Networks Hype Sequester Slashing 'Desperately Needed Money' to Fight Wildfires

Saturday's CBS Evening News ballyhooed the "enormous strain on resources" that the budget sequester has apparently put on extinguishing a massive wildfire in Colorado. Carter Evans played up how, in addition to fighting the flames, "federal firefighters are facing another challenge: a loss of $50 million, mandated by the budget sequester. That forced the Forest Service to cut 500 firefighters and 50 engines, just when they're needed most."

The CBS evening newscast was actually late to the game, as the network's Big Three competitors also spotlighted the same figures earlier in June.

Anchor Jim Axelrod teased the correspondent's report with the "enormous strain on resources" line, and added that "the reach of the sequester extends all the way from Washington, D.C. to the flaming front lines." Evans first hyped how "fire season has exploded across the country. So far this year, more than 19,000 wildfires have scorched the equivalent of 700 square miles, forcing thousands out of their homes. Five firefighters have already died, including 28-year-old Luke Sheehy in northern California. He was killed when a tree fell on him."

The CBS correspondent later played two soundbites from Tom Harbour, the U.S. Forest Service's director of fire management, as he emphasized the sequester's budgetary impact:

CARTER EVANS: ...Nearly half the country is already experiencing moderate to exceptional drought conditions. Tom Harbour is fire chief for the U.S. Forest Service.

TOM HARBOUR, U.S. FOREST SERVICE: We've seen a significant change for the worse, in terms of how hot fires burn, how quickly they explode.

EVANS: But federal firefighters are facing another challenge: a loss of $50 million, mandated by the budget sequester. That forced the Forest Service to cut 500 firefighters and 50 engines, just when they're needed most.

HARBOUR: We're going to have to work harder. We're going to face more fire with fewer firefighters.

EVANS: Adding financial pressure to an unusually dangerous fire season that won't peak until September.

Almost two weeks earlier, ABC correspondent Clayton Sandell hyped on the June 2, 2013 broadcast of Good Morning America how "firefighters are warning this fire season will be long and dangerous, coming at a time the Forest Service says it will hire 500 fewer firefighters nationwide this year, thanks to budget cuts."

Eleven days later, NBC's Miguel Almaguer cited the same figures on NBC Nightly News, as he noted that Colorado's state government has set aside millions to fight a massive wildfire there. Almaguer also played a soundbite from Harbour:


MIGUEL ALMAGUER (voice-over): With four major fires in the state, the governor [of Colorado] has declared a disaster. Ten million dollars has been authorized to help – desperately needed money that comes as the U.S. Forest Service faces cut-backs: 500 fewer firefighters and 50 fewer engines available.

TOM HARBOUR, U.S. FOREST SERVICE: The Forest Service is going to do more with less. We're going to meet the challenge with less firefighters.

NBC Nightly News had also previously bemoaned the National Park Service was now supposedly "under stress" due to the sequester. Back on May 28, 2013, correspondent Tom Costello highlighted how unnamed "park advocates say for years the parks have been underfunded. Now some are in trouble."

Matthew Balan
Matthew Balan
Matthew Balan is a news analyst at Media Research Center