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On Monday Media Watch castigated The Australian for refusing to correct its misrepresentation of the opinions of Rajendra Pachauri, chair of the IPCC.

Anyone who hasn’t followed this story can get all background from the Media Watch story itself, from Tim Lambert, who was on to it even before Media Watch, Tim Dunlop, and Brian Bahnisch.

Very briefly, Matthew Warren, The Australian’s environment correspondent, reported on 9 August that Dr Pachauri had endorsed the Australian Government’s approach to climate change.

It’s worth emphasizing the crucial point about the background: Warren’s interpretation can’t be taken as a bit of sloppiness with respect to detail, or the fumbling of a naive cadet who isn’t quite across the politics of the issue. It is brazen and systematic distortion. The first line states that Pachauri specifically ‘backed the Howard Government’s decision to defer setting a long-term target for reducing greenhouse emissions until the full facts are known.’ The second sentence reasserts that Pachauri ‘agreed with the approach’. Later he tells us that ‘Malcolm Turnbull last night welcomed Dr Pachauri’s endorsement of the Government’s approach’; by now the endorsement is no longer just somebody’s interpretation, but rather an uncontested fact — the real issue being how this or that politician will respond to it.

As we know, having (for the most part) abandoned the doomed policy of pooh-poohing AGW, the Coalition’s strategy for the last half-year or so has been to portray itself as the party of good sense, balance, rationality, caution and so on, in contrast to which Labor appears as the party of Al Gore, Nicholas Stern, hysterical exaggeration and economic recklessness. This is just the picture that Warren takes pains to reproduce in his article. Dr Pachauri is in favour of (in Warren’s words) ‘informed debate based on rational thinking and rigorous analysis of the impact of different options’, and against (in his own words)’emotional and political responses that may or may not be the best’. And guess which of the parties wants to make a careful assessment, and which one wants to intervene precipitately? Well,

Labor committed to a 60 per cent cut in greenhouse emissions by 2050, while the Coalition will wait until next year for detailed analysis to be completed.

Indeed it’s quite likely that Warren’s question was a trap in the first place (as Pachauri later concluded himself), and it’s unlilkely that Pachauri knew enough about either the local politics or the newspaper itself to recognize this.

But even if Warren’s questions were innocent, even if he feels that Pachauri’s response does somehow correspond to the Government’s position — and this was main point of the Media Watch story — the fact of the matter is that Pachauri wrote a letter to The Australian to correct the misinterpretaion, but the paper did not publish it.

If the paper had any good reason to not publish the letter, they have not supplied it. Tim Lambert has already discussed yesterday’s developments, namely the ‘4672 words blasting Media Watch, including the entire editorial, stories from Caroline Overington and Matthew Warren and an opinion piece from David Salter’. But What Tim doesn’t point out explicitly — and this is the only justification for my post, given that other bloggers have examined the business from every angle — is that no excuse is offered, either in the editorial or in Warren’s response to Media Watch, for the failure to publish the letter, a letter that would have been very useful for any reader who had read the original piece. The editorial ignores the point completely. Warren’s apologia, on the other hand sidesteps it by mentioning that Pachauri, in the letter, demanded a correction, which Warren did not think was warranted (as if that was a reason for not at least publishing the letter and letting readers make up their own minds); and by mentioning that the editor, Paul Whittaker, had replied to Pachauri with some questions of his own, to which no reply had been received (implying that the ball is in Pachauri’s court — as if, again, this justifies delaying publication of the letter).

Notwithstanding that a few of its individual writers still behave professionally, in terms of its editorial policy, The Australian has discarded any pretense of objective reporting or even-handed analysis, and decided to position itself firmly as a PR agency for the Right. Gosh, and I’m the first person to notice!

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Jc
Jc
14 years ago

But I thought Don addressed a similar issue just yesterday about Professor quiggin complaining about the endless fact checking that goes on and how people on the right are always tryng to catch other people out but losing sight of the big prize.

I know a day is a long time in politics but….. what happened since yesterday?.:-)

—————-

Now back to the post

You state:

“Indeed its quite likely that Warrens question was a trap in the first place (as Pachauri later concluded himself), and its unlilkely that Pachauri knew enough about either the local politics or the newspaper itself to recognize this.

So let me get this straight. I presume the good doctor was here on AGW business with government leaders and not on some well earned holiday. At least this is what the SMH says:

Dr Pachauri is in Australia to discuss the latest UN climate report with government officials, including the federal Environment Minister, Malcolm Turnbull. …:

So I think everyone would agree he would have at least some inkling about the governments position on AGW and the strategy being proposed. Presumably he wasn’t spending much time in Canberra’s strip joints, unlike others government officials who will remain nameless. Or was he, because the Oz’s editorial shows the Dr. understood the question that was posed to him all too well:

I’m quoting the Oz here:
____________________

For the record, Warren asked: “As you would be aware, the Australian Government is proposing to set its emission target after it has conducted rigorous economic analysis. Do you support that?”

