As well as my Courier-Mail piece on privatisation published yesterday, I had this one, at the Guardian on the obsolescence of the late 19th and 20th century idea of the Press (or the media) as an institution with special rights and responsibilities.
The last time I heard news of Stephen Parker, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Canberra, he was standing up to the Oz and its editor Chris Mitchell who had threatened to sue journalist and UC academic Julie Posetti for accurately reporting remarks made by a former Oz journalist in a public conference. That episode is worth remembering any time anyone suggests that the Oz is a newspaper (in the traditional sense of the term), let alone an advocate for free speech. It is, as I’ve said many times, a dysfunctional blog that is, for some reason, printed on broadsheet paper.
In this instance, Parker was doing exactly what you would expect of a university leader: defending an academic doing her job from outside interference. Sadly, in Australia these days, that can’t be taken for granted. The rise of managerialism has thrown up a number of VCs (or now, in the US mode, Presidents) who would instinctively side with Chris Mitchell in such a dispute.
That kind of outright betrayal of university values is still not the norm. On the other hand, given the financial pressure under which all universities have been operating for years, it is unsurprising that most VCs have been keen to support proposals for “deregulation” of fees, even though, as is inevitable with this government, they are poorly thought out and certain to be inequitable in practice. The lead, as I mentioned, has been taken by Ian Young of ANU. Others have their doubts, I think, but have kept quiet.
I’m happy to say that Parker has been the first to break ranks on this issue, writing in The Age that
An earlier generation of vice-chancellors would have stood up for students. I say, reject the whole set of proposals, on their behalf, and then let’s talk.
I hope his bravery leads others to follow.
Most people misrepresented by the tabloid press have little recourse. Defamation actions are slow, risky and don’t in any case produce a proper retraction. The Press Council and similar bodies are self-defence clubs for the media. And letters to the editor are a waste of time, if they are printed at all.
But if you’re a major celebrity like George Clooney, your response is newsworthy. After the Mail Online published a false claim about his impending marriage, followed by a weaselly apology, Clooney called them out, making it clear that this website (and its associated print version ) have the same degree of credibility as the National Inquirer and similar rags.
Of course, anyone who was paying attention already knew that. The Daily Mail runs all kinds of nonsense, from baseless gossip about the famous, to anti-science on all kinds of topics, from antivaxerism to “Frankenfoods” nonsense about GM crops , to climate denialism.
My guess is that most readers are aware of this, much like followers of professional wrestling. They enjoy malicious/salacious gossip that panders to their prejudices. If some it is true, so much the better. If not, it’s still entertaining.
Only a fool would actually believe anything printed in this rag. But climate denialism makes fools out of its adherents, who have to believe a nonsense conspiracy theory to make any kind of sense of their position. So, it’s not so surprising that people who would correctly dismiss 90 per cent of what’s published in the Mail credulously reproduce what it prints on climate change.
The leading sucker in this respect is Andrew Bolt (unless he’s in on the joke, too in which case his readers are doubly suckered). But he’s followed by the usual suspects, notably including the Oz, Tim Blair and Miranda Devine.
fn1. Apparently the Mail tries to maintain a multiple branding model in which the print version is supposed to lie only occasionally while the online version lies all the time. I can’t see this working for long.
fn2. As previously discussed, there are plenty of serious issues around GM food. But the kind of nonsense implied by terms like “Frankenfoods” has been thoroughly debunked by now.
A while back, I commented that the Oz was turning into a dysfunctional group blog, like Catallaxy on a bad day. Now, it appears this piece of mild hyperbole has become literally true. The Oz has turned into a print version of Catallaxy, recycling their posts in support of tobacco industry propaganda. This really is Catallaxy at its predictable worst. The IPA, well represented there, started its career in science denialism with attacks on health scientists and, in particular, denial of the dangers of passive smoking. Like so many other tobacco industry fronts, it diversified into climate denial in the 1990s, using the same tricks and tropes.
I’m not sure if Catallaxy is the only blog source for the new Oz. The papers obsessive coverage of the AWU/Gillard case, which is looking rather quaint given the revelations of much more recent and clear-cut corruption on both sides of politics, seems to be a mixture of in-house stuff and lifts from the various extreme wingnut blogs devoted to the issue. In any case, it’s hard to tell the difference.
fn1. As previously agreed, no personal attacks on Catallaxy members, please.
