September 19, 2014

CNN’s John King Panders to Deniers

The second segment on John King’s April 22, hour-long CNN news show was about the 40th Anniversary of Earth Day and showed “some of the devastation” to the earth’s environment. The handsome, graying King (no relation to the senile Larry) showed pictures taken from a satellite on his “Magic Wall,” a high-tech, oversized iPad, of deforestation in Brazil and glacier melt-downs in the Mt. Everest region of Nepal as clear evidence of global warming.
But then he blew it and brought up an image of a post card that touted an “Environmental Bounce Back” in Yellowstone Park. King showed a picture of burned-down trees after the fires of 1988 and a picture of a “thriving area now” in the park. King added that the bald eagle, which was once an endangered species, was also thriving, so, he said, “not all the news is bad.”
Then, in a in a cynical have-you-stopped-beating-your-wife statement, he intoned dismissively, “We’ll leave it up to you on whether Al Gore is right or he’s wrong, but an interesting perspective from up above” ( the satellite photos).
What John King reaffirmed was that news on television is all about interesting and arresting images, which tend to be uncomplicated pictures of what appears on the surface and not about any underlying, complicated truths or messy realities.
King’s “USA” show debuted in March after the immigrant-bashing, right-wing bloviator Lou Dobbs mercifully left CNN, but King, flashed his conservative credentials with the pejorative Gore remark and revealed, perhaps unintentionally, that CNN (owned by Time Warner) must have reserved the 7:00 p.m. time period for a wing-nut. King probably kept Dobb’s producers, who must be in harmony with Dobb’s ideology and climate change denial. And CNN’s strategy must be to reserve the time period for a right-wing tilt in a desperate attempt to appeal to Fox News’s right-wing audience.
But no one does wing-nut, tea party, birther, climate-change denier pandering better than Fox News, and an attempt to entice its audience to change channels is bound to fail – it’s an awful strategy.
If CNN wants to turn around its plummeting ratings, trying to pander to Fox News’s conservative audience or to MSNBC’s liberal viewers with high-tech gimmicks and flashy sets won’t work. CNN is caught in the middle between the polarizing opinions of Fox News and MSNBC, which is clearly a losing position, and there is nothing it or John King, or Anderson Cooper, or Wolf Blitzer, or, can you believe it, Larry King can do about it.
And certainly pandering to climate-change deniers won’t work, either.

2010 Pulitzer Prizes: Good News

This year’s Pulitzer Prizes for journalism not only rewarded good news, they were good news.
The best news was that the scandal sheet, the National Enquirer, neither won an award nor was a finalist for breaking the story of candidate John Edwards’s sordid affair and the birth of his out-of-wedlock love child.
Even though the National Enquirer got the facts right when it dug up the dirt on the horrendously hypocritical, adulterous presidential candidate Edwards and gave him the biggest black eye of the year, it would have given serious journalism a black eye if the Enquirer had won a Pulitzer Prize.
Giving an award to the Enquirer would have legitimized the tabloid, celebrity-bashing, UFO-sighting, sensationalistic press. It would have been like giving Jack the Ripper a medal for reducing the number of prostitutes on the streets of London.
Some other good news from the Pulitzer Prizes was that high-quality public interest journalism is still alive and well and not just published by the usual suspects – the Washington Post and The New York Times. The top award, the one for Public Service went to the Bristol, Virginia, Herald Courier, and the award for Breaking News went to The Seattle Times staff.
Also, the Pulitzer Prize Board for the first time admitted that the internet exists and that there were reporters doing good work who didn’t work for an organization that didn’t print news on dead trees. The prize for Editorial Cartooning went to Mark Fiore, a self syndicated cartoonist whose work appears on SFGate.com, and the prize for Investigative Reporting was shared by Barbara Laker and Wendy Ruderman of the Philadelphia Daily News and by Sheri Fink of ProPublica, in collaboration with The New York Times Magazine.
Howard Kurtz writes in the Washington Post:

This is a glimpse of an unexpected future: a battered newspaper business, an idealistic start-up with a deep-pocketed liberal backer, and dogged reporters who otherwise might be out of work. If the Times was piggybacking on ProPublica — which covered about half the $400,000 cost of the investigation — the paper has plenty of company.
“That’s what we’re here for,” says Paul Steiger, the former Wall Street Journal managing editor who founded ProPublica and makes its stories available to interested outlets. “The goal is not about getting credit. The goal is getting the story before the eyes of the people who can most benefit from it.”
Herbert Sandler, a 78-year-old former bank owner who is giving the venture roughly $10 million a year, says his motivation is simple: “I can’t stand the abuse of power. I can’t stand corruption. I can’t stand the powerful taking advantage of those with less power.”

