WHEN TRAPPED IN A CORNER OF YOUR OWN MAKING, BLAME THE MEDIA

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This morning (Thursday, 1/5/17), Donald Trump tweeted: “The dishonest media likes saying that I am in Agreement with Julian Assange – wrong. I simply state what he states, it is for the people.… to make up their own minds as to the truth. The media lies to make it look like I am against ‘Intelligence’ when in fact I am a big fan!”

With apologies to readers who can’t stand the sight of Trump, here are screenshots of his actual tweets:

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Trump’s tweets are so full of fallacies that I don’t know where to begin, so I guess I’ll just dive in with several sets of questions.

First, whom is Trump calling dishonest? Why doesn’t he name anyone specifically? Is he, in fact, claiming that every reporter and all news media are dishonest, or is he leaving it to his Twitter followers to blame the ones that he’s attacked in the past? Is the ultimate purpose behind his blanket statements to sow distrust in news media as a whole?

Second, do the dishonest media—whoever they may be—actually say that Trump is “in Agreement with Julian Assange,” or do they do what Trump says he does, that is, “simply state what he [Trump] states” and leave it to “the people to make up their own minds as to the truth”? If he has examples of media quoting him falsely, why doesn’t he cite them? Granted, Twitter allows only 140 characters per tweet, but Trump could add a screenshot of the false claim to his tweet or put links in his tweet to the stories that contain the false quotes—if there are any—or he could cite multiple examples in a series of tweets.

Third, does the following tweet look like the work of a “big fan” of U.S. intelligence agencies to you? Please note that the quotation marks Trump puts around the words “Intelligence” and “Russian hacking” indicate that he’s mocking the U.S. intelligence agencies’ conclusion that the Russians interfered in the U.S. election.

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Fourth, if Trump is such a “big fan” of “Intelligence,” why didn’t he publicize the intelligence community’s conclusions about Russian interference in the election? And if he’s not in agreement with Assange, why did he go out of his way to tweet to his millions of followers that Assange said the “Russians did not give him the info”? (See screenshot of tweet below.) Don’t Trump’s actions indicate that he gives more credence to Assange than to U.S. intelligence agencies?

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So, what is Trump up to here? I don’t know for certain, but I suspect that he suffered a narcissistic injury when he—along with rest of the world—learned that all of the official U.S. intelligence agencies agreed that Russia intervened in the U.S. election in order to harm the electoral prospects of his opponent, Hillary Clinton. Worse still, the C.I.A. concluded that Russia actively interceded in Trump’s behalf. How humiliating! Well, Trump, who has deluded himself into believing he won a “historic electoral landslide” couldn’t let that stand. So, in a narcissistic rage, he lashed out at the intelligence agencies by publicly doubting their conclusions and having his transition team release a statement that, in effect, called the agencies incompetent.

But now (oops!), the intelligence agencies’ report is about to be released, and Trump has painted himself into a corner. What does he do? He blames the “dishonest media,” of course! He tweets: “The media lies to make it look like I am against ‘Intelligence’ when in fact I am a big fan!” Trump’s a big fan? Yeah, right!

Let’s not let him get away with it.

 

#@&%#$*$!!!

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CNN aired 23.5 minutes of American Petroleum Institute ads over two weeks, compared to just five minutes of coverage about climate change or the temperature

ECOWATCH.COM

Check out the story that goes with the above headline here: http://ecowatch.com/2016/04/26/cnn-fossil-fuel-ads/

 

The fact that time devoted to oil-industry ads dwarfs time spent on climate change is not a coincidence. Advertisers avoid sponsoring environmental stories on news programs, based in part on the supposition that an informed public would demand big changes, and those changes would be bad for business. So the media report environmental stories in inverse proportion to their importance, and the public assumes that environmental degradation isn’t worth worrying about because the media rarely cover it. And the media rarely cover environmental stories because polls show that the public doesn’t realize the importance of such stories, and because advertisers don’t want to foot the bill for environmental stories that could have a negative impact on their bottom lines. 

So, in my little way, I try to inform people about what’s happening. The big media organizations have the budgets and the talent to do a much better job than I will ever do, but they seem to be more interested in fulfilling their responsibility to their stockholders than fulfilling their responsibility to the public.  I, on the other hand, have only to answer to my conscience.