Along with the rest of the neocon crew, Andrew Bolt is blaming the collapse of the Iraqi state on Obama’s withdrawal of US troops in 2011. Exactly how Obama was supposed to repudiate an agreement signed by Bush, and maintain an occupation force against the wishes of the Iraqi government (he tried, but failed to negotiate an extension) is not explained. But, no matter.
At least Bolt and the rest warned us that Iraq was still too fragile to be left on its own, and that an indefinite occupation was needed. Well not exactly. Here he is in 2009, gloating over the fact that Obama was going slow on withdrawal and thereby disappointing his supporters. That could be read either way, I guess, but there’s no warning that Bush’s timetable needed changing.
More striking is this piece from 2007, claiming that “the war has been won“. Here’s what he has to say about future prospects
Violence is falling fast. Al Qaida has been crippled.
The Shiites, Kurds and Marsh Arabs no longer face genocide.
What’s more, the country has stayed unified. The majority now rules.
Despite that, minority Sunni leaders are co-operating in government with Shiite ones.
There is no civil war. The Kurds have not broken away. Iran has not turned Iraq into its puppet.
And the country’s institutions are getting stronger. The Iraqi army is now at full strength, at least in numbers.
The country has a vigorous media. A democratic constitution has been adopted and backed by a popular vote.
Election after election has Iraqis turning up in their millions.
Add it all up. Iraq not only remains a democracy, but shows no sign of collapse.
If I were an American reading that, I would have said it was time to bring the boys and girls home, as Bush agreed to do in October 2008.
The ABC News report on the government’s legislation to repeal section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, motivated by the Bolt case, makes interesting reading. Foreshadowing the legislation designed to prevent future cases of this kind, AG George Brandis notes that it defends “the right to be a bigot“.
Brandis didn’t draw the obvious implication, but he didn’t have to. Bolt has made a career out of pandering to the bigotry of his audience. As with others in the crowded field of rightwing journamalism, it’s not clear whether Bolt himself is a bigot, or whether he just plays one on the Internet, but the act is loud enough to please his ignorant and bigoted readers, and skilful enough to earn him plenty of friends among people who should know enough to be ashamed of themselves.
I don’t have a fixed view on the legislation in question, but my feeling is that racial bigotry should, at the least, be an aggravating factor in cases of individual defamation. If that rule were applied, the plaintiffs in the Bolt case would almost certainly have received substantial damages in individual defamation actions, given the findings that Bolt’s racially loaded claims about them were factually false and “not made reasonably and in good faith”.
Update I should have mentioned that “bigot” is a euphemism for the R-word, which our defenders of free speech insist must never be applied to anyone, with the exception of one person who is excluded here by virtue of Godwin’s Law.
In the latest issue of Gerard Henderson’s Sydney Institute Quarterly, Adam Creighton, economics correspondent at the Oz, “explains why most Australians pay no net tax”. That’s a striking conclusion, so I checked it out. Creighton has discovered that most Australians get about as much back in transfer payments and public services as they pay in taxation. The poor get a bit more, and the rich a bit less.
To save Creighton some work in future, can I suggest he consider the budget identity constraint “Expenditure = Income”. Since the government spends on services and transfer payments roughly the same amount as it raises in tax revenue, it’s obvious that, for the average Australian the same identity must hold, with income renamed as “tax paid” and expenditure as “transfer payments and public services”.
Next up: Why there is no net travel into the CBD
fn1. Taking account of the seignorage from inflation, returns on assets, intertemporal transfers through debt etc, this rough equality becomes an identity. Please, no arguments about deficits, and especially about MMT. The point of this post is a really simple, and doesn’t need this kind of complication.
Andrew Bolt (no link) has repeated the lie that I drastically overestimated the impact of a carbon tax on global warming. In fact, it was Bolt who was out by a factor of 100 (Full details here). Rather than rehash this dispute, I’d thought I’d list some of Bolt’s greatest hits, or rather misses.
* Here he is, confusing the stratosphere and the troposphere, and claiming to have disproved climate science as a result
* Here, being fooled by a David Rose claim so absurd that even the Mail on Sunday had to retract it
* Here, denying the fact that Arctic ice is disappearing fast, a fact that is now regularly proved by sailing through the previously impassable Northwest Passage, and by the intense international negotiations about sovereignty over the newly opened waterways
That’s just from my blog and just for the last five years. I haven’t even got to the Iraq war, where he combined credulous faith in repeated announcements of victory with vicious denunciations of all who predicted, correctly, that the war would be disaster, and documented that disaster as it unfolded.
