On Insiders last Sunday, the topic of the day was the growing debacle in Iraq. It included sound bites from the PM, a longer interview with Paul Kelly and some predictable political tap dancing from Kevin stay-on-message Rudd. The armchair discussants included David Marr and Andrew Bolt. The fact that people such as Andrew Bolt and Piers Ackerman are regulars on this much maligned program demonstrate that the ABC has much less problem with bias than some other foxy networks.
Bolt is a cultural warrior, who never concedes a point, lest he embolden the blood thirsty hoards of the left. So, when David Marr described the situation in Iraq as catastrophic*, Bolt would have none of it. Troublesome was his adjective of choice. And when Marr mentioned the 650000 dead, Bolt shifted into his full impression of the irritated private school master:
It’s so difficult to discuss these issues rationally with the left, when they are so disposed to exaggeration and hysteria“ (my paraphrasing)
he lamented. David Marr responded by asking whether the British medical journal (the Lancet) that published the estimate was leftist. Bolt replied that yes, the editor of Lancet, was a leftie and “all the details were on his blog.” The details which Bolt was referring to are a speech made by Lancet editor Richard Horton made at a Stop-the-War rally which you can listen to HERE. Let’s leave aside whether editors of learned scientific journals are permitted to have political opinions and still maintain some professional detachment – a concept foreign to Bolt. Let’s leave aside the fact that editors of journals do not decide which articles are to be published – this is done by anonymous peer review – another notion that Bolt is unlikely to embrace. What is so strange about a leading researcher in the science of human health having a natural tendency towards an anti-war position?
Bolt‘s blog also has takes aim at Professor Gilbert Burnham who is the leading author of the report. This is not a post at all but rather a link to another blog called Pajamas Media. The purpose of this non-post was no doubt to elicit a response from commenters. It is this unaccountable rabble that are presumably supplying all the details that Bolt referred to. Yet Bolt is supposed to be a journalist. Why not properly investigate the substantive claims of bias? Why not interview the authors and put the accusations to them? His cavalier dismissal of the Lancet study is disgraceful – akin to a senior health professional dismissing the thalidomide study on the basis that McBride was a bit of a self-promoter.
Closer to home, on this very blog Currency lad opined “About the Lancet‘s new “estimate” of 650 trillion(sic) casualties, the less said the better.” I replied by inviting him to comment on my earlier post on the study. “Don’t be shy” I offered. “Say as much as you want.” But true to his word, the Lad offered nowt.
Plenty of credible people have supported the basic standard of the science in the Lancet article. Lefties all, like Professors Jim Angus, Bruce Armstrong and other pinko Deans of Science and Medicine. There are some inevitable weaknesses in the sampling techniques employed within a war-zone and there are some possible sources of bias. But there is no evidence so far of any systematic or deliberate bias in the design. And the plausible sizes of the biases are not sufficient to produce a figure more palatable – sorry “credible” – to those who refuse to believe any number that will make an inconvenient headline.
At the end of the day you have to decide who you would trust. A team of professional scientists whose reputations and ultimately living would be demolished if it could be demonstrated that they published negligently incompetent or, much worse, deliberately skewed results. Or you could trust politicians and war mongering ideologues who see every issue as a line in the sand to be defended and for whom truth and objectivity are just acceptable collateral damage in the great fight.
Regular contributor Rafe Champion has commented several times that he thinks that the right wing and left wing labels are becoming meaningless. I understand why he says this but he is dead wrong. These political labels are about as meaningless as are the Catholic and Protestant labels in Northern Ireland. Meaningless in terms of theological distinction perhaps, but meaningful enough to those who see life in orange and green to motivate murder. Those who see life in terms of blue and red are also happy to sanction the taking of life in the name of their tribe and to deny the consequences of their implacable resolve to crush the enemy everywhere he appears.
In this great southern city long defined by sporting tribal colours, I support Melbourne football club, whose colours are… red and blue. But in the minds of some who read this post, I will now forever be coloured red. As we approach the 50th anniversary of Prague (on November 4), during this time of unnecessary but predictable slaughter in Iraq, let us not forget respectively the communists and neo-cons who bear responsibility and yet refuse to express regret or acknowledge error.
* The account is my best recollection of what was said on the program. I am unable to find a transcript of the discussion section of the show.