Response to Distorted Maui News Articles

Cane burning feature draws fire
August 16, 2016
By KAREN CHUN , For The Maui News

The Maui News’ “Feeling the Burn” piece (Aug. 14) was riddled with inaccurate information that appears to have crossed the line into advocacy. Because The Maui News is the paper of record and serves as our historical archive, it is important that these articles about the last harvest report accurately and ethically.

The Maui News failed in this piece.

First, the article states that the people who sued to stop cane burning had no ties to the plantations. As its own previous articles stated, Trinette Furtado and Brad Edward come from longtime plantation families while I, Karen Chun, married into one.

Second, by casting the story in a way that makes it seem like outsiders were agitating to change how things were on Maui, The Maui News resorted to stereotyping that does not match the facts.

The Maui News provided no history on cane burning on Maui. Its own pages show that cane burning did not happen on Maui until 1909, when Henry Baldwin announced he would be experimenting with the “new form of harvesting” near the Paia Mill. Cane burning did not take off until paved roads began to show up in the 1920s. Prior to that, cane could not be burned due to the time it took to get to the mill since burning accelerated the sugar inversion.

The Maui News provided no history regarding challenges to pre-harvest cane burning that started in the late 1960s by the local Japanese-American department head of the state Department of Health or the mostly local Japanese-American civil servants who worked under him. These individuals came from plantation backgrounds.

It did not provide the history of how the Big Five threatened the International Longshore and Warehouse Union with mass layoffs unless it endorsed cane burning in the 1970s and how the DOH was repeatedly criticized by the federal government for letting industry dictate air pollution regulation.

The Maui News did not seek comment from any of the public health advocates who challenged cane-burning practices in the 1980s, like Hazel Cunningham, or those in the 1990s, like Susan Jensen or Bobby McClintock. The Maui News did not seek comment from former members of the Maui Clean Air Coalition or its founder, Susan Douglas, or even Stop Cane Burning.

The Maui News quoted a Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co. employee saying he has no health effects from smoke without mentioning the extensive peer-reviewed literature indicating that breathing smoke does damage health or quoting from the many members of Stop Cane Burning who did experience health damage. The Maui News went on to discuss burning of PVC pipes as though that were the only smoke component that damages lungs.

The article raises questions about whether The Maui News even acts independently, as ethical journalists must. Instead of asking Stop Cane Burning or any of these historically involved individuals to provide the main points that we have raised for decades regarding cane burning, The Maui News allowed an Alexander & Baldwin official to distort the points of concern for us and then allowed him to defend against his own distorted points.

No comment was sought, obtained or reported for people opposed to cane burning historically or presently. And those opposed to cane burning were inaccurately generalized into a group of outsiders that echoes Alexander & Baldwin’s long-standing PR line defending its polluting practices as a Maui “tradition.”

* Karen Chun is a Paia resident and a leader with the group Stop Cane Burning, which had sued state Health Department and A&B to stop the harvesting practice. The suit was settled.