Alaskan newspaper reporting

The public perception of the Iditarod is largely based on media reports originating in Alaska. These reports are nearly always biased in favor of the Iditarod.

Mushers beat their dogs with quirt whips. A quirt whip has two tails at the end. The core of the quirt is normally filled with lead shot. Mushers can roll up quirt whips and put them into their pockets.

Mushers beat their  sled dogs with quirt whips. A quirt whip has two tails at the end. The core of the quirt is normally filled with lead shot. Mushers can roll up quirt whips and put them into their pockets. Alaska media rarely reports on the many cruelties Iditarod dogs are forced to endure.

Iditarod wants to control the media:

“‘Stan’s plan is to control the media,’ [Susan] Lucas said.”

- Susan Lucas is the general manager of KTUU-TV. She is talking about Stan Hooley, the Executive Director of the Iditarod Trail Committee.
- Mike Campbell, Anchorage Daily News, March 1, 2011

Alaskan newspapers handle the subject of the Iditarod cautiously and almost always without criticism, because the Iditarod is a big business and is popular among many Alaskans:

“Alaska basks in two weeks of tourism publicity that money can’t buy.”

- “Children’s book returns Iditarod to its public-health roots,” Fairbanks News-Miner, updated 1998 article on website.

“Iditarod causes a yearly spurt of activity, increased airplane traffic and excitement to areas otherwise quiet and dormant during the long Alaskan winter….The race is an educational opportunity and an economic stimulus to these small Alaskan outposts.”

- The Iditarod Trail Committee website

Do many Alaska media outlets and Alaska businesses sponsor the Iditarod?

Many Alaska media outlets have sponsored the race, including Alaska Magazine, Alaska Newspapers (which owned eight newspapers in small Alaskan cities), Alaska Public Radio Network, The Anchorage Daily News, and KENI Radio. The Anchorage Daily News received a prominent link from the official Iditarod website and gave a reciprocal link to the official Iditarod website. Sponsorships and web links compromise the media’s ability to provide objective race coverage. The Anchorage Daily News continues to sponsor the Iditarod. It is owned by the McClatchy Company.

“A second tier of major sponsors pay a minimum of $50,000 each and the group this year includes…the Anchorage Daily News….”

- Robert Howk, Alaska Journal of Commerce, February 9, 2004

Musher lifting dog and putting him into a small container

Musher lifting dog and putting him into a small container

2006 IDITAROD SPONSORSHIP LEVELS

MAJOR SPONSOR: $50,000

The Anchorage Daily News paid $50,000 for this level of sponsorship in 2006.

- Iditarod sponsorship levels and entitlements, February, 2006

A multitude of other Alaska businesses from various sectors of the economy also sponsor the race. A large percentage of an Alaska media organization’s revenue depends upon the advertising dollars of these businesses. With such a broad base of support for the race among businesses and readers, it is difficult for any media outlet to criticize the race, regardless of how many dogs are killed and injured. In fact, the leading newspapers have occasionally portrayed the race as a joyous event for the dogs.

Anchorage Daily News profits from its pro-race stand:

The Anchorage Daily News sells businesses advertising space in its special Iditarod section with links to the ads on the newspaper’s main Iditarod webpage. Businesses can also buy links to their homepages on the newspaper’s many Iditarod webpages.

The newspaper sells pro-Iditarod books in its online Anchorage Daily News store. There are book picture links to the store are on all of its Iditarod webpages.

- Sled Dog Action Coalition
- Anchorage Daily News website

Newspaper strategies with a pro-Iditarod spin have included:

1. Emphasizing upbeat images of sled dogs:

“(Musher Vern) Halter tenderly tended his dogs’ feet Monday, rubbing in the oily liquid and talking to the dogs. One husky raised its head and seemed to give Halter a grin.”

- Jolie Lewis, Fairbanks News-Miner, undated 1991 article on website

“Luxuriating on her straw bed in the sunshine…the husky named Wesley wiggled on her back and stretched open her legs….”

-Doug O’Harra, Anchorage Daily News, March 16, 1998

Dog asleep in snow

Exhausted Iditarod dog

2. Holding responsible parties free of guilt in dog deaths:

“It was like [the dog] was breathing real hard and five seconds later he was dead. People die that way too. There’s nothing you can do about it.”

- Brian O’ Donoghue, Fairbanks News-Miner, undated 1997 article on web site

“[Musher] Joy said she sat…and reflected on the things beyond human control while her dogs rested…. She spent much of the day riding behind her dogs on the trail, thinking about the same thing, concluding death is a sad but inevitable companion, whether on the Iditarod (trail) or in life.”