And my conscience tells me that I have a responsibility to talk about what I know.  I’ve been studying environmental issues for over 30 years, and I know that things are bad and they’re getting worse at an accelerating rate. We’re rushing headlong into a chaotic world of our own making — a world of cascading social, economic, medical, and ecological catastrophies. Our children and grandchildren will blame us. They will say, “You knew or should have known that your wasteful activities would create environmental havoc down the road. Why didn’t you do something while there was still time?”

Inducing Passivity

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A few days ago, in a blogpost entitled “Are We All Sleepwalking?” I argued that many of us are unaware of the severity of our environmental predicament because news media are failing to provide coverage of environmental stories in proportion to their importance. I listed a number of reasons for that failure. One such reason is that environmental problems are cropping up all over the globe, often in remote locations, so the cost of covering those stories is high. Like other businesses, the media want to get the biggest bang for their buck, so they look for less costly stories to cover.

With the bottom line in mind, the news media tend to cover stories that come from institutional sources, via press releases from agencies or press conferences with officials. For example, last weekend, when the United Nations released the news that 146 nations, including China, India, and all of the world’s major economies, have now pledged to control their greenhouse gas emissions, a number of news outlets covered the story. Likewise, last August, when President Obama announced a plan to cut carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants and Senate Majority Leader McConnell (Republican from Kentucky) promised to pass legislation to thwart the president’s plan, those stories were widely reported.

So it isn’t as if there’s a blackout on environmental news. The media do cover environmental stories to some extent. It’s just that profit-minded news producers, on the lookout for stories that are cheap and easy to report, are overly dependent on handouts from institutional sources (in my humble view). And the trouble with those stories is that they tend to create the false impression that most of us have no role to play in the unfolding environmental drama. So, for example, when we see a story about a new power-plant regulation, we tend to think that either the President is taking care of the problem for us or that the Republicans are preventing the administration from acting. Either way, we’re passive observers, at most, applauding or booing.

Our unbalanced diet of institutionally sourced stories seems to be making us complacent. When we hear from the United Nations that almost every country, and all of the biggest polluters, have pledged to cut their greenhouse-gas emissions, many of us breathe a sigh of relief, in the belief that the powers that be are taking care of a major environmental problem for us. But the truth of the matter is that they’re not. While 146 nations have plans to cut their emissions, an analysis by Climate Interactive (a group that the U.S. and many other governments rely on for data) indicates that the Earth’s average temperature will rise more than 6.3 degrees Fahrenheit even if every nation keeps its pledge. And while that’s an improvement over the 8.1 degrees that scientists say the temperature will rise if we continue on our current path, it’s far from the goal of 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (or 2 degrees Celsius), which, according to scientific consensus, is the maximum we dare allow.

So it’s up to us to act. The things that are being done in our name to address environmental problems simply aren’t getting the job done. We, as individuals, must take a bigger role, and we better do it in a hurry.

ARE WE ALL SLEEPWALKING?

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Well, folks, once again, I want to apologize for bringing up depressing environmental issues so often. Playing the role of Cassandra doesn’t come naturally to me, and I dislike it. But as I mentioned before, given my years of observation and study, I feel a duty to alert people to what’s happening and to make suggestions about what we can and should do to cope.

Every day, I come across disturbing reports about the rapidly degrading quality of the environment. Sometimes I think I should spend my days walking up and down busy sidewalks yelling—“WAKE UP! WAKE UP! WAKE UP! WE DEPEND ON THE ENVIRONMENT FOR OUR EXISTENCE, AND IT’S FALLING APART!”—but I don’t. Why not? Well, for one thing, I suspect that a couple of big burly men in little white coats would come after me with nets if I wandered the streets ranting at the top of my lungs. Besides, I remember hearing several times as a kid that it’s dangerous to awaken a sleepwalker suddenly, and sometimes I think we’re all sleepwalking when it comes to our awareness of what’s happening to the environment. Day to day, we go through our usual motions unaware of the dangers that lie ahead.

Unfortunately, the barebones truth of the matter is that we’re not living in the same world we grew up in. That world has already slipped away. From now on, maximizing our wellbeing will require adapting to a rapidly evolving and increasingly chaotic world.

