In the first-ever case of its kind, an orangutan at a zoo in Argentina has been recognized by a high court as being a “legal person” with the capacity for certain legal rights, including habeas corpus, so she may be taken from the zoo and sent to a sanctuary.
Sounds great. Except that none of it is true.
The first report of the court’s ruling was in the newspaper La Nación, and was picked up by Reuters news agency, which misinterpreted the story in La Nación and apparently didn’t bother to read the actual ruling of the judges. Hundreds of news outlets and blogs all over the world blindly ran with the Reuters story without bothering to check it, either. A week later, the non-story was hard-boiled into the weekly magazines and talk shows.
The Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP), which has three suits on behalf of four chimpanzees currently working their way through the New York State legal system, downloaded the Argentine court’s decision and had it expertly translated. You can read the full ruling and its translation here.
The NhRP noted:
Upon reviewing the translation, we immediately noticed that none of the quotations reported by the media were actually in the decision, and that the court did not appear to have issued a writ of habeas corpus, or ordered Sandra to a sanctuary.
The key phrase “it is necessary to recognize the animal as a subject of rights, because non-human beings (animals) are entitled to rights, and therefore their protection is required by the corresponding jurisprudence” is not followed by citations to cases or statutes, but to two treatises.
No examples of rights to which a nonhuman animal is entitled are given and there is no statement that either orangutans in general, or Sandra in particular, are entitled to any rights, including habeas corpus. The decision seems to indicate that a prosecutor is now involved.
… We cannot say what, if anything, the decision means for Sandra, for nonhuman animals in Argentina, or for the appellate cases the NhRP is currently litigating in the state of New York.
After studying this decision and conferring with lawyers in Argentina, Steven M. Wise, president of the NhRP, says it’s still unclear to them what exactly it means.
But that’s no problem to the copy-and-paste global media, where all that matters is joining the chorus of whatever everyone else is saying and then moving on to the next story.
Two weeks ago, we saw the same thing happen when the Pope supposedly said that all animals go to heaven.
Today, in a year-end wrap-up, NPR’s Morning Edition did a story on how quickly the news media move on from one story to the next with little follow-up and few corrections:
The year started with one of those “will they or won’t they” congressional dramas over renewing long-term unemployment benefits … Questions about it in the briefing room swelled but then disappeared by the end of January. And so it went with stories getting hot for a week, maybe three … until the news cycle moved on … Unemployment was replaced by questions about Obamacare … And then came Ukraine … But before long that was replaced by the scandal of secret wait lists at VA hospitals … [And then] the increase in Central American children crossing the border into the U.S. …
In his year-end press conference, President Obama bemoaned that fact that no one seems to care that the situation at the border has improved. “It may not get fixed in the time frame of the news cycle, but it gets fixed,” Obama said.
But by then we, the White House press corps, had moved on to the next flashy thing – military action against the so-called Islamic State …
A week later, NPR trotted out the Sandra story yet again.
When you know how inaccurate some of the news is in the mainstream media, you can’t help wondering what else they’re getting wrong.
At some point there will be some clarity on Sandra’s future, but most people will probably never hear the actual outcome. The media will have moved on.