Wild Horses/Mustangs

How Sarah Thompson of Lead Stories failed to fact check

Opinion by Debbie Coffey

Sarah Thompson, who started a blog a few years ago, and then in December 2019 became a “Social Media Authenticity Analyst” at Lead Stories, just wrote an article titled Fact Check: BLM Did NOT Release a Plan to Annihilate America’s Wild Horse And Burro Herds

Unfortunately, Thompson seems to NOT have fact checked her own article, which is filled with omissions and errors. And, how does this uninformed person, call a real expert a “HOAX?”

While citing an article by Carol Walker on wildhoofbeats.com, Thompson states that Carol Walker “serves as the Director of Field Documentation for the non-profit Wild Horse Freedom Federation.”

FACT: Carol Walker has not been the Director of Field Documentation for Wild Horse Freedom Federation since early November, 2019, and has not been listed on Wild Horse Freedom Federation’s Board of Directors on their website since that date.

Thompson then goes on to claim that BLM’s plan “to ‘annihilate”’ the herds is a claim not supported by facts.”

FACT: Almost every wild horse advocacy organization in the U.S. (with experts who have been researching and following every aspect of wild horse & burro issues for many years) has spoken out against this BLM plan.

American Wild Horse Campaign wrote this: Breaking It Down: BLM’s Path to Destruction for America’s Wild Herds

And this: Q & A On the Dangerous Plan for Wild Horses & Burros

The Cloud Foundation wrote this: The BLM’s Billion Dollar Disaster Plan

In fact, dozens of advocacy groups have spoken out against a very similar “path forward” plan.

It certainly seems that this “Fact Checker” did not do much research before “fact checking” or writing her opinion.

Thompson only cites sentences from the BLM’s plan, and obviously has an extremely narrow knowledge of this topic. Thompson seems to have blinders on since her only source of “fact checking” is what the BLM wrote.

Many members of the public know that in 2016, the BLM’s Wild Horse & Burro Advisory Board urged the BLM to euthanize all of the wild horses in holding facilities. Many members of the public, who have been researching all aspects of wild horses and studying genetic analysis reports, also realize that the BLM’s plans for removal and sterilizations WILL annihilate America’s wild horse herds.

Thompson, from Vevay, Indiana, is listed as the President of American Heritage Carriage Company, but this does not qualify her as an expert on wild horses.

Lead Stories claims to be “an innovative fact checking and debunking website” but with Thompson’s article, it seems that their “fact checking” has set an extremely low bar. In my opinion, Thompson’s article deserves the “hoax alert” and Lead Stories has, unfortunately, promoted disinformation.

21 replies »

  1. Thank you for bringing attention to this disinformation. Patagonia is currently promoting Maddy Butcher in its latest online mailing. Maddy Butcher believes mustangs are feral and promotes the idea of slaughtering “three strikes” horses. See below link to interview where she states this:

    Link to Patagonia story by Maddy Butcher:


    What is going on that clothing business related people are promoting wild horses as feral?

    Please let Patagonia know how you feel. I have contact information for anyone who is interested.

    I let the exec I emailed know that I didn’t believe a person who believed in horse slaughter was a suitable story writer for a company that promotes itself as environmentally friendly. Ms. Butcher is well credentialed and I agree with some of her thoughts. But I do not believe that any person of conscience can advocate for slaughter.

    Thank you.


      • Dear Carol,
        Thank you so much for your interest. I know how busy you are and greatly admire your work on behalf of wild horses.
        My concern is that this far-reaching campaign of disinformation by Maddy Butcher via Patagonia promotes a way to rationalize the destruction of wild horses and their homes in addition to creating a sophisticated and glossy PR campaign (perhaps unbeknownst to Patagonia themselves) that makes the slaughter of horses appear to be environmentally friendly.
        Maddy Butcher is a very gifted PR person and has done an excellent job of creating multiple websites and accruing corporate sponsorships for her Best Horse Practices Summit. If you research into her varying sites, there is groundwork being laid that builds the case for the return to the practice of equine slaughter in the U.S.
        Patagonia is a corporate sponsor for the Best Horse Practices Summit which was created by Maddy Butcher.
        Ms. Butcher promotes her view of mustang management on her own website. In her view “activists” are problematic. Please see link below.


        In my humble opinion, any responsible equine welfare organization or advocate cannot in good conscience promote slaughter as a viable or humane solution to the issue of any unwanted horses, be they wild or domestic.

