Having published the results of its 12-part investigation into the leaked/hacked climate scientist e-mails at the University of East Anglia, the Guardian is now inviting “web users to annotate the manuscript to help us in our aim of creating the definitive account of the controversy.” It’s a kind of public version of peer review for something that has been so public already that the issues at stake have gotten lost in the din.
I haven’t read the full report, which concludes (not surprisingly) that the whole fracas was a PR disaster for climate science, but that it has not at all damaged the solidity of the scientific case for anthropogenic climate change. (Yet the silliness continues even in Fox News et al’s weather reports.) But The Wonk Room’s assessment of it as A Case Of Classic SwiftBoating (How The Right-Wing Noise Machine Manufactured ‘Climategate’) captures at least part of it. If you recall, the attack campaign by “Swift Boat Veterans Against John Kerry,” much of it based on unproven allegations and unsupported smears, helped sink the 2004 Kerry presidential campaign, leaving his campaign team with too little time to turn popular response around. The mass media reaction, then as now, involved too little critical analysis of claims and too much “following the leader.” This only tells us what we already knew about the American media, though it strengthens the case for a stronger left and progressive presence in the media landscape.
U.S. television’s few spaces for progressive-leaning critical analysis are already dwindling, with Bill Moyers and David Brancaccio both scheduled to end their shows on PBS. The significant exception is MSNBC, whose conversion to the liberal left still surprises me, given the network’s ownership by armsmaker General Electric (with a minority share held by Microsoft), and I keep wondering how long that will last. As Robert Parry has put it, “There is, after all, a big difference between Murdoch’s News Corporation’s longstanding commitment to a right-wing perspective on Fox News and General Electric experimenting with a lineup of a few liberals after other ratings strategies had failed.” Part of the problem is that Olbermann, Maddow, Matthews, et al. too often come off as predictable and repetitive — the left version of Fox News — which though I enjoy watching it, is not necessarily going to convince the unconvinced.
But Maddow can be brilliant, and it’s great to have a bit of European-style political diversity in the mass media landscape. Now if there was more of a unified infrastructure — not marching in lockstep, but at least in communication with each other — of progressive think-tanks and political pressure groups of the kind that the Right has built up over the last 40 years (thanks to billions from the Scaifes, Olins, Koches, Bradleys, et al), maybe that media diversity can hold out for a while, and even expand. Relying on philanthropy is ultimately not a very good answer to a desperate need for more democracy. But surely the George Soroses of the world could be convinced that science, environment/health, justice/fairness, and good governance — the cornerstones of today’s progressive left — are all principles worth supporting. (I know that “progressive left” hasn’t always meant all those things, but it’s a good time to come to an agreement that it does, or should, today.)