L'Ombre de l'Olivier

The Shadow of the Olive Tree

being the maunderings of an Englishman on the Côte d'Azur

28 October 2008 Blog Home : October 2008 : Permalink

Lockwood and Malone

The title sounds like a firm of undertakers doesn't it? Or maybe the solicitors who have been appointed as executors of the will. Actually it isn't either, although it is not impossible that both will be cited in future obituries of the "Main Stream Media".

Lockwood refers to Alex Lockwood, lecturer in Journalism at the University of Sunderland, and Malone is referring to Michael Malone, a columnist at ABC News. To take the latter first. Mr Malone, journalist, son and grandson of journalists and father to another, has a problem with the bias on offer in the MSM regarding Obama vs McCain.

The traditional media are playing a very, very dangerous game — with their readers, with the Constitution and with their own fates.

The sheer bias in the print and television coverage of this election campaign is not just bewildering, but appalling. And over the last few months I’ve found myself slowly moving from shaking my head at the obvious one-sided reporting, to actually shouting at the screen of my television and my laptop computer.

But worst of all, for the last couple weeks, I’ve begun — for the first time in my adult life — to be embarrassed to admit what I do for a living. A few days ago, when asked by a new acquaintance what I did for a living, I replied that I was “a writer,” because I couldn’t bring myself to admit to a stranger that I’m a journalist.

I am very far from happy with McCain but I think it is fair to say that if I were entitled to vote in US elections he'd get my vote because Obama scares the daylights out of me. Not Obama personally but the apparent personality cult that has grown up around him which means that, as Malone says:

[i]f the current polls are correct, we are about to elect as president of the United States a man who is essentially a cipher, who has left almost no paper trail, seems to have few friends (that at least will talk) and has entire years missing out of his biography.

That isn't Sen. Obama's fault: His job is to put his best face forward. No, it is the traditional media's fault, for it alone (unlike the alternative media) has had the resources to cover this story properly, and has systematically refused to do so.

To put it simply Malone's long, read it all, column states that the MSM (and he fingers in particular the editors, something I'm not so sure is correct) has deliberately engaged in what we call propaganda when we see it on offer from the Glorious Leaders of Tyrannical Dictatorships. The problem here is that if Obama wins and he ends up not being quite the wonderful messiah he is predicted to be then there's going to be buyers remorse on behalf of the US electorate in a big way and it seems pretty clear that a major casualty in any blowback will be the MSM who covered for Obama during the campaign.

One way that the MSM might decide to try and avert, or at least delay, that judgement day would be to get even more biased, blaming Bush, Republicans and other enemies of state for the country's woes, not reporting unsuccessful initiatives by Obama and so on. If you think this sounds remarkably like the relationship estemed journals such as Pravda had with the Soviet Union's Politburo then you aren't alone.

The problem with this is that just as the Samizdat press was able to circulate alternate versions of events so too now can the Internet. If the MSM does continue to be perceived as outrageously biased with respect to US politics it will be ignored by an ever larger portion of the population, over time this will then lead to a (further) collapse in advertising income and the final demise of the MSM unless the US government decides to nationalize them. Even if the latter does occur the lack of audience and corresponding lack of influence will do them in as a trusted source of information.

This leads us to Lockwood. Alex Lockwood has a paper out about the effect of the Internet and blogosphere on the climate change debate which he approaches from the viewpoint of someone convinced that AGW is happening, and that we need to stop it now. Firstly Mr Lockwood celebrates that fact that the MSM is convinced that AGW is a problem:

On  3rd  August  this  year,  IPCC  Chairman  Rajendra  Pachauri  told  the  Chicago  Tribune:  “The science  about  climate  change  is  very  clear.  There  really  is  no  room  for  doubt  at  this  point.” Since  publication  of  the  4th  IPCC  report  in  2007,  the  mainstream  media  has,  in  general, accepted  this  position.  As  Andreadis  and  Smith  (2007)  note,  UK  journalists  are  no  longer required  to  balance  each  warning  voice.  Writing  in  the  Columbia  Journalism  Review,  Cristine Russell  concurred,  suggesting  that  for  US  journalists  “the  era  of  ‘equal  time’  for  sceptics...  is largely over.”

And then he notes that, um, unfortunately the  blogosphere is rather full of dissent.

It  is  my  contention  that  new  media  is  providing  the  spatial  and  temporal  freedoms that,  when  combined  with  the  ability  to  publish  free  from  peer‐review  and  from  journalistic codes, provides the ‘room for doubt’ for which Pachauri says there is no longer any time.

He follows this up with the sort of proposal to bring joy to the heart of any greenshirted extremist:

Do  we  have  time  for  ill‐informed  scepticism  and  disinformation?  As  Oreskes  and  Renouf revealed just this Sunday on BB[C]2, we’ve had 30 years of it now. The IPCC warn that we have only  10  years  to  act  to  avoid  runaway  climate  change.  The  question  could  also  be:  does  our democracy  even  have  time  for  new  media?

