Breathe easy, Establishment: the MSM still controls the Narrative (even on Climategate)
posted at 1:27 pm on May 27, 2010 by Karl
That’s one of the lessons from a new study by Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism. Among its findings:
While social media players espouse a different agenda than the mainstream media, blogs still heavily rely on the traditional press – and primarily just a few outlets within that – for their information. More than 99% of the stories linked to in blogs came from legacy outlets such as newspapers and broadcast networks. And just four – the BBC, CNN, the New York Times and the Washington Post accounted for fully 80% of all links. (Emphasis added.)
Conversely, the relationship between Old and New Media is still very much a one-way street:
Across the entire year studied, just one particular story or event – the controversy over emails relating to global research that came to be known as “Climate-gate” – became a major item in the blogosphere and then, a week later, gaining more traction in traditional media.
To put things in perspective, the “traction” was that Climategate was one of three stories that made global warming the third biggest story in the establishment media that week. In contrast, Climategate was the fifth bloggiest story of 2009.
The PEJ study illustrates the vacuity of the complaint that Climategate was overhyped, which later gets lumped into the category of “overhyped or bogus,” as though they are the same thing (For an exploration of the establishment’s hypocrisy on the latter, especially the floating of conspiracy theories, read Ace on the notion of the “neutral story line.”). Had the blogosphere not worked the Climategate story as hard as it did, the establishment likely would have ignored it entirely, in a repeat of the clueless, partisan-looking coverage of other stories originating in the conservative media.
The dismissive coverage of Climategate — and related stories detailing flaws and inaccuraces by the IPCC — by America’s establishment media stands in marked contrast to the coverage given these stories in France and Britain. Some people might look at that gap and ask why the center-left establishment media in America is the exception. Those people do not work at the New York Times, which is blaming the British coverage for the fact that public opinion polling shows people taking global warming less seriously, not only in the UK, but also in the US and Germany.
In NYT-land, the problem is that the public “has eagerly consumed a series of revelations that were published prominently in right-leaning newspapers like The Times of London and The Telegraph and then repeated around the world.” In reality, the story was widely covered across the political spectrum, including a 12-part special investigation by the Guardian that got more critical as it went along.
Indeed, the NYT blandly asserts that “[t]wo independent reviews later found no evidence that the East Anglia researchers had actively distorted climate data, but heavy press coverage had already left an impression that the scientists had schemed to repress data,” hoping the reader won’t notice that the first and second accusations are not mutually exclusive. In contrast, the Guardian called one of these reviews a “rush to judgment” that “dodged key questions” about the scandal. Of course, the Guardian could have been even more critical, but the fact that the American establishment media was far more dismissive says much about where real epistemic closure and political cocooning may be found on this story.
The NYT’s theory is also undermined by the PEJ study. The NYT’s news coverage is just as easily consumed around the world via the Internet as the Times of London, and gets as many links in the blogosphere as the entire British media, excepting only the BBC. Maybe the problem is that even the BBC was running stories about the shoddy computer code the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit used to crank out its dire projections. Or maybe public opinion about global warming is influenced less by the reportage (which varied across nations) and more by the recession felt worldwide. After all, people tend to prioritize the urgent over the important. And people worldwide just witnessed their governments and their financial institutions do the same.
So the good news for the establishment media is that their tiny clique is still controlling the Narrative and almost entirely excluding alternatives. The bad news (for them) is that they cannot force their audiences to buy into that Narrative when reality dictates other priorities.