Can a newspaper chain jump the shark?
This past Friday, Canada’s Postmedia published a column in its Toronto Sun by climate change denier Tom Harris. Not a surprise in itself, since Harris, the voice for International Climate Science Coalition, gets featured in the Sun dailies from time to time, but notable all the same for its extra-sad and slightly ridiculous attempt to keep flagging interest in a debate that lost all remnants of reasonable traction years ago.
Harris writes of “duckspeak,” that phrase from George Orwell’s 1984 used to represent a person’s mindless repeating back of the terms and logic of a given ideology. Here is Winston Smith in observation of a man chatting at the table next to him, unquestioningly caught up in Big Brother’s totalitarian dogma: “The stuff that was coming out of him consisted of words, but it was not speech in the true sense: it was a noise uttered in unconsciousness, like the quacking of a duck…”
Harris accuses Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of duckspeak when the latter states that “climate change is real” and United States President Barack Obama of the same for calling greenhouse gases “carbon pollution.”
In their attempts at scraping together a few lifeless and ill-fitting ideas to support a long-ago rejected conclusion these writers -and by extension the media platforms they’re contributing to- are becoming weirder and sadder by the day.
Why, you may ask, should it be deemed the parroting of propaganda to state these things? Harris says, “What they are almost always discussing is carbon dioxide (CO 2). But were they to call it that, most people would be unconcerned, remembering from grade school that CO 2 is a trace gas essential for plant photosynthesis.
This is silly.
Who in this day and age doesn’t understand that carbon pollution refers to carbon dioxide?
Harris then says that the phrase “97 per cent of experts agree” effectively kills debate through its definitiveness and furthermore commits the logical fallacy of appealing to authority and consensus.
More silliness. An appeal to authority is only faulty if the experts in question are not to be trusted. “I don’t need bypass surgery because my mechanic told me so,” is an improper appeal to authority, but who doesn’t listen when almost every scientist on the planet says that climate change is real and human-caused?
Some will say that giving column space to the nonsensically combative is what the Sun dailies are all about, while others will want to condemn as irresponsible the very idea of providing a platform for Harris’ type of agenda. The problem is not limited to Canada’s Sun papers, as media outlets around the world still like to trot out climate change deniers on a regular basis. But in their attempts at scraping together a few lifeless and ill-fitting ideas to support a long-ago rejected conclusion these writers -and by extension the media platforms they’re contributing to- are becoming weirder and sadder by the day, their performances coming across as surreal, almost hard to watch without flinching in embarrassment.
Which is opposite to their intended effect, of course.
Like everyone else, publishers want to look cool. And so they give space to contrarian viewpoints not just to show two sides of a story but to align themselves with the outsider, with the one who can tell us the real truth hidden by the mainstream viewpoint -the one with the straight goods instead of the duckspeak.
And we get it. Being a rebel is cool. Fonzie’s leather jacket was cool. But paired up with a set of waterskis and towed behind a boat? Well, we almost want to look the other way.