        I have contacted Ms. Meghan Wolf of Patagonia in Reno to apprise her of my concerns that Patagonia is promoting dangerous misinformation about wild horses in their support of Ms. Butcher: Firstly, that wild horses are feral and secondly, that slaughter is a good option for three strikes horses. I let Ms. Wolf know that Patagonia was undermining the critical work of non-profits that are working to educate people and protect horses.

        Her contact information is below:


        I understand you are very busy and I am incredibly grateful for your time. I am concerned that Patagonia’s misinformation regarding wild horses could be detrimental to all horses at risk of slaughter.

        Once again, thank you for your time and your work on behalf of all horses.


      • Thank you so very much Carol! Your voice is a powerful one and it is my hope that Ms. Wolf will be receptive to your knowledge and experience and pass on the information to the corporate office in Ventura. In case you are interested, Ms. Wolf’s response to me is below:

        “Hi Frances,

        Thank you for your passionate response to our recent essay on horses. While this post is not related to one of our enviro campaigns and did not come out of my team, I’ll do my best to respond. We do not take a formal position on wild horses. Our take is that Maddy’s work and the work of the AWHC are not necessarily at odds. Our view is that AWHC is doing the good work of keeping wild horses wild, whereas Maddy is doing the good work of making sure unwanted horses are cared for. Given the unsettling number of horses that are rounded up and euthanized each year, seems like there’s room for both of their missions.

        There is no reference to wild horses as strays, though I’m sorry if that is implied. The focus is on the history, health and well-being of horses, and they’re profound positive impact for us humans, even in today’s modern world.

        Thank you again, for taking the time to reach out to us. We understand your frustrations and apologize that you found the article discouraging, that was absolutely not our intention. We respect and understand your decision to do business elsewhere, but we hope you will still remain part of our community.

        Enviro Grants, Campaigns & Advocacy

        Thank you again very much Carol!


    • Sounds like a nice job, full time work checking only 10 “pieces of content” per month, which amounts to 2.5 per week. If it’s a 40 hour week, that 16 hrs. per article. If anyone has a link to what this pays and if they are hiring, please post it here, I’d be interested and I know there are some fantastic fact checkers regularly posting here.


  2. Fact checking the “fact checkers”
    This funding data goes back to 2010

    Our Funding
    Prior to fiscal 2010, we were supported entirely by three sources: funds from the APPC’s own resources (specifically an endowment created in 1993 by the Annenberg Foundation at the direction of the late Walter Annenberg, and a 1995 grant by the Annenberg Foundation to fund APPC’s Washington, D.C., base); additional funds from the Annenberg Foundation; and grants from the Flora Family Foundation.

    Note: In addition to the sums reported here, FactCheck.org receives in-kind support from the Annenberg Public Policy Center including some infrastructure costs as well as supervisory, technical, and administrative support from APPC faculty and staff. We do not attempt to assign a dollar value to these in-kind services, which are funded from the APPC’s own resources.
    Financial Disclosure:
    Fiscal Year 2020, Third Quarter
    (three months ending March 31, 2020)
    Annenberg Foundation: $54,962.47
    Stanton Foundation: $50,000
    Facebook: $120,080
    Individual donors: $22,487
    During this three-month period, we received a total of 447 gifts from individual donors, the largest of which was $5,000. The average individual donation was $51, and half of our individual donations were $20 or less.
    In addition, we received $120,080 in payments from Facebook as part of a project to debunk viral deceptions circulating on the social media site. Facebook has no control over our editorial decisions.
    We also received a $50,000 grant from the Stanton Foundation, which funds our undergraduate fellowship program and helps cover general operating expenses.
    The individual donors who gave $1,000 or more:
    Allen Stenger, Alamogordo, New Mexico: $5,000
    Donald McGee, Mukilteo, Washington: $1,500


    • So just what does this mean?
      “we received $120,080 in payments from Facebook as part of a project to debunk viral deceptions circulating on the social media site”
      They are paid to surf FB and look for things that they question?
      And if so, then in order to get the money they have a quota to write about things they don’t like regardless what the truth might be?


      • What ever happened to honesty and truthfulness and ethics and moral correctness and honor and integrity and principle? I know many people DO live by these words but it appears to me that many other people consider that making a $$$ no matter what the consequence, effect, or outcome or damage to others or our planet is acceptable. It is not and it is a disgrace to humanity.


      • Thank you for your heartbreakingly eloquent synopsis of the current situation. I am grateful to all of you for your steadfast care and commitment to the horses and to the planet. Bless and keep you all and your beloved ones.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. i listened to a George Knapp radio show when he interviewed Chris DeRose who said that “when you start running into road blocks..know that you are getting somewhere..and DON’T STOP.”
    …..” their Achilles heel (which is almost always the Truth about how they mistreat animals)”

    My Call to Action Chris DeRose,
    December 2019

    Our goal would be to commit “civil disobedience” at facilities, to shine a light on vivisection (research on live animals) and the true horror unfolding behind the locked doors of a research lab, animal farm, breeder or other animal facility. These acts of civil disobedience would be followed by comprehensive information campaigns to maintain awareness and spark action.

