Recently I heard a four-minute story on NPR about internationally known artist, Christo, and his forthcoming project, Over the River. The story was titled “Six Miles of Silver Ribbon: Locals Protest Christo.” I feel it necessary to disclose that I am an avid NPR listener and supporter and am grateful for the work they do. However, I was deeply disappointed by this recent story.
The NPR announcer introduces the story by talking about Christo’s past projects and success in New York, California, and Japan. Listeners are told that this project is one Christo has been longing to do for well over a decade. Before turning to a local correspondent, listeners are informed that for some locals, “Christo’s artistic vision feels more like a nightmare” (Verlee, 2011, 0:25). But there is a great deal that is left out of this story.
Despite the promise of protest evident in the title, the story on Christo’s public art installation features little suggestion of dissent. Once listeners are transferred to the local correspondent, they are informed that Christo’s project has been a “dream” of the artist for 16 years and that the delay of its installation has been a result of state and local permitting processes. Christo has financed this process by selling his sketches of the project (the framing of this fact conjures up images of the neighborhood kid selling lemonade or the girl scout selling cookies to finance a project about which they are passionate). The story is foregrounded by establishing Christo as credible, talented, emotionally invested, financially invested, and committed to the project. Christo’s voice is heard twice during the story—once describing the visual components of the project and then a second time discussing the permitting process. He states that the paperwork as well as those people who do not like the project are “part of the art.” Listeners are later told that protestors are always present when Christo is making art. By including the detail that protestors are always present and considered by Christo as part of the art, listeners are encouraged to regard the concerns of protesters as dismissible and lacking legitimacy.
Listeners then hear from ROAR (Rags Over the Arkansas River) representative, Ellen Bauder, who is part of a group fighting to halt the project. The critiques Bauder leverages of the project focus on its impact on humans and how the heavy equipment will cause stoppages and lane closures for a town that is accessible by a single road; the construction will also make home health care, deliveries, and emergency care more difficult. Though mention of the “environment” makes its way into the story, the interview with the ROAR representative does not touch upon any specific concerns. In fact, evidence of ROAR’s work is characterized as “visible,” but only in her home office. ROAR’s concerns in this interview focus on the inconveniences the project will cause to the people who live in the area.
Another opponent of the Christo project, Ron McFarland, talks about being “worried” about the big horn sheep, but he is not described as having any credentials that would validate his statement. Rather, he leverages a vague concern about only one species. The last interviewee is rafting guide, Andy Neinas, a person who has is in nature for a living. Contrary to my expectations, this rafting guide is in favor of the project because he thinks it will create an influx in tourists that would last well beyond the project. After conducting further research, I found that the project is expected to bring $3.4 million dollars of revenue to the rafting industry and Neinas isn’t just a guide, but the owner of Echo Canyon River Expeditions. This fact contextualized Neinas’s support. Neinas’s testament is the last voice of the town heard and his opinion, listeners are told, is one shared my many residents who are looking for the needed economic boost this project may provide. The rafting industry will not be the only industry positively affected.
Further research helped bring a number of additional important facts to light. Christo, the man described in the NPR story as using sketches to finance this project, has already commissioned a 1,686 page environmental report (which, I am certain, is in no way skewed by the fact that he commissioned it), has promised to give the Colorado State Park $550,000 to cover administrative costs and environmental damage related to the project, and has also offered to pay to “relocate” the bighorn sheep that will likely be driven out of their natural habitat by the construction. The major investments to this point have revolved around the environment, yet little mention of the environment is made in the NPR story. Overall, the installation of this project, in addition to Christo’s contributions, is estimated to bring $111 million to the area. This information about who is funding what and how the opinions of interviewees in the story may be influenced by these factors is a gross omission.
NPR’s version of this story left out the most salient components, which were promised in the title and teaser—why this project is so controversial. No protest activities were described, the environment barely made mention, and the story concluded on a grim note. Apparently, NPR listeners are told at the conclusion of the story, Christo often wins battles with his opposition by simply waiting them out. In effect, this story tells listeners the ending is inevitable and Christo will be the victor so give up now.
Clearly, the story presented by NPR about Christo and his opposition failed to incorporate how money may have influenced decisions made on state and individual levels, thereby failing to take into consideration the underlying causes and content that are driving the acceptance of the project encouraged by the framing of the story. The omission of significant data creates cause for concern and warrants further investigation into the reason the story was slanted in favor of Christo. Money talks, but, for Christo, money also silences.