Getting it right

Find the bear near the cabin where Richard Jessee says he was under near-constant attack/U.S. Coast Guard photo


Nome Nugget reporter Julie Lerner deserves a journalism award for digging down into a sketchy claim of a bear attack on the Seward Peninsula earlier this month, but you can pretty much bet the house she won’t get it.

Her reporting, unfortunately, indicates the New York Times hoaxed itself. The Times took a questionable tale being told by a regular summer visitor to Northwest Alaska, tied it to the bear-mauling scene in the movie “The Revenant,” and sent a ripple of bearanoia around the globe.

There was from the start, one huge problem with the story as told by the Times. The man “mauled” by the bear – 74-year-old Richard Timothy Jessee – didn’t have a mark from claw or fang on his body, unlike actor Leanardo DiCaprio who was ripped to shreds in movie.

And now there is this from Lerner, who talked to someone who visited the site of the attack:

“‘There’s just no way it was a bear,’ the anonymous source said…. A cooler was sitting on the ATV with two pounds of bacon. ‘It was completely untouched.'”

Drowned ATV?

The ATV was the one Jessee was riding when he said a bear pushed both the machine and himself into a river now identified as Big Four Creek.

Or so he told Lerner in his first interview with a real live reporter.

Times reporter Neil Vigdor didn’t bother running down Jessee to see what the man had to say about the reported bear attack but took what information he could get from a Coast Guard helicopter crew who picked Jessee up. Vigdor then embellished their account to turn it into “a weeklong ordeal that could pass as a sequel to ‘The Revenant.'”

Where Vigdor got the weeklong timeline isn’t clear. His story doesn’t say, but it most likely came from a Coast Guard media release. 

And these days, when a government bureaucracy says something happened, few journalists question the report no matter how far farfetched.

It now appears Jessee was at the cabin for the short week – four days.

Over those four days, Jessee claims, a bear came back repeatedly and attacked the cabin while trying to get him, but the problem is hungry bears never leave the bacon behind, or the cooler for that matter.

Grizzly bears have incredibly good noses. A hungry one will force its way into a cooler quick to get food rather than fool around attacking a cabin to get at a man inside.

Needless to say, Jessee’s story had a lot of problems from the beginning, and they’ve only grown bigger as others have investigated.

Jessee, meanwhile, has started changing his story.

His ATV, the loss of which it was suggested in his first account was the reason he had to put an SOS on the roof of the cabin to attract help, was no longer in the creek when others arrived at the cabin, Lerner reported.

When Lerner tracked Jessee down for a follow-up interview, he offered this explanation as to how the ATV that supposedly went in the creek turned out to be at the cabin:

“‘The bear pushed on the bike [ATV], is what she did….It pushed me into a hole of deep water. That’s pretty much what I remember. It was all so fast, the bear was mighty big, and I was in deep water trying not to drown.’

“Jessee said the Can-Am winch on his four-wheeler still worked (however), and he was able to use it and some rope to get the ATV and trailer out of the water later.”

When Jessee rescued his gear and trailer, the story doesn’t say,  but in his first telling of the story Jesse was in the water “hypothermic” after the bear knocked him over. So he must have climbed out of the water, warmed up, and “later” returned to get back in the water to winch the vehicle out.

Except in his original telling of the story, the bear was always nearby threatening him after the crash.

In-country view

Before the Nugget published Lerner’s second story, a born and reared Nomite all too familiar with the area’s bears said, “I smell a fish with this story. I don’t know the guy. He  ‘summers’ here and lives elsewhere – your typical non-functional ‘miner’. Most of them are old coots who I feel come here to get away from their wives. None of them are successful miners.

“His shack is in the Big Four creek area, close to the Casadepaga River. There’s several of these guys out there at times. Most are remnants of the now-deceased GPAA (Gold Prospectors Association of America) organization out of California.”

GPAA used to operate the Cripple River Mining Camp out of Nome. It went out of business, but it appears GPAA is now active again and promoting the AkAu Alaska Gold & Resort in the Nome area.

As the setting for the TV reality show “Bering Sea Gold,” Nome has become a big attraction for wannabe gold miners, and some of them are not the most reputable characters.

“The (Jessee) story is hokey,” the old Nomite said. “He didn’t get mauled,  much less bit.  I shake my head every time I read it. It’s full of holes.”

Lerner reported that some Nome residents found the holes big enough that they hauled their own ATVs out the Council Road and headed up the trail to Big Four Creek to investigate.

The Council Road, a two-lane gravel route, runs about 72 miles east from Nome to dead-end in Council, an old mining community. 

The Nomites who ventured to Big Four told Lerner that when they got to the cabin, which wasn’t Jessee’s but that of another miner, “we couldn’t find a bear track within 500 feet of the place, but it should have been all torn up, according to his story.”

When they stomped around in the muddy terrain in the area, they found no bear tracks, no hair and no bear scat, ie. crap. And bears crap a lot.

“Also, the door to the cabin that the bear supposedly vandalized had been tampered with, the door knob appearing to have been knocked off by a hammer,” Lerner reported. “The source said their trip out to the cabin left them with more questions than answers.”

