Friday, December 15, 2006

The Importance of At Least Trying To Get It Right

Craig Silverman over at that fabulous and generally hilarious media-watchdog site Regret The Error has dubbed 2006 the "Year of the Belated Apology," an idea that came to him two years ago when the Kentucky newspaper, the Lexington Herald-Leader, committed this act of overdue contrition: "It has come to the editor's attention that the Herald-Leader neglected to cover the civil rights movement. We regret the omission."

Silverman managed to find clear winners in the 2006 Correction of the Year and Apology of the Year contests, but when it came to judging the contestants for Error of the Year, the result was a tie.

Winner # 1 was the National Post's huge front page story last May, reporting that Iran was planning to force Jews and other minorities to wear Nazi-style identification badges. The National Post's conduct in the affair was all the more outrageous because the plain facts alone are sufficient to condemn the Iranian regime. It's not like you have to make stuff up to show how reactionary, anti-progressive and vile the Iranian government is.

Winner # 2 is the news media generally, and particularly the owners of the Sago mine in West Virginia, for the handling of a rumour that 12 of the 13 trapped miners had been found alive: "For a few hours the world believed that all but one of the men had made it out alive. Because of production deadlines, many papers reported this on their front page this morning, even though they already knew it wasn't true."

In the interests of balance, I'm going to come to the defence of the news media and its coverage of this story, which the B.C. chapter of the Sierra Club of Canada is now trying to spin as a mere matter of misquotation in a lame effort at damage control - at precisely the moment when what is required is contrition and an honest admission of a terrible mistake.

For one thing, it isn't fair to the news media to suggest there was a misquotation involved in reporting that the B.C. chapter's executive director Kathryn Molloy "predicted" a 25-metre sea level rise within decades. Besides, the business about a 25-metre sea level rise is not the issue. It's a distraction.

What Molloy actually said - and this is not from some news article; it's from her official statement, on the Sierra Club's website - was this: “We are almost certain to see a six-metre sea level rise if we cannot keep the global average temperature rise below two degrees. This could happen within the lifetime of my grandchildren if we do not take significant global action immediately to curb global carbon emissions.” In her media briefings, Molloy took pains to describe this as the "best case scenario."

It was in response to that statement, specifically, that Andrew Weaver, professor at the University of Victoria's School of Earth and Ocean Sciences and the Canada research chair in Climate Modelling and Analysis, stated [in an interview with the Province newspaper, not online]: "This is alarmist scaremongering at its worst. . . If world temperatures rise another 2.7 C this century, we could reach a tipping point that would see Greenland melt. Sea levels could then rise six to seven metres over several millennia. That's thousands of years. I repeat: Thousands of years. Plural."

Which just goes to show. You don't have to make stuff up about global warming, or about mining disasters, or about the despotism in Iran, or about anything in the real world. The plain facts are sufficient.


Blogger double-plus-ungood said...

That's thousands of years. I repeat: Thousands of years. Plural."

Well, I guess it all depends on how long the grandchildren live, doesn't it?

12:20 PM  
Blogger tglavin said...

DPU: You really DO like winding me up, don't you!!!!


12:39 PM  

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