Anyone who believes anything Bolt says is a fool. But I suspect that, like Bolt himself, most of his fans know he is talking nonsense and don’t care. He’s a tribal ally, and he’s good with snark and slander, and that’s good enough for them.
I’ve been a bit slow linking to Nicholas Gruen’s joint Crikey subscription offer, but hopefully not too late.
There’s more I can’t locate now. Enjoy and suggest more in comments.
We’ve been used to imagining the global supply of euphemisms as limitless, but if Dennis Shanahan keeps at it, the world will be running short by the time the Abbott government leaves office. In a single column (Google it) he manages to refer to “accusations of broken promises”, “the shift on the Gonski education promise”, “the repudiation of Labor’s Gonski education promises”, “The management of the Gonski “unity ticket” on education funding”, ” accusations of broken promises” (again), “The readjustment of expectations on Gonski” “the painful Gonski process” and “a cusp of credibility”. Given his leader’s penchant for three word slogans, perhaps a three-letter word starting with “L” might be what Shanahan is reaching for here.
Among those hyperventilating about the ABC decision to publish the information about the spying fiasco, Andrew Bolt has been every bit as vociferous and hyperbolic as you would expect. Of course this is silly: the UK based Guardian was going to publish anyway, and if they had, for some reason, chosen not to do so, Snowden and his team could have given it to the Indonesian press, which would have been an even worse outcome for the Australian government.
In this context, it’s worth recalling that Bolt wasn’t always so highminded about protecting our nation’s secrets. Back in 2003, when Andrew Wilkie resigned from the Office of National Assessments because he could not stand the way Iraq intelligence was being “sexed up”, Bolt was denouncing anyone and everyone who suggested that the Iraq war was anything other than a brilliant success based on overwhelming evidence. Somehow, he received a leaked copy of a report written by Wilkie, which, with his characteristic method of selective quotation, he used to attack Wilkie’s credibility. The Howard government (which could not, of course, quote the original report) used Bolt’s article to attack Wilkie. As Mike Seccombe observed at the time
You have to admire the neat circularity of it: top secret information is leaked to a government-friendly journo, who puts bits of it deemed damaging to Wilkie on the public record. Downer’s office briefs Senator Macdonald using that information.
This is part of a more general information. When secrets embarrass the government, leaking them is a major crime. When the government wants to attack its opponents, leaks are just part of politics. I don’t have a problem with journalists who publish leaked information without fear or favor. But someone like Bolt, willing to be used as a conduit for leaks that make the government look good, and then to pontificate about the immorality of leaks that make the government look bad, isn’t a journalist – he’s a lackey.
And looking back again, it’s worth remembering that Wilkie was right, that every word Bolt wrote about Iraq turned out to be utterly, howlingly wrong, and that he has never apologised or retracted. The credibility of anything he writes now should be assessed in that light.
As I said in my last post, Tony Abbott has set himself the tightrope-walking task of maintaining his government’s official endorsement of mainstream climate change, while keeping his denialist base happy. Having made a mess of this with his bushfire comments, he had a chance to rectify the situation when he gave an interview to denialist and conspiracy theorist Andrew Bolt. Newscorp ran in under the headline “Andrew Bolt tackles the PM on the big issues”, but Bolt was playing touch, not tackle.
The interview was a sycophantic exercise in mutual admiration, with all the tough questions you might expect from, say, Anne Summers interviewing Julia Gillard or Kevin Rudd interviewing himself. But such interviews present smart politicians with the chance to play against type, by disagreeing with the interviewer on an issue dear to the base, but politically problematic for a would-be statesman. Presented with a soft lob question about the bushfires, Abbott could have taken the chance to define his own position as the “sensible centre”, by repudiating both Bolt’s denialism and the “alarmism” of those stressing the link between bushfires and climate. Bill Clinton famously did this when he denounced radical rap artist Sister Souljah, signalling the shift to the right undertaken by the Democratic Leadership Council of which he was part.
Instead, Abbott chose to dig himself deeper, extending his denialism on bushfires and further claiming that the observation of record high temperatures is not evidence of climate change. I mentioned in my last post that he would have a problem in formulating a response to the likelihood that 2013 will turn out to be the warmest year in the Australian observational record. He’s chosen his answer now, one that is unlikely to carry much credibility except with those already committed to denialism.
His summary of climate science, previously reported as “crap” has been replaced by “hogwash”, perhaps in deference to the sensitivities of Greg Hunt, who took strong exception to being confronted with the previous term by a BBC interviewer. I won’t link to Bolt, but the relevant passages are quoted over the fold.
