Sunday, January 09, 2005

When 'balance' means telling lies

In an article in the Columbia Journalism Review science writer Chris Mooney shows how unscrupulous industry front groups and right-wing extremists take advantage of the media's penchant for giving "balanced" coverage. He criticizes the now "prevalent, but lazy form of journalism that makes no attempt to dig beneath competing claims." He makes the case for a more engaged journalism profession and a more thorough checking of the ties, industry and otherwise, of sources quoted. This Cox News Service piece shows you in detail how the industry scam works on the global warming issue.

The only thing I'd quibble with in Mooney's piece is that while he believes the notion of "balanced" coverage of both sides of an issue is a flawed concept, especially in science reporting, he doesn't ever explicitly get out of the "two-sides-to-every-argument" box. As a science writer, he ought to know that sometimes there are three and four and five and even 10 sides to some issues. Of course, it's harder to write about a dispute that doesn't simply involve polar opposites. But I know from his writing that he understands this. We just all need to be explicit about it and try to convince the public that nuanced, multi-dimensional arguments are worth following and understanding.

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