Jessee’s response to those questions didn’t clarify anything.

“They can believe what they want,” he told Lerner. “I was there. I know what happened. I haven’t been that scared in a very, very long time.”

That might well be, but he also revealed that while waiting for rescue he went back to his trailer to get his food.

“I didn’t touch any of the food that was in the cooler – bacon, hamburger, all kinds of stuff,” he told Lerner “I didn’t want the smell of it to come out and attract the bear. I grabbed the dry food, repacked the trailer and left it there.”

But if the bear had already been attracted to the cabin in pursuit of Jessee, it boggles the mind of anyone who knows bears to believe that a bear acting like the one Lerner described wouldn’t find and rip into the food.

As the National Park Service notes, “bears have an insatiable appetite and an amazing sense of smell, and they consider anything with a scent to be ‘food.’ This can include canned goods, bottles, drinks, soaps, cosmetics, toiletries, trash, ice chests, sunscreen, bug repellant, fuel, items used for preparing or eating meals….”

Bears have been regularly known to bite into tin cans to get at the food inside. It’s near impossible to believe a bear would spend days harassing Jessee in a cabin without finding Jessee’s food and ripping into it.

Jessee’s story is, on its face, impossible to believe. One noted authority on bears, a scientist with decades of experience studying the animals, offered this simple opinion of the tale:

“(It) probably got a few rounds bought for him at the local watering hole….”

Could the story have happened as Jessee originally told it? Yes. Truth is sometimes stranger than fiction.

Unfortunately, there is no evidence to support Jessee’s story – no photos, no witnesses, no bear-savaged cabin and no sign of bears around the cabin.

Along with all the other things that are hard to believe here, it is hard to believe that a bear that supposedly wanted in that cabin so bad when Jessee was inside wouldn’t get in the cabin and tear it apart, as bears do, once the Coast Guard hauled Jesse away.

Meanwhile, the preponderance of evidence points toward Jessee telling a tall tale, a big bear story if you will.

Will Lerner’s reporting lead national or international news outlets to revise the tall tale the New York Times started and so many hyped?


The Times can easily hide behind the defense that no one can prove what Jessee said didn’t happen. That is putting the cart in front of the horse, but that is the way journalism often works these days.

And even when something is proven wrong, well….

The Washington Post and CNN are still reporting a moose gave birth to a calf in a busy Anchorage parking lot in 2016 – something that was proven wrong.

The moose and her newborn calf were spied wandering into the parking lot before bedding down only to be surrounded by a crowd oohing and aahing the animals.

But a moose and newborn calf bedding down in an Anchorage parking lot is not nearly as good click-bait  as “moose gives birth in Lowe’s parking lot” or “a grizzly terrified a man in Alaska for days.”

And the country’s urban-media elite wonder why the rural, red part of the country doesn’t trust them.



21 replies »

  1. East, west, humpback whales, gray whales. If you’re gonna call out reporters for their accuracy you need to get your shit together.

    • glad to see you’re reading the comments, Pete. and yes, a journalist probably should pay as much attention there as in stories. but the two forums are different.

      i have now ghost edited it, something i don’t do in stories except for the occasional typo. now we can debate i-before-e, misspellings, and east versus west, which i’d consider a typo.

      humpback versus gray, however, is a more substantive mistake. east-west? right-left? i-e? these are things those of us with dyslexia sometimes flip.

      funny thing is, i never do it with port-starboard and seldom with right-left, but all too regularly with east-west when writing. north-south, not so much of a problem.

      be interesting to know why that is. maybe you have a theory?

      • No theory on that, Craig. And don’t get me wrong, I appreciate your reporting on AK outdoor stories and I’m not trying to be a d*ck. Just trying to get a handle on what you mean by “typo”. I’ve always thought of typos as fat finger syndrome where you accidentally hit the wrong button while typing. So looking at my keyboard I can see how (maybe) east for west could be a typo. But humpback for gray as a typo (as you call it below – “typo fixed”) seems to stretch the definition of typo to include factual errors. Who’s to say, then, that all of the fake news out there isn’t simply a whole lot of “typos”?

      • i’m pretty sure what i wrote was “humpback versus gray, however, is a more substantive mistake.”

        if the same mistake had been in a story, i would have changed it and written a correction to put at the bottom. that’s the SOP on this website.

        but it wasn’t in a story, it was in a comment. i have a slightly lower standard there and simply just fixed it without further ado. i’ve done the same on occasion for other commenters who’ve pinged me to say “oops, i made a mistake in a comment” and asked to have it fixed.

        i’m pretty sure that humpback/gray mistake wouldn’t have made it into a story, however, because any story referencing those whales would have had a link, and if i’d typed “barrow whale rescue” into any search engine in search of said link, i would have gotten slapped upside the head with “gray.”

        that’s one of the reasons i link like crazy. along with being more informative, the linking is good protection against these kinds of stupid errors in stories. and stupid errors make one look stupid. i don’t like to look stupid, but i must add that even stupid looks better than hoodwinked.

        and getting hoodwinked and then compounding things with a reference to “The Revenant…..” that’s sort of in some class all its own.

