One thing we can all agree on

It’s encouraging to note that in all the responses we have in relation to our recent interview with John Gibbons no one has challenged any of the very damning things he had to say about the way the media works and the inherent constraints imposed on it by it’s profit-oriented structure (in fact one critic called it ‘brave, brilliant and essential‘).

That is after-all what we as a media monitoring organisation are predominantly interested in. For instance:

“Their ontological security, their notion of the way the world is, the way it’s always been, feels deeply threatened by someone coming along and saying “everything you know is wrong”. And they recoil violently against it.”

“I remember [Miriam O’Callaghan] interrupting a scientist trying to explain a technical point on Prime Time saying: “we’re losing our audience.””

“I was in the unusual position in that I am financially independent. Many journalists don’t have that luxury. So I was only prepared to write it one way, I wasn’t amenable to write it some other way. I wasn’t that interested in how it would go down because the purpose of the column wasn’t to perpetuate itself.”

“So there’s the difference between what we can see with our eyes, which the media are good at reporting and slow moving threats, which they are extremely bad at.”

“Most broadcasters and newspapers are businesses, they are profit driven, advertiser centric. In my own case, while it was never explicitly put to me this way, clearly I was scaring the horses. Because I’m suggesting, for example that consumption and increased levels of consumption are counter productive and dangerous, that’s a red hot poker to your advertisers.”

“I recently wrote an article about the Tobin Tax. What spurred it on was that they had an entire supplement in the newspaper devoted to spread-betting. They wouldn’t have a supplement in the newspaper about how to let your house out to drug dealers but as a moral equivalent it is there and thereabouts.”

“It’s much more subtle. I don’t see that type of lobbying playing a major part, most of the censorship is internal, it’s rarely externalised like that. In a lot of cases you are pushing against open doors anyway.”

With regards to the comments about climate change, I think we’d prefer not to be dragged into the ‘debate’, there is no overarching response we can give to sceptics, deniers or fence-sitters that will satisfy. The data is out there, it’s peer reviewed and it’s open to challenge. Either your argument is that the data is unreliable or misinterpreted, or that the science has been manipulated by powerful forces contriving to produce a global consensus.

The first of these arguments is one for scientific debate, but it’s not one that should happen in some sort of public show trial. There appears to be some sort of belief among sceptics that if a perceived inconsistency arises or if a paper is published that contradicts some specific assumption, then it should be headline news, that it immediately calls into question decades of corroborative research. But science can’t and shouldn’t happen in the media, for the obvious reasons Gibbons outlines.

The media is fundamentally profit-oriented. It has thrived for the last decade (and more) on advertising driven by industries that are strongly bound to consumption of fossil fuels – with motoring, property, holiday etc supplements filling the gap in our national papers. The media is therefore not principally concerned with the common good, unless that is, there is a profit in it.

Bertrand Russell wrote:

“The scepticism that I advocate amounts only to this: (1) that when the experts are agreed, the opposite opinion cannot be held to be certain; (2) that when they are not agreed, no opinion can be regarded as certain by a non-expert; and (3) that when they all hold that no sufficient grounds for a positive opinion exist, the ordinary man would do well to suspend his judgment.”

Well 97% of earth scientists are agreed that “human activity is a significant contributing factor in changing mean global temperatures, so I think it’s at least fair to say the opposite opinion can’t be held to be certain, by non-experts anyway?

9 thoughts on “One thing we can all agree on

  1. Thanks, David, for a temperate-zone reply. This in itself is important, I think, given the generalisations and name-calling that too often dot this ‘debate’.
    At the risk of repeating myself, no ‘data’ in the science per se — and certainly not the very-minimalist assertion that you rightly identify as the consensus — points directly to widespread human catastrophe, which as Haiti shows is at least as much as about politics and economics as it is about nature.
    On this specific media issue, and acknowledging that I’m a funny person to make this point, it does seem a bit of a stretch to suggest that the right-wing media machine viciously marginalises a particular view about global warming by giving one of its most articulate and radical advocates a weekly column for two years in the main Establishment newspaper to write about it again and again.

  2. Thanks Harry. Funnily enough, that’s exactly what we are arguing. It’s the idea that George Monbiot makes the Guardian green.

  3. you’ll ignore the many observations of the leading questions though

    point is harry, giving space to other pundits to waffle in paid-to-be contrarian way is not balance though.

  4. David — my counter-argument is not that the presence of John Gibbons made the IT green. It’s that his presence there (and his replacement by Frank McDonald often making the same points) does not suggest his views are part of an oppressed, repressed, besieged, censored etc etc. Mary Raftery had an IT column for a couple of years mostly writing about the subject on which she is an expert. The fact that the paper also printed occasional ‘balancing’ material from defenders of the Church (including columnists) doesn’t mean that the Irish Times was or is on the side of the Church against its critics. You must acknowledge that the ruling class is, at most, split on the question of global warming. Views like those of Gibbons do not hold the same status as, say, those of a Marxist economist or (on the other hand) a white supremacist: they are very much part of the acceptable mainstream, albeit subject to more debate than you or he think should be tolerable.

