|Core: noun, the most important part of a thing, the essence; from the Latin cor, meaning heart.|
|Volume 1.15||This Views Column||May 20, 2002|
The National Press-Release Publication Service
Mainstream media the broadcast TV networks, popular radio stations, the big newswire(s) and the big newspapers seem to be turning into one gigantic press-release publication service. Especially for left-wing causes. This ought to be troubling to everybody.
Mainstream Media Bamboozled Again
Is it just my perception or is the mainstream media, chiefly represented by ABC/CBS/NBC & AP/NYT/WP/LAT, really turning into just a gigantic press-release publication service? To which, for the most part, left-wing causes only should submit.
Here is a for-instance. In February, Columbia Universitys National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) issued a report saying that 25 percent of all alcohol consumed in the USA is consumed by underage drinkers. For a whole day, you could not go anywhere, listen to anything, look at anything, or read anything without having that statistic thrown at you. Hard.
Isnt it, like, awful?
And it would be awful. Fortunately, it is false.
A New York Times article, Feb. 27, published the day after the false statistic was broadcast repeatedly to every living thing in the country, puts it thus:
The organization had not applied the usual statistical techniques? Ah. What a felicitous turn of phrase. What delicate, diplomatic diction.
CASA lied. Plain and simple. And, for a while, it hoodwinked The New York Times and everybody else.
The actual percentage of underage consumption to be derived from the data is more like 11 percent. My degree is in Math, and I can guarantee you that nobody could come up with the statistic CASA came up with, using the data they had to work with, except by lying.
(By the way, the Center for Consumer Freedom, which represents a coalition of restaurant operators, claims that CASA has a habit of factual distortion. Another felicitous, diplomatic turn of phrase.)
Heck, an official practically admitted the deception was deliberate:
Translation: We didnt like the real numbers, so we tried to fool people. Unfortunately, we underestimated the intelligence of people who can read and work with numbers. Its too bad our trick didnt work.
But their trick did work. True, The New York Times was honest enough to report that the statistic was false, and that they themselves had featured the phoney stat in a previous article. But nowhere else in mainstream media did I see or hear even the slightest hint of a mention of a possibility that they had all been bamboozled.
Why? Well, if you were, say, just one little player in a Nationwide Press-Release Publication Service, you would just tell the public what youre told to tell them, then forget about it no?
Other Instances of NPRPS in Action
The Center for Science in the Public Interest. I know youve heard of it. Who hasnt? CSPI has attacked Chinese food, movie-theatre popcorn, Olestra, soda pop, fast food, and just about everything else, it seems, that Americans eat and drink. I know that. And you know that. What I want to know is: why do we know that? CSPI does not pay big bucks to have their reports published, and quoted, and cited everywhere: it doesnt have to do that. All it has to do is say something like Food and drink are really bad for us: our only chance is to consume nothing but air and distilled water and mainstream media dutifully announces it, no questions asked.
CSPI released a Liquid Candy report, October 21, 1998, on soda pop. One of its claims was that among 13-to-18-year-old boys who drink soda pop, average consumption is 3 1/3 cans per day. Actually, the average is 1 2/3 cans. The data had been collected for two-day periods, but had not been halved when reported as consumption per day.
Though Consumer Freedom says that, like CASA, CSPI is not above fudging the numbers to make its point, my complaint is not that CSPI released faulty data. Well, not mostly. My complaint is that mainstream media is quite happy to act as a conduit for every CSPI utterance about any and every item of human consumption. As reported by STATS, for instance, the soda-pop report was dutifully mentioned in big newspapers around the country:
Why? Big newspapers get hundreds thousands? of press releases every week. Why do activists groups like CSPI get attention so quickly? So readily. So credulously.
Food and drink arent the only objects of scare tactics by activists who find mainstream media an eager purveyor of its pronouncements. The environment, indeed, may very well be the winner in this category. Chicken Little, famed in story and song, apparently controls all the most vocal enviro-activist groups, and some of his barnyard avian relatives must work in mainstream media. When it comes to projections about the future of the environment, or pronouncements about its current state, the worse the projection or pronouncement, the more newsworthy it is.
The New York Times provides us with another instance. (Gee. The New York Times. Again. How about that?) On August 19, 2000, the Times ran an article entitled Ages-Old Polar Icecap Is Melting, Scientists Find, which began as follows:
By now, you probably will not be surprised to learn that none of that is true: the North Pole is not melting, and open water at the North Pole is not at all uncommon during the summer.
