Home > Uncategorized > Being a serious journalist means ignoring the asteroid

Being a serious journalist means ignoring the asteroid

March 26, 2012

Suppose an asteroid were coming toward Earth, and scientists were pretty much in agreement that it would flood coastal cities, destroy large chunks of the food chain, and mess up agriculture around the world. But politicians, citing bible verses, said no, that wouldn’t happen and it was all a plot by “Asteroidists” to gain socialist control over world government. And major corporations funded think tanks and news media to publish a flurry of jiggered “studies” to sow confusion about the scientists’ conclusion. If that happened we could count on the news media to see through the fog, couldn’t we?

Secondly, it is always safer for a journalist, pundit, or talking head to echo conventional wisdom, even when it is terribly wrong (see: Iraq; 2008 financial meltdown; climate). Career advancement comes to those who stay within the herd.

To be a Very Serious Person is to echo conventional wisdom, safe in the knowledge that even if you’re wrong, so is everyone else — at least everyone else who’s serious! One good indicator of a VSP is that he/she claims to be unbiased and non-partisan, occasionally “centrist.” To VSPs, being on “a side” is a sure path to illegitimacy; one must always be above all that, moderate and reasonable. Again, this has nothing to do with accuracy or facts, only with where the herd is located at the moment.

Grist – What it means for media to take climate seriously

In the movie Star Wars, the heroes are about to be captured or destroyed by The Empire and captain Solo confidently hits the hyperdrive control to escape. The ship makes a pathetic sound, then comes to a complete stop. “It’s not my fault!”, he protests, as if that were the really important thing.

Just in the last ten years we’ve had two enormous disasters, and the Serious Media failed to speak clearly about both of them. Scientists are currently predicting a catastrophe that will make those two disasters look like peanuts. Should we go on getting our information from MSNBC? From FOX?  Here’s how they frame things:

the failure on both the international level and the U.S. level to muster any serious climate policy is inevitably described by mainstream reporters as “a blow to environmentalists,” as though it’s some boutique policy meant to benefit a special interest group. If reporters took climate change seriously, they would say, “the failure to secure serious climate policy makes widespread suffering and destabilization in the latter half of this century far more likely.” – IBID

They can’t report what climate change really means; it would mean their jobs. As if that were the really important thing.


  • (h/t @mikethemadbiol for the link)
  • Back when Katrina hit, Dick Cheney said “No one could have predicted the failure of the levies”. But Scientific AmericanNational Geographic, and the New Orleans Times Picayune had all done just that, well in advance and in chilling prophetic detail. I guess they’re not “serious journalists”. There’s always a reason to dismiss the bad news while you could still do something – however inconvenient – about it.
  • Someone once said; “Nature always sides with the hidden flaw”.


Categories: Uncategorized
  1. WeeDram
    March 29, 2012 at 20:03 | #1

    “No one could have predicted the failure of the levies”

    And it was believed because he was the VICE PRESIDENT of the United States and because he said it with gravitas. “The medium is the message” does not refer just to the particular communication channel, but to the style invoked. And the (lack of) sophistication of the audience.

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