What Everyone "Knows:" Global Warming and the Death of the Media

Strategy teaches that most contests among people are won on the basis of superior knowledge, but that the biggest strategic opportunities come not from exploiting the ignorance of others, but from exploiting their misconceptions. To borrow from Will Rodgers, "It isn't want we don't know that gets us in trouble. It is what we know, that ain't so." In Seattle right now we have the second heavy snowfall of the year. Normally is snows in Seattle once every, oh, three or four year. It is never heavy and usually gone by afternoon or the next morning. These have been the two heaviest snowfalls in my quarter century in Seattle. The last time the snow was on the ground for days. Weird. Of course, we have a good explanation for this weirdness: global warming. The fact that we are talking about cold doesn't matter. As any global warming acolyte can tell you, warming puts more moisture in the air causing all kinds of other problem weather like heavy rains and more snow. The problem with that explanation is that I live in Seattle. Seattle during the winter has always had more moisture than the air can hold. We call that condition rain. You might have heard we get a lot of it. All winter long. Sometimes all summer long. No, the real problem has to be that this year must be that it is a lot colder (unless global warming has created a new type of ice-9). It has been cold enough to turn our rain into snow, cold enough that the snow stays around for days. Nor is Seattle alone. A lot of places have had a very cold winter. Most of this cold weather will be connected in the news media to global warming whether those connections make sense or not. The connection between any type of bad weather and global warming is as predictable as, well, the summer following winter or cold years following warm ones. This brings me to the real topic of this post: the nature the media. In the modern media, we have an industry whose bread and butter is creating one crisis after another. The media promotes more and more government control over our lives as a solution for every problem because it doesn't want to see itself as a simply a modern Chicken Little. Like Chicken Little, the media extrapolates every falling twig as the end of the sky. It has become so much of a purveyor of bad news that it is rapidly becoming a victim of its own pathology. The traditional media is dying. (See here, and here for today's stories of media death.) In a sense, the traditional news media is a victim of global warming. It has become so wedded to certain story lines, such as global warming that it can no longer see what makes news interesting, that is, the unexpected. People don't tune into the news to hear "what everyone knows," they tune in to hear that everyone is wrong. The news is entertaining when it turns our expectations upside down and proves the pointy-headed experts wrong. The newsmen that built the modern media largely understood this. They took great pleasure in siding with the common people against the elite intelligentsia. The beginning of the end was when they started seeing themselves as part of that intelligentsia. News gets real boring real fast when the media starts filtering out the stories that don't fit their story line. If the story line has become that the elite intelligentsia is all right and the common people are all wrong, this filtering of news is not only boring. It becomes an insult to everyone's intelligence. For example, the media repeats the phrase "No WMDs" over and over again to the point that people who know better cannot even contradict the idea because "everyone knows" that there were no WMD's in Iraq. (I call this "the Tim Russert effect.") Of course, by far the most important story coming out of the Iraq war was that it uncovered (and stopped) a secret nuclear proliferation program out of Pakistan. But this cannot be mentioned because it violates the "No WMDs" storyline, which is the whole basis of every story coming out of Iraq being bad news. If the Iraq war actually saved the world from nuclear destruction, we can't portray each casualty as an unnecessary death, can we? The fact that there were hundreds of chemical warheads found doesn't matter either of course. Such knowledge must be instantly forgotten as soon as it is discovered. This brings us back to global warming. The really interesting stories regarding global warming are those that make the so-called experts and pedantic environmental preachers look silly. Al Gore's energy consumption is a perfect example. What a great story! Did this get wide play in the mainstream media? Nope. Like the story of the ACLU president who was found with pornography of children being violently raped, it resonates so strongly to shatter "what everyone knows." Oh, you didn't see that story in your local paper either? Wonder why? To maintain the story line of each snowfall being a precursor of environmental doom, the media cannot explore the most interesting stories about the phenomena. Many of these involve the attempted censure of every scientist who wants to expose the emperor as having no clothes. Instead, we get stories about how the global warming scientists are being silenced, something that leaves every normal person scratching their heads because they hear about global warming everyday. Love this story about Al Gore claiming the media is "too balanced" in global warming reporting. Priceless! You can't make this stuff up!