Newsweek’s West at war with Truth
by Phil Burgess, Unabridged from the Rocky Mountain News, October 8, 1991
In its Sept. 30 cover story “The War for the West”Newsweek magazine describes an American West that resembles the real West about as much as a Hollywood movie script. Down to its cover art, it’s a rehash of a Sept. 17, 1979 Newsweek cover story, “The Angry West.”
Here is a summary of what Newsweek missed:
- Cities. The West is one of the most urbanized areas of the U.S., measured by the percentage of people who live in cities over 25,00. Western cities dominate lists of America’s “most livable” cities. Yet Newsweek only talks about the West’s “thirsty cities” — even though more than 85% if the water in most Western states is used by agriculture.
- Economic diversification. The old resource-based economies of the West are experiencing dramatic diversification. Example: During 1988-90, the U.S. added more than 2.2 million net new jobs. Nationally, 18% of the new jobs were in manufacturing. In the West, 30% if the new jobs in manufacturing. High-tech manufacturing in the West grew at three times the national average.In fact, there is a manufacturing boom in the West today. Yet, readers ofNewsweek did not find a sentence about the rise of manufacturing and the incredible process of economic change that characterizes the modern West. They still have us roping dogies on lonesome prairies.
- Human resources. Because of the rapid pace of economic Diversification, people — not water or timber or oil or rangeland — are now the most important resource in the West. People with skills who make things. People with imagination who invent things to overcome resource constraints. People with a strong work ethic who grow things and mine things and provide back office services to urban businesses.The West, like the rest of the nation — and the rest of the industrialized world — will prosper increasingly by brains, not brawn. Educated people are the key to the future. And by almost any measure of educational achievement, Western kids do better than kids in any other region. Yet, not a word in Newsweek.
- Globalization. The U.S. now trades more across the Pacific than the Atlantic. The Pacific Rim — including the U.S., Canada and Mexico, about to be united by the North American Free Trade Agreement — is the world’s most rapidly growing economic region.The West is leading the nation’s export surge. Yet Newsweek could not find a theme or paragraph or even a sentence to help the American people understand the West’s growing leadership in global commerce or the West as the primary destination for the new wave of immigrants.
- Multiple use. Most of the land in the West — more than 50% in most states and more than 90% in some — is owned by the government. People need access to public lands to make a living. Mining, milling, manufacturing, grazing, growing things (e.g., crops, timber and animals), recreation, tourism — these are leading activities in most Western states. Most require access to public lands. although Westerners often disagree among themselves about land-use priorities, most are committed to the principle of multiple use. Westerners are not “at war” with each other, though the Newsweek story provokes.
Like the rest of America, the West is changing. The changes have upsides and downsides, but they certainly extend beyond the story of Shane and the resource wars of old. There is a New West in America. It is a story well worth telling. Too badNewsweek missed it.