It’s interesting, but not surprising, that the Rupert Murdoch-owned Wall Street Journal hasn’t won a Pulitzer Prize since Paul Steiger left as managing editor. Before Murdoch bought the Wall Street Journal, it was a regular, multiple winner. Steiger resigned as the WSJ Managing Editor in May, 2007, after the Pulitzer Prize Board announced two WSJ prizes for work done under Steiger in 2006.
Since Murdoch hatchet man Robert Thompson took over as editor of the Wall Street Journal, the venerable business-oriented paper has increased its coverage of national and political news in an attempt to compete with the New York Times, which Murdoch has been trying to buy for years unsuccessfully. So, in typical Murdoch fashion, if he can’t ruin good journalism by buying a paper that practices it, he’ll try to ruin that paper financially in an angry fit of revenge.
Murdoch is slowly trying to turn the Wall Street Journal into an up-scale National Enquirer. He doesn’t care about public service or good journalism or Pulitzer Prizes. His prize is profit, power, and revenge. Too bad he’s taking a great paper like the Journal down the pandering path.
The 2010 Pulitzer Prizes were good news that not only reinforced the notion of what good journalism is, but it also, by what they left out, reminded us of what bad journalism is.

Bruce Braun on Global Warming

Guest blogger Bruce Braun weighs in on global warming:
“Global Warming and Climate Change have become our latest chic-set societal religion and money generating opportunity for politicians and entrepreneurial types. No doubt we need to take care of our environment, and protect our natural resources. How that is accomplished and by what means is what should be questioned.
Anyone remember how Acid Rain back in the 1960’s and 70’s was going to cause the destruction of the planet? Public awareness of acid rain in the U.S increased in the 1970s after the New York Times promulgated reports from the Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest in New Hampshire of the myriad deleterious environmental effects demonstrated to result from it. Every danger to our society becomes, in the end, a new way to impose taxes where none existed before. How many air pollution taxes emanated from those fears?
In our politically correct society, to even question AGW or Climate Change is no different than suggesting to a fundamentalist Christian that Jesus was not the son of God or that the Bible is not the word of God.
Try it sometime and watch how fast either of these types go red-faced and start sputtering at you with accusations of stupidity, ignorance, and intolerance. They begin acting like a mother bear protecting her cubs from some sort of threat.
In the 1980’s smoking and second hand smoke, the politicians told us were to be our societal demise. Getting rid of smoking and second hand smoke were going to reduce healthcare costs! Remember that lie? Billions went into that movement, politicians in the lead along with their partners in extortion, the trial lawyers. When I was a teenager, the cost of a pack of cigarettes was around $ .50. Today, that same pack of smokes runs around $5 to 7.00. On average, almost 50% of that cost goes towards taxes.
Higher gasoline and fuel oil taxes were supposed to go towards decreasing air pollution, mandating milage standards, and improving roads. My car may get better milage than in 1980 but I now offset that by sitting in traffic longer on roads that are in such poor condition as to wear out my tires more quickly. Thanks, Uncle Sam!
Once the politicians discovered that Global Warming and Climate Change could be a rallying point for generating votes and campaign contributions, the race was on.
Never being ones to miss a chance to corrupt something, the politicians and their useful idiots began funneling tax dollars into the scientific community for their own political ends. He who controls the gold, makes the rules. Should we be surprised that accusations of manipulated scientific data were soon to follow or that political influence would not happen?
Politicians and their power to control scientific research funding and grants, have become to the scientific community what the pro sports leagues are to young athletes. Throw millions at someone and the temptations will follow.
Next on the agenda for politicians is the obesity “epidemic” and yet another back-door way of additional taxation and product liability class-action suits.
You’d have thought our politicians would be students of history and the lessons of “The Noble Experiment”, that period from 1920-1933, during which the sale, manufacture, and transportation of alcohol for consumption were banned nationally as mandated in the Eighteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Why police it when you can tax it? Wait! They did learn from history: Tax it!
For our elected officials, AGW and Climate Change are nothing more than an umbrella for 1000 more ways to tax an already over-taxed population. For the trial lawyers, it is their version of new business development. After all there are a lot more Fortune 500 companies that can be accused of sugaring up our children and destroying the ozone layer.
Our president apparently believes we are not taxed enough. Toward the end of a question and answer session at an advanced battery technology manufacturer, a woman named Doris stood to ask the president whether it was a “wise decision to add more taxes to us with the health care” package. “We are over-taxed as it is.” Obama responded with a 17 minute counterpoint. His discursive answer – more than 2,500 words long. In presidential speak, he told Doris she was in fact not over-taxed, ignorant and uninformed, as well as the rest of that audience who felt the same way Doris did.
Perhaps, but most of us, only have to look at our pay stubs, utility bills, phone bills, property taxes and purchase receipts to conclude otherwise.”

