Balancing Act

Leave it to the British to accurately diagnose what is terribly wrong with the American media.

It’s the mindless elevation of “balance” over accuracy. Somewhere along the line, members of the American news media (I’m hesitant to call them journalists) decided that “he said, she said” was reporting. It isn’t. It’s stenography.

This emphasis on “balance” at the expense of accuracy and the old-style journalism of verification is abetted by the media’s genuine bias, which is neither conservative nor liberal  but rather a bias for conflict. If it bleeds, it leads.

So we get “balanced” coverage of things like climate change.  More than 99% of climate scientists agree that the earth is warming, but our intrepid media will find that one crank who insists otherwise, and give us a “balanced” story by quoting “both sides.” Left unreported is the fact that the science is overwhelmingly on one “side” and the “debate” is virtually non-existent.

Or we get political coverage that has been dubbed “false equivalence.” There’s a reason for that. Over the past couple of decades, the right wing has employed a brilliant strategy: labeling the media “liberal.” (Has a factual report cast you in an unfavorable light? Scream immediately about the liberal, “lame stream” media.)  In response, most traditional media outlets have been cowed into reporting a phony equivalence whenever possible, a “plague on both your houses” approach that often distorts the reality of a situation and even more often encourages lazy reporting. How much easier it is to quote a Republican and a Democrat and then go home–without ever bothering to tell the audience who is telling the truth.

No wonder so many people don’t trust the media. Very few are still trustworthy.


  1. The irony is that in making this point about media coverage, you simply repeated an inaccurate myth about global warming, the so-called 97% consensus claim. (You misstated it as 99%.)

    First, a clarification. The issue is not whether the planet has warmed, but whether man has caused significant, indeed dangerous, global warming. (People insist that 97% of climate scientists agree with dangerous man-made global warming. But surprisingly few people who cite that number actually know where this 97% figure came from.

    It came from an on-line survey published in 2009 by Peter Doran and Maggie Kendall Zimmerman of the University of Illinois. The survey was sent to 10,257 scientists with 3,146 responding. The 97% figure is based on the responses of 79 of those scientists.

    The first survey question: “When compared to pre-1800 levels, do you think mean global
    temperatures have generally risen, fallen, or remained relatively constant.”

    That is an, I would say intentionally, loaded question. Of course temperatures have risen since the 1700s. We were coming out of the period known as the Little Ice Age which was at its height in . Even though 100% of the scientists should have said “yes,” only 90% did.

    The second survey question was: Do you think human activity is a significant contributing factor in changing mean global temperatures?

    The question fails in a couple respects. First, it doesn’t identify what “human activity” is being talked about. Urban sprawl contributes to higher temperatures, just like a paved lot is going to produce hotter temperatures than the grass field it replaced. It is not clear that the question relates to the burning of fossil fuels. Second, it does not identify what is meant by “significant.” One scientist might think a 5% impact by mankind is significant, while another might think 25% is significant.

    Of the 3,146 responses, 82% said “yes” to this question. This with the 90%, produces an 86% figure. How do they get to 97% then? The 97% figure from the survey comes from a whittling down of the accepted number of responses from 3,146 to 79. The 79 scientists are those that said they have recently published 50% of their papers in the area of climate change. Of these,
    76 of 79 answered “risen” to questions one (96.2%). As to question two 75 of 77 answered “yes” (97.4%).

    Notably meteorologists, who study weather patterns for a living and who are some of the biggest skeptics of anthropogenic global warming, are simply excluded from the 79 scientists used to arrive at the 97% figure.

    What is the saying…there are lies, damn lies, and statistics. The 97% of climate scientists agree continues to be a whopper that is told over and over again, regardless of how many times its phony origins has been exposed.

  2. The second survey question was: Do you think human activity is a significant contributing factor in changing mean global temperatures?

    Paul; urban sprawl, including those parking lots you referenced, ARE human activity. The burning of fossil fuels is also human activity. As for climate change; anyone who hasn’t noticed the unusual weather patterns we have lived with the past few years must live in a bubble. We have had extreme highs, extreme lows, droughts, severe weather fronts, earthquakes and sink holes in unusual areas (Washington D.C. had that unusual earthquake followed by a hurricane) – some of this is natural climate change but it is all exacerbated by human activity in one way or another. It has long been my belief that the constant increase in tonage via buildings, houses, interstates, roads, heavy vehicles, etc., on the earth’s surface reaches faults around the world have added to the danger of earthquakes. Nuclear testing, above and below ground, cannot happen without having after effects – all human activity. We have been warned for decades that we (humans) are destroying the environment – changing the terminology to Global Warming by a Democrat seemed to give people amnesia as to our part in all of this. Do you also believe Corporations are people and that militia translates to anyone with the money or valid credit card qualifies to buy assault weapons?

  3. Liberal media created by Faux Spews…I wish. Even PBS has gone conservative lately. I have to go with my husband’s preference, BBC. I know someone will find fault with that choice so I’ll just leave it there.

  4. Who cares how climate change has happened? It’s happening, and we ought to be working together to try to stop it.

  5. Recent story: Chuck Tood at NBC told us that it was not his business to tell us when people were lying to us on his program. Not a problem Chuck. Just look the other way. Up is down and black is white. Great.

  6. This entire ‘gubmint’ thing is pre-planned (dare I say ‘fixed’?) and is going to the seventh game of the series, which is about to start any second now. Time for both sides to wake up and, to quote Larry the Cable Guy, “Git ‘er done!”

  7. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report from less than a month ago concluded at the 95% confidence level that climate change is happening and that people are causing it. The 95% confidence level means, in technical research parlance, “p < .01" which is not just "significant". It's "highly significant". They break down each area and evaluate it. This is high level stuff and I'm hoping that the folks with their ideologically-driven conclusions will soon slink off to the side along with the advocates of blood letting, flat earth and other ideas that were dumped by the science community. Before anyone starts running off at the mouth about denying climate science, just look at the conclusions of this report, or you can read how they arrived at their conclusions, but you might learn something in the process. See this link: It's happening, folks.

  8. Oops. Technical error. 95% is p<.05, which is traditionally accepted as "statistically significant with a two-tailed test. 99% is p<.01. The point is, of course, that their confidence level is "statistically significant".

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