Journalist Covering Eco-Radicalism Gets Snared in Story

A journalist covering attempts by Earth First! activists to thwart a cougar hunt on federal land has been arrested along with one of the activists and charged with trespassing and disabling mountain-lion traps. The case raises troubling and knotty questions about the First Amendment and the ability of the press to cover “eco-radicals” firsthand. John H. Richardson, writing for Esquire magazine, followed activist Rod Coronado into a restricted desert canyon near Tucson in March, where Coronado and another Earth First!er sprinkled cougar scent to confuse the dogs, filmed the hunters, and disabled cougar traps. Richardson claims he was only an observer, but the feds claim an officer saw him disabling a trap. If convicted, Richardson faces thousands of dollars in fines and more than a year of jail time. With so-called eco-terrorism on the rise — activists disrupting logging, burning houses in new developments, defacing Hummers, and whatnot — the issue of how, and whether, their activities can be covered by the press is likely to arise more often in coming years.