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CONTROVERSY WAS MANUFACTURED BY SOME! We thought of Nixon when the Times reviewed the Climategate flap: // link // print // previous // next //
MONDAY, JULY 12, 2010

Ross Douthat’s dead intern problem: Once in a while, we overstate here, and we over-name-called last Friday, criticizing three liberal writers for that pitiful nine-year-old crap about Joe Scarborough’s “dead intern problem.” There’s no real excuse for the nonsense churned by the three (whose work we generally like), but we name-called more than made sense.

Which brings us around to Ross Douthat’s column in today’s New York Times.

Douthat, a conservative, begs for “class war” in his headline. (“The Class War We Need.”) In his column, he makes the kind of observation that shows where progressives might go if we want to replace our spreading, feel-good tribal hatred with winning, long-term politics.

What kind of war does Douthat want? To quote from his boxed sub-headline, Douthat is on the class warpath against “Subsidies for the reckless rich, courtesy of the middle class.” More and more, the middle class are getting ripped off by the rich, with the money flowing through Washington:

DOUTHAT (7/12/10): In case after case, Washington’s web of subsidies and tax breaks effectively takes money from the middle class and hands it out to speculators and have-mores. We subsidize drug companies, oil companies, agribusinesses disguised as “family farms” and “clean energy” firms that aren’t energy-efficient at all. We give tax breaks to immensely profitable corporations that don’t need the money and that wouldn’t exist without government favoritism.

And we do more of it every day. Take Barack Obama’s initiative to double U.S. exports in the next five years. As The Washington Examiner’s Tim Carney points out, it involves the purest sort of corporate welfare: We’re lending money to foreign governments or companies so that they’ll buy from Boeing and Pfizer and Archer Daniels Midland. That’s good news for those companies’ stockholders and C.E.O.’s. But the money to pay for it ultimately comes out of middle-class pocketbooks.

In that last case, we don’t know if Carney’s analysis is correct. Beyond that, you may not agree with every word Douthat types in this column. But as a general matter, Douthat is making a standard “progressive” observation—and he’s suggesting that conservatives should pay more attention. Here’s how his column ends:

DOUTHAT: In the age of Barack Obama, many rank-and-file conservatives have been more upset about redistribution of a different sort—the kind that takes money from the prosperous and “spreads the wealth” (as Obama put it, in his famous confrontation with Joe the Plumber) down the income ladder.

This kind of spending can be problematic. But conservatives need to recognize that the most pernicious sort of redistribution isn’t from the successful to the poor. It’s from savers to speculators, from outsiders to insiders, and from the industrious middle class to the reckless, unproductive rich.

Why should conservatives recognize that? Because conservatives get ripped off by this kind of redistribution, exactly as liberals do. Tea Party members pay too much for their health care. So do folk in the SEIU.

Douthat makes a good observation, but he has a dead intern problem. A culture of low-IQ tribal loathing has been pimped by conservative talk for decades. Now, we liberals have waked from our naps in the woods, and we are creating a similar culture. Corporate malefactors will continue to flourish as long as the two tribes yell about their various interns, living, missing and dead.

That said, such crap can be quite pleasing. Scroll back up to the top of the page. Did our headline get you to look?

CONTROVERSY WAS MANUFACTURED BY SOME (permalink): Stupidification of our discourse has been advancing for decades. (The biggest such orgy, run by the press corps, sent George Bush to the White House.) Can modern societies run on stupid? If you think so, take a quick look around.

In part, the stupidification continues to flourish because our most influential news orgs refuse to challenge, or even name, the people who sponsor The Stupid. The press corps’ continuing treatment of the “Climategate” matter helps illustrate this problem.

Consider this toothless editorial in Sunday’s New York Times. (Headline: “A Climate Change Corrective.”) The editors note that a strong of reports have debunked the claims which drove this particular pseudo-scandal. But right from the start, the editors fail to name the names of the people who drove this bull-roar along. Who ginned up this crap in the first place? In their opening paragraph, here’s what the editors said:

NEW YORK TIMES EDITORIAL (7/11/10): Perhaps now we can put the manufactured controversy known as Climategate behind us and turn to the task of actually doing something about global warming. On Wednesday, a panel in Britain concluded that scientists whose e-mail had been hacked late last year had not, as critics alleged, distorted scientific evidence to prove that global warming was occurring and that human beings were primarily responsible.

Climategate was a “manufactured controversy,” the editors say. But who manufactured all this crap? “Critics” did it, the editors tell us. No, that isn’t very specific, but the editors never did much better. In their next paragraph, they came as close as they ever would come to naming the names of the culprits:

NEW YORK TIMES EDITORIAL (continuing directly): It was the fifth such review of hundreds of e-mail exchanges among some of the world’s most prominent climatologists. Some of the e-mail messages, purloined last November, were mean-spirited, others were dismissive of contrarian views, and others revealed a timid reluctance to share data. Climate skeptics pounced on them as evidence of a conspiracy to manipulate research to support predetermined ideas about global warming.

“Climate skeptics” manufactured the controversy, the editors said. But again, they named no people or news orgs. They named no institutions.

