Published by the National Post’s on-line edition, Feb 24, 2017 was the headline: “Block of sea ice calves from Antarctic glacier with potential to raise global sea levels by two feet”. This is the kind of irresponsible journalism that serves no purpose other than to deflect people’s attention from the real issue, even though it would appear to be doing just the opposite.
Lacking punctuation, the headline leaves one with the clear impression that the block of ice that has broken away from the glacier has the potential to raise sea levels by two feet. It does not. It is estimated that the entire, massive glacier would have that potential, but the part that has broken away will have almost no impact on sea levels. Its calving is only symptomatic of what seems to be an on-going process. It is a warning, not a catastrophe.
So what’s the effect of such a misleading headline? It’s dramatic. As they used to say in the old news business, “It sells papers.” I suppose that in today’s news business vernacular, it creates ‘clicks’ and clicks generate advertising revenue for the publisher.
Okay, everyone likes money in one way or another. So what?
So, the most dangerous thing about the misleading headline is that people who have been coached into not believing in climate change will notice that despite the claims made by the apparent “believers,” sea levels did not rise, thereby proving beyond doubt that the believers are all simply liars. None of their information can be trusted. (For too many, that would include things like vaccination, evolution, the theory of continental drift, possibly even a helio-centric solar system and for all I know the concept of a spherical planet.) The problem with lying is that once you are known to lie, (who do we know who habitually lies?) none of your information can be trusted. So we’ve come to the insane point where a known-to-be-conservative news voice puts out a blaringly alarmist ‘liberal’ message for the purpose of showing the ‘liberals’ to be untrustworthy! How crazy is that?
This kind of disinformation serves the purpose of dividing people, of making them believe the Libertarian maxim that there is no such thing as a “common good.” Publishing misleading headlines is an absurd idea! It doesn’t need to be stopped except by understanding its purpose, then rejecting its source as a reliable information source. That is, it can be stopped by a kind of information boycott. Stop clicking on stories provided by known misleaders.
Sure, Libertarians and their ilk might say, “Highways and water systems are good for everyone, but they should not be provided by common agreement and taxation. They should be provided by profit motive, the only true motive there ever was!” How totally short-sighted such a position is. Yes, if you thought the gun-slinging old, American west offered more than the relative peace, safety and civility of the old, American east, you’d be happy to live in your Libertarian paradise. Just don’t try to bring me along for your drunken, yahoo, out-of-control, shoot-‘em-up joyride!
I do believe there is a common good. There are many common goods, and yes, they should be provided for by common resources and access should be distributed fairly regardless of economic clout or political power. It is the civilized thing to do. Roads, highways, sewer and water systems, trash disposal, medical systems, public education, museums, libraries, parks, government services are all signs of a caring and responsible people. If we let the Libertarian ideal of ‘every man for himself’ carry the day, we will be headed for an unimaginably violent disaster.
That is why irresponsible, misleading headlines are really bad. They serve to obfuscate the truth. They serve to discredit real, accurate, meaningful information. They function to fracture and disconnect people who are trying to do their own crap-detecting in this challenging world where anyone can make any claim and instantly have many believers.
I urge people to use their heads, to think things through thoroughly, with doubt in their minds, to seek corroboration of facts before making judgments of any kind. Then, they should support the pillars of a socially responsible, civilized society in the challenging path ahead. Even at times when civil war rages and when one doesn’t know who to trust (think of Bosnia, among others) finally, people get tired of killing each other and return to more civil ways of providing for the common good. That’s what it always comes back to, the common good. It doesn’t exclude the idea of profit-making, but the profit-making must face regulation or else social fabric unravels, often in quick order.
Put Libertarian ideas on ice! Preferably on the ice that just broke away from the Antarctic ice shelf.