Journalism’s know-it-all class
Remember that know-it-all classmate we all encountered in school at some time in life?
You know, the obnoxious one who had answers to everything all the time and was full of it as often or more often than they right.
Is it a good thing a gang of media “fact checkers” has now stepped in to take his or her place, or are these fact checkers just part of an effort on the part of the country’s legacy media to destroy what little credibility it has left?
Or are we simply beyond the point where credibility matters? Have we reached the point where democracies start to naturally unravel and facts don’t matter, the point where everyone is forced to pick a side?
The Weimar Republic of Germany had the Communists and the Nazis. We now have the Democrats and the Republicans, the former led by a corrupt and doddering old politician and the latter still bound to a pathological liar and loudmouth.
And yet both leaders have their defenders, somewhat amazingly so in that neither party much embraced Joe Biden or Donald Trump at their beginnings.
The late and influential conservative columnists Charles Krauthammer in 2016 pegged Trump perfectly as a politician “beyond narcissism. I used to think Trump was an 11-year-old, an undeveloped schoolyard bully. I was off by about 10 years. His needs are more primitive, an infantile hunger for approval and praise, a craving that can never be satisfied. He lives in a cocoon of solipsism where the world outside himself has value – indeed exists – only insofar as it sustains and inflates him.
“Most politicians seek approval. But Trump lives for the adoration. He doesn’t even try to hide it, boasting incessantly about his crowds, his standing ovations, his TV ratings, his poll numbers, his primary victories. The latter are most prized because they offer empirical evidence of how loved and admired he is.”
And left-leaning Mother Jones magazine, a favorite of Democrats, had a pretty clear-eyed view of Biden in 2019:
“Though he’s now a millionaire thanks to book sales and speaking fees, Biden has long positioned himself as the champion of the middle class, a scrappy kid from Scranton who’s fought the good fight for decades,” Tim Murphy wrote there. “But as he pursues his third and likely final quest for the Democratic presidential nomination, his record haunts him, because the interests of Delaware are often at extreme odds with everyone else’s.
“Biden did not create this system, but he used his influence to strengthen and protect it. He cast key votes that deregulated the banking industry, made it harder for individuals to escape their credit card debts and student loans, and protected his state’s status as a corporate bankruptcy hub.”
The story described how Biden helped MBNA get rich by pitching credit cards to targeted groups, like college students, and then jacking the interest rates on those cards anytime anyone was late with a payment.
“Getting people into debt was how the company profited, and it was self-perpetuating. If a debtor missed a car payment to pay a credit card on time, MBNA would raise the person’s interest rate anyway, a practice known as universal default – thereby increasing the likelihood the person would miss future payments,” Murphy wrote.
He went on to describe how in the 1990s, Biden sold his home to an MNBA executive, and “not long after that…the company hired Biden’s youngest son, Hunter.”
The deal Joe gave the executive on his house was an apparent foreshadowing of the many ways in which the senior Biden – whose political influence only rose as he climbed the political ladder on the way to the Whitehouse – would help the younger, Biden advance in the world of business.
All the shenanigans Trump employed in the private sector to build a fortune, Biden appears to have employed in the public sector to build a fortune, and the scams now appear to have been about more than just “books sales and speaking fees,” though the latter appear a wonderfully easy money maker.
You should be so lucky
Former vice president “Joe Biden earned more than $4 million in late 2017 and 2018 from giving more than four dozen speeches, banking up to $235,000 for one appearance,” Politico reported in 2019. “And he owns a corporation, established to handle his post-White House speaking and book deals, now valued at between $1 and $5 million.
“Jill Biden disclosed 18 speaking engagements totaling $700,000, with her speeches commanding between $25,000 and $66,000 apiece in fees.”
The average, middle-class American would kill for a job like this. (Editor’s note: If anyone is interested, I’ll come speak to your group about any of a variety of subjects for a mere $1,000. Consider this a great bargain.)
Somehow a mainstream media obsessed by the slightest hint Trump might be engaged in any self-serving behavior has managed to close its eyes to much of the same behavior on the part of Biden, preferring instead to focus on how the bureaucracy should now get even with the guy voters tossed out.
You’d think that the people who are supposed “to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable” would be more interested in the shenanigans of the man in power than the misbehavior of the man removed from power.
