Oct 24, 2009

Political Idealogues Are Bad for the Environment

Today has been designated the International Day of Climate Action. Lots of folks are doing lots of things to express their views on this important topic.

I will spend the day reading a cautionary tale titled Mao's War Against Nature. I'm only on page 43 so far, but the moral of this story is already chillingly clear: when political ideology drives decision-making really bad things happen to both humans and the environment.

We're talking stuff like human-induced famine that causes the deaths of millions of people. When their policies produce unintended consequences, hardcore idealogues can acknowledge their errors and change course. Or they can continue onward.

A quote on page 32, attributed to Mao's personal physician, is revealing: "Mao knew that people were dying by the millions. He did not care."

It's difficult to believe that political leaders can be so callous. But history teaches us that such atrocities have occurred more than once. We all need to take special care to never lend support to situations in which such horrors might be perpetrated.

This means, above all, respecting multiple points of view. It means supporting free and open debate.


Oct 23, 2009

Bias: How the Media Distort the News

Align Center
Bias: A CBS Insider Exposes How the Media Distort the News
by Bernard Goldberg, (2003, Perennial/Harper Collins)

The way environmental issues get presented by the media is a major theme of the book I'm currently writing about global warming. This volume, authored by a gent who worked on CBS television news shows for 28 years, provides food for thought. Below is a quick-and-dirty list of some interesting quotes that appear within. Page numbers refer to the US/Canadian paperback edition (the first 14 pages of which comprise a new introduction).
  • "When it comes to arrogance, power, and lack of accountability, journalists are probably the only people on the planet who make lawyers look good." - attributed to Steven Brill (the book's opening epigraph)
  • "...the media divide Americans into two groups - moderates and right-wing nuts." p. 1
  • "I kept thinking of how my colleagues treat cigarette...oil, and other company executives in the media glare. The news business deserves the same hard look..." p. 3
  • "I couldn't get on any network TV news program at any time of the day or night to talk about [this book], despite the fact that it had been a number-one bestseller" p. 11
  • "Remember, these are the people who investigate everybody else - but they didn't want me on their networks talking about their shortcomings." p. 12
  • "The president of a major network news division says he doesn't have any interest in a book about a major problem facing his own news business." p 12
  • "There are lots of reasons fewer people are watching network news, and one of them, I'm more convinced than ever, is that our viewers simply don't trust us." p. 19
  • "There is absolutely no way - not one chance in a million - that [CBS] would have aired a flat-tax story with that same contemptuous tone if Teddy Kennedy or Hillary Clinton had come up with the idea." p. 22
  • "Can you imagine, in your wildest dreams, a network news reporter calling Hillary Clinton's health care plan 'wacky'? p. 23
  • "I understand why Al Gore and other liberals call something they don't like a 'scheme.' Politicians and partisans are allowed to do that. But should supposedly objective people like news reporters...use that kind of loaded language?"p. 25
  • "...here's one of those dirty little secrets journalists are never supposed to reveal...a reporter can find an expert to say anything the reporter wants - anything!" p 26
  • "The problem comes in the big social and cultural issues, where we often sound more like flacks for liberal causes than objective journalists." p. 28
  • "[journalism's] elites are hopelessly out of touch with everyday Americans. Their friends are liberals, just as they are. They share the same values. Almost all of them think the same way on the big social issues of our time...After a while they start to believe that all civilized people think the same way they and their friends do. That's why they don't simply disagree with conservatives. They see them as morally deficient." p. 30
  • "The sophisticated media elites don't categorize their beliefs as liberal but as simply the correct way to look at things." p. 30
  • "I see myself as an old-fashioned liberal. I'm a liberal the way liberals used to be." p. 57
  • "...the national news media...were not just covering this important trend in American culture. They were taking sides." p. 62
  • "If we do a Hollywood story, it's not unusual to identify certain actors, like Tom Selleck or Bruce Willis, as conservatives. But Barbra Streisand or Rob Reiner, no matter how active they are in liberal Democratic politics, are just Barbra Streisand and Rob Reiner." p. 63
  • "Why is it that the word 'left-wing' has virtually vanished from the media's vocabulary?...We have right-wing Republicans and right-wing Christians and right-wing Miami Cubans and right-wing radio talk show hosts. Isn't anybody left-wing anymore?" p. 66
  • "No matter how bad a problem really is, advocates think they need to portray it as worse. This is standard operating procedure with lobbies...We have come to expect this of advocates. They know their cause is worthy, so what harm can a little exaggeration do? But reporters - when they also see the cause as worthy - buy into it. They also become advocates." p. 72
  • "It's as if our coverage...was being directed not by objective journalists but by the advocates for the homeless themselves. We took what they said at face value even though we would never do that with advocates for causes we did not embrace." p. 73
  • "...advocates for the homeless misled us about all sorts of things - the number of the homeless, who they were, why they were homeless - and because we embraced their cause...we pretty much said, 'Hey, no problem,' and passed their misinformation on to the American people." p. 73
  • "For years,the activists played the media as if they were part of the homeless PR machine...A lot of news people, after all, got into journalism in the first place so they could change the world and make it a better place...showing compassion makes us feel good about ourselves..." p. 74
  • "Did anyone, least of all seasoned reporters who pride themselves on their skepticism, really believe that the vast majority of the homeless - the addicted and the mentally ill - would virtually disappear from America's streets if only Ronald Reagan hadn't cut housing programs?" p. 76
  • "Once again, the media were more than willing to set aside their usual skepticism and go right along. While AIDS was devastating minority and gay communities in America, while it was leaving Middle America virtually untouched, the news stories conjured up some other reality." p. 83
