The Media Spin: Bring Out the Tea Leaves
Thundering predictions of future outcomes are always with us. It is the stock in trade of the politician, the political activist and some others who worry about all sorts of coming disasters, social or otherwise. Some appear to get involved as a hobby. Others, who are serious about their worries, will stay the course for someone apparently needs to worry.
Todays seers are fearful of global warming. The talk shows abound with dire predictions about the earths rising temperature, most recently blaming the devastation of Hurricane Katrina on warmer waters. When was the last time you heard of a prediction that wasnt dire? It couldnt have been in 1975, when there were dire predictions in the media about global cooling. Yes, cooling was the great fear and network news cable wouldnt be around for another five years made things sound as if we were in for it.
The networks werent the only doomsayers. Newsweek published an article that year appearing to sum up conclusions of scientists that not only was global cooling a possibility but that resulting crop failures would be catastrophic. The article could have had many an activist break into a cold sweat of agreement.
Newsweek quoted a scientists opinion that the temperature decline had taken the planet about a sixth of the way toward the Ice Age average. The article said other scientists thought of the cooling as a return to the little ice age between 1600 and 1900. Not only did the scientists and seers make their case then for cooling, but this was accompanied by as much technical jargon and seeming proof as we see today about warming. They thought this could begin within, say, ten years.
That was 1975. No cooling yet.
The media meisters should occasionally read their own archives. Future embarrassing gaffes would be thus avoided. But they have forgotten all that business about global cooling. The style now is global warming.
Some Russian scientists say global cooling, not warming, will happen and theyre putting their rubles on the line. Thus, there is some agreement among scientists who are not afraid of being seen as mavericks or being drummed out of a scientific organization or two for heresy.
Activists understand the need to demand things far beyond what they hope to achieve. But human inertia means the changes take time or may never happen at all. The outcome may actually prove all the sturm und drang was far off the mark.
How can one believe to the bottom of ones soul that there is something to the arguments when scientists on both sides of the issue are never far from a talk show? Much yelling and interrupting results and we are left still wondering about the true facts of the subject.
Cooling and heating are all part of the earths natural cycle and its due to the suns periodic changes, say some scientific thinkers. Their detractors believe they have been sitting too close to a microwave oven and point to human intervention on an unprecedented scale. But when cooler heads debate, heating and cooling cycles sound believable enough to take to the bank.
The belief of the moment is like slow-motion hysteria with strong political overtones. How much we should believe of all the science we see, read and hear about is a difficult thing to know. How much is junk science and how much holds water is central to the discussion. Dont depend on the media to shine the light of understanding on any of it; theyre too busy arranging the next yell-fest.
It may be fashionable to believe that global warming is presently upon us. It was fashionable in 1975 to believe just the opposite.
Opinion leaders lead the fashion of the moment for various reasons. I tend to think people may have become just skeptical enough of some of the drumbeaters and certain media to think for themselves and look more closely into the subject.
Warming to this present idea may give cold comfort when the next fashion rolls around.
And so the media spin.
David Goodnow is a veteran reporter and former CNN anchor. He serves as an adviser to the Business & Media Institute.