Pals Defend the Media Curmudgeon

Guest blogger Marilyn Keenan responds to Jiri Nechleba:
“The debates of those with extreme views are getting so tiresome. And, as we all know, the extremists accomplish nothing except debate and deadlocked action.
When I hear either “Global Warming is going to kill us all soon unless we stop it now!” or “Global Warming is just a liberal plot perpetuated by environmental activists to do (….I’m not sure what)!”, I want to scream. I get why each of those extreme views upsets the opposite set. But both views are really beside the point, aren’t they?
I didn’t go to MIT (if that’s what makes you an expert on what really matters in life), but it seems pretty apparent to me that our air is less clean than it was 100,000 years ago—or 10,000 years ago—or when I was born. Our waters are more toxic than they used to be. Our ozone layer is less healthy than it once was. The amount of de-forestation on our planet, for whatever purposes, is not a good thing. Pumping increasing amounts of CO2 into our atmosphere cannot possibly be good for us or our forests or plant or animal life. Increased chemical run-off or dumping waste into our waters can’t be good either.
These, among others, are the points that matter. Whether or not the extreme intellectual elite agree on Global Warming (or AGW or whatever the new I-know-more-than-you-term is) is not even interesting to most of us. I think most of us can agree that these other things are what really need to be addressed in an intelligent, practical, useful manner. But while the extremists rule the debate, practical minds can’t even hope to solve real problems. The same goes for health care reform, financial reform, and every other major issue that affects all of us, but that gets co-opted by the extremes.
And I don’t even care if weathermen are dumb. Or if we even have weathermen. I’d be happy to read a scroll, listen to a voiceover, and see some diagrams if the weather information would just be accurate only 4 or 5 days out. And as for news “readers” and cable he-said-she-said “robots,” I’ve had more than enough of them. Let’s throw them all out—-along with all the extremists on both ends of the spectrum.
Let’s just fix real problems for real people in ways that really work. These intellectual and extremist debates are getting us nowhere.”
Guest blogger Chris Warner also responds to Jiri Nechleba:
“I knew your calling a group of people dumb was going to incite a response.
I am impressed with the apparent credibility of your respondent. His #1 statement that “The world has had significantly larger climate swings in the last 5,000, 10,000, and 100,000 years that we have seen recently” must consider that those changes were not of our making, while the current concern focuses on human contribution to atmospheric gases such as CO2, SO2 and NO2 that far exceed their normal ranges for at least the last 650,000 years. Changes in the climate on earth are inevitable. What is disturbing is continued denial of the fact that we are causing a change without taking responsibility for short sighted actions with long term negative effects.
I am not an MIT scientist, but have read and listened to more than a few experts that mostly say there has never before been any war, crisis, pandemic, etc. that remotely compares in complexity to the all-inclusive climate crisis. Human growth and development is accelerating as thousands of species of flora and fauna are going extinct. There is only one sky for our whole world to share. A big difference is that with exponential scientific growth, we now know better. I don’t understand how anyone, much less an educated person could deny the evidence that our all consuming 20th century fossil fuel driven lifestyle is unsustainable.
He must have an interest in maintaining business as usual. Making money requires making tough decisions, which requires denial. Who were the losers for him to win? In sustainable models, we all win.”

