At least people are talking

Every once in a while, you’ve got the hand the competition a bone. While the Reno Gazette-Journal’s coverage of the Bureau of Land Management’s extortion of VIP treatment from Burning Man, “such as flushing toilets, washers and dryers and showers with endless hot water in a compound for high-level government officials staying at the event,” has been generally one-sided, Jenny Kane’s reporting has been pretty awesome. In general, it’s a welcome distraction from the RGJ’s usual fawning, all-Artown-all-the-time coverage for the month of July.

But we know there is more than one side to the story, and looking back at the development of the story, it’s obvious that much of the blame for its one-sidedness rests squarely with the BLM, refusing to comment for itself, while elected officials talk about the agency. Even in the most recent coverage, it appears BLM is referring local questions to Washington, D.C.

Most peculiarly, BLM Special Agent Dan Love of Salt Lake City did not return the paper’s requests for an interview. He was to receive a personal bathroom trailer to be shared with only one other official, according to the RGJ’s reporting. Love also led the BLM operation against Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, which made the BLM a national laughingstock.

The VIP camp is in addition to the BLM employees’ camp, which houses up to 150 working staff during the main event. We hear the employee’s camp intends to participate in the annual tradition of “gifting” fellow burners with personal invitations to courtrooms and in some cases, overnight stays in facilities that presumably don’t serve Choco Tacos.

But seriously, the environmental impact of 60,000 people on the playa needs scrutiny by the people we taxpayers pay to act as stewards of our public lands. Still, in state and national parks around the country, providing for housing facilities of state and federal employees is part of what our tax money goes for. We pay for the extra costs of our stays in fees paid at the gate. Around 4 million people visit Yosemite National Park each year. Would the public accept that more than a million dollars would be spent for luxurious housing for a few “high-level officials” if they chose to visit Yellowstone or Great Basin?

The very idea is ludicrous.

Still, even in our own newsroom, there are dissenting opinions. One reporter feels that “just because the festival participants live in uncomfortable surroundings is no reason the federal officers—who are away from their own homes and families—should have to do the same.”

Yet another said that this is a furthering of the idea that Burning Man 2015 is just a historical re-enactment of pre-1997 Burning Mans, and the “gentrified” facilities demanded by BLM officials are similar to the $100,000 RVs preferred by Burning Man’s well-heeled participants.

Yet a third staffer was torn between apathy and not caring whether BLM officials got free luxury facilities or had to pay their way in, just as long as they didn’t appear on the Esplanade as shirtcockers.