Posted by: bmeverett | January 29, 2016

To the New York Times, all stories are about climate change


New York Times articles often start with a headline, followed sometimes by a subheading and then the article itself. In some cases, the body of the article includes what’s known as a “pull quote” – a brief one or two line statement of the key point of the article. The pull quote doesn’t have to be a verbatim quote, but can be paraphrased or shortened. This technique is helpful to most readers who do not read every article word for word, but instead scan the paper and select a few articles to read in full. Titles and pull quotes give the casual reader a quick impression of the article, allowing him or her to note the main point and then move on to other topics.

Journalistic integrity requires care in using these pull quotes. The January 26 edition of the Times shows a case in point. The article is entitled “Argentina Scrambles to Fight Biggest Plague of Locusts in 60 Years” written by Jonathan Gilbert. The pull quote in the article is “An explosion, possibly tied to climate change, is ‘impossible to eradicate’.” The casual reader is thus given the impression of yet another disaster caused by human-induced climate change, added to the ongoing litany of droughts, blizzards, wildfires, hurricanes and other punishments for our fossil fuel sins.

Interestingly, however, that’s not what the article actually says. The piece mentions climate change twice, the first time stating that “Mr. [Diego] Quiroga [Chief of Vegetative Protection of the Argentine State Agricultural Agency] pointed to a warning last November by the Food and Agriculture Organization, a United Nations agency, which said climate change would contribute to locust plagues in Africa. “There is clearly an impact in our country, too,” he said. “We are definitely being affected.” Last time I looked, Argentina was not in Africa, so this statement appears to be no more than Mr. Quiroga’s personal opinion. The scientific basis for his view that Argentina is “definitely” being affected by climate change is unclear.

The second mention of climate change is “There is no study yet that shows climate change has led to the increase in locust populations, said Paola Carrizo, a professor of agronomy at the University of Buenos Aires, explaining that a more likely cause was insufficient pest control by Senasa [The Argentine State Agricultural Agency].” So here are the two sides of the issue presented in the article. A distinguished Argentine professor says there’s no evidence that climate change is involved in the locust infestation and offers a reasonable alternative explanation, while, on the other side, a government bureaucrat offers a personal opinion based on a vague UN comment regarding Africa. So what’s the thrust of the story and what’s the honest pull quote? How about “Argentine agriculture is threatened by an infestation of locusts, probably caused by insufficient government pest control efforts.”? The Times just can’t pass up an opportunity to advance the climate agenda.

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