FRUIT TRUCK DOWN! Apples and oranges litter the highway as Broad fails the nation again: // link // print // previous // next //
THURSDAY, MARCH 15, 2007
BACK TO SCHOOL: On Tuesday, we saw the way the Washington Post is schooling its readers RE two White House hopefuls (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/13/07). Candidate Clintons the fake, we were told. Although Candidate McCain is in the same position as Clinton regarding ethanol subsidies, the Post gave the great saint a pass.
To see this process semi-continue, check out Michael Spears front-page profile of McCain, in this mornings Post.
Theres nothing horribly wrong with this profile. Spear adopts a fairly obvious framework: In Campaign 2000, McCain won New Hampshire in a rout, but now he trails Giuliani. But note the frameworks Spear promotes—and the themes he seems to avoid—as he explores McCains problem. Start with the Posts headline, for example:
McCain Fighting to Recapture Maverick Spirit of 2000 BidThere you have it! Once again, McCain is fighting for that maverick spirit. Indeed, right in his opening paragraph, Spear revisits other favorite imagery, even as he describes the problem the sainted solon now faces:
SPEAR (3/15/07): In the seven years since John McCain and his "Straight Talk Express" nearly derailed George W. Bush's White House ambitions, the blunt-spoken senator from Arizona has become the very picture of the highly managed presidential candidate he once scorned.According to Spear, McCain has become the very picture of something he once scorned—the highly managed candidate. But Spear recalls the name of that famous bus—and he semi-calls McCain blunt-spoken. Soon, Spear quotes two GOP activists who no longer support McCain. Here are the nugget paragraphs in which Spear describes McCains current problem:
SPEAR (pghs 6-7): Their defections raise a question: Can the man who waged what Time magazine labeled "The McCain Mutiny" in 2000 do it again?According to Spear, McCain is hoping to rekindle the insurgent spirit of Campaign 2000; hes trying to wage another McCain Mutiny. Lets just go ahead and say it—in the language of modern politics, these are quite friendly frameworks.
As he continues, Spear speaks to a wide array of Republicans, including many McCain supporters, about the sanctified solons chances. But uh-oh! McCain won New Hampshire (and other states) in 2000 in large part thanks to independent support. (Independents can vote in party primaries in many states, including New Hampshire.) And why has McCain lost independent support? In large part, because of his endless flip-flops! But go ahead—look through this piece, and see if a reader would ever know that this blunt-spoken fellow has lost a good deal of support and appeal because of his string of reversals. Instead, we are given to believe that McCain is down in the polls because he has been so steadfast on Iraq—and because another Republican, Rudy Giuliani, is even more wondrously straightforward. (The GOP presidential landscape is also very different. Former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani has crafted a no-nonsense, take-charge image that has him leading in most national polls.) McCains reversals are AWOL here. At one point, Spear even mentions the way McCain lashed out at Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson in 2000—without noting the fact that he has kissed and made nice with these very same folk in recent years.
No, this isnt a horrible report. Most of what it says is fair and accurate. But put it together with Tuesdays report and youll see how readers get schooled about candidates. On Tuesday, the Post devoted 21 paragraphs to a Clinton reversal, suggesting it showed that she is calculating—and it only gave McCain two grafs, although he has made the exact same reversal on ethanol, the matter in question. (Clinton also ranked a huge photo.) Today, we get a profile of McCain which again omits his endless reversals—and which continues to picture him, in the headline, as a fighting maverick. Tuesdays report was truly gruesome; todays report is much more solid. But Post readers just keep getting schooled about the traits of these two White House hopefuls. Reversals, thy name is Hillary Clinton, readers might think from these two reports. By contrast, McCains reversals are smudged away. Hes down because hes been steadfast.
Tuesdays report was astoundingly bad; this report is mostly fair. But favorable imagery clutters this piece. Dont expect to see future reports in which Clinton is similarly showered.
FRUIT TRUCK DOWN: Note: For part one of this report, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/14/07.
BROAD (3/13/07): Some backers concede minor inaccuracies but see them as reasonable for a politician. James E. Hansen, an environmental scientist, director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies and a top adviser to Mr. Gore, said, ''Al does an exceptionally good job of seeing the forest for the trees,'' adding that Mr. Gore often did so ''better than scientists.''According to Broad, Hansen says Gore should be more careful in describing the hurricane story (while noting that Gores bottom line is right). But what exactly does Hansen mean? What has Gore said that is inaccurate or misleading? In keeping with the intellectual squalor of his piece, Broad doesnt ever manage to say. Instead, he includes that utterly silly—and utterly irrelevant—sentence about the number of hurricanes in the Atlantic last season. No, Gore didnt predict nine storms—and only a fool would think that these data have any real relevance to the questions raised in Gores book and film. But throughout this report, Broad writes like a fool—much as he does in that sentence. And omigod! This is the caliber of work that is now being down at the very top of our national press corps.
