Tag Archives: slanted journalism

Objectivity and Global Warming

Those of you who read the major story on the front page of the Jan. 17, 2015, N.Y. Times may have been struck by a glaring omission. The story is headlined: “2014 Breaks Heat Record, Challenging Global Warming Skeptics.” It presents information about the record global temperature of last year and the ongoing trend of an ever-hotter climate. But one thing is missing – actual temperatures! Astonishingly, not a single temperature reading is included in the piece.

Here are some excerpts from the article: “Last year was the hottest on Earth since record-keeping began in 1880.” “Extreme heat blanketed Alaska and much of the western United States.” “In the annals of climatology, 2014 surpassed 2010 as the warmest year.” “The 10 warmest years have all occurred since 1997.” One would think that the principle of objectivity plainly demands that the reader be told what the temperature levels were. But no mention is made of the actual temperature for any period of time covered in the article. (There is an accompanying weather map for 2014 and a chart of the annual climate trend since 1880; big on graphics and small on words, both show only the amounts by which the temperature deviated from the 20th century’s average.)

The only plausible explanation for this omission from the article is that the temperature increase—described as portending “profound long-term risks to civilization”was embarrassingly trivial. Here are the relevant data (all temperatures are Fahrenheit), taken from the source used by the Times article, the <a href="http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/sotc/global/" onclick="_gaq.push(['_trackEvent', 'outbound-article', 'http://www.ncdc celebrex dosage.noaa.gov/sotc/global/’, ‘National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’]);” >National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration:

  • The average global temperature during 2014 was 58.24˚, beating the previous high in 2010 by . . . 17/100 of a degree!
  • The change in temperature between 1880 (56.50˚) and 2014 (58.24˚) was 1.74˚an increase of 0.013˚ per year, or a minuscule 1.3˚ per century!

The article further notes: “Skeptics of climate change have long argued that global warming stopped around 1998 . . .  [b]ut the temperature of 1998 is now being surpassed every four or five years.” Again, no actual numbers are offered, so let me offer some. The average temperature in 1998 was 58.13˚; in 2005 and 2010, it was 4/100 of a degree higher; by 2014—the record year—it had risen by 11/100 of a degree. Yet we are supposed to “expect the heat to get much worse over coming decades.” One can see why the reporter might have been disinclined to use concrete numbers.

The article does allude to these tiny increases in temperature, but in a dismissive and non-informative manner. A number of scientists argue that climates go through natural cycles and that there had been some warming in the decades prior to 1998, but virtually none since then. Here the Times cites John Christy, an atmospheric scientist “known for his skepticism about the seriousness of global warming,” who said “that 2014 had surpassed the other record-warm years by only a few hundredths of a degree, well within the error margin of global temperature measurements [italics added].” Dr. Christy is quoted as saying: “Since the end of the 20th century, the temperature hasn’t done much. It’s on this kind of warmish plateau.”

How does the Times reporter deal with this claim? Not by giving us the data on the actual temperatures now and in 1998. Instead, the claim is shrugged off through the reporter’s assertion that “the vast majority of those who study the climate say the Earth is in a long-term warming trend that is profoundly threatening.” That is the whole of the response to Dr. Christy’s point: i.e., numbers don’t matter on questions of science, only the majority vote does.

So here we have a striking example of non-objective reporting. The story is supposed to reveal a dangerous and continuous rise in global temperatures—while the reporter withholds the facts that would make a reader seriously doubt the validity of his theme.♦♦ 

Slanted Journalism

President Obama insistently believes that the danger posed by jihadism is actually the product of some isolated, misguided “extremists,” who simply use Islam to rationalize their actions. He is unwilling to identify their savage crimes as acts of Islamic terrorism.

The major news media also regularly downplay the threat, by slanting the presentation of facts. The latest example is in yesterday’s (Jan. 15, 2015) New York Times. A front-page story discusses the role played by Al Qaeda in last week’s Paris massacres, perpetrated by two brothers, Cherif and Said Kouachi. Here are the facts about that role, as revealed in this article:

1) Investigators have established that in 2011 one of the brothers went to Yemen, “where he received training and $20,000 from Al Qaeda’s affiliate there.”

