Leah Sottile opens her podcast series Bundyville with one of my least favorite questions of all time: What is truth? “Do the Bundys own the truth,” Sottile asks, “or is that the property of the US government?” The question, while a play on the Bundy family’s long history of disputes with the Bureau of Land Management and other federal government agencies, carries a specific tone. It seems like a bid to make the series amenable to all listening audiences—NPR’s traditionally liberal listenership and conservative Bundy supporters alike.
The Bundy family of Bunkerville, Nevada, grabbed national attention in January 2016 when brothers Ammon and Ryan, along with several of their followers, seized the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Eastern Oregon. What made that particular spot—700 miles from their home—a place that compelled the Bundys to take a stand is not explained by Bundyville. The seven-part podcast series, produced by OPB and Longreads, also fails to note an important detail I remembered from the New York Times’ coverage: The Oregon ranchers whose arson conviction the Bundys were protesting stated they “did not welcome the Bundys’ help.” That feels important.
It’s not the only context the podcast is blatantly missing. As the Bundy family’s demands are crafted around their belief in their right to graze cattle on public lands, the perspectives of indigenous First Nations people feel especially absent from Bundyville. A passing mention of Standing Rock and a brief interview with Fawn Douglas of the Las Vegas Paiute Tribe come late in the series. There's also a short side story where Sottile and her producer search out some petroglyphs near Bunkerville, only to discover a Bundy has carved his name onto one. I listened for more perspectives from local indigenous persons, but perhaps talking to non-Bundys isn’t Bundy-centric enough for Bundyville.
In Bundyville’s final episode, at the very end, there’s a 40-second sound bite of Leisl Carr-Childers, a professor at University of Northern Iowa, refuting the Bundy claim that their ranching feeds America. “There was never a large population of ranchers to begin with. Not once, not ever, especially in Nevada,” Carr-Childers says. Not only are public lands ranchers dying out, but it sounds like they were never really a thing in the first place. Wow, that’s super interesting! Would have loved to hear more than 40 seconds of that! Instead Sottile devotes the majority of Bundyville tape to Bundy bandwidth. It’s as if, having realized the Bundy philosophy consists of a mere handful of recycled, unsupported phrases, Sottile attempts to compensate for their lack of logic by letting the Bundys talk more. They repeat themselves ad nauseam.
(Oregon Public Broadcasting)
All seven episodes currently available to stream and download at NPR