    1. I wouldn’t for a second say that the issue of climate change has been completely marginalised. Not in 2010 anyway. It would be almost impossible for any self respecting news organisation to ignore the mountain of evidence supporting it.

      The problem is, apart from the structural issues of which more below, this need (whether professional or manufactured) to ‘balance’ the debate results in the elevation of disinformation to the status of news.

      It’s my impression that the level of scrutiny apportioned to news informing readers of climate change is far higher than that set to critics of it.

      Media Lens had the following exchange with George Monbiot that addresses the structural challenges facing the mainstream media:

      Last month, Guardian Online hosted a live public debate with George Monbiot. (Live online: Q&A, June 20, 2007; WebX?128@147.djq7ckKAUVO@.775eaab4)

      We posted the following contribution for Monbiot to address:


      The Guardian website today proudly boasts:

      “Over the last 12 months, the GNM [Guardian News and Media] total audience accounted for:

      “20% of all champagne drunk. One in six of all city breaks taken. One in five Acorn ‘Urban Prosperity’. £1 in every £7 spent on computer hardware or software. 1/6 of all MP3 player expenditure.” (

      Andy Pietrasik, the Travel editor, also writes:

      “The section is designed to address the way we travel now:

      “Weekend – for the budget airline generation that takes more short breaks than ever before at home and abroad

      “On Location – for the new generation of jetsetters, who have been inspired to travel to a destination because of a film they have seen.” (

      Doesn’t this make a mockery of the Guardian’s claims to be responding to climate change? Is it really credible to expect a newspaper dependent on corporate advertising for 75 per cent of its revenue to seriously challenge the corporate system of which it’s a part and on which it depends? Why don’t you discuss this inherent contradiction in your journalism?

      David Cromwell and David Edwards – Media Lens

      George Monbiot then cherry-picked the bit he wanted to answer:


      “Doesn’t this make a mockery of the Guardian’s claims to be responding to climate change?”

      Yes, it does.

  5. Looking at what has appeared here since, I’m not sure that I would have second thoughts about “ignoramus” as a term for certain people. Certainly the strange claim that:

    “It’s that his presence there (and his replacement by Frank McDonald often making the same points) does not suggest his views are part of an oppressed, repressed, besieged, censored etc etc”

    really doesn’t bear much scrutiny in the cold light of day, as despite the fact that Fintan O’Toole still has a job there, I don’t think that anyone can with credibility claim that Madam Editor has done anything but push her paper far to the right of where it was.

    Views like those of Gibbons do not hold the same status as, say, those of a Marxist economist or (on the other hand) a white supremacist: they are very much part of the acceptable mainstream, albeit subject to more debate than you or he think should be tolerable.

    John Gibbons is responsible for the conclusions of the IPCC and the broad scientific consensus on global warming? I think that he might just beg to differ. And if nothing else, his arguments are lent more weight by this thread, where the science is being regularly skirted around (where not shrugged off entirely) by those who find it inconvenient, and have (as they admit themselves) no understanding of the scientific method – nor of statists, it appears.

  6. That last should read ” – nor of statistics, it appears.”.

    Medaibite folks, can you see if you can do something about the tiny default font that appears in your comments boxes when typing? cheers.

  7. Oh, EWI… I think it’s arguable that there is no one more associated than myself with the argument that the IT has moved to the right in recent years. If you think my point about coverage of climate science reverses all that then you have clearly mis-read me. See ILR blog for more thoughts on science etc.

  8. Posting as someone who cannot for the life of her comprehend how there can be any doubt now about the existence of AGW, I’m at a loss to know how to engage with those who either think it is all made up or that it is still scientifically in doubt. I realise this statement will send some people dulally but I don’t think that to say AGW is real is any more controversial than saying, as David put when speaking to JG, that there is no argument about the fact of gravity.

    Maybe this information will help:
    Consensus on anthropogenic global warming

    And why it matters – this is just a comment on (okay! okay!)but the poster(who I know has some expertise in this field) nevertheless puts it very well:

    David’s interview with JG is based on the assumption that AGW is a given and the ensuing discussion of the media’s failure to reflect this fact cannot easily be discussed with people who don’t share that conviction!

    Over the last couple of years I’ve been posting high up and low down on blogs and sites a stunningly effective and apposite presentation by Albert Bartlett, Professor Emeritus of Physics at the University of Colorado at Boulder entitled ‘The single greatest failing of the human race is its inability to understand the exponential function’.

    It’s about 55mins long in total, in 8 eight segments and is well worth watching for the entertainment value of it alone.

    I’m offering it here as an alternative angle on the science of the discussion because it highlights just how parlous is the state of our collective thinking and attitude to this issue.

    We interviewed Albert Bartlett but never published it because we had concerns about his Malthusian-leaning views on the solutions to the problems he identified, though his stated position is very much that of the mathematician and scientist that he is. Essentially, he doesn’t think we have much discretion over what must be done, we’ll either do what’s needed or the maths and science will do it for us, regardless of what we think. Anyway, strongly recommend watching the presentation.

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