The Media Curmudgeon Is Taken To Task

Guest blogger Jiri Nechleba takes the Media Curmudgeon to task with the following intelligent rebuttal to my post, “Survey Shows Many TV Weathercasters Are Dumb:”
You may be right that meteorologists are dumb. Along those same lines, let’s also call TV anchors dumb as well. The Brits have a better phrase for them – readers. In fact, weather people are TV personalities that present the news, and from a programming perspective they are usually selected to “entertain.” There are, in fact, real meteorologists who are pretty good with science – they may not be your TV variety.
But, let’s posit them stupid. Are you inferring that, because they are stupid, they must by necessity be wrong? In fact, the Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) question is, at its root, a simple binary question. Are human beings causing global warming or not? And a derivative question is, IF we are, is it significant and what are the consequences if it is.
Now, those that believe in AGW are presenting the conclusion as FACT. In reality, it is a theory that is supported by some data and analysis. Frankly, I’ve seen little MSM coverage of the quality of the data and analysis. I, personally, have dug around to look at how the analysis has been done, what data has been used and how that data has been massaged.
I don’t think that most people who hold an opinion on this have done any detailed research. In fact, the “reality” of this is more a function of societal forces than fact — think Foucault’s concepts of the social construction of reality.
Now, you can write me off as some denier but I do think I have some creds in this debate. I went to MIT to be an astrophysicist and the only way to do that was to get two Bachelor’s degrees. So, I got one in Physics (Course 8 in MIT lingo) and got another one in Earth & Planetary Sciences (Course 12). The latter degree required interesting classes like “Earth and Planetary Chemistry” where we actually built models of the chemistry and climate of various planets (including earth). They were simple models but, at their core, they were meant to understand things like what gases exist in an atmosphere, what pressures/temperatures would exist given a certain input of energy, what did that look like at different altitudes.
While I went into business, I am very familiar with a lot of the concepts and approaches that go into climate modeling. Moreover, in my professional (business) career, I have been intimately involved in modeling lots of complex problems and used many statistical methods to do so. In fact, I am considered by many to be talented in understanding how to build good quantitative models. I’ve built investment models, marketing models, and supply chain models that have been very successful. Moreover, many of the problems I have worked on were in noisy systems (those with high variability to signal – not unlike climate).
With that preamble, I can tell you the following:
1) The world has had significantly larger climate swings in the last 5,000, 10,000, and 100,000 years that we have seen recently.
2) The data used for climate modeling is an amalgam of different proxies that have had significant adjustments made by those analyzing them.
3) Those adjustments are as least as big as the effects the models say are occurring.
4) There are significant changes in the sample data points over time and, from what I can tell, the samples have significant bias over time (read Briffa tree ring data).
5) Very few, if any, of the papers that support AGW share authorship with pure math statisticians.
The above (save #5 maybe) are science based issues. I could list a whole bunch of issues that are more political in nature – conflicts of interest, funding, etc.
So, from my perspective, I do not see any definitive proof that AGW exists. I will also submit that making fun of stupid people who don’t believe in it is no form of proof as well.

Survey Shows Many TV Weathercasters Are Dumb

The New York Times in its March 29 story, “Among Weathercasters, Doubt on Warming,” was too nice to say it and a more thorough Columbia Journalism Review article on the same subject titled “Hot Air” came closer to saying it, but the research that both articles refer to clearly indicates what we’ve known intuitively for years, that most TV weathercasters, to put it bluntly, are dumb.
The research both articles referred to was done at George Mason University, and you can look at it here.
The research shows the schism is between climatologists and meteorologists. Climatologists are those who are scientists and have at least a masters degree. Meteorologists are not scientists and don’t know what they are talking about when it comes to predicting long-term weather trends, let alone five-day forecasts.
Of course, I’m being a little dramatic when I call most TV weathercasters dumb, which I do in the headline mainly to get attention. Most TV weathercasters aren’t necessarily dumb; they are primarily entertainers who have a deep-seated need to be noticed and loved. But some are getting advanced degrees in climate change, but these enlightened weathercasters are in the minority.
The majority are exhibitionists who have an attention deficit somewhere in their background that leads them with a deep need to be noticed and loved – no different from other entertainers: actors, comedians, and radio and TV vaudevillians such as Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly, Keith Olbermann, Don Imus, Howard Stern, or Glenn Beck, all of whose greatest talent is getting noticed.
In the case of TV weathercasters, especially at the local TV station level, these entertainers are good at communicating on TV and being cute and funny. The clowns and comedians among them tend to migrate to the sunshine states and, especially Southern California, where they have to come up with entertaining ways to say on the air, “Seventy-two degrees and sunny.”
For example, on-air clown and TV weatherentertainer John Coleman, who was on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” and was a founder of the Weather Channel, works at KUSI-TV in San Diego and he’s one of the dumb ones who think climate change is a “scam.”
What The New York Times and Columbia Journalism Review articles did not mention are the implied characteristics of the people who watch and believe these weatherentertainers and their climate change denials. If the TV weatherentertainers are dumb, or, more correctly, uneducated and uniformed, what does this make the people who watch them? Probably dumb, or, more correctly, uneducated and uninformed and even more dangerous, terminally incurious.
Is it any wonder that we have birthers, tea party members, Sarah Palin fans, and militias that are arming to fight the anti-Christ (see this NY Times story)? They are uneducated people who probably watch local TV to get their local news and weather, watch Fox News to get their national news, and watch Glenn Beck and listen to Rush Limbaugh to get their political opinions.
By getting information from entertainers, they are doing what Neil Postman identified as “Amusing Ourselves to Death,” but in this case it is also amusing our planet to death.