Karl du Fresne writes at Stuff:
Whenever I read something about Donald Trump, my eyes go straight to the credit line at the bottom of the story to see where it came from.
If it’s sourced from the Washington Post or the New York Times, I read it with a degree of scepticism. These once-great newspapers have dangerously compromised their credibility by allowing their almost obsessive dislike of the American president to contaminate their reportage.
This is made worse by their tendency to allow fact and opinion to become so entangled that it’s hard to tell where one ends and the other starts. It’s open season on Trump, and many American journalists make it clear that they despise him.
And actually, I understand why they feel that way. I despise Trump too, and worry about the damage his presidency might do to America and to the world. He’s a man who appears to have no moral compass and no respect for the truth.
I don’t think it is the damage he might do, but has done.
Trump plays this political card more blatantly and unscrupulously than even Muldoon did, repeatedly branding the American media as the enemy of the people.
Sadly, by buying into the adversarial relationship and adopting an openly hostile stance toward the White House, the media have perversely enhanced Trump’s political capital.
He can point to their antagonistic coverage as proof that the liberal media can’t be trusted to report things fairly and accurately. This played well to his supporters on the campaign trail in 2016 and it continues to play well for Trump now, because there will always be an element of the public that is prepared to believe the worst of supposedly elitist, out-of-touch reporters.
And it has to be said that many journalists are elitist and out-of-touch – especially in the United States, where the big media organisations are headquartered far from the neglected heartland where Trump’s support base is located. That helps explain why the media so dismally failed to foresee Trump’s victory in the presidential election.
The best counter to Trump’s game, surely, is to do what reputable newspapers used to do as a matter of course: play it straight.
News columns are not the place for editorial opinion. They should be concerned only with detached, factual accounts of what Trump has said or done.
That would be nice.
All of this leads me, in a roundabout way, to last month’s Stuff editorial from editor in chief Patrick Crewdson that his organisation will no longer give space to the views of people classified as climate change sceptics and “denialists”.
OK, the parallel with Trump isn’t obvious, but Stuff’s stance does raise a serious question relating to trust in the media.
When a news organisation decides to shut down comment on an issue as important as climate change on the basis that the debate is “settled”, it assumes a position of omniscience that will rankle with many readers. But far more importantly, it raises doubts in readers’ minds about its commitment to free and open debate.
I thought this new editorial policy from Stuff was quite dangerous. First note their clarification:
Editor’s note: Stuff has not shut down discussion on climate change, but we will not provide a forum for its factual existence to be countered with fictions and call it “balance”.
I wonder how much further Stuff will take this policy of now allowing “fictions” in the name of balance.
Genetic modification has been proven to be safe for three decades now. The scientific evidence is overwhelming. Will Stuff ban people who claim GE is unsafe?
Will Stuff ban people who claim fluoride at the levels in NZ water supplies is unsafe?
Will Stuff ban people who claim that (for example) tripling the minimum wage won’t effect employment levels, as the scientific evidence is overwhelming it will?
It is a slippery slope Stuff has embarked on.
Also how will they distinguish between legitimate uncertainty and outright denial?
I would agree that there are two facts which are scientifically proven.
- The global average temperature is much hotter than 50 years ago, and rising
- Greenhouse gas emissions from human activity are a major factor in the increase
But there is very strong and legitimate debate on the following:
- What the future temperature increases will be
- What the associated sea level increase will be
- Whether reducing greenhouse gas emissions is the best response
- Whether methane should be included due to its short duration in the atmosphere
- Whether the international agreements will make any significant difference
- Whether NZ policy on this is sensible and appropriate
So the danger is that Stuff will end up banning views where there is legitimate disagreement, not just views which seek to deny a simple fact such as global temperatures has been rising.
Also what will Stuff do should circumstances change? If say the years 2019 to 2022 all saw global average temperatures drop to well below 2018, will it be forbidden to point this out?