Indeed, is there any substantive matter in this report which Broad doesnt hopelessly mangle and bungle? Consider the most striking part of the Davis Guggenheim film—the part of the film where we see what will happen if the Greenland and Antarctic ice shelves break loose. So youll know what Gore actually says in the film—you rarely learn that in Broads hapless piece—well quote from his book, which is largely a transcript of the Oscar-winning movie:
GORE (page 196): If Greenland melted or broke up and slipped into the sea—or if half of Greenland and half of Antarctica melted or broke up and slipped into the sea, sea levels worldwide would increase by between 18 and 20 feet.This is the part of the film where we see what would happen to certain land-masses if this catastrophe were to occur. (The land-masses in question include those of Florida, the San Francisco Bay Area, the Netherlands, Beijing, Shanghai and Calcutta and Bangladesh. In Manhattan, the site of the World Trade Center would be under water, Gore says, as we look at the visuals.) Again, this is perhaps the most striking moment in Gores film. On TV, these are the excerpts which were used most often to promote (and highlight) the film.
If those ice sheets did break loose, it would produce a catastrophe. But is it likely that this will occur? Is it likely to occur in our lifetimes? These questions arent discussed in any detail in Gores film; it would be extremely helpful if a writer like Broad explored such questions more fully. Most likely, a capable science writer could devote a full report, of this reports length, to these very questions. (Broads report appeared in the weekly Science Times section, where the work is often quite detailed.) But the hapless Broad did no such thing in his woeful report this week. Instead, as with almost everything else, he almost seemed to go out of his way to confuse this important question. What follows is bad, woeful work:
BROAD: Some of Mr. Gore's centrist detractors point to a report last month by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [the IPCC], a United Nations body that studies global warming. The panel went further than ever before in saying that humans were the main cause of the globe's warming since 1950, part of Mr. Gore's message that few scientists dispute. But it also portrayed climate change as a slow-motion process.Good God! According to Broads presentation, Gore says sea levels may rise 20 feet—and the IPCC says 23 inches! From that presentation, you might well find yourself thinking that Gore is scare-mongering. In the process, you will have been vastly misled about the nature of those two dueling estimates.
Is Gore scare-mongering in this part of his film? Here at THE HOWLER, we cant really say—thanks to the work of people like Broad. In this passage, Broad makes a classic apples-to-oranges comparison, misleading his readers and utterly failing to push our understanding forward. How foolish is the comparison he cites? Just consider two excerpts from the New York Times front-page news report about the IPCCs report, which was released on February 2. This report was written by Eleanor Rosenthal and Andrew Revkin. In this first passage, the writers present that 23-inch upper estimate:
ROSENTHAL/REVKIN (2/3/07): Even a level of warming that falls in the middle of the group's range of projections would be likely to cause significant stress to ecosystems, according to many climate experts and biologists. And it would alter longstanding climate patterns that shape water supplies and agricultural production.Wow! Theres that maximum of 23 inches. Its the data point which makes Gore sound like a scare-mongering dope—if youre willing to trust William Broad. But a bit later on, the two Times writers explained a key (and elementary) distinction. Five weeks later, Broad deep-sixes this part of his papers report:
ROSENTHAL/REVKIN (2/3/07): Should greenhouse gases continue to accumulate in the atmosphere at even a moderate pace, average temperatures by the end of the century could match those last seen 125,000 years ago, in the previous warm spell between ice ages, the report said.Lets make this simple: In his 20 feet estimate, Gore was talking about what will happen if the Greenland and Antarctic ice shelves break loose. In its 23 inch estimate, the IPCC is discussing what will occur if that doesnt happen. Rosenthal and Revkin explained this fairly clearly in their initial, page-one news report. (For the Washington Posts explanation, see below.) But five weeks later, the distinction is gone as Broad types up his lengthy think piece. Result? New York Times readers get baldly misled—are left uninformed—about the real issues involved in this matter. Instead, they are given a pie in the face—a silly, apples-to-kumquats comparison which serves little purpose except to encourage ridicule of Crazy-man Gore. And make no mistake—kooky, script-reading pseudo-con talkers were quick to seize on this misleading point, using it as the latest club with which to bang Stupid Gore.