And yet there has been a startling lack of coverage of the Hunter Biden affair when compared to the constant nitpicking of almost every word uttered by Trump as if it were necessary to inform the nation’s barely literate masses that Trump, like most of the presidents before him, couldn’t be counted on to always tell the truth.
The reference to “barely literate readers” herein refers mainly to the advice long given neophyte newspaper reporters to write their stories to be understood by “anyone with a sixth-grade education.”
It is only slightly ironic that a sixth-grade education might now equate to a level of learning above that of some of today’s journalists who apparently cannot even spell G-O-O-G-L-E, which is another part of the legacy media problem.
Witness none other than the once-esteemed New York Times, which at one time put more effort into fact-checking its own stories than the babbling of politicians, suggesting the Southeast Alaska fishing port of Pelican was once an indigenous village, as in:
“Pelican, population 80, is one of those places.”
Maybe it was just a grammatical mistake by a reporter unschooled in the use of antecedents and pronouns rather than a dog-whistle to white, Progressive, upper-class Times readers who know that anything that affects an indigenous community in any way is bad, bad, bad unless The Times says it is good.
And Pelican is a small town, a very small town (population roughly 80), but it has never been an indigenous village unlike the majority of communities in the Alaska Panhandle which are either historic Native villages or sited on or near historic Native village sites.
A competent Alaska reporter would have known better than to suggest Pelican might be an indigenous village because there was no Pelican Village Corporation set up under the terms of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act in 1971 and no Pelican tribal entity identified when the federal government later recognized 228 tribes in the 49th state by basically declaring every Alaska village with any hint of Native history a tribe.
(Alaska tribes make up 40 percent of the nation’s 574 recognized tribes although the members of Alaska tribes represent only about 3.5 percent of the country’s American-Indian/Alaska Native population.)
And if one didn’t already know these things about Alaska Native corporations and tribes, there is G-O-O-G-L-E, which in response to the question “what is the history of Pelican, Alaska?” reveals that “September 26, 1938 is the day the F/V ‘Pelican’ arrived in Lisianski Inlet to begin construction of a cold storage. The timing of this event coincided with the movement of the salmon troll fleet westward from Sitka and on up the coast to Yakobi Island. Before the arrival of the ‘Pelican’ the Lisianski area had witnessed developments by miners and a government navigation site at Soapstone Cove.”
The fact-checkers once employed by major news organizations might have caught this, but fact-checking-crazy media these days rarely bothers to fact-check itself which only adds to the fact-checking problem, as did the Trump nitpicking.
I actually know some Trump supporters, though as a one-time mainstream journalist, it might be wrong to admit this given the view of non-Trump supporters who seem to believe most Trump supporters are neo-Nazis, white supremacists or worse.
The ones I know are not, and I don’t know how many times during the Trump administration they counseled that one should “judge Trump by what he does, not what he says” or offered some version of that advice.
They’d clearly figured out that the mainstream media hectoring of Trump had created a feedback loop that only made Trump’s fabricating worse. By the middle of the Trump administration, it was pretty clear that he was sometimes making things up just to upset the media fact-checkers who would then accuse him of more lies in an ever-escalating spiral of accusations and lies that served mainly to entertain both sides.
And then along came Biden, whose past was suddenly all put behind him because he wasn’t Trump.
Facts? Who needs ’em
Remember the efforts to make Hunter’s forgotten computer with all its dirty little secrets, not Hunter’s computer?
“Almost immediately,” as the website AllSides would later summarize, “the Hunter Biden laptop story was deemed a potential Russian disinformation campaign by many major left–rated news outlets, such as Politico (Lean Left bias), Washington Post (Lean Left bias), New York Times (Lean Left bias) and NPR (Lean Left bias).
“These sources often framed the laptop story in a questionable light, and in some cases went so far as to say it didn’t warrant their attention. NPR Managing Editor Kelly McBride stated at the time, ‘The reason you haven’t heard much on NPR about the Post story is that the assertions don’t amount to much.'”
Those publications were later forced to admit the computer was Hunter’s, that there was no evidence of a Russian disinformation campaign, and that some of the information on the computer did not look good for the Bidens.
That summary of events came almost a year ago, but there’s been little sign since of an end to the deference to the Bidens from a legacy media that is supposed to be the American watchdog of the nation’s politicians – all of the nation’s politicians.