The Times extraordinary, and extraordinarily wrong, claims were based on the eye-witness reports of two men, Dr. James J. McCarthy, an oceanographer, director of the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University and Dr. Malcolm C. McKenna, a paleontologist at the American Museum of Natural History . McCarthy and McKenna both reported to the Times that they had been at, or very near, the North Pole earlier that month, and each had encountered open water, or the thinnest of ice sheets, where in earlier years they had encountered ice many feet thick.
According to McCarthy, encountering a melting North Pole made a big impression on his fellow passengers:
Fortunately, not only ice gets thick at the North Pole. The following week, the Times had to run a retraction, of sorts, entitled Open Water at Pole Is Not Surprising, Experts Say, August 29, 2000:
The original alarming proclamation had been trumpeted on page A-1, the front page, and was widely echoed throughout mainstream media. If you do a web search, you will find the article posted or quoted or cited at many websites now, without any indication that it was just about completely wrong. (Some sites do, of course, note the mistake; others have articles devoted to correcting it.) The correction received the same kind of attention in the rest of mainstream media as it did in the Times which ran it on page D-3. And even the correction has been faulted for errors.
And we are not told if McCarthys fellow passengers expressed relief at finding out that their ill-advised expectations had allowed them to be needlessly alarmed, or if they felt they had been made to look the fool, if nowhere else but in the mirror.
Now, the alarmist McCarthy is not merely an oceanographer and a Big Brains Intellectual at Harvard, he is also the co-leader of a group working for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which is sponsored by the United Nations. The IPCC is one of the worlds biggest coops of Chicken Littles. Unfortunately, mainstream media around the world is happy to announce their sky-is-falling scenarios whenever they come out if not sooner. Witness a BBC article, October 28, 2000:
Notice the weasel words: the planet may heat up more than thought before; temperatures could rise twice as much as thought before; polar ice caps could melt; and, IPCC foresees foresees? a possible rise in temperature much higher than 1990 levels.
But... but... need this really be said?... but, the planet might not heat up more than thought before, temperatures might not rise twice as much as thought before, polar ice caps might not melt, and temperatures might not rise so much above 1990 levels.
But the title of the article, without weasel words, is even worse:
Global warming worse than feared.
Well, maybe not. The same BBC ran an article, Feb. 25, on a recent report by a group of scientists that dissent from IPCCs apocalyptic scenarios:
Little more than a fortuitous bit of curve-fitting? Translation: they determined the outcome before they knew the data, and selected and coerced the data into supporting the desired outcome. (This, too, can be called lying.)
Mainstream media by and large, however, gives nobody any clue that IPCCs report is hotly disputed by reputable scientists, or that mankinds influence on global warming is similarly disputed, too, by professionals of stature. (Sorry, all I can do here, now, is give you a clue.) Scenarios less alarming, and more probable, than the IPCCs extreme we-are-all-going-to-die by-being-burned-to-a-crisp or-by-drowning-in-rising-sea-levels scenario receive much less attention. Dissenting viewpoints, no matter how prestigious the scientific sources, receive even less attention. If any at all.
Yes, organizations and individuals continually offer criticisms and corrections and, sometimes, thorough-going point-by-point rebuttals of reports from groups like CSPI and IPCC. Steve Milloy does a great job of collecting and presenting them at the Junk Science website (and occasionally appears on television). But mainstream media isnt the Nationwide Press-Release Publication Service for them. Why not?
The robot-like helpfulness provided by NPRPS in getting out scientific reports usually overlaps with its uncritical obeisance to left-wing politics. These days, this happens most often with the possibility of drilling for oil in ANWR, the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge. I just noticed today that Juan Gato posted a succinct sarcastic note on this, May 17:
Gato alludes to the facts of the case: drilling is proposed for a minuscule area in a barren wasteland where nothing lives except, perhaps, the microscopic. No caribou. No snow bunnies or snowy owls or ptarmigans. No evergreen forests. No lovely meadows. Nothing living would be affected by drilling in ANWR.
How come it looks so much as if NPRPS has decided that the USA doesnt need to know the truth about this?
The past week or so, however, has shown the usefulness of NPRPS in strictly political terms. The first case came and went in a flash: the second is still winding out.
