Journo Review: Dissent When We Tell You

Global warming alarmismOne of the worst side effects of the media's ideological diversity problem is their often flagrant double standards. Over at Slate, Ron Rosenbaum looks at how Columbia Journalism Review urges journalists to be more willing to cover unpopular views but later in the very same issue article patronizingly lectures reporters to stop letting global warming skeptics trick the public.

Things are made worse by the fact that in the magazine's dissent editorial, CJR puts forward Jeremiah Wright as a figure who should not be shunted to the sidelines. In other words, Jeremiah Wright and his brand of smarmy pseudo-Marxist racial diatribes are more legitimate than disspasionate scientists who are urging us to be cautious about jumping to conclusions that humans can effect the entire world's temperature. Astonishing. An excerpt from Rosenbaum below the fold:

The issue leads off with a strong, sharply worded editorial called "The Dissent Deficit." (It's not online, but it should be.) In it, the magazine, a publication of the Columbia School of Journalism—and thus a semi-official upholder of standards in the semi-official profession of journalism—argues clearly and unequivocally that allowing dissent to be heard and understood is part of a journalist's mission.

The editorial contends that doing so sometimes requires looking beyond the majority consensus as defined by the media on the basis of a few sound bites and paying extra attention to dissenting views, because they often present important challenges to conventional wisdom on urgent issues that deserve a hearing.

The editorial deplores the way that journalism has lately been failing in this mission: "Rather than engage speech that strays too far from the dangerously narrow borders of our public discourse, the gatekeepers of that discourse—our mass media—tend to effectively shout it down, marginalize it, or ignore it."

So true. The editorial offers the media's treatment of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, a dissident whose views, particularly on American foreign policy's responsibility for 9/11, have gotten no more than sound-bite treatment, as an example. [...]

It was troubling, then, to find, in an article in the very same issue of CJR, an argument that seems to me to unmistakably marginalize certain kinds of dissent.

The contention appears in an article called, with deceptive blandness, "Climate Change: What's Next?" The article doesn't present itself as a marginalizer of dissent. It rather presents itself as a guide for "green journalists" on what aspects of climate change should be covered now that the Truth about "global warming"—whether it's real, and whether it's mainly caused by humans—is known. [...]

The first problem in the evaluation of what dissent should be heard is how certain we are about the truth. If we know the truth, why allow dissent from it into journalism? But who decides when we've reached that point of certainty? [...]

She's [Cristine Russell] correct in saying that this is the consensus, that most journalists now accept what's known as the "anthropogenic theory" of global warming: that it is our carbon footprint that is the key cause of global warming, rather than—as a few scientists still argue—changes in solar activity, slight changes in the tilt of the earth's axis, the kinds of climate change that the earth constantly experienced long before man lit the first coal-burning plant.

But here lies danger, "a danger that the subtleties of the science, and its uncertainty, might be missed by reporters unfamiliar with the territory," especially when confronted with "studies that contradict one another." Faced with conflicting studies, she tells us, "scientists look for consistency among several reports before concluding something is true." This is, frankly, a misunderstanding or misstating of the way science works.

She seems to be confusing consensus among scientists and scientific truth. They are two different things. The history of science repeatedly shows a "consensus" being overturned by an unexpected truth that dissents from the consensus. Scientific truth has continued to evolve, often in unexpected ways, and scientific consensus always remains "falsifiable," to use Karl Popper's phrase, one any science reporter should be familiar with. All the more reason for reporting on scientific dissent, one would think. Yet when I read her description of how science proceeds, it seems to me she is suggesting science proceeds by a vote: Whoever who has the greatest number of consistent papers—papers that agree with him or her—"wins." As in, has the Truth.

In fact, the history of science frequently demonstrates that science proceeds when contradictory—dissenting—studies provoke more studies, encourage rethinking rather than being marginalized by "the consensus" or the "consistency" of previous reports.

Read the whole article. It's worth the time.

As great as Rosenbaum's piece is, however, he misses one crucial point. The reason that CJR engages in such obvious hypocrisy is that its staff is ideologically uniform. The journalism department at Columbia is filled to the brim with far left professors. This severe lack of diversity is what creates bias, not some nefarious conspiracy. Liberal bias comes from liberal groupthink.

(Cristine Russell is certainly wrong in her statements about Jeremiah Wright receiving just sound bites. As you can see from reviewing NB's past coverage of the controversial religious leftist, his views have been granted wide circulation.)

Matthew Sheffield
Matthew Sheffield
Matthew Sheffield, creator of NewsBusters and president of Dialog New Media, an internet marketing and design firm, left NewsBusters at the end of 2013