Media Masqurerade

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That supreme satirist William Schwenk Gilbert – of Gilbert and Sullivan fame – once remarked that “things are seldom what they seem – skim milk masquerades as cream.” Gilbert understood that you ought to be skeptical of cream when it’s defined by marketers of cream. Likewise, you shouldn’t let a newspaper headline focus your world view. The priorities of most headline writers are – in descending order – sales, ideolog~ and finally the fluttering, illusive bird of truth.

Case in point: my hometown paper ran a story headlined “Winter of 2005-2006 is warmest on record for Canada.” Bad news for the longevity of Antarctic glaciers, but great news for the National Popsicle Council, which prays for long, hot summers. And heated headlines for the eco-lobby.

I read the story and learned that temperatures have only been measured since 1948 (and 60 years of measurements is a blink of the climatological eye), and that Canada will spend the next year examining the data. Is it an aberration or evidence of a trend? Only a government or a similar stumbling bureaucracy could spend a year looking at 58 numbers to answer that question. I mean, how long can you juggle 58 numbers? They’re either – to put it in scientific terms – sort of ascend- ing, sort of descending, or sort of random.

That very same morning of March 14, the Wall Street Journal ran a story on the plight of shivering inhabitants of Beijing. The Chinese government, it seems, is in the utility business; and naturally it doesn’t do a great job. Can you imagine the Commissar of Heating trying to decide how much of his limited hot water to pump into each of 12 million radiators? People are freezing. The Journal describes Beijingers wrapped in blankets, hugging lukewarm hot water pipes, even cuddling with each other (possibly illegal, since the state only allows one child per family). Anything to stay warm. The article also mentions that this March of 2006 has been”colder than usual.”

A satanic editor attuned to global cooling (instead of warming) could have led off this article about government ineptitude with black climatic headlines. He could have presented it as a weather story.
Heating, cooling, we’re at the mercy of the media and their passions. Things are seldom what they seem. Big black headlines always scream.

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