I’ve been struck by the fairly straight reporting of the IPCC Working Group 1 report on the physical science of climate change. Even Graham Lloyd at the Oz could find only one para for delusionist Benny Peiser in his report, headlined “Science solid on global warming, IPCC declares“. What happened to the much anticipated delusionist counterattack?
I think we have the Daily Mail to thank for the no-show. As readers will recall, the Mail ran a story by David Rose under the headline “‘World’s top climate scientists confess: Global warming is just HALF what we said”. This was obviously absurd, and the Mail was forced to retract, but not before the story had been circulated throughout the denialosphere, notably including Bolt, the Oz, and the Torygraphs (both UK and Oz). The Oz eventually retracted, but Bolt didn’t bother. This misfire made it pretty much impossible to get much traction out of the modest adjustments that were actually contained in the report, such as reducing the lower bound estimate of climate sensitivity to 1.5 degrees (it was increased from 1.5 degrees to 2.0 degrees in the Fourth Assessment Report0
What’s interesting here is the fact that such obvious nonsense as Rose’s article got such a credulous reception. The idea that estimates of warming since 1950 could be out by a factor of two, or that a few years of additional data could change them substantial is entirely implausible, and a “confession of error” unsupported by a quote ought to raise alarm bells. Multiple levels of stupidity are needed to explain this. First, the majority of delusionists are simply innumerate, and ignorant of the most basic facts about data (we saw this with the claims about “no significant warming” since 1993). Second, the confirmation bias that affects everyone is magnified to a pathological extent in the parallel universe created by the right. Third, the tribal character of the movement means that there are no incentives to correct error. Presumably there are at least some delusionists who must have thought the “confession of error” story too good to be true. But no one would have thanked them for raising doubts. Whereas real climate scientists disagree vigorously among themselves (though all but a handful agree that the evidence for the basic fact of human-caused climate change is overwhelming), “sceptics” never criticise any claim on their own side, however absurd.
Most obviously, Judith Curry who was quoted in Rose’s article (not as a source for the bogus claims) must have realised it was nonsense. But she implicitly endorsed it, after its publication, but before its retraction. Note that, while saying the article quoted her accurately and would not be welcomed by the IPCC, Curry carefully avoids
mentioning taking a position on its main claim, which she must have known to be false (she mentions the dispute briefly, at the bottom of here post, but offers no opinion). This is fairly typical of her, and her role-model Richard Lindzen.
But in this case, it was too clever by half. A smart delusionist if one existed would have jumped on Rose’s error and used it to build up some credibility for the future.
fn1. Peiser is, or was, a social anthropologist, and, according to Wikipedia, is currently a visiting fellow (not a real job, I suspect) at the University of Buckingham (definitely not a real university). He’s therefore eminently qualified to represent the delusionist viewpoint on issues of physical science and the interpretation of statistical evidence.
fn2. To be boringly clear, I’m fully aware that Buckingham is an accredited institution with lecturers, degrees and so on, legally entitled to call itself a university. It’s still not a real university.
… is trending on Twitter, thanks to the appalling UK Daily Mail, which ran a full length attack on the late Ralph Miliband, socialist academic and father of Opposition Leader Ed Miliband. On the strength of a scathing diary entry Miliband wrote as a 17-year old refugee, and his opposition to the Falklands War, the Mail claimed that Miliband “hated Britain”. Illustrating the proverb about glass houses, the attack only served to draw attention to the fact that whereas Miliband served in the Navy in World War II, the Mail backed Hitler and the Blackshirts throughout the 1930s, and has continued to push racist hatred ever since (unsurprisingly, it has seized on the spurious notion of “political correctness.” 
The Mail’s attack on Miliband has divided the UK right into three groups (google x+Mail+miliband)
* Those who have condemned this appalling and dishonest slur, including Michael Heseltine and Nick Clegg
* Those who have stuck to a weaselly line scripted by Tory minders that “of course Miliband should defend his father” such as David Cameron, William Hague and Boris Johnson
* Those who have backed the Mail all the way, notably including James Delingpole, Rod Liddle and Michael Gove
It’s notable that all those I’ve listed in the third group are prominent climate delusionists. As we’ve seen again recently, the Mail is the source for many of the lies about climate change that are reproduced in the Murdoch press. This is, as they say, no coincidence. Climate delusionism isn’t a mistaken belief about the world, it’s an expression of tribal hatred, all the more effective because most of those who push it know, at some level, that their arguments are false. Putting forth such arguments is an expression of tribal solidarity, like asserting that Obama was born in Kenya. Naturally, the tribal haters love the kind of stuff that the Mail dishes out.
