Standing In The Gap Of The Real And Perceived
A long, long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, I was a Journalism major in college. In what must have been the first week in class, I received what was presented as the Prime Directive of hard news reporters: Maintain your objectivity. The idea behind this, of course, was that in any given news story, the news reporter was responsible to report the facts with as little interpretation as necessary to make the story readable. In other words, a good news report is a record, not a persuasive essay.
One of the reasons I didn’t end up a professional news journalist is that a cursory reading of the front page of the daily newspaper revealed to me even back then just how very subjective professional journalists were in their reporting. A student of words then and now, I saw how news reporters purposely, and often at the behest of their employers, use a certain vocabulary, write with certain assumptions, and regularly practice lies of omission and commission to lead the reader to a foregone conclusion without exactly spelling it out, all under the pretense of providing a public good. I didn’t think I could participate in such a charade. But the lesson I took from that education is this: for better or worse, make no mistake about it, everybody is selling something. Everybody.
Over the years, I’ve become acclimated to this reality in the news media, and I compensate by exposing myself to a wide swath of news reporting across the political spectrum. Although I, like anyone else, have my own predilections, I’m not a fan of any particular news outlet. But in the interest of full disclosure, I will freely admit that I would buy pay-per-view access to see Contessa Brewer and Megyn Kelly in a mudwrestling bout. That said, at the end of the day, whatever pretense they present, I consider all news outlets to be, at best, overgrown blogs, or aggregates of them.
One such blog that has been particularly egregious lately in their manipulations is NBCNews, until recently known as MSNBC. Know this: when even Microsoft has had enough of you, you know you’ve fallen out of the purview of mainstream American thinking.
This kind of manipulation at NBCNews was recently apparent in its reporting of the killing of Trayvon Martin. I won’t rehash the entire story here, but let’s just say Martin was portrayed in a widely circulated photograph as an almost prepubescent innocent at the time of his death, and his killer, George Zimmerman, was portrayed as a white racist. The former is demonstrably false, and the latter is questionable, at best. Here’s a video recap:
Less obvious, but manipulative nonetheless, is an NBCNews article called “Ice Melt Found Across 97 percent of Greenland, Satellites Show,” about NASA’s release of images showing that Greenland’s ice sheet is melting. A cursory glance at the images, combined with the leading text of the article, suggests that the entire ice sheet disappeared from Greenland in a matter of 4 days. This suggestion is intentional by both NBCNews and NASA. NASA can choose whatever colors it wants to represent whatever it wants. It could, in fact, choose white to represent thawing if it so wanted. Then again, so could NBCNews, for that matter, although in this case, it wasn’t necessary.
The images above are not just Polaroid snapshots. They’re satellite images, originally intended for interpretation by a scientifically trained mind, not the general public. Although there is a legend beneath the images, most readers aren’t going to use that, and NBCNews knows it. What is expected of readers is that they might get as far as the lead sentence, which says “Three satellites found that 97 percent of Greenland — the land mass second only to Antarctica for its volume of ice — underwent a thaw never before seen in 33 years of satellite tracking, NASA reported Tuesday.” Sounds alarming, eh?
Of course, anyone who gets down to the last line of the article also gets this little tidbit of information: “A recent study found that it could take a long-term increase in global temperatures of just 2-3 degrees Fahrenheit to completely melt Greenland’s ice sheet in 2,000 years.” That’s substantially longer than 4 days, isn’t it? And a careful reading of NASA’s original statement accompanying the images simply says that some melting has been noted on the “ice sheet surface” where scientists haven’t previously noticed it. How much melting exactly – one millimeter, or five feet – NASA doesn’t note.
Furthermore, NBCNews doesn’t even interpret the cited study correctly. What the study actually says is that while a sustained global temperature increase of 2.9 degrees Fahrenheit would completely melt Greenland’s ice sheet eventually, it would take 50,000 years to entirely melt the sheet at a 3.6 degree rise, and rise of – get this – 14.4 degrees Fahrenheit to melt the entire ice sheet in 2000 years.
What NASA does note, again, toward the bottom of its statement, is that ‘”Ice cores from Summit (…Station, a high altitude research facility in Greenland) show that melting events of this type occur about once every 150 years on average. With the last one happening in 1889, this event is right on time (emphasis mine),” says Lora Koenig, a Goddard glaciologist and a member of the research team analyzing the satellite data. “But if we continue to observe melting events like this in upcoming years, it will be worrisome.”‘
Really? Worrisome? In the upcoming years? Like, in the upcoming 2000 years? Uh-huh. That’s what I thought.
Run for the hills and load up on carbon credit futures, folks! In no more years ahead than Christ was born in the past, we could be facing a real climate crisis! And there, for those who would rule the rest of us, is the real inconvenient truth.