Few of us recognize the extent of the environmental dangers we face. For the most part, we depend on the news media to alert us to critical local, national, and global issues. When it comes to the environment, however, the media fail to provide coverage in proportion to the gravity of the challenges. Why do they fail? I’m sure there are many reasons, but here are a few that come to mind:

  • Typically, news media depend on advertisers for most or all of their revenue. Environmental stories sometimes indict specific sponsors or their industries. Naturally, media are reluctant to bite the hand that feeds them.
  • Most news outlets are in business to make a profit, so they tend to cover stories that they can count on to attract large audiences. Environmental stories rarely fall into that category.
  • Environmental problems are cropping up sporadically—but with increasing frequency—all over the world. Many times, evidence of environmental degradation appears in remote locations. With limited budgets, the media give priority to easier-to-cover, more profitable stories.
  • For the past few decades, conservatives have tended to subsume environmental issues under the banner of liberal causes. They have also claimed that news media have a liberal bias. In an effort to counter that claim, media have often given as much time to conservatives to deny the results of environmental studies as they have given to the individuals who present the actual results of scientists’ research. This (ahem) fair-and-balanced approach has done much to confuse the public. A 2013 poll found, for example, that 37 percent of the public said scientists do not agree that human activity is causing the Earth to get warmer, and 10 percent said they didn’t know what scientists think.[i] In fact, as of 2013, in nearly 12,000 peer-reviewed studies, between 97 and 98 percent of climate scientists concluded that human activity is causing the average temperature of the Earth to go up.[ii] But because the media give global-warming deniers and climate scientists the same amount of time to argue their cases, a significant percentage of the public thinks that scientists’ opinions are more-or-less equally divided, when, in truth, climate scientists are nearly unanimous in their acceptance of human-caused climate change.

In any case, those are some of the reasons why the news media are failing to inform the public adequately about current environmental problems and looming ecological catastrophes. To make matters worse, the media inundate us with counter-messages that are designed to funnel our minds into materialistic channels of thought. As a result, we lack the information and the motivation to act.

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[i] Pew Research Center for the People & the Press. “GOP Deeply Divided over Climate Change.”

[ii] Anderegg, William R. L., James W. Prall, Jacob Harold, and Stephen H. Schneider. “Expert Credibility in Climate Change.” PNAS. June 21, 2010. http://www.pnas.org/content/107/27/12107.abstract; Cook, John, Dana Nuccitelli, Sarah A. Green, et al. 2013. “Quantifying the Consensus on Anthropogenic Global Warming in the Scientific Literature.” Environmental Research Letters. Vol. 8, p. 6.

Make Way Climate Change for Code Names

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After waiting, to no avail, through the entire 2012 campaign for debate moderators to bring up climate change, I was thrilled last night when Jake Tapper, of CNN, posed a question on the subject to Senator Marco Rubio and Governor Chris Christie.

In case you missed the debate, I’ve pasted the discussion, as it appeared in The Washington Post, below.

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TAPPER: We received a lot of questions from social media about climate change.

Senator Rubio, Ronald Reagan’s secretary of state, George Shultz, reminds us that when Reagan was president he faced a similar situation to the one that we’re facing now. There were dire warnings from the mass consensus of the scientific community about the ozone layer shrinking.

Shultz says Ronald Reagan urged skeptics in industry to come up with a plan. He said, do it as an insurance policy in case the scientists are right. The scientists were right. Reagan and his approach worked. 

Secretary Shultz asks, why not take out an insurance policy and approach climate change the Reagan way?

RUBIO: Because we’re not going to destroy our economy the way the left-wing government that we are under now wants to do. We’re not going to…

TAPPER: I’m citing George Shultz. 

RUBIO: Well, and I don’t — he may have lined up with their positions on this issue. But here is the bottom line. Every proposal they put forward are going to be proposals that will make it harder to do business in America, that will make it harder to create jobs in America.

Single parents are already struggling across this country to provide for their families. Maybe a billionaire here in California can afford an increase in their utility rates, but a working family in Tampa, Florida, or anywhere across this country cannot afford it. 

So we are not going to destroy our economy. We are not going to make America a harder place to create jobs in order to pursue policies that will do absolutely nothing, nothing to change our climate, to change our weather, because America is a lot of things, the greatest country in the world, absolutely. 

But America is not a planet. And we are not even the largest carbon producer anymore, China is. And they’re drilling a hole and digging anywhere in the world that they can get a hold of. 

So the bottom line is, I am not in favor of any policies that make America a harder place for people to live, or to work, or to raise their families.

(APPLAUSE) 

TAPPER: Governor Christie, you have said that climate change is real, and that humans help contribute to it. Without getting into the issue of China versus the United States, which I understand you’ve talked about before, what do you make of skeptics of climate change such as Senator Rubio?

CHRISTIE: I don’t think Senator Rubio is a skeptic of climate change. I think what Senator Rubio said I agree with. That in fact we don’t need this massive government intervention to deal with the problem. 