Hopes are often disappointed, but it does seem as if the global party of stupid is starting to reap the whirlwind it has sown. The continued publication of delusional nonsense has produced a rightwing base that embraces delusional strategies like the US shutdown, or attacks on a man’s dead father, in the belief that everyone else will share their positive reaction.
fn1. It’s also being claimed that the father of Mail editor Paul Dacre didn’t serve, but this (sauce for the gander) claim hasn’t been verified AFAIK. Another tidbit is that the Mail was the target of
Churchill’s Stanley Baldwin’s famous jibe that it sought “power without responsibility – the prerogative of the harlot throughout the ages”.
fn2. Gove hasn’t stated this, but he has tried to stop schools teaching anything about climate change. He has the additional motive that his wife has a highly paid job with the Mail.
fn3. It’s a striking commentary on the weakness of people like Bolt and Oz “environment reporter” Graeme Lloyd that, as well as being incapable of telling the truth, they also seem to be unable to come up with original lies.
Along with many others, I pointed out the absurdity of Graham Lloyd’s piece in the Oz, headlined “We got it wrong, says IPCC”. The Oz has printed a “correction”
blaming their absurd error on “the production process”. In the sense that the processes of the Oz, from the hiring of general editor Chris Mitchell and environment “reporter” Graham Lloyd, combined with uncritical reproduction of claims by discredited sources like David Rose “produced” the error. I guess this is true. But, this is part of a consistent pattern. Errors like this have been produced routinely in the past, and will continue to be produced in the future. Regular, but inadequate, retractions are part of this process.
I’ve often observed that the best way to understand Murdoch publications, notably the Oz, is to think of them as dysfunctional rightwing blogs. They’re prone to spectacular meltdowns when subject to the same kind of criticism they happily dish out.
Unattractive as the Oz group are when on the defensive, they are even uglier when celebrating a win. The Murdoch-LNP election victory last week was the signal, among other things for an outburst of climate delusionism on a grand scale. Amid a large pile, it’s hard to go past this piece by Graham Lloyd, with the blaring headline “We got it wrong on warming, says IPCC”.
Those who remember the conventions of 20th century media might read on expectantly, waiting to find a quotation (perhaps a little mangled) from the IPCC or someone associated with it. But there is no quote at all. The opening para says
THE Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s latest assessment reportedly admits its computer drastically overestimated rising temperatures, and over the past 60 years the world has in fact been warming at half the rate claimed in the previous IPCC report in 2007. (emphasis added)
. That would be pretty startling if true. After all, historical temperatures are usually estimated with thermometers, not computers. And while some warming delusionists have tried to claim biases associated with urban heat islands (the most recent effort, led by Anthony Watts, was a total fizzle) an IPCC admission that the planet had only warmed half as much as we thought would be a big story indeed.
Of course, no one from the IPCC is quoted, and we are left with the mysterious “reportedly”. The next para suggests that the report comes from that reliable source, the UK Daily Mail. But having failed 20th century journalistic ethics, the Oz can’t manage that most elementary of blogging functions, a hyperlink. So, it’s necessary to do some digging and discover the source is a column by the egregious David Rose. To cut a long story short, Rose is confusing the historically observed rate of warming since 1950 (an annual rate of 0.12 degrees per decade, almost exactly as reported in 2007) with estimates of the likely future rate of warming (generally about 0.2 degrees per decade). Lloyd continues with more errors than I can be bothered with. More gory details, and further links here.
Those are the terms chosen by young American voters to describe climate change deniers in a poll conducted for the League of Conservation Voters. LCV is obviously pro-environment, but historically nonpartisan, and they used both a Democratic and a Republican pollster.
The fact that, to be accepted in Republican circles, its necessary to be ignorant, out of touch or crazy or, at the very least, deferential to the crazies who dominate that side of politics, is being recognised as a problem for the Republicans and an opportunity for the Democrats, going well beyond the specific issue of climate change.
The climate denial issue came up again in Andrew Bolt’s interview with Kevin Rudd, and I’ve been reminded of his repeated claim that I got estimates of the climate impact of the government’s emission target wrong. In fact, it was Bolt who was wrong, as on almost every topic he touches, in this case, out by a factor of 100.
Since we’ve been discussing Andrew Bolt, I thought I’d dig up another of his columns from ten years ago, in which he denounces all those who criticised the lies he help to propagate. It was published in the Herald-Sun on 9 June 2003, but can now only be found via republications in Internet forums – the link they give is broken. Comment is, I think, superfluous.
