Journalistic Perversity: How to Make News Wiggle

Tue, 2006-09-05 15:08Richard Littlemore
Richard Littlemore's picture

Journalistic Perversity: How to Make News Wiggle

Here's an interesting piece from The Australian, a presumptuous down-under daily that has traditionally offered a soapbox to climate change deniers.
This is, overall, a balanced article, but the lead shows how much the journalistic choice of emphasis can change the nature of a story.

Given an advance look at the Draft Fourth Assessment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (a good scoop for any journalist), the writer chooses to suggest that things are not as bad as the “alarmists” have predicted, saying:
THE world's top climate scientists have cut their worst-case forecast for global warming over the next 100 years.”
If you look further down the story, the writer could just as easily have chosen something like this:
“Australians will have to join a global effort to cut CO2 emissions in half before 2050 if they hope to avoid an average global temperature increase in excess of 2 degrees celsius. And the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics estimates that a CO2 reduction of that scope, if implemented unilaterally, would depress real wages in Australia by 20 per cent.”

But that would be alarmism.

Perhaps more to the point, the writer might have noted the obvious, which is that pretty much every indicator that the IPCC follows shows that climate change is unfolding exactly as predicted - not at the highest end of the range of expectations, and not at the lowest end, either - but right down the middle.

So, the story appears to be: we're going to hell in a handcart and while The Australian is pleased that we're not going as fast as the worst-case predictions might have estimated, the rest of us should still be thinking seriously about buckling up or, hey, trying to do obvious things to slow the damn cart down. No?


Taking as a given that we will disagree on numerous aspects relating to claimate change, what about The Australian is "presumptuous"?

Just wondering. No agenda.

I have to hand it to you, Tartly, you have a sharp nose for a casual bias. In this case, it's a newspaper thing (and I have never got over being a newspaper guy).
Neither the NYT nor the WSJ find it necessary to claim national status on their mastheads. In Canada, even the (Toronto) Globe and Mail is a little more subtle than it once was (and a lot more deserving of its assumed "national" status), leaving the obvious striving to the fading National Post.
But in Australia, which has really good papers in the form of the Sydney Morning Herald and the Melbourne Age, the Australian still finds it necessary to announce itself as "Australia's national newspaper."
It's like being "world class." If you have to tell people that you are - you're not.

Thank you, Mr. L. I appreciate the information. I had recalled your newspaper background and figured the word had a deeper meaning. My knowledge of Australian newspapers is very thin, but I share your apparent preference for those who spend their time making themselves deserving of praise over those who simply praise themselves.

Scientific American has a good blog post on this today: