There’s bad journalism and then there’s bad journalism

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.

According to Banagher Concrete Ltd, the company who produce the DPT’s precast segments (and confirmed by The Irish Concrete Federation):

“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.

7 thoughts on “There’s bad journalism and then there’s bad journalism

  1. Who’d have thought Myers was such a lover of the environment all of a sudden? Such qualms don’t strike him when it comes to the Corrib project and the vast environmental and social disruption it involves, not to mention the free gift of gas to Shell to sell back to whomever they wish. No mention either of the NRA’s lunatic obsession with building motorways across every scrap of undeveloped greenfield they can find, and their complete lack of transparency and accountability when it comes to just where all those billions have gone, and why so many motorways are needed for such a small country.

    It’s not as if Metro North were announced yesterday – the plan has been in existence for years now, and its flaws were just as apparent when it was announced. Yet, just as dishonest and disingenuous as ever, Myers chooses to make it the subject of his daily self-promoting sinecure to the exclusion of any sane analysis of the wider problems of which it is a symptom, namely, a transport and development policy which serves short-term political interests at the expense of public utility.

    The “roads programme,” which is simply a vastly expensive revenue-generator for politically-connected corporate interests, is perhaps the most egregious symptom of this, devised as it was without case studies or background research of any kind, subject to no oversight, and serving as a black hole which the taxpayers must endlessly fill. Myers, fancy applying your journalistic acumen to that subject? No, thought not.

  2. I guess it’s difficult to be consistent when you’re expected to produce an article every day purporting to express some original contrarian view when in reality its just repeating something Jeremy Clarkson said 10 years ago.

    I can only presume he supports O’Leary’s suggestion of another lane on the M50 instead of the Metro.

    If the Irish Independent wasn’t around he’d just be faffing around Merrion Sqaure scaring pigeons.

    [I’m can’t say I’m fully behind the Metro at all, but it is a public transport solution, for a city that needs one]

    1. Given that the Metro seems to be another excuse to sink huge amounts of money into an engineering project that isn’t supported by any kind of needs assessment, it might make more sense to create new DART lines instead. I was never in favour of the LUAS, since it seemed like very little in return for €700 million, and the main reason for building it in the first place was that so it looked like Dublin had on-street rail when it was shown on television. I think some hard questions should have been asked by news media for a long time now. Here are some of them:

      Why is Ireland the most expensive country in the world to build roads in?

      Why does Ireland need so many greenfield motorways when there are existing roads that need upgrading and maintenance?

      Why is public transport policy focused on expensive, partial and piecemeal solutions that take 20 years to implement from the initial proposal, by which time they will have lost any relevance they may have had? (Yes, the proposal for a light rail system for Dublin had been bandied around for at least that long, and the LUAS is what we got.)

      Why do planning decisions, whether of motorways or of yet another destined-to-be-empty office or apartment complex, always seem to coincide with the needs of developers?

  3. I can offer an answer to two of those questions: the price of land / property and bad planning (leading to ribbon development).

    Public transport policy has to be intergrated with road network policy, if its quicker to get somewhere by road the railway network will suffer.

  4. Isn’t it distinctly odd how these establishment qualms often seem to concern services, such as railways or hospitals (but not airport runways) to be located in north Dublin?

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