Bigwig Democrats complained vociferously, May 14, about the Republican National Committee using a photo of President George W. Bush aboard Air Force One, September 11, 2001, as part of its fund-raising efforts. Former Vice-President Al Gore called it disgraceful. Democratic National Committee chairman Terry McAuliffe called it disgusting.
Mainstream media was more than happy to report these declarations of outrage, feigned or not. They were all set to make America think the Bush administration had egg all over its face until they realized the next day that nobody outside the D.C. beltway cared, unless it was to show that they cared by making sure they got a print of the photo, by making a donation to the RNC.
Talk about misreading the tea leaves. Or focus groups.
Forthwith, the whole subject was dropped in favor of the next political brouhaha: the revelation, May 15, that George W. Bush had himself received a CIA intelligence briefing, August 6, 2001, in which it was mentioned that al-Qaeda might have plans to hijack planes. Somewhere. Sometime. For some unknown purpose.
For that, the White House has had to spend five days now, defending its actions last summer.
Mainstream media, at least television, spent considerable effort Thursday morning, May 16, trying to make Americans believe that the White House might have known about, and could have prevented, the attacks of September 11, 2001. As reported in Media Research Centers Cyberalert Extra, May 16:
But Democratic operatives, in government and in media, seem to have misread the tea leaves again. Friday, House minority leader Dick Gephardt was chiming in with Gibson and Couric, What did he know and when did he know it? (Shades, of course, of Nixon and Watergate.) By Sunday, though, Gephardt was already distancing himself from such talk, claiming that he had never meant to call into question whether the White House had done everything it could to prevent any attacks.
By then, dont you know, it had become common knowledge that members of the House and Senate intelligence committees, including Democrats, received similar information in their own intelligence reports. And it had become indisputable that the previous, Democrat, administration had received similar but more specific warnings a long time ago; as mentioned in a National Review Online article by Mark Levin, May 20:
But agents of NPRPS had been practically tripping over themselves, eager to perform a service that may not have been formally requested. So reports todays Cyberalert:
Likewise, an article in todays American Prowler:
That would be, specifically, the Nationwide Press-Release Publication Service.
And news reports today say that surveys (whatever they might be worth) indicate that the American publics confidence in the president and White House has not been significantly affected. In a couple of days, therefore, this folderol will be as old hat as the scandalous-photo folderol: the egg was on some faces, but not those desired.
Why the Existence of NPRPS Matters
I am not a conspiracy theorist. I do not think that a group of people sits down somewhere each day and decides what Americans are going to see on TV or in the newspapers, or hear on the radio. But I do think that mainstream media in the USA is, or is becoming, virtually the Nationwide Press-Release Publication Service.
I am what you might call a likemindedness theorist.
I think that mainstream media comprises individuals, in editorial and writing positions, of whom the overwhelming majority have a similar worldview: secular, liberal, and elitist. They tend to think, for instance, that our environment is being destroyed, that profit-making corporations are wicked, and that more government is better government; that liberals are good and conservatives, evil; and, that journalists and bureaucrats know what is better for us than we do ourselves.
Moreover, they quite naturally think that those outside media who are likeminded secular, liberal, elitist are necessarily good, right, and true.
That is why mainstream media is, virtually, the Nationwide Press-Release Publication Service: the good ol boys and girls at CASA and CSPI and IPCC argue, one way or another, for more and more government control of our lives, even to what we can choose to eat and drink. Nobody at NPRPS thinks that anybody at CASA or CSPI or IPCC might be trying to flimflam an unsuspecting public. (I leave out of consideration, for now, the possibility that NPRPS might actually be in on the flimflammery.) So, nobody at NPRPS bothers to do a little independent research to check alleged facts coming from left-leaning groups: they all have the correct intentions, the correct aims, the correct opinions... the correct thoughts. Real corrections, when needed, are evoked by complaints from folks who really know the facts and speak up.
Need it be said how dangerous this is? To all of us? Especially when combined with the increasing neglect of necessary distinctions, discussed last time.
Americans at large are eagerly fed one-sided opinions from special interest groups isnt it strange, by the way, how mainstream media usually fails to characterize activist organizations as special interest groups, unless they are conservative in nature and from Democrat political operatives, with little or no corrective information from other viewpoints. Until theyre called on it.
Americans at large are told what others are told to tell them, true or false. This is worse than being blindfolded: it is being fitted with blinders, thinking they are eye glasses.
© ELC 2002
|Volume 1.15||This Views Column||May 20, 2002|
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