A question came to our analysts minds as they worked their way through the endless jumbles of Broads report. Here it is: Could a college student present such work without being rebuked by his Teaching Assistant? One would hope that the answer is no—that American teens are held to a higher standard than Broad observes in this report. And yet, amazingly, we see such work misleading the public at the very highest levels of American journalism! For reasons only the gods can explain, Broad is part-owner of two Pulitzer Prizes, and his piece appears in Science Times—a section which would surely count as one of the headiest regions in all of American newspapering. But his work is an utter failure—a joke. Adding the insult to injury, its honored author—aided by overpaid editors—writes sentences like the one we now highlight:
BROAD: [The IPCC report] estimated that the world's seas in this century would rise a maximum of 23 inches—down from earlier estimates. Mr. Gore, citing no particular time frame, envisions rises of up to 20 feet and depicts parts of New York, Florida and other heavily populated areas as sinking beneath the waves, implying, at least visually, that inundation is imminent.Gore impl[ies], at least visually, that inundation is imminent! Presumably, that fruit-truck wreck of a sentence means something like this: Since Gore cites no particular time frame, a viewer of his film might walk away thinking that this inundation could come at any time. But how about it? Could the inundation come at any time? What time frame might we sensibly expect? Here at THE HOWLER, we have no idea. In part, thats because Gore doesnt offer such time frames in his film, as Broad notes. But in much larger part, its because Broad makes such a total joke of this part of his own report.
Here at THE HOWLER, wed love to see a fuller examination of the question of those ice shelves. How likely is it that they will break loose? Why did Tony Blairs science advisor think this matter was worth discussing? What would the UNs Jarraud—allowed to speculate—say about possible time frames? (See quoted excerpt above.) Broad could have asked-and-answered these questions, thereby informing his readers more fully about the most striking part of Gore;s film. Instead, he offered a clownish, deeply misleading treatment. His treatment doesnt further his readers knowledge—quite the opposite. Mainly, it gives Gores dumbest and most dishonest critics a new way to mislead their viewers.
This is truly horrible work—work that would be hard to imagine even at the college level. But this is the work which is now being done at the highest levels of our broken press corps. Indeed, its much like a question Gore asks in his book: Is it possible that we should prepare for other serious threats in addition to terrorism? Maybe its time to focus on other dangers as well. In fact, the pseudo-journalism of Broads report is an ongoing threat to our way of life. But the Times has functioned this way for decades. This fact, of course, is deeply counterintuitive—and our hapless liberal leaders just keep refusing to face it.
TOMORROW: More jumbles. And oh yeah: Just who are these guys?
IN THE POST: Heres the way Juliet Eilperin explained the question of the ice shelves on page one of the Washington Post. This was part of her own new story on the IPCC report:
EILPERIN (2/3/07): The authors concluded that Earth's average temperature will increase between 3.2 and 7.8 degrees Fahrenheit over the next century, while sea levels will rise between seven and 23 inches.RESISTING THE COUNTERINTUITIVE: At The Plank, Noam Scheiber also criticized Broads inclusion of the number of Atlantic hurricanes. He notes the irrelevance of these data. But we were struck by one thing he said:
SCHEIBER (3/13/07): I know almost nothing about global warming science, so that last line could be meaningful in a way I'm not seeing. But I do know a little bit (okay, a very little bit) about statistical inference. And everything I've been taught tells me that trying to draw inferences from a sample size of one is a pretty hopeless exercise. Which is to say, I have a hard time imagining how this past year's hurricane season matters one way or the other to any serious analysis of global warming. It reminds me of all the laughs conservatives had when a congressional hearing on global warming recently got cancelled on account of snow. Get it? It snowed one day this winter so global warming must be a myth.But why? Why on earth would such a smart liberal expect a little more from the Times? The Times has been playing the fool for decades, especially in its political work. Broads work is exactly what we have come to expect, especially when political figures are involved. It is worth saying that others at the Times do quite capable work.
Its the question we just keep asking: When will liberal leaders come to terms with the actual world in which we all live? We realize that this is counterintuitive, but our press elites are badly broken; indeed, theyre more clownish the higher you go. Scheiber seems to think that Broads irrelevant data inclusion is some sort of aberration. He also seems to have missed the larger howlers which litter Broads gruesome piece of work.