The Narrative

Booker is in form, as usual, as he talks about Nelson Mandela: media narratives are “fraudulent concoctions of artifice”, and a prime function of journalism, to see through them. The writer Nicholas Taleb has long sections attacking the narrative problem—our ‘crippling dislike for the abstract’ becomes the excuse for journalists to weave narratives and ‘convey the impression of causality’.The story of global warming is inextricably linked to the narrative.

In academic circles, it is openly conceded that global warming is imperceptible and ‘unobtrusive’ at human timescales. It is not ‘visible to the public except through the media’ (e.g., see page 28 here). While with all issues, newspapers educate their audience to some extent, nowhere as in global warming have newsmen so completely embraced the teacher’s role. And yet, as journalist, he or she is supposed to cross-question the same source, check its claims and report on it.

The compromising of the journalist’s position creates a two-fold problem. Firstly, control over ‘the narrative’, a misleading fiction to begin with, is wrested away from the journalist. Preferred, official explanations constantly emerge as sanctioned supporting pillars of the climate meta-narrative. The expectation is that journalists participate in propping them up as stenographers.  The Climategate emails provides numerous examples where activist scientists desired control over every point in the narrative. The IPCC and its modus operandi in the release of reports are a prime example.

Second is the constant assault on global warming journalists’ position by a pernicious ideology masquerading as principle namely, ‘false balance‘. Again, the theory is that false balance journalists fail to educate their audience, a job that is not theirs in the first place. Whatever its rationale for self-justification the solution, false balance avoidance, amounts to scientists telling journalists that only they be allowed as the source and everyone else be excluded.

In global warming, activist scientists seek control of the story, the actors and the narrative. They’ve gotten used to it over the years. This is reflected in Booker’s experience: the ‘ruthless discrediting of critics’, the pushing of a one-sided “narrative”, and the abhorrence of honest dialogue.

Good journalism, like good science, is the antithesis of narrative. Good journalism destroys narratives.


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