Arkansas is a pretty quaint place. Usually, national media coverage of our fair state is reserved for well-known politicians like the Clintons or Mike Huckabee or Nancy Grace-type fare like the murder of KATV anchorwoman Anne Pressly. That all seemed to change last week when a variety of news organizations — Al Jazeera English, CBS's “60 Minutes” and the Washington Post — ventured south to pursue lesser-known material.
As the conflict continued in Gaza, Al Jazeera English producer Jeremy Young was on the look-out for stories related to the situation in Gaza, but tied to the United States. He found one in Pine Bluff.
The Pine Bluff Arsenal is a military facility that, according to its website, provides “expertise and specialized munitions and chemical-biological defense products and services.” Some of those specialized munitions have found their way into Israeli hands and have been used during the conflict.
According to Young, the Arsenal is the only place in the northern hemisphere that produces munitions filled with white phosphorous. Young says the substance is not considered a chemical weapon and is used for crowd suppression and, at night, illumination.
“It's basically a smoke-screen,” Young says. “It's been controversial because it's been used in some pretty tight urban areas. The way it works is, it creates a powerful burning smoke and it causes people to get down and shield themselves, and in that smokescreen you can move troops around.”
Al Jazeera has reported on the high number of burn victims as a result of white phosphorous munitions. Human Rights Watch has said that Israel's use of white phosphorus in densely populated areas violates international humanitarian law.
Young said the people of Pine Bluff were more engaged than he had expected.
“I think going into it, I expected there to be a pretty strong disconnect,” Young says. “I expected people to be more focused on jobs and the economy, than the war in Gaza. But there are a lot of veterans that are pretty in touch with what's going on overseas. A lot of the young people that we talked to knew what was going on, and it was interesting to hear what their thoughts were.”
Long-time CBS reporter Leslie Stahl, along with a crew from “60 Minutes,” traveled to Blytheville last week for a report on the area's steel industry. Liz Smith, executive director of the Blytheville/Gosnell area Chamber of Commerce, says Mississippi County is the second-largest steel producing county in the country. She says CBS was in town to report on an industry that has not begged for a bailout, like some, but is starting to feel the pinch of a lagging economy. The story will also focus on how the government will help that industry move forward.
“We feel that the infrastructure program that President-Elect Obama has lined out really stands to boost our steel industry almost instantly,” she says. “Unlike many industries, if they're building something in California, the steel beams will be made here in Blytheville. So we're looking for an immediate impact should Obama's program go through.”
Smith had not received word on an air-date as of press time.
In an election year where hope and change dominated the political conversation and a relatively new figure in American politics inspired most areas of the country to turn a shade bluer, Arkansas got redder. Why? Because Obama is going to take all of our guns away. Didn't you know?
The Washington Post decided to send a reporter to Brinkley, in the Delta between Little Rock and Memphis, to find out why Arkansans were just so darn red. They found the perfect good ol' boy to illustrate why. Wayne Loewer, a Lynyrd Skynyrd listenin', gun-totin', buck-huntin' farmer, told reporter Anne Hull that shortly after the election, he went out and bought a rifle and $400 worth of ammo.
Loewer was afraid that the fear-mongering mailings from the NRA were true: that Obama was going to clamp down on gun laws, close gun shops and ban hunting. These fears are not confined to Brinkley or even Arkansas, but they did seem to have a significant impact on Arkansans who, like Loewer, believed Obama just didn't understand the “rural way of life.” I personally heard one hunter telling a group of buddies that Obama was going to raise the tax on guns by 500 percent. A rash of news stories about a panic-induced increase in gun sales shortly after the election didn't help matters.
It's reasonable to suspect that a lot of Southerners voted for George Bush because they believed he understood the rural way of life. He was the candidate more people, at least in 2004, wanted to have a beer with. Like Sarah Palin, he knew what it was like to live in the “real America.” The big problem was he didn't seem to understand much else.