    Back then, there was no social media. Civil disobedience and in some cases, old-fashioned demonstrations served as our primary tool to expose animal abusers and call for action on existing or absent animal protection laws. The widescale acceptance of social media was a game-changer for us in terms of educating citizens and maintaining a dialogue. Undercover and covert investigations were still required to bring the issue to the forefront, but social media kept the story alive almost indefinitely.

    Being an activist for over 40 years, I have seen the immense changes that social media and the 24-hour news cycle have brought about.
    The good news is that the results of our activism are apparent; global outrage over animal abuse grows each year as we and other animal rights groups adapt to how the news and social media handle animal cruelty. However, it will always remain that the nucleus of “getting the word out” is based on excellent well-based factual investigations with visual proof. The combination of global news, social media saturation and great investigations have advanced the “animal rights movement” to the point at which all persons can be engaged and called to action.


    Vickery Eckhoff

    Despite the media’s present war on “fake news,” it fluorishes, particularly on the wild horse issue, a red-meat topic that trends quickly, necessitating fast turnaround by reporters with no experience on the topic (and no editors who have it, either); no multiple sourcing; no independent fact-finding or research; and zero accountability. They just grab other similar articles, edit them to avoid the whiff of plagiarism, slap their name on it, and hit “publish.”
    I call it ass-grabbing journalism. Here’s my second piece on it: a letter I wrote to Snopes (below), asking it to factcheck errors in wild horse media coverage, much of it originating with the Associated Press but also including The Washington Post, Smithsonian, The New York Times and National Geographic, among many others.


    • Does Snopes debunk false information spread by the media, or only internet schemes spread by trolls on Facebook? Let’s find out.

      Dear Snopes,
      I’d like you to fact-check a false story about wild horses destroying western public rangelands put out by the Bureau of Land Management, the agency that oversees wild horses and commercial livestock grazing leases on federal lands.
      For years, this lie has been picked up and spread, primarily by the Associated Press, but also by other media. It is now being used to gin up support for an upcoming Senate Appropriations Committee vote to destroy wild horses in holding and also clear the way for more wild horse removals on public lands, just as it was used to help the same amendment pass the House subcommittee in July.
      Interior secretary Ryan Zinke and Chris Stewart of Utah are the main proponents of the budget amendment, which purports to save taxpayers $10 million but is really a cover for continuing to fund the subsidized federal lease grazing program, estimated by numerous environmental groups to waste up to $1 billion of taxpayer funds a year.
      Western public grass and forest lands are overgrazed; but they are being overgrazed by domestic livestock grazed under this wasteful leasing program — not wild horses. Cattle on public lands outnumber wild horses by anywhere from 50:1 to 60:1, depending on the specific BLM data used and method of calculation.
      The BLM freely distributes wild horse estimates, but withholds livestock figures from reporters, keeping livestock grazing data safely hidden and the grazing program protected for numerous billionaires (Koch brothers, Walton heirs) and corporations (JR Simplot Co.) that hold the majority of leased lands.
      Fact-checking by Snopes could expose the number of cattle and sheep vs. wild horses that are out there and how many hundreds of millions acres of public lands cattle graze compared to continually shrinking wild horse territory. Publish those ratios. They’ll show who’s destroying public rangelands: it ain’t the horses.
      I, along with a handful of reporters, environmental groups and wild horse advocacy groups have done the hard work to collect this data and tell this story. If you want to save yourselves some time, and talk to me about it, I’ll share my data with you, or direct you to others working to educate the public.
      These include the journalist Christopher Ketcham, the environmental writer Steve Nash (whose book on public lands was just published by University of California Press), and environmental groups like Western Watersheds Project, The Center for Biological Diversity, Wildearth Guardians, and PEER (Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility), all of whom devote considerable resources to protecting western public lands — for the public’s use.
      I’ve reported on this complex and misunderstood policy issue for Forbes, Alternet, Salon and The Daily Pitchfork. Please let me know if I can help.

      Vickery Eckhoff
      New York, NY


    • Louie – got completely sidetracked going back & reading Vickery’s articles AND the comments! Havent seen anything recently or maybe I’ve just missed it. I hope shes still “out there” doing REAL news.
      It certainly would be interesting to say the least if more of these supposed reporters/journalists actually did research before putting their fingers on the keys!


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