Silas House | Ashley Judd coverage of mountaintop removal mining comments shows bias

Recently “an anonymous donor” paid for a sign to be made up and displayed at the Stonecrest Golf Course in Prestonsburg, Ky. The sign uses a photo of a semi-nude Ashley Judd that originally appeared on a 2006 cover of Marie Claire magazine. The caption beside the picture reads, “ASHLEY MAKES A LIVING REMOVING HER TOP. WHY CAN’T COAL MINERS?”

The sign is sexist, ignorant and infantile. The sign shows that the coal industry will stoop to any level to pit Appalachians against one another, and illuminates the fact that some people who support mountaintop removal will try to prop up their argument by misconstruing the facts and quotes.

Since Judd’s speech on mountaintop removal mining aired, WYMT, the Hazard, Ky., news station (and a sister station of WKYT in Lexington) has repeatedly aired reports on the controversy brewing around her speech. Yet most of the controversy it’s reporting on is being created by the station itself. All of its reporting has been incredibly biased. With its coverage of the sign, the reporting was not only biased, but sexist.

The sign came in response to a statement Judd made in a speech she delivered to the National Press Club in June about mountaintop removal, which she opposes. Her exact quote was, “I don’t know a whole lot of hillbillies who golf.” When put into context, it’s clear that Judd is saying that true Appalachians cherish a mountain more than they do a golf course. And she’s also pointing out that most MTR sites are not put to any use, despite a handful that have been used for things such as a prison and a golf course.

Much ado has been made of this quote. Those in favor of MTR have used it to say that Judd is using the word “hillbillies” in a negative connotation. They fail to point out that Judd starts the speech with these words: “Being an Eastern Kentuckian is the simple fact that brings me the most honor … I … am proud of being a hillbilly.” They also say that her golf course quote is perpetuating a stereotype about Appalachians being backward. But they are misconstruing the quote and taking it out of context.

People who pass along this interpretation of the quote are doing exactly what the coal companies want them to do: they’re perpetuating a lie and they’re letting the importance of the issue get clouded up in something else.

The sign insinuates that Judd has made her career on taking off her clothes. Nudity is sometimes a part of acting, yes. But to imply that Judd has made her living off that is ridiculous. If George Clooney, another Kentuckian, had made the same speech, would they be putting up a sign about him taking off his clothes, since he, too, has appeared nude on film? Of course not. Because he’s a man.

Lots of folks in Eastern Kentucky think that destroying the land is a lot more offensive than someone being naked. Yet the news seems to not know they exist, and certainly hasn’t interviewed them.

WYMT furthered the sexism by only interviewing men during its report on the sign. The station refused to show the picture because it feared it “might be offensive to some viewers,” implying the picture was vulgar instead of an artistic statement. It also threw in its own opinion with little nuggets like this: “We only found one person who thought the sign was a little over the top.” That’s blatantly leading the viewer/listener, and it’s something that journalists are not supposed to do in this sort of report.

I believe everyone has the right to offer their opinion about MTR and Judd’s speech, and I welcome differing voices. But twisting words and purposely taking things out of context is just flat-out wrong. It’s lying.

When people and the media do this, however, they’re doing just what the industry wants them to, as big corporations have always furthered their own causes by dividing and conquering the people. And when they do this they’re simply illuminating to most intelligent folks that they don’t have enough real facts to back up their argument that MTR is a good thing, so they resort to name calling and lying. That’s just pathetic, and I hope more people will start seeing through these tactics.

Silas House is a novelist who lives in London, Ky. His books including “The Coal Tattoo,” “Clay’s Quilt” and, most recently, “Eli the Good.”

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3 Responses to Silas House | Ashley Judd coverage of mountaintop removal mining comments shows bias

  1. Randy Maggard says:

    I would like to correct Silas House and Ashley Judd. How does one become an ” Eastern Kentuckian ” when they were born in Granada Hills, California and now live in both Tennessee and Scotland ?
    Ms Judd or whatever name she goes by now lives a few years in Kentucky and claims to be an “Eastern Kentuckian”. If she likes Kentucky so much why doesn’t she move here so she can contribute to our tax base . I’m sure we could build a lot of schools and new roads with the millions her and her racecar driving husband make.

    Just a few thoughts,
    Token Coal Guy,

  2. Walt says:

    I started reading the speech that Mrs. Judd gave, and as usual with most enviro’s there were many untruths and misleading accusations, I guess it hard to break old habits. I thought I would address some of the usual propaganda spread by enviro’s below.

    Judd Comment – After permits are approved – all too easily in most cases – by state and federal agencies, access roads are carved up to the mountaintop. 
    Response – Twenty years ago it took about one year to obtain a permit to surface mine, today it takes three or four years minimum and with today’s EPA a permit may never be obtained.

    Judd Comment – The lush forests, among the most biodiverse habitats in the entire world, are cut down.  They are not even harvested; the old growth trees are simply razed and the land graded level. 
    Response – Not all but most properties are timbered by the owner or others prior to the coal company clearing the land for mining.

    Judd Comment – Next, explosives are trucked in – explosives so volatile they must be transported on separate vehicles
    Response – State and Federal laws requires explosives used for not only mining, but for all purposes to be transported in specially designed vehicles.

    Judd Comment – Every single day, around the clock, seven days a week,
    Response – State and Federal laws only allows blasting after the sun rises and prior to the sun setting, also blasting is only allowed Monday thru Saturday. No blasting is allowed on Sunday.

    Judd Comment – What once was an ecologically and potentially economically rich resource.
    Response – Economically rich resource? If it was so rich then why wasn’t this rich resource used before Mountaintop Removal began?

    Judd Comment – This is the reason that children in eastern Kentucky draw creeks black. They don’t know that water is supposed to run clear.
    Response – I don’t know what area of Eastern Kentucky you have visited, but I have lived in Eastern Kentucky for over a half a century and I have yet to see a child draw a creek black.

    Judd Comment – To get the coal out, drag lines 20 stories high scoop out the narrow seams that lie like layers of a chocolate cake.
    Response – I don’t know of any drag line that is 20 stories tall, and there are very few drag lines operating in Appalachia. Most surface mines use small shovels are trucks and loaders.

    Judd Comment – In many cases, once the coal company is finished, the mine site is simply abandoned.  The coal company often sets up a shell corporation or two to operate a job, and then defaults on the bond. 
    Response – There have been a few instances where companies have forfeited their bond, but in each account the bond paid the cost to complete any and all reclamation. In each mine permit Owners and Chief Administrators are listed as responsible persons if the bond is forfeited they will never be eligible to apply for another coal permit any where in the U.S.A.

  3. They Don't Get It says:

    Eastern Kentuckians want their coal industry. They don’t care about what it does to the land, the animals, or the water. They are content with a job that requires a minimal amount of education and content that eventually their bodies will be crippled in such a way that they are forced into retirements and dosed with opiates until God comes to carry them home. If Jr. or Sissy develop a taste for the opiates so easily attained from the medicine chest, Pa is certain to turn a blind eye as the habit grows and spreads, as cancerously as the dust sitting within patriarchal lungs.

    Ashley Judd is not an Eastern Kentuckian.

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