Caterpillar, Inc., peddles corporate propaganda to science teachers

Editor's Introduction -- Caterpillar produces heavy equipment for use in earth-moving, road-building and logging. Caterpillar's propaganda video, which has been distributed widely to schools, uses distortion and obscurity to misrepresent scientific, economic and civic issues pertaining to the logging of our national forests.
This article appeared in the "Editor's File"
in The Textbook Letter, September-October 1992

Some Trash TV . . .

William J. Bennetta

Several months ago, science teachers in three California counties got a letter from the Northern California Engineering Contractors Association, based in Livermore. The letter offered each teacher a video, titled The Continuing Forest, and expressed hope that the teacher would "share this special video, about a renewable natural resource, with your students."

The Continuing Forest, subtitled Managing the Resources of Our National Forests, was produced in 1989 by Caterpillar, Inc. (of Peoria, Illinois), a company that sells heavy equipment for earth-moving, road-building and logging. A Caterpillar spokesman, Mary B. Whitledge, recently told us that The Continuing Forest has been widely promoted, chiefly by Caterpillar dealers, to civic organizations and schools.

In our judgment, this video is pure propaganda, has no educational value, and can only mislead students and confuse them. It uses distortion and obscurity to misrepresent scientific, economic and civic issues, and it flagrantly ignores some vital aspects of the subject that it purports to address: the operation of the national forests by the Forest Service, an arm of the United States Department of Agriculture.

In recent years, knowledgeable critics have accused the Forest Service of serious dereliction and malpractice. Much of the controversy has involved charges that the Forest Service, at the behest of the White House, has abandoned prudent forestry practices and has permitted private companies to take timber from the national forests at destructively high rates. The results, the critics say, have included severe, predictable degradation of timber supplies, soil and watercourses.

The Continuing Forest does not even hint that such controversy exists. It is a 29-minute hymn to the Forest Service, sung partly by a narrator, partly by representatives of private companies, and partly by representatives of the Forest Service itself. No critic appears, no question is debated.

Some of the stuff in The Continuing Forest is just silly, as when the narrator says that "42 percent of America's outdoor recreation" takes place in national forests. (How did he measure it?) Other stuff is plainly false, such as the flat assertion that clear-cutting is "necessary" in Douglas-fir forests. (How did Douglas firs grow and reproduce before people started to clear-cut them?) But the video's worst element is its message of complacency -- never explicitly stated but repeatedly and insistently implied. The message is this: Because federal laws mandate that national forests be managed competently and wisely, the Forest Service surely must be acting with competence and wisdom. This soporific theme -- this notion that the mere existence of laws means that those laws are being obeyed and that all is well in the real world -- recurs throughout the video, almost from start to finish. Hence The Continuing Forest can promote gross misimpressions, not only about resource-management issues but also about government and citizenship.

William J. Bennetta is a professional editor, a fellow of the California Academy of Sciences, the president of The Textbook League, and the editor of The Textbook Letter. He writes frequently about the propagation of quackery, false "science" and false "history" in schoolbooks.


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