At Crooked Timber, Henry Farrell points out that it is now exactly a decade (24 times 5 months) since Charles Krauthammer told us that
Hans Blix had five months to find weapons. He found nothing. We’ve had five weeks. Come back to me in five months. If we haven’t found any, we will have a credibility problem.
Despite being utterly and repeatedly wrong about Iraq, and many other things, Krauthammer is now, as he was then, a prominent columnist at the Washington Post.
What about our own Krauthammers? The leading candidate is surely Andrew Bolt, and a search through the archives finds him denouncing the Left saying, triumphantly “they were wrong”. Those attacked include Carmen Lawrence, Bob Brown, Robert Manne, Andrew Vincent and Paul Dibb. Here’s a typical example of Bolt’s vitriol
NO one tried harder to save Saddam than Greens leader Bob Brown, a notorious scaremonger, who claimed more than 100,000 Iraqi children would die in this war. He also quoted from a leaked UN report which predicted 900,000 refugees. In fact, hardly one Iraqi refugee has fled in four weeks.
Of course, Brown was right.
Bolt is pretty big on demands for retractions. So, has he ever apologized for this appalling, and utterly wrong, attack on the reputations of those who correctly predicted the disastrous outcomes of the Iraq war?
fn1. The News archive doesn’t seem to go back 10 years, so I’ve been using the Factiva database. Google found Bolt’s spray reproduced on the Free Republic (I haven’t heard anything of the Freepers for years, but apparently they are still going). I’d welcome any help with data sources, and also any suggestions for more absurd wrongness from 10 years ago. If there are enough good links, I might make this a regular feature
fn2. From the days of the Iraq debate, I can just imagine someone quibbling about Brown’s reference to “children” and demanding a source that specifies the ages of those who died as a result of this tragedy. Such quibbles, and their authors, will be treated with the contempt they deserve.
The big political news yesterday was a national opinion poll showing, on its face anyway, that Labor would easily win an election held right now. you didn’t see it? I wouldn’t have either, except that it was in my Twitter feed for about five minutes and I happened to be looking at it. AFAICT, none of the major national news organizations even mentioned it. There seem to be a couple of possible reasons for this. One is that some people don’t like Morgan as a pollster (I don’t follow the polls closely enough to have a view on this).
The second is the idea that a result so far out of line with other polls (52.5-47.5 for Labor) must be a “rogue” or “outlier”. This reasoning reflects the fact that political journos still don’t understand stats. It would be sensible to ignore a poll finding if it was the result of a breakdown in sampling procedures, or a biased question. But this is the same poll Morgan has been running for many years, presumably with the same procedures. What is more likely is that, by chance, this particular sample population was more pro-Labor than the population as a whole. Every sampling procedure is subject to this kind of error. But the correct response is not to discard the data, but to collect more, or combine it with existing evidence.
Given four or five of recent polls with results around 53-47 for the coalition, simple averaging suggests that the best estimate would now be around 52-48. A better procedure would be to use a Bayesian model. This guy has done it, and Hey Presto, concludes that the best estimate is 51.9-48.1.
Coming back to the statistical illiteracy of journos, the problem may be put as follows. On the one hand, they know that it would be silly to run a “Labor ahead” story. On the other hand, they don’t have the technical chops to explain Bayesian updating, or even weighted averaging, and to do so would make it impossible to write future stories suggesting that small variations in poll numbers have any meaning.
Even so, I think Tony Abbott has had a lucky break here (as has, in a secondary way, Julia Gillard). The only thing keeping him in his job is the perception that, while he may be unpopular, the LNP are sure to win. Even a single poll challenging that could pave the way for a spill. And if the result were to return Malcolm Turnbull, the outlook for the Gillard government would suddenly get a lot worse.
Journalism academic Julie Posetti has just announced a move from the University of Canberra to the University of Wollongong. This represents a small step up in the status hierarchy, but not exactly front-page news. Except of course, at the Oz, where Posetti ranks high on the enemies list, having induced editor Chris Mitchell to issue absurd threats of a defamation action, based on a tweeted report of statements by a former Oz journalist. So, this story gets the full Oz treatment with references to Posetti’s “notoriety” her “ducking of questions” about the possible move (standard practice when you are in negotiation, AFAIK) and “incidents” that have “rocked” the UC journalism school.
This is pathetic, but typical of what happens when you give a third-rate group blog like The Oz the resources that allow it to pose as a national newspaper.