As they continued, the editors did name plenty of names. They named the scientists who had been accused of manipulating research. They named the agencies who have determined that these accusations were bunk. (This includes Britain’s Royal Society, the House of Commons and a panel at Penn State.) But none of the people who ginned these false claims were forced to see their names in print. Eventually, the editors cited a second manufactured flap:

NEW YORK TIMES EDITORIAL: Another (no less overblown) climate change controversy may also be receding from view. This one involves an incorrect assertion in the United Nations’ 3,000-page report on climate change in 2007 that the Himalayan glaciers could disappear by 2035. The U.N. acknowledged the error and promised to tighten its review procedures. Even so, this and one or two other trivial mistakes were presented by some as further proof that scientists cannot be trusted and that warming is a hoax.

Did you follow that carefully? In the case of this second overblown controversy, “trivial matters were presented by some” as proof that warming is a hoax! And alas! In a seven-paragraph editorial, that’s as close as the editors came to naming the names of the actual people who ginned up these phony concerns—who manufactured the silly discussions which did a great deal to muddy the climate debate all over the world.

Does the climate debate get dumber when phony complaints get manufactured? Does The Stupid advance? You’d think the editors would be aware of this problem, given Elisabeth Rosenthal’s front-page report in the May 25 Times. Writing from London, Rosenthal described changing attitudes in Europe, with “many people turn[ing] away from the idea that human activity is warming the planet.” Early on, she cited changing numbers about climate change in England and Germany:

ROSENTHAL (5/25/10): Nowhere has this shift in public opinion been more striking than in Britain, where climate change was until this year such a popular priority that in 2008 Parliament enshrined targets for emissions cuts as national law. But since then, the country has evolved into a home base for a thriving group of climate skeptics who have dominated news reports in recent months, apparently convincing many that the threat of warming is vastly exaggerated.

A survey in February by the BBC found that only 26 percent of Britons believed that ''climate change is happening and is now established as largely manmade,'' down from 41 percent in November 2009. A poll conducted for the German magazine Der Spiegel found that 42 percent of Germans feared global warming, down from 62 percent four years earlier.

And London's Science Museum recently announced that a permanent exhibit scheduled to open later this year would be called the Climate Science Gallery—not the Climate Change Gallery as had previously been planned.

When trivial matters get turned into controversies, average people do get misled. At different points in her report, Rosenthal quoted three different Brits whose views have been affected by the ginned-up climate flaps:

ROSENTHAL (continuing directly): ''Before, I thought, 'Oh my God, this climate change problem is just dreadful,' '' said Jillian Leddra, 50, a musician who was shopping in London on a recent lunch hour. “But now I have my doubts, and I'm wondering if it's been overhyped.”

[...]

Asked about his views on global warming on a recent evening, Brian George, a 30-year-old builder from southeast London, mused, “It was extremely cold in January, wasn't it?”

[...]

“I'm still concerned about climate change, but it's become very confusing,” said Sandra Lawson, 32, as she ran errands near Hyde Park.

You can’t expect the population to be an army of climate scientists. Sadly, Rosenthal’s second subject (Brian George) even seems to have gotten conned by all the noise about last winter’s cold snap! But when “climate skeptics” manufacture fake flaps, many people do get misled. This is why “critics” shouldn’t get a free pass for their unfortunate conduct.

In yesterday’s editorial, it was fairly clear that the editors thought some “critics” and “skeptics” have behaved in bad faith in these matters. In the case of this winter’s “extremely cold weather,” the malefactors were many and obvious on this side of the pond. One gruesome example: Night after night, Sean Hannity played the fool on Fox, attempting to con millions of people with his nonsense about Washington’s snowstorm. Can we talk? There’s little chance that Hannity is so dumb that he didn’t know what he was doing. (If he actually is that dumb, Fox should unload him as fast as they can.) Every journalist knows that the noise about Washington’s storm was just a giant pile of crap. But regular voters often don’t know—people like Brian George.

Hannity speaks to several million such people each weekday night.

Overall, this has been a disgraceful performance, but the editors were too soft to name the names of the malefactors. Is it news when millions of people get misled—when they’re deliberately misled, as was plainly the case with Hannity’s conduct? Yes, it’s news when such things occur. Serious journalists should name the names of the “critics” who “manufacture” such claims. Serious progressives should name-call the Times for failing to offer this service.

The public deserves to be told when it gets conned about serious matters. Hannity’s viewers deserve to be told, though not all of them will believe it; so do the millions of citizens who don’t watch Hannity’s program. What a shame—that Gotham’s editors don’t have the stomach, even now, for naming the names of the clowns and the goons who “manufactured’ these climate flaps.

Mistakes were made, Richard Nixon once said. Controversy was manufactured by some, the editors have now boldly added.

On this side of the pond: Rosenthal was writing about attitudes in Europe. But she briefly mentioned one poll from our side of the pond:

ROSENTHAL: The lack of fervor about climate change is also true of the United States, where action on climate and emissions reduction is still very much a work in progress, and concern about global warming was never as strong as in Europe. A March Gallup poll found that 48 percent of Americans believed that the seriousness of global warming was ''generally exaggerated,” up from 41 percent a year ago.

On June 9, an op-ed column in the Times seemed to suggest that attitudes are holding steady in the U.S. (click here). Subsequent letters from two major pollsters said that just ain’t the case.

(To read those letters, click here, then click this.)

American attitudes have been changing, these pollsters aver. But then, Hannity worked hard to fool the rubes, helped along by many others. Controversy was manufactured by them. Major news orgs like the Times should be naming their names.