Take Politifact’s attempt to defend President Biden’s July 27 claim that “The No. 1 weather-related killer is heat. Six hundred people die annually from its effects, more than from floods, hurricanes and tornadoes in America combined.”
The data would indicate the first statement is flat-out wrong.
“From 1999 to 2011, a total of 16,911 deaths in the United States, an average of 1,301 per year, were associated with exposure to excessive natural cold,” according to the Centers for Disease Control.
The actual number of hypothermia deaths varies significantly by year, and it’s hard to find newer national numbers. But there is no indication the average has changed enough to knock cold out of the role of the nation’s “number one, weather-related killer.”
A peer-reviewed study in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health in January 2022 reported that “in the United States, primary hypothermia is the cause of at least 1,500 deaths a year.”
This is more than twice the number of heat deaths and approaching three times the number. But Politifact never mentioned cold deaths.
Instead, it declared that “looking strictly at National Weather Service statistics, Biden’s assertion is inaccurate. However, a range of scientists told PolitiFact that more accurate assessments – those that capture “excess deaths” above typical levels, rather than heat being listed as a cause of death on death certificates – make Biden’s statement correct.”
It then went deep into the weeds to try to make the case that though Biden was wrong he might have been right because heat deaths are under-reported with some experts saying a lot of people are dying of heat without it being noted, and most of all because “heat deaths exceeded the combination of deaths from floods, hurricanes and tornadoes in 11 of the past 36 years.”
OK, so if you ignore cold as a climate factor, you can make a case that Biden might be right, while recognizing that there is an equally good case to be made that he was wrong.
So again, if you ignore cold, the fact-checking is a toss-up. The answer as to any claim to accuracy is in the gray where so many answers to questions of this sort live.
But then there’s that cold.
Ignorance or agenda?
Well, Politifact is produced by the Florida-based Poynter Institute, a once-respected journalism think tank and owner of the Tampa Bay Times. Being Florida-based, maybe no one there thought about the cold, although hypothermia deaths in Florida are not unknown.
“During the harsh winter of 1989-1990, 26 Floridians died of hypothermia,” according to the Florida Division of Emergency Management. And in 1995 there were the very high-profile hypothermia deaths of four U.S. Servicemen training to become Army Rangers.
Maybe none of the Politifact fact-checkers who declared Biden’s statement “Mostly True” were around in 1995 or knew how to spell G-O-O-G-L-E.
“Data from the National Weather Service doesn’t support the claim about heat outpacing deaths from the three other weather events combined, but CDC data does back it up,” the website says.
And “scientists say both sets of federal data significantly undercount the number of heat deaths because they are drawn from death certificates, which often overlook heat.”
The same, however, can be said of cold deaths, which usually lead to heart failure. Thus when a dead cold body is found in a cold house or outdoors, it can be hard to determine whether the person died from heart failure and then was cooled to air temperature, or grew so cold from their air or surrounding water that their heart failed.
Or, as a 2018 study put it, “the findings at autopsy can be quite subtle and there is a lack of accord on the necessary features required to make the diagnosis. It is even less clear to what degree hypothermia may contribute to lethal outcomes in the presence of significant underlying organic illnesses. For example, the relationship between hypothermia and the metabolic derangements that occur in elderly individuals with frailty syndrome has only recently been explored.”
But what does any of this matter? We’re in a post-truth world now where “facts” are not necessarily those things that can be documented with evidence or data but have become those things people want to believe.
None of which, it should be added, is meant to underplay the dangers of heat. As a youth in Minnesota in the 1960s, I twice suffered heat stroke, once very seriously.
It wasn’t unusual for summer temperatures there to climb into the low- to mid-90s when I was a kid, though this was nowhere near as hot as Minnesota had been known to get earlier in the 20th Century.
Most of the state’s record highs date back to before 1950: 112 degrees in May 1934, 110 in June 1931, 116 in July 1917 and 1936, 112 in August 1947, which was tied in 1988; and 112 again in Sept. 1931.
The reporting there is not meant to challenge the global warming narrative, either. All available evidence points to the planet getting warmer, but there remains a huge amount of variation in year-to-year temperatures from place to place.
