Friday, December 28, 2007

Distorting The Pope's Words:
Fox News, Daily Mail and Drudge Claim Pope Condemns Scientists as the "Prophets of Doom"


There are probably over a billion people out there that would hope that if one person on the planet that could be exempt from the often slanderous and distorting hands of sensationalist reporters it would be the holiest of holies, the Pope. However, that assumption has just been proved wrong. Earlier this month the Vatican released a transcript of a speech given by Pope Benedict XVI. Following the Pope's address The Daily Mail ran the rather sensationalist headline "The Pope condemns the climate change prophets of doom." The Daily Mail described the Pope's speech as:
a surprise attack on climate change prophets of doom, warning them that any solutions to global warming must be based on firm evidence and not on dubious ideology. The leader of more than a billion Roman Catholics suggested that fears over man-made emissions melting the ice caps and causing a wave of unprecedented disasters were nothing more than scare-mongering.
This was picked up by the Drudge Report, Fox News, the Heartland Institute and several other media outlets that seem to cater to industry friendly figureheads. Naturally this created garboil for some and motivated others into a tempestuous uprising. PZ Myers Ph.D. runs a highly visited science/politics/evolution blog named Pharyngula that bears the self descriptive motif "random biological ejaculations from a godless liberal" and seems to take great pride in comparing the Pope to lizards. He of course reacted with a rather predictable backlash:
IRONY OVERLOAD! The pope opened his mouth again. ....so let us be uninhibited by ideological pressure and throw the words of that pretentious old man in the trash.
There were even those that used this as an excuse to call the Pope "a nazi, who is pro child molestor." So what did the pope say? Well among other things he said (emphasis mine):
We need to care for the environment: it has been entrusted to men and women to be protected and cultivated with responsible freedom, with the good of all as a constant guiding criterion. ... Humanity today is rightly concerned about the ecological balance of tomorrow.
Clearly something is amiss here. This is something most of the climate consensus supporters find perfectly reasonable. Nature, a top of the line peer-review scientific journal that also runs a news column, printed an article titled "Wise words from the Vatican" which described the Pope's statement as "simply the one that any reasonable person would make."

So how did The Daily Mail find enough ammo to support their position? Well maybe it has to do with the following quote from the Pope:
It is important for assessments in this regard to be carried out prudently, in dialogue with experts and people of wisdom, uninhibited by ideological pressure to draw hasty conclusions, and above all with the aim of reaching agreement on a model of sustainable development capable of ensuring the well-being of all while respecting environmental balances.
The only way I can possibly read this as critical of the "prophets of doom", which doesn't appear in the popes speech, is if he looked at the skeptics while saying "experts and people of wisdom" and stared at everyone on this massive list while saying "ideological pressure". As far as I can tell that simply did not happen.

While high profile organizations like drudge and highly visited "godless liberal" blogs like Pharyngula took The Daily Mail's demonizing report hook line and sinker other outlets like the liberal Daily Kos and Deltoid's Tim Lambert actually took the time to read the Pope's words.

Tim Lambert concluded that Simon Caldwell, the author of the inflammatory and possibly defamatory Daily Mail article, is a "liar". Pericles, who writes for Daily Kos, ended his analysis by giving a few very wise words of wisdom:
So here's the moral of my story: When the media tells you that somebody said something surprising, don't react, check. Your first response shouldn't be: "How can he say that!" It should be: "Did he really say that?" Very often the answer will be No
This is something that cannot be said enough. Meanwhile the New York Times, despite being part of the "elite media", seems confused. One of their staff-editors ended a column with:
Is the Pope really a righteous skeptic? Or, per what the Mail has to .... is he trying to head off the green fundies at the pass?”
This whole ordeal, from the "prophets of doom" to throwing the Pope "in the trash", reminds me of some words of wisdom I read a few days ago:
Talent is way over-rated.
Insults get results -- and pay the electric bill.
Just ask Ann Coulter.
In conclusion the largest and most "elite" media outlets (NYT's, Fox News, Daily Mail, Drudge) and blogs (Pharyngula) all performed very poorly and deserve nothing less than an opprobrium. On other hand the smaller media outlets (Nature) and blogs (Deltoid, Pericles from Daily Kos) performed admirably. Mistakes happen and everyone deserves grace of all the people that reported. However, this is just one more day where I find the quality of writing is inversely proportional to the number of people that read it.


Edit:
After reviewing over a 100 hits on this topic (the vast majority were blogs) it turns out that Christian Science Monitor and the Spectator screw up while the Guardian gets it right.

Sources:

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