- Musher Joy after the death of her dog, Trim, in the Iditarod
- Doug O’Harra, Anchorage Daily News, March 20, 1998

3. Describing the apparent sadness of mushers and race officials when a dog dies:

A reporter advised mushers to give press interviews soon after the death of a dog, because not providing comments to the press until hours or days after a dog death made them seem cold and uncaring.

“It is awful. The whole thing came down hard on me. It was really hard for me to continue….”

- Joe Lanier speaking of the two dogs in his team that died Doug O’Harra, Anchorage Daily News, March 27, 1998

“Still, Iditarod officials were shaken by [Trim's] death. Up until Wednesday night they thought they were on the verge of what appears near (sic) impossible–an Iditarod race without a dog death.”

- Doug O’Harra, Anchorage Daily News, March 20, 1998

4. Commending the dog care provided by mushers and veterinarians:

“I thought the vet corps were exceptionally helpful. They’re starting to develop the trust of the mushers. That makes it better for the dogs.” – Rick Swenson, a musher who killed his dog by forcing him to run through waist-deep water and ice

- Craig Medred and Doug O’Harra, Anchorage Daily News, March 21, 1998

“[Veterinarian] Starks praised [musher] Brooks’ response to the dog’s collapse—and his overall care of the team. ‘He took good care of him,’ Stark said. ‘He is a good kid.’”

- Doug O’Harra, Anchorage Daily News, March 16, 1998

No Shelter for dogs

These dogs raced 1,000 miles to Nome. They weren’t even given shelters to protect them from the frigid cold, snow or wind.
Photo attributed to jkbrooks85 on flickr, uploaded March 23, 2010

5. Using non-veterinarians as sources of veterinary information in their articles:

“[Butcher] said there was no evidence undiagnosed heart problems are the cause of the trail’s inexplicable casualties.”

- Musher Susan Butcher providing veterinary analysis
- Fairbanks News-Miner, undated 1997 article on website

6. Hyping bonds between dogs and mushers:

Rob Moore: “Now the mushers do say their dogs are treated very well. And, I read that they have these romantic statements about the strong bond between musher and dog. But can there be a strong bond? And, can there be proper treatment in these kennels or between them and these dogs that they’re breeding to race in this one race? Ethel, I’ll direct that to you.”

Ethel Christensen: “It’s all media hype. I mean, you can’t have anything negative in the media about the Iditarod. And it’s all hype. I’m sorry but it’s just not true. But, don’t get me wrong. I love mushing. I love the recreational mushing and there’s of good people that are mushers out there, but the race is not humane. It’s inhumane and I don’t see how they could possibly bond with all their dogs.”

[From the Sled Dog Action Coalition: Iditarod mushers routinely have kennels of 90 to 200 dogs.]

- Ethel Christensen is the Executive Director of the Alaska SPCA
- Rob Moore hosts Animal Voices, a radio show in Toronto, Canada.
- This interview was done on February 28, 2006

Some reporters encourage readers to see the dogs as star human athletes:

“Marathon runners, long-distance skiers and long-distance bicycle racers face the same problem as lead dogs.”

- Craig Medred, Anchorage Daily News, March 10, 1998

” …the team of huskies kicked out the power right to the end, the disciplined expression of marathon runners on their canine faces and their eyes locked on the finish line….”

- Jolie Lewis, Fairbanks News-Miner, March 18, 1998

“The dogs had little doubt. The veterans among them knew the finish line was close and kept pulling.”

- Doug O’Harra and Craig Medred, Anchorage Daily News, March 18, 1998

Chained dog lives in dilapidated structure. Photo courtesy of SledDogma.org

Chained dog lives in dilapidated structure.
Photo courtesy of SledDogma.org

Newspapers don’t report horrific ways Iditarod dogs live:

Dr. Paula Kislak: “The other thing besides social interaction, and dogs definitely are pack animals and they do well and would normally chose to live in a social grouping, is that they’re also very clean animals, which is why we’re able as humans to house-break them, because we take advantage of their natural fastidious tendencies to not want to soil the area that they live in their “cave.” So when they’re tethered on four foot tethers and that’s the extent of the distance they can go, the area becomes completely soiled with fecal contamination and urine, stench, and ammonia. And it’s just a mess. And the dogs are forced to live in this, which is also completely contrary to their nature. And that’s the type of thing that the newspapers don’t see or report as well. And that’s day to day to day, year after year after year. It’s just bad.”

- Dr. Paula Kislak, DVM, is president of the Association of Veterinarians for Animal Rights
- She made these remarks in an interview with Janice Blue, the host of Go Vegan Texas (KPFT), on February 27, 2006