Look at what we have done in New Jersey. We have already reached our clean air goals for 2020. And when I was governor, I pulled out of the regional cap and trade deal, the only state in the Northeast that did that. And we still reached our goals.

Why? Because 53 percent of our electricity comes from nuclear. We use natural gas. We use solar power. We’re the third-highest- using solar power state. You know why? Because we made all of those things economically feasible. 

I agree with Marco. We shouldn’t be destroying our economy in order to chase some wild left-wing idea that somehow us by ourselves is going to fix the climate. We can contribute to that and be economically sound.

We have proven we can do that in New Jersey. Nuclear needs to be back on the table in a significant way in this country if we want to go after this problem.

(APPLAUSE) 

TAPPER: Just for the record, I was citing Secretary of State George Shultz, Ronald Reagan’s secretary of state who I don’t think anybody would call him left-wing.

CHRISTIE: I understand. No, no, listen, everybody makes a mistake every once in a while, Jake, even George Shultz. And if that’s truly a representation of what he believes we should be doing, then with all due respect to the former secretary of state, I disagree with him.

RUBIO: Jake, you mentioned me and called me a denier. Let me say, climate change…

TAPPER: I called you a skeptic.

RUBIO: OK. A skeptic. You can measure the climate. You can measure it. That’s not the issue we’re discussing. Here is what I’m skeptical of. I’m skeptical of the decisions that the left wants us to make, because I know the impact those are going to have and they’re all going to be on our economy.

They will not do a thing to lower the rise of the sea. They will not do a thing to cure the drought here in California. But what they will do is they will make America a more expensive place to create jobs. 

And today with millions of people watching this broadcast that are struggling paycheck to paycheck that do not know how they’re going to pay their bills at the end of this month, I’m not in favor of anything that is going to make it harder for them to raise their family. 

(CROSSTALK)

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At this point, a number of the candidates tried to jump in with their responses. Although Tapper was ready to move on, Governor Scott Walker broke in and spoke over him.

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TAPPER: I want to go another question right now. 

(CROSSTALK) WALKER: … a lot of those people, though, and I’m going to echo what Senator Rubio just said. This is an issue where, we’re talking about my state, it’s thousands of manufacturing jobs. Thousands of manufacturing jobs for a rule the Obama administration, own EPA has said will have a marginal impact on climate change. 

So we’re going to put thousands and thousands of jobs in my state, I think it’s something like 30,000 in Ohio, other states across this country, we’re going to put people — manufacturing jobs, the kind of jobs that are far greater than minimum wage, this administration is willing to put at risk for something its own EPA says is marginal (ph)…

TAPPER: Thank you, Governor.

(CROSSTALK) 

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Once again, most of the candidates tried to respond. Senator Rand Paul was able to speak above the others, but Tapper cut him off.

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 (CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: I’m turning to…

PAUL: If you want a skeptic — if you want a skeptic, Jake, I will happily jump into that briar patch. If you want a real… 

TAPPER: …I’m turning to another — I’m turning to another issue right now.

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Tapper cut off the discussion because he wanted to save time for questions about who each candidate would put on a $10 bill in place of Alexander Hamilton and what they would want their Secret Service codenames to be.

For now, I want to set aside the substance of what Rubio, Christie, and Walker said, and simply ask the following question: When the news media give climate change such short shrift, is it surprising that the public underestimates the gravity of the environmental challenges we face?

News Media & Public Denial About Global Warming

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Returning to the subject of my last blog, I imagine there are a number of reasons why news media enable public denial about global warming, but I suspect that advertising plays a major role.

The news media depend on advertising for most (or all) of their revenue. As a result, they give advertisers’ concerns a lot of weight. And studies of the economics of advertising show that businesses want the stories that frame their ads to be light, uncontroversial, and unchallenging.[1]

So what’s an editor to do when a heavy, controversial, and challenging story about global warming is blatantly newsworthy? Run it, of course, but keep it as separate and detached from other content as possible. Connect it to nothing that could impact sales of advertised products. If there’s an apparent connection, ignore it. If the story is about some innovative technology, keep it upbeat. Say nothing about how global warming might affect the future use of that technology or how the technology might affect the environment. Making such connections would be bad for business.

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[1] Brown, Keith S., and Roberto J. Cavazos. 2003. “Empirical Aspects of Advertiser Preferences and Program Content of Network Television.” Federal Communications Commission. Media Bureau Staff Research Paper (December). http://hraunfoss.fcc.gov/edocs_public/attachmatch/DOC-241968A1.pdf (accessed July 8, 2014).