There is a clear difference between ‘bad journalism’ and ‘bad journalism’.
The first type might be better described as lazy journalism, the kind of thing popular tweeter @badjournalism enjoys highlighting. It’s very entertaining, but it rarely tells us anything particularly interesting about why we read what we read in the newspapers. The second results from a convergence of a combination of ‘filters’. These filters are explained in detail by Herman and Chomsky in Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media; and some are discussed in our MediaShots and interviews.
Kevin Myers, writing in the Irish Independent, is like cupid to these two forms of bad journalism. Skilfully combining a prior judgement made on a particular issue that fits into a unique right wing anti-pro-whateversuits-authoritarian narrative that the Irish Independent readers allow themselves to be subjected to each day and a wilful use and misuse of facts or things he made up in order to bolster that fundamental.
In this particular article Myers has chosen the day when the countries most indebted bank recorded “one of the worst half year performances of any Irish company” (€8.2 bn for the first six months of the year) to lambast government and specifically Green Party governance on the basis of its public transport policy.
This case of alleged incompetence, there have been many of course, centres around plans to build a commuter rail line in the north of the city. He faults the plan on a number of points, but the two central ones are cost and environmental impact. The first is no surprise, capital expenditure is not very popular in the press at the moment, the second comes as a bit of shock, given it comes from a journalist who wrote of Global Warming:
“The biggest threat to mankind is probably less from “global warming” than from the hysterical myths about it which have besotted and beguiled the world’s scientific community.” [Kevin
Myers, Irish Independent, 06/01/10]
But in reading a bit further it becomes clear that environmental impact is not so much a concern for our habitat as a tool with which to beat a designated enemy, and it is useful in this respect because of the contradiction it poses for the Green Party’s environmental credentials.
In order to back up this second point he writes:
“What’s really fascinating is that this proposal emanates from the Greens, because they are committed to public transport by rail as an ideological dogma. But this is not just any kind of rail: it runs underground, which means that a tunnel will be built to Dublin Airport, essentially parallel to the existing, and already under-utilised, port tunnel. Let’s use the Chesapeake Tunnel as a comparison. Its 23 miles required 100 million tonnes of concrete. The Necro North tunnel, however, will probably be one-third the length of the Chesapeake. Let’s be conservative, and call it a quarter.
That means 25 million tonnes of concrete, for the tunnel alone, and not including the stations (least of all the huge Dart-Luas underground interchange at the Green). Roughly 20pc of concrete is cement, which means around five million tonnes. But cement-manufacture is one the most CO2-intensive processes known to man. So, making five million tonnes of cement releases some four millions tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
But the whole country produced just 70 million tonnes of carbon dioxide in 2006 — levels already more than 25pc higher than the allowable emissions for the period 2008-2012, according to our submission to the UN climate change authorities. Yet instead of cutting emissions, we are proposing a scheme that will probably add 6pc to them through cement manufacture alone.” [Kevin
Myers, We don’t need BP to go prospecting in our waters to face ruin, Metro North will do it, Irish Independent, 01/09/10]
The first question that came to my mind was whether the Chesapeake Tunnel is actually the real name of a tunnel or whether it was another humourless renaming of a tunnel, namely the Dublin Port Tunnel.
Well, as it happens there is a Chesapeake Tunnel. It’s full name is the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, built in 1964 and connecting “Virginia’s Eastern Shore with the Virginia mainland at Virginia Beach near Norfolk.” That’s Virginia in the United States by the way. And, as far as I can tell there isn’t another Chesapeake Tunnel anywhere else in the world. A strange choice of a comparison perhaps, but lets not get suspicious just yet.
“The Bridge-Tunnel measures 17.6 miles (28.4 km) and is considered the world’s largest bridge-tunnel complex. Construction of the span required undertaking a project of more than 12 miles of low-level trestle, two 1-mile tunnels, two bridges, almost 2 miles of causeway, four manmade islands and 5-1/2 miles of approach roads, totaling 23 miles.” [chesapeake bay bridge-tunnel, bridge-tunnel facts]
So the tunnel section of this particular piece of infrastructure is only two miles long. That poses a little bit of a problem. It is quite difficult to make a like for like comparison if the projects are entirely dissimilar. Now I don’t know where Myers’ figure for “100 million tonnes of concrete” came from, but it likely has a lot to do with the 5,189 concrete piles used to support the 20 km long bridge over water with a depth between 25-100 ft. But that’s entirely irrelevant, you just simply can’t compare a bridge with a tunnel.
On the other hand the Dublin Port Tunnel (DPT), you would have thought, is a more appropriate project to make the sort of comparison Myers is attempting.
“The lining consists of 3,037 rings with an internal diameter of 10.84m and a thickness of 350mm. Each ring is made up of six segments, weighing 8 tonnes each, and one key segment weighing 2.3 tonnes.”
So that’s 3,037 rings multiplied by six segments at 8 tonnes and one at 2.3 tonnes, which works out at 152,761 tonnes.
If I was a paid journalist and my articles were read by up to 560,000 people I’d probably go and check all these figures with the sources, but I’m not, so I won’t.
According to another report, a press release provided by DPT, the rings are about 1.7m wide, which seems about right. So that means 3,037 segments covers 5.16 km (the total length of the tunnel is about 9km, twin bore, but presumably the cut and cover sections are constructed differently, either way, it doesn’t matter the section weights are all that applies).
Now, the proposed Metro North includes approximately 10 km of tunnel, requiring 5,882 segments. Therefore based on the above figures, that works out at 295,864 tonnes.
Which is about 24,704,413 tonnes less than Myers’ estimate.
20% of this figure is 59,172 tonnes and if “making five million tonnes of cement releases some four millions tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere” then making 59,172 tonnes releases some 47,338 tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
Which, if you hadn’t guessed before reading it, makes the rest of the article complete and utter balderdash.
But what does this tell us about the Irish Independent? Very little we didn’t already know.