Dr Pachauri replied: “I think so, otherwise one might come up with an emotional and political response which might not be the best, and I think in a democracy it’s important to see there is an informed debate in officialdom as well as within the public if one adopts a particular ..”

__________________________

I see this as a perfectly reasonable response to a perfectly reasonable question. What’s the fuss? The scribe is obviously doing his job as hes asking in a long winded way what transpired at the meetings and how he felt about the government’s position.

I’m sorry, but I have to agree with the Oz’s take. Media watch is becoming nothing more than a rightwing kill zone paid for by all us unsuspecting taxpayers. It’s a tragedy really.

whyisitso
whyisitso
14 years ago

You’re absolutely right there Jacques. But of course if it were not for journalists we’d not be aware that the wreck of HMAS Sydney was recently discovered off the WA coast, miles closer to where it was steaming when seen mortally wounded all those years ago. It must have been discovered because it was the largest front page headline in the SMH for a month.

James Farrell
James Farrell
14 years ago

Your reasoning is a bit subtle for me, Jacques, especially if it constitutes an excuse for the Australian’s not publishing Pachauri’s letter. Could I have it in plain English?

James Farrell
James Farrell
14 years ago

I wonder if you even read the post, Jacques. We’re not talking about an honest mistake, and we’re not talking about publishing an official correction. Any respectable paper would have published Pachauri’s letter. Let me know if you can cite another specific instance of a broadsheet newspaper running an article whose whole foundation was the authority of a particular individual, and then failing to publish a letter to the editor from that same authority disscociating himself from that representation of his opinion. To repeat: I am not demanding that the paper issue a correction, merely that it publish the letter, and let people make up their own minds or follow it up as they fit.

cs
cs
14 years ago

No conspiracy is required to explain this.

I’ve just been through why statements such as this are a logical fallacy in the Kirk-Growden scandal. Conspiracies are never “needed” or “required” to explain things, virtually by definition. If there is not at least one alibi for conspiratorial behaviour, in this case journalistic vanity, then it can generally be assumed that the behaviour is not conspiratorial.

James Farrell
James Farrell
14 years ago

I didn’t think it was in dispute that the paper decided not to publish the letter because it showed they were wrong. We are in blissful unanimity on that point.

Our disagreement is this: I think it’s virtually unheard of for a national broadsheet with the status of the The Australian to not publish a letter from a person it had quoted in a prominent story as an authority. (Otherwise, obviously, I wouldn’t have written this post in the first place.) You claim, by contrast, that it’s an everyday occurrence. The onus is on you to furnish at least one example.

cs
cs
14 years ago

I do believe the onus is the other way around, Jacques. In finding motives for journalists other than a conspiracy to hide the truth, you fail to dislodge the charge. We are not talking about school children here. In GrownUpsVille, the first thing any half-decent conspirator ever does is to at least mentally check whether he or she has a cover story for their behaviour. Perhaps all that is required is for them to merely resort to the old canard about journalists, vanity and stuff-ups. Provided that no-one can easily empirically refute the coer story, the cospirator will stick to his or her altenate digs, sometimes, perhaps often, till the day they die, even after they have been formally convicted of a crime.

There is an alternate and more appropriate test for conspiratorial behaviour – and in this case I should emphasise that the conspiracy may be merely “in the Australian‘s vibes”, perhaps it is implicitly understood from Friday night drinks, or perhaps we are talking about the real thing and there have been editorial meetings and agreements on the matter, or perhaps there have even been explicit instructions from on high. These are questions for which one needs to go to the evidence.

Regardless, the alternate and appropriate test is to ask whether the Australian would have in all probability have published a follow-up letter from Rajendra Pachauri endorsing his views as represented. If your answer to this question is “yes”, then here we have a clear cut prima facie case of conspiracy on the balance of probabilities, subject to a reverse onus of disproof.

cs
cs
14 years ago

Fair enough Jacques. Yet you have missed the reasoning. You do not have to think the Australian has a pro-government bias to recognise that the onus in this lies squarely with the paper.

James Farrell
James Farrell
14 years ago

JF: Incredible! Did you see that? Kerry O’Brien leant over and punched Philip Ruddock on the nose! That’s disgraceful. He can’t be taken seriously any more.

JC: Nonsense, it happens all the time. I know journalists. They are very hot blooded. They lose their temper all the time.

JF: But they don’t hit interviewees all the time on air.

JC: Take my word for it. It happened because he was angry. I know journalists. They ofen get angry. All. The. Time.

JF: I’m not disputing he was angry. Of course he was angry.

JC: So what’s your problem?

JF: I’m saying they don’t often hit interviewees. Hardly ever. Tell me one other instance. Just one.

JC: To be honest, I was working in the mail room, so I didn’t see every single incident in the studio. But if you think that O’Brien didn’t just lose his temper, why don’t you prove to me that Kerry O’Brien has it in for Ruddock, and didn’t just have high blood pressure on the day.

JF: Good. Grief.