I really need to get back to the analysis of tax and expenditure options I’ve been working on, but the absurdities of the Oz keep distracting me. Today’s paper runs a front page story claiming “Temperatures were higher 2000 years ago“. The story is based on a study published in Global and Planetary Change, which uses tree ring records to estimate (with lots of caveats about uncertainty) that Northern Hemisphere (presumably land) temperatures were warmer in the 1st Century AD than in the 20th. More precisely, “The first century AD was the warmest 100-year period (+0.60C on average relative to the 1951-1980 mean) of the common era”. Take that, warmists!
There’s are a couple of minor problems with the story. As part of the Murdoch empire, encompassing 20th Century Fox, the Oz has apparently not noticed that the 20th century ended some years ago. And, being prone to printing silliness about pauses in warming, the writer, Graham Lloyd, did not bother to check whether the temperature today is warmer than the 1951-1980 mean. This isn’t hard to do. The US National Climatic Data Center reports global temperatures on a monthly basis. It reports that the Northern Hemisphere land temperature for September 2012 was +1.04 ± 0.26 above the 20th century average (I’ve checked and 1950-80 was about equal to the average for C20 as a whole).
So, the correct headline for the story should have been “Northern Hemisphere warmer than at any time in past 2000 years”
One more point, just for completeness. Readers might reasonably assume that the graphic accompanying the story is taken from the journal article it reports. In fact, it’s credited to the Global Warming Policy Foundation – given the fact that the Oz has linked to it, you don’t need to be Einstein to guess what kind of policies the scientific ex this foundation (headed by Benny Peiser) is pushing.
Update Reader andrewt points us to the actual article. The GWPF graphic is taken from the article, with the addition of a bunch of chartjunk. The article actually focuses on Northern Scandinavia, though its results are broadly consistent with other reconstructions at the hemispheric and global scale. And, while I won’t bother linking, it’s clear that Lloyd has taken his story, and interpretation of the results, from the Anthony Watts “sceptic” site.
The past seems to be catching up with Alan Jones, just when his most recent outrage has caused him more trouble than all the others put together. First, he lost an appeal against a finding that he incited racial hatred in the leadup to the Cronulla riots. Then 2GB got caught in another cash-for-comment scandal. Now he’s been told to go back to journalism school, to learn about checking his facts, in relation to his silly claim that ”The percentage of man-made carbon dioxide Australia produces is 1 per cent of .001 per cent of carbon dioxide in the air.” (Similar claims have been made by Andrew Bolt, and by some commenters at this blog.) As Lenore Taylor observes, if 2GB and Jones really want to check their facts, they’ll have a lot of work ahead of them.
I happened to look at the front page of The Australian today, something I don’t do very often. Of five front-page stories, one was a brief teaser for a business story about Channel 9. The other four were hit pieces on the Federal government. Even a piece on increasing inequality was presented as an attack on Wayne Swan. One (on asylum seekers) was accompanied by an “opinion” piece by Greg Sheridan, notable for the fact that it was more sober and balance than the “news” story on which Sheridan was commenting.
As I’ve said before, I don’t see this as a problem requiring a regulatory solution, as suggested by the Finkelstein Report. Rather, we simply need to recognise that 20th century assumptions about “the press” have ceased to be applicable. The Australian looks like a 20th century newspaper, just as Fox resembles a 20th century US TV network, but both are far more like political blogs in terms of their content and operating procedures.
An obvious implication is that, while Murdoch should be free to publish whatever he likes, his employees should not be accorded any of the special privileges that were routinely accorded to journalists in the 20th century, such as press passes, access to press conferences, special privileges shielding sources and so on. These should either be made available to everyone, or restricted to media organizations willing to commit to factual reporting, fair treatment of the issues in news stories and so on.
The most important asset of the traditional media is not a formal privilege but the assumption that journalists, unlike you and me, have a right to ask questions of perfect strangers on matters of all kinds, and to expect an answer. In a context where the answer is bound to be used dishonestly, this makes no sense.
If I were advising the government at this point, I would suggest a routine policy of “no comment” in response to any question from an employee of News Limited. Obama tried this with Fox News early on, but other news organizations threatened to boycott his press conferences in solidarity and he backed down. That was, I think, a mistake.
When the move to boycott Alan Jones began a week or so ago, the ‘savvy’ conventional wisdom of media experts was that advertisers might pull their ads for a while, but that they would be back as soon the fuss died down. The recent examples of Rush Limbaugh and Kyle Sandilands were cited in support of this claim. I don’t know about Sandilands (is there any info on advertisers who publicly dropped him, then returned?) but I don’t think Limbaugh’s case supports this claim, and the decision of 2GB to run Jones ad-free makes it even more problematic.
