The emails started arriving last week.
“I’ve been waiting to hear about the fires in the Amazon,” wrote Molly Krause, a listener in Aurora, Colo. “It’s a huge problem that is not getting adequate attention. Can you please do an episode to shed light on what is going on?”
What began as a handful of requests became a kind of collective plea.
“I’ve been preoccupied with the fires ravaging the Amazon, and I can’t help but sense they have gone underreported in the American media,” wrote Mike Rusie from Wilmington, Del. “My father, for example, scoffed at the matter and implied that they weren’t a big deal.”
We, too, wanted to better understand the fires in the Amazon. Social media had portrayed them, in flashing red lights, as a singular global crisis. Times reporting had put them in deeper historical perspective. After assessing the gap between those two portrayals, we realized there was a chance to make an episode that would answer a simple question: What was really going on down there?
Producers Clare Toeniskoetter and Michael Simon Johnson began digging into the story with Ernesto Londoño, the Brazil bureau chief. What they found was that the modern history of the Amazon was one of constant tension — between conservation and development; between international pressure to protect the rainforest and Brazilians who believe it’s their resource to use as they please.
None of that began with this year’s fires. And, as Ernesto explained, the scale of the fires was not entirely unique.
“What was different this year,” he told us, “is you had all these alarming and widely shared posts on social media, some of which were using pictures that were many, many years old that weren’t really an accurate reflection of what was happening on the ground.”
But it turned out, of course, that there is a crisis. It’s just not exactly the crisis many were reading about on Twitter and Facebook. It is a crisis of a decades-long battle over the Amazon as a source of oxygen versus a source of income, and of a new president in Brazil who ran his campaign on it being the latter.
Talk to Michael on Twitter: @mikiebarb.
Hearing from the Farmer sisters
In Monday’s episode, Mike Baker shared his conversations with Maria and Annie Farmer, the sisters who made the earliest known sexual assault allegations against Jeffrey Epstein 23 years ago, but whose stories weren’t widely heard until now. Mike told us about his time with them:
“When I showed up to interview Maria at her new home, I arrived at about the same time as a FedEx truck that was delivering a box of old belongings. Inside were photos and art pieces from the period around when she says her assault occurred. While I was with her, she began going through those files, and the process contributed to the emotional toll of an already tough day. So we took breaks. I left the house for a bit. We later went to dinner with her mother and discussed other things, like the art Maria did as a child and what leftovers their dogs would want to eat. Some questions I pocketed for another day.
“Maria and Annie ended up spending hours talking with me over several days. I’m grateful for that. The process was challenging for me, but I can’t even begin to relate to how draining it must have been for them.”
Every Saturday for the next few weeks, you’ll hear the new Times podcast “1619” on “The Daily.” In tomorrow’s episode, Matthew Desmond and Nikole Hannah-Jones tell the story of how cotton slavery built American capitalism.
The cotton plantation was America’s first big business, and enslaved people became America’s first modern workers. Behind this system, and integral to it, was a brutality that resonates into the nation’s economic life today.
If you don’t want to wait until tomorrow, we’re also releasing “1619” as a standalone series, with new episodes published on Fridays. You can listen to the latest at nytimes.com/1619podcast or by searching for “1619” wherever you get your podcasts.
On ‘The Daily’ this week
Monday: “I don’t know why none of the other adults told the truth,” Maria Farmer, who reported Jeffrey Epstein two decades ago, told Mike Baker. “Why did I have to do it all? And why did I get punished for it?”
Tuesday: Peter Goodman on the U.S. trade war with China: “There is simply no way that you can separate the two largest economies on earth in an era of globalization without significant numbers of people winding up poorer.”
Wednesday: “This is certainly a story about climate change. And it’s a story about President Bolsonaro,” says Ernesto Londoño of the Amazon fires. “But it’s a far more complicated story than we’ve been hearing.”
Thursday: “From day one, they’ve been bleeding money.” In the 10 years that Uber has existed, it has never once turned a profit. Mike Isaac explains how that’s possible.
Friday: In Britain and Italy, political battles are playing out between the establishment and the populists. “Everybody thinks they’re representing democracy,” Katrin Bennhold tells us.
That’s it for The Daily newsletter. See you next week.
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