And it is worth considering the possibility that the Politifact fact-checkers were led astray by a mainstream global-warming agenda seemingly built around the idea that global warming needs to be stopped and the only way to convince Americans with their sixth-grade educations to do anything about this is to scare the hell out of them.
End of days
This thinking is fueled, ironically again, by the belief that the world revolves around the United States of America, and thus whatever happens to the planet is solely dependent on what America does.
Certainly, it would be great if the good, old U.S.A. did more to cut carbon emissions, and it would be especially good if the country, a world leader in per capita deaths from Covid-19, did so by modifying its transportation systems to get more people out of their cars and trucks and moving around under their own power given that Covid-19 was largely a pandemic of the old and unfit.
And it would be an equally good idea to get Americans moving under their own power to fix the public-health problems that now have the country spending more of its resources – way, way more – on “health care” than any other nation in the world because so many Americans are unhealthy and/or unfit.
(U.S. average spending, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, a health-monitoring group, is $12,914 per year; Germany is number two at $7,383. The global average is $6,125, less than half of what the U.S. spends.)
But instead of encouraging Americans to get around more on foot or bicycles, the country is promoting the use of electric vehicles so Americans can keep on driving even more while believing they are saving the planet because they aren’t, like the Chinese, filling the atmosphere with ever more carbon dioxide.
Few in the U.S. seem to have noticed that China is now the world leader in carbon dioxide emissions. The Asian country produces almost twice as much of that gas as the U.S., and despite talking the global warming talk doesn’t seem to care to walk the global warming walk.
China is now more heavily invested in turning deserts into forests and grasslands and has found success.
“The world is literally a greener place than it was 20 years ago, and data from NASA satellites has revealed a counterintuitive source for much of this new foliage,” the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) reported in 2019.
“A new study shows that China and India – the world’s most populous countries – are leading the increase in greening on land. The effect comes mostly from ambitious tree-planting programs in China and intensive agriculture in both countries.”
Could China, which is trying to extend its power globally, be working on a different strategy to combat climate change than the rest of the world?
The question sort of has to be asked given the Asian nation’s behaviors. The Finland-based Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air is reporting China permitted two new coal power plants per week last year.
“The continued addition of new coal power capacity implies insufficient emphasis on overcoming the power system and power market constraints that perpetuate dependence on coal,” the group warned. “The worst-case scenario is that the pressure to make use of the newly built coal power plants and prevent a steep fall in utilization leads to a moderation in China’s clean energy buildout, and/or the promotion of energy-intensive industries to consume the electricity. This could mean a major increase in China’s CO2 emissions over this decade, undermining the global climate effort, and could even put China’s climate commitments in danger.”
The number three producer of CO2 , India – which increased emissions by nearly 5 percent last year while U.S. emissions fell by 2 percent, according to the Worldometer tracker – appears to be more concerned about improving the living conditions of its population in the here and now than worrying about climate change in the future, and Russia, number four in emissions, has never shown any real commitment to reducing CO2 .
Why would it? The country has for centuries harbored unfulfilled dreams of developing Siberia, a region synonymous with the phrase “bitter cold.” Global warming offers Russia the first realistic chance for serious eastward expansion into Siberia.
Russian researchers have estimated that if warming continues at its current pace “50 to 85 percent of central Siberia is predicted to be climatically suitable for agriculture by the end of the century, and only soil potential would limit crop advance and expansion to the north.
“Crop production could increase twofold. Future Siberian climatic resources could provide the potential for a great variety of crops to grow that previously did not exist on these lands.”
None of this makes for a good argument for the U.S. to ignore efforts to reduce CO2 emissions, but it does make for a good argument for the U.S. to reduce such emissions, as the Europeans have done, in a sensible, economic manner by phasing in renewable forms of energy where economically sensible and shifting transportation away from vehicles with high emissions where economically sensible.
Unfortunately, there appears to be a widespread media belief that fear-mongering about global warming is more sensible than talking about a sensible transition toward a future built around energy other than hydrocarbons because hydrocarbons cannot last forever.
Still everyone agrees, the world is nearing the point where the production of oil and gas can’t keep pace with the demand for energy, and it only makes sense for the U.S. to start weaning itself from oil and gas before the peak is reached.
But then it might be more profitable for news organizations to shout about how “a heat wave is going to kill you because global warming is real, you fools” than to talk about these sorts of issues.