In the US, it seems that, far from returning to Limbaugh, big corporations have concluded that advertising on hate radio of any kind is a losing proposition, now that people outside the immediate audience are paying attention to what they are doing. Far from returning to Limbaugh they are pulling ads across the board, in favor of straight news shows, or away from radio altogether. The new model for hate radio is narrowcasting, as practised by Glenn Beck, who relies on his own merchandise and small advertisers. That’s commercially viable in a country as big as the US, but it ensures that Beck remains a marginal figure, with none of the influence he had in his days with Fox. Limbaugh hangs on, but he’s a much diminished figure, who no longer inspires terror, even among Republicans.
The 2GB “ad-free” strategy seems like a panic move. The obvious problem is that you are either ad-free or you are not. So, presumably they are planning on a relaunch, in which a bunch of advertisers return simultaneously, and with a fair bit of publicity. If I were the PR director of a major national company, I don’t think I’d be keen to be part of that. So, their best bet is to line a bunch of rightwing small businesspeople who are willing to take one for the team. Perhaps that will carry him long enough for some bigger companies to sneak back, but I doubt it. The boycott campaigners are seeking commitments to stay away through 2013. With no ads running anyway, making such a commitment, and getting loads of good publicity as a result, seems like a no-brainer for most companies.
Today’s Oz runs the headline, “Carbon tax pushes Brisbane City Council rates up 40pc“, which, as a Brisbane ratepayer, I would have found alarming, if it had been printed in a newspaper, rather than a Murdoch rag. The story, bylined by Rosanne Barrett, reveals that the true number, according to Liberal Lord Mayor Graham Quirk, is 1.8 per cent, out of a total increase of 4.5 per cent. Blame for the ludicrous error must be shared between Barrett, who tried a beatup in her opening line, saying “AUSTRALIA’S biggest council has blamed the carbon tax for almost 40 per cent of its rates increase next financial year” and the Oz subeditor, who, not surprisingly, translated that into a 40 per cent increase in rates, not 40 per cent of a 4.5 per cent increase.
Update The headline has been (silently) corrected to read “Carbon tax helps push Brisbane City Council rates up $55″. Good to see the Oz reads me, though not, as a rule, vice versa. I picked the story up from the Making Environmental News digest service, to which you can subscribe here.
fn1. The numbers are disputed by the Labor Opposition.
This comments thread raises a fun question. If a geomagnetic reversal somehow required the New York Times to be produced in Australia, who would fill the slots of the top reporters and commentators. I’ve started the ball rolling by claiming Krugman’s spot (natch!). But how about Tom Friedman, David Brooks and Maureen Dowd, to name just a few? And there’s no reason to confine yourself to current columnists – do we have a Will Rogers or a Tom Wicker? Feel free to suggest variants.
Just a reminder, this is an occasion for (perhaps mildly malicious) fun, not for defamatory attacks either on NY Times columnists or on their putative counterparts
Showing my dedication to moving with the times, I’ll be staying up late to guest-tweet on #lateline tonight. Covering French elections, tobacco packaging and, inevitably, Peter Slipper.
Update Turned out to be a complete bust from my POV. The whole show (except for an out-of-place Foreign Correspondent style piece on asbestos in Swaziland) was spent on gotcha questions about Slipper, with Roxon playing a straight bat. Nothing on any of the topics where I could have made a useful comment. Apparently, this was unusually bad – #lateline is a trending topic on Twitter tonight, and not in a good way.
A little while ago, I got a message from the Fin to tell me they wouldn’t be running any more columns from me, as they are bringing in some new commentators. Given my run-in with Michael Stutchbury (then at the Oz, now Editor-in-Chief of the Fin) last year, and other changes at the Fin since he came on board, I wasn’t surprised. Still, it’s the end of a long-running association, which started, ironically (at least in the Alanis Morrisette sense of the term) when Michael was opinion editor there. My first column, advocating the exclusion of food from the GST, ran in 1992. I wrote occasional pieces after that, and I was a regular columnist for 15 years, which is a very long stint by Australian standards, at least for someone who isn’t a full-time journalist.
I’ve enjoyed it a lot, and I think I’ve made a useful contribution, but now it’s time to move on. I’ll certainly continue to take part in public debate, through this blog and other media, but this gives me a chance to stop and think more clearly about where I want to go with this part of my life.