The question is asked because Mr Lockwood is convinced (by weight of credentials as opposed to evidence I think) that climate change must be stopped now. Then he shows why the free speech in this area is so dangerous:

First,  in  what  ways  is  new  media  used  to  spread  sceptical  discourse?  Three  examples.  In December 2007, the New Statesman published an article by David Whitehouse claiming “global warming  has,  temporarily  or  permanently,  ceased.”x  Three  weeks  later,  New  Statesman columnist  and  climate  author  Mark  Lynas  wrote:  “Whitehouse  got  it  wrong  –  completely wrong.” Web  editor  Ben  Davies  let  the  forum  debate  run  five  months,  attracting  3,004 comments: this could not happen in a letters page. This delivers the promise of what Howard Rheingold  saw  as  “a  way  of  revitalising  the  open  and  widespread  discussions  among  citizens that feeds the roots of democratic society” (Rheingold 1993). The important thing here is that the comments were in support of the sceptic Whitehouse, by a ratio of about six‐to‐one.  

Do we believe this ratio is representative, or just mimics the internecine morass afflicting news sites  such  as  the  Guardian’s  Comment  is  Free?  The  same  ratio  was  quoted  by  Downing  and Ballantyne in their 2007 report ‘Turning Point or Tipping Point?’ for comments received after the  airing  of  Channel  4’s  Great  Global  Warming  Swindle.  According  to  them  “Channel  4 anecdotally reported  that  among  the  700  comments  it  received  [including  phone,  but  mainly online], supporters outnumbered critics six to one.” Channel 4 Head of Documentaries Hamish Mykura,  writing  in  the Guardian,  used  this  ‘anecdotal’ evidence  to  shore  up  its  broadcast  (to 2.7m  viewers).  That  comment‐board  rants  are  used  to  justify  such  flawed  programming is indicative of the force of new media in promulgating sceptical positions. 

But it gets worse. Not only so the unwashed persist in holding and shouting out positions that Mr Lockwood finds unacceptable they read and make posts on really popular blog sites instead of reading proper news magazines:

[A]nother starting point is to look at blog aggregation sites. While this omits traditional media,  it  is  a  good  measure  for  extra‐institutional  influence.  On  Wikio,  four  of  the  top  20 science  blogs  are  sceptics.  The  most  successful,  WattsUpWiththat.com,  the  US‐based  blog  of sceptic  and  former  weatherman  Anthony  Watts,  in  July  this  year  posted  646,024  page  views (2.8m since launch). It is in the top four of 3.4m blogs using the free online blog authoring tool, Wordpress.  Using  the  latest  Nielsen  Net  Ratings  data,  even  the  most  conservative  estimate would  give  it  over  300,000  monthly  visits  and  a  readership  of  over  31,000  users. Compare that to the New Statesman’s 12.7% year‐on‐year decline, to headline sales of just over 26,000.

That right there is the writing on the wall. A blog run by some guy with little or no qualifications gets more readers than a magazine produced by a staff of dozens. And the blog holds the wrong opinion!

At this point Lockwood has shown quite nicely that the internet and blogosphere has done a great job of substituing for the discreditied MSM in one area. There seems to be no reason why the same will not apply elsewhere. Given the undoubted fact that there is a lot of really bad "pseudoscience" on the Internet this ought to be worrying, It isn't as worrying to me as it might be because journalists in the MSM clearly don't grasp science either. Take Mr Lockwood as an example and look at his description of Steve McIntyre:

Perhaps  the  best  known  example  of  political  impact  has  been  the  work  of  sceptical  blogger Steve McIntyre, whose criticisms of the hockey stick graph used in the IPCC reports led to a US Congressional  Committee  to  examine  its  validity.

Steve's work is important because of its political impact. Really? How about its scientific attitude where it helped spotlight the incredily shabby basic data gathering and dodgy statistics used in climate science? While I don't think the high priests like Hansen and Mann would agree I suspect that a lot of scientists are extremely greatful for Mr McIntyre's work exposing the flawed statistical reasoning that resulted in the hockey stick. Likewise, Mr Lockwood writes about Anthony Watts concerning his general purpose site "WattsUpWithThat" and ignores the related site that has allowed the world to see just how poorly sited many surface stations are and how this is likely to skew global warming data.

In fact with this sentence Mr Lockwood demosntrates why the curious seeker after knowledge looks for sources other than the MSM, Journalists are not mathematicians or scientists and they simply don't do maths, It should come as no surprise that they can't properly explain global warming theory or that they end up accepting whatever an eminent scientist tells them because they lack the ability to evaluate the data themselves.

The last few years have shown that the MSM have abused the trust placed in them. They are failing and they may not be missed.