2) “In a video and written statement, the Qaeda branch in Yemen on Wednesday formally claimed responsibility for the deadly assault.” The statement was quoted as saying that “the one who chose the target, laid the plan and financed the operation is the leadership of the organization.”

3) “Cherif Kouachi told a French television station [that his trip to Yemen] . . .  was financed by Anwar al-Awlaki, the American-born cleric who oversaw attacks against the West by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, also known as AQAP.”

4) “In repeated statements before they were killed by the police, the Kouachi brothers said they had carried out the attack on behalf of the Qaeda branch in Yemen.”

5)   A counter-terrorism researcher in Washington is quoted as saying: “I suspect that Cherif Kouachi did engage AQAP members in Yemen, but that he was not fully brought into the organization. . . . AQAP may have offered minimal training, directed the [Kouachi] group toward publicly announced target lists and sent him on his way.

6) “The attacks appear to illustrate what analysts have described as an evolution in Qaeda tactics and logistics. Because of heightened surveillance, operatives are trained and assigned general targets, but details on how to carry out the operation are no longer micromanaged by the organization.”

What would you conclude from this? Plainly, we have evidence, from the Kouachi bothers and from Al Qaeda, that the killers were trained and financed by Al Qaeda. It would seem self-evident that this is the significant aspect of the story. But no. Sprinkled throughout the piece are the following skeptical interjections (all italics are added by me): 

1) The Qaeda statement “said the target had been chosen by the Qaeda leadership but did not specify which leaders.”

2) “But it is still unclear what specific guidance the Qaeda branch gave to the Kouachis about carrying out an attack.

3)  The counter-terrorism researcher, after suggesting that “AQAP may have offered minimal training . . . and sent him on his way,” said that if so, “AQAP did not exactly direct the attack."

4) And then we have the story’s final paragraph, a quote from a Brookings Institution scholar:  “But the big question that investigators need to look at is: How much of a role did AQAP play in the actual planning in the final stages of this process? . . .  They could have given these guys money and training three or four years ago, but when they executed it, it could have been done with money [from other sources].”

This is the technique of distortion by non-essentialization. It is perfectly appropriate for a journalist to present facts that raise doubts about some assertion. It is not appropriate to raise doubts by means of irrelevant facts.

In a story about the Paris bloodbath, when the world faces the growing danger of Islamic jihadism, the fact that the brothers received training and direction from Al Qaeda is important; the fact that they were “not fully brought into the organization” is not. Evidence that Al Qaeda was behind the event is important; the absence of evidence about a (potentially infinite) number of details, is not. The lack of knowledge about the exact instructions given to the Kouachis is insignificant—and stressing it serves only to make the point misleading. This disingenuous technique can be easily discerned if we look at these two imaginary sentences:

A. “We know that Al Qaeda trained and financed the killers, even though we don’t know their precise instructions.”

B. “We remain ignorant about the nature of Al Qaeda’s role in the carnage, even though there are some things about it we do know.”

Out of context, both sentences appear to be true. Within the relevant context, however, the second sentence is patently deceptive.

Now, the story is bad enough, but the headline—which is contradicted by the contents of the story itself—is even worse: “Disputed Claims Over Qaeda Role” (and the subhead goes even further by adding: “Unclear if Group Planned or Aided Paris Attack”). This conveys the message that we don’t really know whether Al Qaeda was involved. It conveys the message that regardless of the facts that a careful reading of the story would identify, no conclusions should be reached about an organized network of Islamists actively working to threaten our freedom.

And the “cash value” of repeated doses of this type of non-objectivity? The typical, casual reader will become more amenable to the Administration’s view of the problem. He will have a vague sense of uncertainty about the subject, leaving him unresistant to the notion that the threat we face comes from any form of “extremism”–whether practiced by terrorists or by the Tea Party Web Site.♦♦