bees from commercial colonies. That is, those colonies which are cultivated by professional beekeepers – like Dave Hackenberg, profiled in the show – to travel across the country to pollinate commercial farming operations. Like the bazillion acre pumpkin farm owned by Brian Campbell of Berwick, PA. When asked by reporter Steve Kroft what would happen to his operations if he didn't have tens of thousands of bees on the job, Campbell answered: "Well, my business wouldn't be as profitable." AS profitable, Party People. In other words, he wouldn't be able to grow mass quantities of pumpkins. Pumpkins headed not for our dinner tables, but for Wal-Marts throughout the eastern seaboard as eventual Jack-O-Lanterns for Halloween.
After listening to about half the story, it occurred to Moi that maybe the bees are disappearing because they are continually being carted thousands of miles across the country on flat bed trucks, plunked down in the middle of hundreds – many times thousands – of acres of one single crop, and forced to spend the whole season pollinating not just said single crop but also one most likely treated with God only knows what kind of chemical(s).
In other words, the very industry that relies on bees for its profit may be stressing its main workforce right the hell out. And we all know what stress leads to. It leads to the fight or flight response. And the last time I checked, honey bees don't wear little honey bee boxing gloves.
Surely, if that theory occurred to lil' ol' Moi, it would occur to the Powers That Be at 60 Minutes. Right? Uh, that would be a big NOPE.
Never once in his report did Steve Kroft point out this irony. Never once did he wonder aloud at industry-wide reports suggesting that, unlike traditional industrial beekeeping operations like Hackenberg's, organic beekeepers, even those who operate at the same commercial level, are experiencing NO instances of colony collapse. Never once did he point out that this particular practice of beekeeping is still in its infancy, and we are only just now beginning to study it's implications for bee health and behavior. Finally, Kroft never once wondered if feral bee populations in non-agricultural areas (like the one that includes Moi's garden) were undergoing the same colony collapse (it seems they are not).
So, a story that should have been inspired and of-the-moment ended up just feeling kind of shabby and way too much like yesterday's news. Yes, we all know the bees are splitting for parts unknown. But tell us something new, why don't cha? I have a feeling that someday soon, you'll see 60 Minutes reporters undergoing their own kind of collapse: from boredom, disinterest, and lack of ideas.