Journalism Failed On Climate Crisis Front; Now It’s Normalizing Lying
June 30, 2023
The Fourth Estate is wounded, perhaps mortally. And the assassins are consistently given a perch to carry out the mission.
As a journalist for the past 32 years, I take no glee in stating the obvious. I find the situation embarrassing, troubling, and dangerous. It makes me sick to my stomach when I see how much of the news of the day/hour/minute is framed.
The watering down of truth and the normalization of lying has vastly diminished journalism’s impact. Too many people have given up on the news, unless it fits their world view. For example, ProPublica’s recent investigations of the improprieties committed by Supreme Court justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito should have had a bigger impact. The selling of law and order should have resulted in serious consequences.
The disgraced Richard Nixon wouldn’t have resigned had he conducted his malfeasance in the 21st century. Instead, his cultists would have stormed the Watergate Hotel, and a few weeks later much of the media would be covering the siege like it was an Olympic event.
It makes me want to do something less frustrating with my time, but my limited skill set makes a career change at this stage of my life unwise. Plus, many other professions (teacher, librarian, pediatrician, obstetrician, flight attendant, child worker, anyone working for the federal minimum wage, which has remained $7.25 an hour since 2009, the longest period without a raise in the history of the unlivable wage; from 1978 to 2020, CEO pay based on realized compensation grew by 1,322%) — are equally frustrated during yet another terrible time in U.S. history.
(Terrible times in the United States vastly outnumber the not-so-terrible ones. If you don’t believe me, read any number of books, such as “Caste” by Isabel Wilkerson or “Stamped From the Beginning” by Ibram X. Kendi, before they are banned.)
The truth is now alternative facts. Bothsidesism is all the rage, even if the other side is all conspiracy, lies, and hostility. Serial liars are repeatedly given time on the Sunday news shows; their worthless claims seldom slapped down, except for the occasional incredulous “Wow.”
The media ignited this bothsidesism firestorm by giving climate-change deniers a stage to spout their fossil-fuel-crafted talking points. For years, the aforementioned Sunday shows invited unscrupulous politicians to speak about a problem they knew nothing about, except that their masters wanted us to remain addicted to their dangerous products.
Many newspapers went out of their way to “get both sides” of the climate crisis, failing to recognize one side was putting everyone at risk. The media learned nothing from the campaign of lies that protected the use of lead in paint and gasoline and denied the health impacts of tobacco and secondhand smoke.
Industrious capitalists, though, took their predecessors’ lying lessons seriously. A recently published study outlines public relations strategies and a timeline composed of studies and comments from 3M and DuPont officials showing they knew the dangers, but publicly insisted per- and polyfluorinated substances (PFAS) were safe.
The study’s authors found PFAS manufacturers and their allies frequently employed two tobacco strategies: withhold internal studies that revealed health risks and distort public discourse. The Guardian recently reported that in the 1950s DuPont scientists found PFAS enlarged lab rats’ livers and likely caused birth defects in workers. The company told its employees the cancer-linked compounds are “about as toxic as table salt.”
Unfortunately, the manipulation of reality, misinformation, and fearmongering have long been the fuel that powers U.S. hate, capitalism, nationalism, authoritarianism, and fascism. Social media has pushed these despicable tactics into overdrive. Everyone with a blue check mark is an expert.
Knowledge, history, science, and even compassion are portrayed as enemies of freedom by those looking to profit, divide, and rule unchecked. This carefully constructed unreality is, as intended, putting people at odds, ripping apart social safety nets, destroying the public school system, nurturing inequality, slashing rights, gutting newsrooms, and turning journalism into propaganda.
It’s the latter two that are making the first five possible. Capitalists blinded by profit, cable news executives, and a hateful man from Australia have turned the free press into a cudgel hammering to Make American Great Again.
Community newspapers bludgeoned by private equity firms. Ratings and attention craved by cable news CEOs. Campaigns and elections covered like sporting events. The irresponsible position of terrorists laundered during debt ceiling coverage.
It took decades, but mission accomplished. Greed, racist ideology, and special interests have turned a trusted profession into a sophisticated disinformation apparatus. Maybe much of it always was. Vast swaths of the media landscape have failed us, because the industry is more concerned about ratings and clicks. To appear fair and balanced, they present the assassins and their hooligans as patriots, serious people, and victims.
To quote the unkempt senior advisor to the previous occupant of the White House, “The real opposition is the media. And the way to deal with them is to flood the zone with shit.” And repeatedly call journalists “enemy of the people” and yell “Fake News!” whenever reporting doesn’t jibe with the dominant caste’s world of make-believe.
Ignorance is lauded and profit reaped by brushing aside truth.
“There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge,’” the late Isaac Asimov wrote in a 1980 essay.
We are entrenched in what American philosopher Kathleen Higgins has described as the post-truth era, where there is no longer an expectation that politicians or pundits will be honest. Numerous media outlets — most notably cable news, the sole source of information for many people — give them a platform anyway, even if their rhetoric incites violence, puts public health in jeopardy, and erodes what is left of our tattered “democracy.”
The journalistic malpractice of bothsidesism is making truth inconsequential and the life of many miserable, or in some instances more miserable.
So how do we report the truth? How do we suppress a fire hose of disinformation? How do we fact-check a tidal wave of lies?
It’s actually pretty simple: Remove ego and the amoral pursuit of riches at all costs from the news-gathering equation.
Stop putting microphones in front of insurrectionists. Stop presenting the delusions of election losers as reasonable. Don’t hold a prime-time town hall with a notorious liar under federal investigation a day after he is found to be a sexual predator and then spend most of the allotted time lobbing the international scammer softball questions. Stop catering coverage to placate anti-vaxxers, election and climate deniers, homophobes, racists, transphobic bullies, and always-angry bros. Stop forcing bothsidesism.
Report on vital issues — i.e., inequality, health care, education, social justice, the climate crisis, the environment, Supreme Court corruption, statehouse ongoings, and local boards and committees — with the same tenacity and resources spent covering Super Bowls and the Oscars.
And don’t let the con artists flood the zone with shit.
Frank Carini can be reached at [email protected]. His opinions don’t reflect those of ecoRI News.