  • Oprah Winfrey in 1987: "Research studies now project that one in five - listen to me, hard to believe - one in five heterosexuals could be dead from AIDS at the end of the next three years. That's by 1990. One in five. It is no longer just a gay disease. Believe me." p.83
  • "...an epidemic was racing across America. An epidemic of fear. You couldn't open a newspaper, turn the page of a magazine, or tune in to the nightly news without reading or hearing about the deadly link between AIDS and heterosexuals." p. 84
  • "In 1987 the highly respected surgeon general, C. Everett Koop, said AIDS was 'the biggest threat to health this nation has ever faced.'" p. 84
  • "That anyone is still contracting HIV is a tragedy of huge proportions. That the gay lobby would try to mislead us is understandable. That the media go along is disgraceful." p. 90
  • "When the cover of Life told us in1985 that 'No No One is Safe from AIDS,' it had the story all wrong. So did all the others that warned of the coming heterosexual AIDS epidemic." p. 95
  • "48 Hours point was to scare the hell out of America. Scaring the hell out of people makes for good television even when it makes for shallow journalism." p. 97
  • "The men who started up the networks in the earliest days of television thought news was special. They made their money on Lucy and Ricky and Jackie Gleason and Jack Benny. For years and years, news wasn't a money-maker and wasn't expected to be. Don Hewitt, the creator...of 60 Minutes, loves to tell the story about how, when the show first went on the air, Bill Paley, the founder of CBS, told him, 'Make us proud!' 'Now,' Hewitt says, 'they tell us: Make us money!'" p. 98
  • "So do I believe my good friend Andrew Heyward would put on a scary program whose primary goal was to get high ratings even if it meant telling half-truths about who was getting AIDS in America and how they were getting it? In a word, Yes!" p. 99
  • "...the activists did what they felt they had to do. They got the word out that it would spread to all of us. And the media passed it along to America, at first because they didn't know better, then because they thought heterosexual AIDS was a better story, but eventually because it was another way to show compassion." p. 101
  • "Does anyone think a 'diverse' group of conservative journalists would give us the news straight? I sure as hell don't. They'd be just like the Left...It's the human condition." p. 126
  • "No conspiracies. No deliberate attempts to slant the news. It just happens. Because the way reporters and editors see the world, the way their friends and colleagues see the world, matters." p. 127
  • "...if long ago we came to the conclusion that newsrooms with too many white men were a bad idea because all we got was the white male perspective, then why isn't it just as bad to have so many liberals dominating the culture of the newsroom?" p. 127
  • "This is a big country with a lot of people, and there's room for all sorts of views." p. 128
  • "89 percent of journalists said they voted for Bill Clinton in 1992, compared with just 43 percent of the nonjournalist voters." p. 129
  • "There's hardly a candidate in the entire United States of America who carries his or her district with 89 percent of the vote. This is way beyond landslide numbers. The only politicians who get numbers like that are called Fidel Castro or Saddam Hussein." p. 129
  • "In the world of media elites, Democrats outnumber Republicans by twelve to one and liberals outnumber conservatives by seven to one." p. 130
  • "...it's not just that so many journalists are so different from mainstream America. It's that some are downright hostile to what many Americans hold sacred." p. 133
  • "...some real diversity to the newsroom, not the make-believe kind we have now." p. 136
  • "News executives are always saying we need our staffs to look more like the real America. How about if those reporters and editors and executives also thought just a little more like the real America? And shared just a little more of their values?" p. 136
  • "...national TV reporters, as a group, are lazy. I know this is a generalization, and I know that Mark Twain said generalizations aren't worth a damn, but it's generally true nonetheless. 'There's no culture of ideas around here,' one CBS News executive told me, meaning hardly any of his reporters ever look out at the bigger American culture and wonder why certain things are happening and come up with something resembling an original story. These reporters and producers cover news conferences and plane crashes and hurricanes and easy stuff like that." pp. 173-174
  • "Why is one point of view valid and the other nonexistent on the evening news?" p. 181
  • "Why is it that when liberal media stars say nasty things they're merely sharing their thoughts with us and (even more important) their feelings, but when the same sentiment comes out of a conservative's mouth, it's seen as mean-spirited?" p. 191
  • "The media elites...can hear even the whispers of what they consider hate speech fifty miles away - whether they imagine it's coming from conservative talk show hosts or right-wing religious fundamentalists or just about anyone opposed to affirmative action. But they can't hear it dripping off their own nasty tongues..." p. 192

Oct 13, 2009

On Saying the Debate is Over

NOconsensus.org has posted a second 2-minute video. This one is titled: On Saying The Debate is Over.

The full text of the film is as follows:

Jack and Jane have a decision to make. Jack thinks they need a new roof. He's worried that, if snowfalls are heavy this year, things will start to leak.

Jane is concerned about the front porch. The wood is rotten in places and she's afraid someone could be hurt if the floor gives way. She thinks they should fix the porch now and do the roof later.

Whose opinion should prevail? There's no magic answer. Their decision will depend on how well each of them can argue their point-of-view. It will rest on what they feel would be easier to cope with: a serious leak or an unsafe floor.

But suppose Jack gets up one morning and declares that "the debate is over." He isn't interested in discussing it anymore. He knows that he is right and Jane is wrong. Whether she likes it or not, he's getting the roof re-done.

Most of us know this isn't the way to sustain a relationship. When someone decides that only their opinion counts, they've stopped being a reasonable person and have become a bully and a tyrant.

It is not OK for one party to declare that "the debate is over."

Not when the discussion is about home repairs. And not when it's about climate change.

See video number one, This Is Not Fair Play