It's not enough to bash in heads, you have to bash in minds
            

Journalismgate

Like Watergate, the real scandal of Climategate was not likely to be found in the communications of those who had their emails illegally hacked (or in the case of Watergate, their phones illegally tapped). Rather, the real scandal can be found by looking to those who were behind the hacking (or wire-tapping), in the first place, and to those who have been so eager to butcher the truth and assault the professional reputations of respected scientists for short-term political gain.

In the aftermath of the stolen CRU emails known as climategate, in which as several independent investigations found nothing nefarious, a larger scandal was revealed. Many people suspected that this scandal was real, but now that we have conclusive evidence that climategate was not the scandal the media made it out to be we have proof.

The scandal I am referring to is, Journalismgate.

It is the shoddy reporting, based on nothing more than rumour, or the claims made by people whose records should have alerted journalists that they were not to be trusted. Claims by deniers of corruption, of fabricated data, or suppression of dissenting views were all presented by the media as being true, with no attempts to place the email comments into context, and to dig deeper and determine what was actually true.

No instead we were sold a scandal. We were told that climatologists were not to be trusted, and that mainstream scientific institutions were corrupted to the core. Every time climate scientists were less than 100% correct their mistakes were blown out of all proportion.  All to reinforce the scandalous narrative that we were being fed.

But it was all a lie. The leaked emails revealed nothing nefarious, only scientists acting like the humans they are. As Tim at Balloon Juice said:

Science works fine in aggregate, but this idea that science must have only flawless people doing impeccable work is a strawman set up by the superstitious to discredit empiricism through nutpicking.

Even some reporters who generally do a decent job of reporting on climate related issues mangled the story. George Monbiot writing in the Guardian (in)famously called for Phil Jones, the head of CRU, to resign. Monbiot was convinced that Phil Jones had done something wrong, but instead of waiting for an investigation to take its course he publicly declared Jones guilty and stated that he should resign.  Andy Revkin at the New York Times made similar blunders.

And now that is has been revealed how wrong they both were they are making amends, as Revkin writes:

The press, including me, was excoriated for devoting too much ink (and electrons) to the disclosed files in the first place. Some coverage was indeed far too focused on the sense of conflict, which is not surprising given that — as my screenwriter friends always say — conflict is story.

But what such critics forget is that many of the e-mail messages enabled the allegations that were then propounded by folks like Anthony Watts and amplified by professional anti-climate-policy campaigners like Marc Morano.

Ok that’s is not really making amends. It is blaming the victim. Because a few scientists pushed beyond provocation used harsh language in emails they fully expected to remain private, they somehow enabled the attacks? That is the same logic as saying because she worse a low cut dress she asked to be sexually assaulted. That logic just doesn’t fly.

No, the only people who enabled the attacks were those responsible for journalismgate. It was the journalists who, for whatever reason, decided not to investigate the claims, and instead decided to manufacture a controversy who are responsible.

So, when can we expect some inquiries to investigate the revelations of journalismgate?

6 Responses to Journalismgate

  1. Very succinctly put, Mr Dan.

    But as to your final question, I won’t be holding my breath while I’m waiting, and I suspect you won’t be either.

    Not, at least, until some journalists can grasp the enormous gap between “enabled the allegations” and ‘at most, indicated grounds for a clarification inquiry’.

    And not until people like Monbiot (who did at least backtrack a little) and Revkin can understand the enormous gap between “enabled the allegations” and ‘took the allegations to be truth without further ado’.

  2. I recall stumbling upon a whole slew of (credulous) “climategate” political cartoons, last winter; am now kicking myself for not saving their location.

  3. and this one (link) from the Albuquerque Journal.

    Someone (who isn’t already in the middle of another project) should be tracking retractions.

  4. Anna,

    Thanks for those links, the cartoons reveal a great deal … about the cartoonist, anyway.

    But as to “tracking retractions”, well, as Revkin’s pitiful piece of attempted self-exculpation shows, there won’t be many, if any, to track.

  5. Anna, I have to agree with Grim. Retractions are few and far between, and even worse are usually not featured nearly as prominent as the original erroneous claims.

    Making a list those who are willing at admit their mistakes and feature those admissions prominently would be useful, even if it would be a short list. The trick is finding someone who has the time to do that. Unfortunately I do not.

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