I have to apologize, partly for the gap in posting (I'm trying to keep
up, but I'm busy!), but more for writing last time that I hadn't started to
watch the PETA videos. You see, I was under
the impression that there was significantly more than nine minutes and
29 seconds of it out there to watch. After all, Joe Drape did write in
that "The investigator used a hidden camera to record more than seven hours of video," so I ass-umed that the link attached to seven hours of video led
to, if not actually seven hours of video, at least substantially more than the
selected nine minutes and 29 seconds that we've seen, which is odious in
both some of the behavior that it depicts, and the obvious selectivity and distortion in what is presented.
This is not an "edit" of the larger video, as it has been portrayed in the mainstream press, including on CNN.com. That's like saying that the trailer for "50 to 1" is an "edited video" of the movie. The PETA video is nothing more than a trailer. It picks out selected highlights - the ones that they want you to see - sets it to ominous music and dramatic voice-overs to enhance its effect. It's a sales job. (Unfortunately, the "50 to 1" trailer fails in its mission to make it seem like the movie won't suck.) Ostensibly focused on its specific targets, it is filled with broad generalizations that are merely hearsay. "Trainers will do just about anything to gain an advantage, regardless of the consequences to the horses." "From birth to death, most horses used for racing are treated like disposable commodities." "During nationally televised races, owners and trainers will wax on about how much they love their horses, here's what they say when they think the cameras aren't rolling." Of course, in the video they is nobody other than Scott Blasi!
Now we're told that PETA will dole out more video leading up to the Derby, in an obvious and contrived attempt to maximize the impact. Some have speculated that the Times will be complicit and report on any subsequent releases in lockstep. However, we've also been led to believe that the Times has indeed reviewed the seven hours of tape. To selectively report on other matters that it has already seen on a piecemeal basis would be so blatantly wrong that I have to believe that even a journalist who has acted as unethically as has Joe Drape would not stoop to that. So I can only presume that will not be the case.
You may have seen the column on ESPN.com by Gary West, amongst a small minority of racing writers (along with Steven Crist), who called out the PETA video for what it is: "four months of furtive slinking around [yielding] just nine minutes and 29 seconds of video."
Actually, the video shows no abuse or mistreatment of horses. Nobody strikes a horse or hurts a horse. Nothing illegal takes place. For the most part, the video shows horses receiving injections, being scoped and examined. It shows, in other words, rather ordinary treatment and nothing sinister. Only somebody who looks with his preconceptions and not his eyes, somebody who gullibly believes -- or desperately wants to believe -- every word from the voiced-over narrator, could mistake this treatment for mistreatment.While I agree with West's general sentiment in calling out PETA, he surely glosses over things here as well. The clip about Nehro is stomach-turning, and I can't even watch it. I would like to hear some further explanation from a vet familiar with his condition. (Though neither the video nor Drape make any effort to clarify that the colic from which the horse died may or may not have stemmed from his foot condition.) Nor does West mention the matter of un- or falsely-documented workers being paid less than the minimum wage. He also doesn't mention the buzzers that are referred to in the video either...but actually neither would I. There's really not one iota of credible evidence in this tape to support a single actual and current use of them. Blasi's "maquina" statement regarding jockey Ricardo Santana Jr. is presented without any context and is therefore meaningless. (And, by the way and not for nothing, what exactly was this woman doing in what appears to be Blasi's living room as he discusses this?) And two old war horses sitting at a dinner table amongst half-filled glasses of wine exchanging fish stories about the good ol' wild west days? Seriously, that's supposed to mean something? (And what exactly was a supposed stablehand doing sitting at a dinner table with Wayne Lukas and Gary Stevens? How exactly did she obtain that kind of access?)
The prevailing sentiment, as articulated in Thoroughbred Daily News by Barry Weisbod, is that this "isn't the time to shoot the messenger." I disagree. We've been hearing that for quite some time now, and this industry has allowed itself to be battered by the slanted and distorted reporting by the Times for years. It takes its toll. Not only on public image, but on self-image. Every time Drape opens his mouth, Ray Paulick and others lead us in a frantic retreat to the woodshed for self-flaggelation. Not only is it unhealthy, it's contrary to human nature. Weisbod is "mad as hell and he's not gonna take it anymore." But not at the manipulated video and the organization behind it. Chris Kay issued the standard vanilla response. Would have been a good time for Kay to tout the recent improvements in NYRA's safety record; and perhaps point out that they still have not been reported by the Times.
PETA wants to destroy our sport. Yeah, they tell us that's not the case, that they could oppose its existence but that they only want to rid it of drugs. But then they tell people that when it comes to horse racing: don’t attend ‘em, don’t watch ‘em, and don’t bet on ‘em! Unless they envision a future of racing as an equestrian event, sounds like a death sentence to me. Now they are depicted in the New York Times as a mainstream organization that has delivered an objective report. His only nod to their past of extremism is that they have "aggressively assailed corporations for the way they treat animals and has run undercover investigations."
Having said all of that, Weisbod, and others, are of course correct in that "racing cannot continue to simply react to another New York Times article every six months." Something needs to be done. However, the kind of changes being called for are not going to happen overnight. It's easy for an observer to say 'oh yeah, just ban all medications like in other countries.' But the economies of the business in this country is built on the present culture, and those who depend on it are going to slow changes that they perceive as threatening to their livelihoods. And should the needed changes result in, as one might suspect, fewer horses making it to the starting gate, jobs will be lost and more unwanted and unneeded horses will be eligible for slaughterhouses. There needs to be a plan for that as well. This will all take some time, and nothing will happen until there until there is a single authority to oversee the sport.
While they're at it, that single authority should include an effective PR machine to counter propaganda and lies in the press and by PETA. They are launching what amounts to a political-type operation, and this sport could use a single authoritative voice to respond in kind where necessary. One can make changes and lash back at propaganda at the same time. We've seen necessary alterations made to the Affordable Care Act, but Democrats still blast back as necessary at deceptions coming from right-wing organizations. If PETA is allowed, with the help of its friends at the Times, to be seen as a credible and mainstream organization, who is going to question them when it decides that the industry isn't moving as fast as it likes, which is inevitable, and decides that horse racing has to go altogether? Joe Drape?
- And, an aside, it's been a week now, and we're still waiting for a response from Steve Asmussen, whose lawyer promised that he would "respond factually." The silence is rather deafening.