      • Not to defend Craig, he is certainly capable of doing that himself.

        This has precious little to do with the subject at hand, but I have tick that sometimes makes me say east when I mean west and sometimes makes me say west when I mean east. I hear it come out of my mouth and I know it is wrong but it’s what comes out and then I have to correct myself…I’ve had it my entire life and it doesn’t happen all the time, when I’m tired it happens more frequently. It does not happen with north and south. I’ve always found it odd.

  2. No surprise! “Journalism” in the mainstream media is pretty much dead. Fake news is not just relegated to the Political page anymore. It has infected every aspect of life. Question everything.

  3. Too easy of a story to try and make a fool out of someone in a crisis… yeah… he screwed up.

    And then… all the pro trump, and how folks are spinning this article into “fake news”… toooooo funny!! Trying to spin on Kavanaugh, breitbart news, faux news….

    Wow… people..

    • It would be funny if credibility didn’t matter. It’s regular little things like this that do more damage to journalism than the rare big thing. A Breitbart is an NYT is a Fox in these times, to steal a line from Ingrid Newkirk. All too often when I read a NYT story dealing with something about which I’m knowledgeable, I find things overblown, misinterpreted and just plain wrong. The Old Gray Laday has become too much like the other news “sources” you site, the main difference now being that they all have different agendas; the main similarity being a desire to hype things.

      • Well, Craig, let us be real here. The Trump dossier, Russian/Ukranian collusion and attacks on Kavanagh were outright fabrications, lies if you will to impeach a sitting president and to shutdown a potential SCOTUS nominee the NYT disagreed with. Fox and Breitbart were printing the facts and truth while the NYT and WaPo, LA Times,, Democrat members of Congress, etc. etc. were lying with impunity. I think you will find this scenario more often then not.

  4. “Briefly stated, the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect is as follows. You open the newspaper to an article on some subject you know well. In Murray’s case, physics. In mine, show business. You read the article and see the journalist has absolutely no understanding of either the facts or the issues. Often, the article is so wrong it actually presents the story backward—reversing cause and effect. I call these the “wet streets cause rain” stories. Paper’s full of them.

    In any case, you read with exasperation or amusement the multiple errors in a story, and then turn the page to national or international affairs, and read as if the rest of the newspaper was somehow more accurate about Palestine than the baloney you just read. You turn the page, and forget what you know.”

    – Michael Crichton (1942-2008)

  5. No one who has spent any time in Alaska’s outdoors believes Jessie’s story. But he may not be a crazy old fool. Next thing might be seeing him on National TV or hear about a book he is writing or being applauded as a hero by AARP. Hell, he might get invited to the White House.
    As the poet Robert Service one said: “ There are strange things done in the midnight sun by the men who moil for gold….”

  6. And…..there are some people of various political persuasions who believe that a writer who thinks the Columbia River flows “EAST” after it makes its southerly trip out of the Canadian Rockies is about as credible as the New York Times. How on that?

    • Granted, it would have been better without them. The problem is getting people to man up in a situation like this.

      Lots of folks balk at calling bullshit on bullshit when asked by a “journalist.” They seem to prefer doing it on social media.

      It’s an old, old problem. I remember back to when some gray whales were stuck in the ice at Barrow. Every knowledgable whale scientist said privately that those whales weren’t getting out alive; they hadn’t been able to navigate a few miles of broken ice before getting frozen in thus making it a fantasy that they could navigate tens of miles of broken ice to reach the safety of open water.

      But, of course, none of them were willing to have their names publicly attached to this, and these days there might even be one or two clinging to the fantasy they helped save the whales when they all know why those whales weren’t tagged. Nobody wanted the inevitable documented.

      The anonymous sources issue is a tough one. It is also sort of irrelevant here. When someone is “attacked” by a bear and suffers no serious injuries, it ain’t “The Revenant” in any way shape or form. And that someone was scared in their mind – which can be a very scary place – doesn’t mean a bear “terrorized” them. Before a journalist jumps to that conclusion, he or she should find at least a shred of evidence, like maybe some tooth marks in something or some claw marks on something.

      Teeth and claws are the things bears use when they “attack.” I still have scars from a claw mark in my chin and from teeth in my lower leg. Not to mention a tooth-marked scope. If there’s a real bear “attack,” there’s invariably evidence. In this case, the lack of evidence is far more significant than the anonymity given to her sources.

      Of course, if we still had real and serious journalism, some journalists would have gone to the sight of this incident his/herself to investigate. But that almost never happens anymore.

    • Anonymous sources have always been the hallmark of a good story.
      Ironically, ADN refuses to print anything without your name attached & their investigate journalism sucks as a result of this…let’s face it…who wants to get drug into the mud over a story going “to print” in AK?

  7. Now keep in mind.these same “reliable” “news” sources, New York Slimes, WaPo, CNN, pushed the Russian/Ukranian collusion hoaxes for YEARS costing the taxpayers over $60 million. They still push their lies.. They pushed the bogus Kavanaugh lies as truths.. Now read this story again. Then ask yourself, why on earth would you trust anything these lying “news” sources say about Covid or the “vaccine”?

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