It is time to stop quivering in our boots in pointless fear of the future and just roll up our sleeves and build it.
- Ray Pierrehumbert

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

High Broderism

Revkin, Kloor, even RP Jr. (who is not a journalist but much beloved by them) puzzle us deeply.

Jay Rosen has an analysis of the journalistic ideology that is helpful.

At first, I thought that the US press's (not always but sometimes excessive) attacks on BP and their delight in overstating the disaster disproved the idea that they will always find themselves in the middle. But love of oil companies (or even due respect for the enormity of the task they have) is very rare in the public. Consequently "both" "sides" are on board for flaming BP. Not only was the press not taking an independent evidence-based stand (incorrectly, I thought, but at least vigorously) but in fact it was sheepishly going along. When both "sides" agree about something, the polarizing press has no poles to choose between.

In this worldview, says Rosen,
“center right” is the right place for politics to be played not because the center-rightists have the best answers to the nation’s problems but because “the reality [is] that America is a center-right nation.” Now we’re near to the beating heart of the ideology that holds our political press together. That is when journalists try to win the argument not by having better arguments but by standing closer to a reality they get to define as more real than your reality.
Rosen isn't even thinking about our turf, so the direct hits he makes on the failure of the press regarding our interests here in climate science, sustainable economics, and rational science-based policy are almost uncanny.

5. He said, she said journalism, a formation I have been trying to bust up by pushing for more fact checking.

“He said, she said” journalism means…

- There’s a public dispute.
- The dispute makes news.
- No real attempt is made to assess clashing truth claims in the story, even though they are in some sense the reason for the story. (Under the “conflict makes news” test.)
- The means for assessment do exist, so it’s possible to exert a factual check on some of the claims, but for whatever reason the report declines to make use of them.
- The symmetry of two sides making opposite claims puts the reporter in the middle between polarized extremes.

When these five conditions are met, the genre is in gear.

When there is news, two and exactly two positions must be identified, one "left" and one "right". When the CRU emails were hacked, McIntyre quickly stepped up as the voice of the pole of the discussion that alleges that what is revealed in the emails is consequential and shocking. After all, making mountains of climate molehills is the key to his celebrity. He has been practicing the technique and has it down to an artform. So now Climate Audit becomes something of an official opposition.

Official oppositions don't make peace, particularly in situations where the rewards for two-sided polarization dominate. Curry takes people at CA at face value when they say they are criticizing real flaws in how science is conducted because they genuinely want to improve matters, or at least gives them the benefit of the doubt. I suspect that they are criticizing "flaws" with near-complete indifference to whether they are real or fake, important or trivial. It's criticism, but on the whole it isn't constructive criticism. The idea is to make the science look bad, not to fix it.

(That all said, it may still be worthwhile to redirect amateur scientists' energies into a less confrontational vein. It just seems unlikely that this will happen at CA.)

McIntyre's purpose is probably self-aggrandizement rather than political gamesmanship or financial reward. But it works because it plays directly into the sleight-of-mind that the delayers favor, and the delayers are there to protect the investment of fossil fuel interests.

The fact that this whole mess works at all is largely the press's fault, which they are constitutionally incapable of admitting. Rosen again:

2. The Quest for Innocence, which is the agenda (I say) the press must continually serve, even as it claims to serve no one’s agenda.

Innocence [is] a determination not to be implicated, enlisted, or seen by the public as involved… The quest for innocence in political journalism means the desire to be manifestly agenda-less and thus “prove” in the way you describe things that journalism is not an ideological trade.

7 comments:

manuel "moe" g said...

Another annoying habit of alleged "Serious" journalistic commentators (including Curry along with Revkin, Kloor, RPJr) is that they stake out a relative position hastily, then move from that position with sluggish obstinacy. Because the more time you take to initially stake out a relative position, the _less_ "Serious" you are. Because the slower you budge from your initial thoughtless position, the _more_ "Serious" you are.

That is why the compulsion for fidelity to objective reality is most definitely "Un-Serious".

It is two parts thoughtless conservatism, and one part obsequiousness -- the recipe for mainstream journalism in a mature democracy for a dominant power. This leads to the preference of the "Center-Right". The only reason why England is allowed to have such a sensible lot of genuine conservatives is because England plays a periphery role in global politics.

Steve Bloom said...

Rosen: "That is when journalists try to win the argument not by having better arguments but by standing closer to a reality they get to define as more real than your reality."

This could have been written to describe precisely my recent interactions with kk (who has now taken to censoring me when I push him to produce his arguments -- it's as if his job is at an end when he pronounces someone else's argument "compelling" or whatever).

keith said...

Nice try, Steve. I deleted one of your comments last week and then emailed you personally to tell you why.

The truth is you don't like being moderated. (Everyone now is with the new comment system I installed.) That means no more free passes for you to hijack a thread with ad hominems, excessive sarcasm, personal insults, etc.

Deal with it or take your act where it'll be tolerated.

Michael Tobis said...

Steve, ironically, you went too far in that last one.

I like journalists. Many of my friends are journalists. I don't much like their product or their ideology, but I'd like to retain their friendship anyway.

Please argue ideas.

If you want to bicker and squabble over perceived slights and offenses, please take it to any of the bickering sites out there. I recommend McIntyre's, where it's all bicker 'n' squabble all the time.

Steve Bloom said...

Hmm, Michael, wasn't Keith's entire comment rather along the lines of what you say you axed mine for?

Just for the record, in that comment I made a point of listing an example of a journalist (Tom Yulsman) who does good work without exhibiting the Broderist qualities Keith does, so I'm surprised you would interpret my comment to be in any way hostile to journalists as a whole. It wasn't, and BTW there are plenty more I know and respect.

I believe the only other thing I said was that contrary to Keith's assertion I have no problem in general participating on moderated blogs, a point which has just been neatly illustrated.

Steve Bloom said...

Just to reminder you, Michael, there's an excellent example of amateur climate scientists at work in the for of the project to rewrite the GISTEMP code.

frank -- Decoding SwiftHack said...

The idea that a journalist or a news organization can and should be "just a messenger" (as keith puts it) is bogus.

Journalists and news organizations regularly decide which pieces of news items to report, which facts to report in each news story, and how to arrange the facts. Yes, they have the power to decide decide how the news of the day will look like, and they use this power regularly -- they have to, in order to write their stories!

Journalists are not "merely" messengers.

The main question is, are they using the power which they have in ways that make sense, or are they using it in brain-dead ways?