Former BBC Reporter Pulls Back the Curtain

Posted by: Keith Kloor  :  Category: climate change, climate science, climategate, Journalism

UPDATE: I just noticed this talk is a year old. Still, it’s pretty fascinating.

Anyone interested in how the journalistic sausage gets made in the UK, about the cozy relationship between British reporters and politicians, about how climate change gets covered in the media, should watch this revealing talk by  Sarah Mukherjee, who until recently was a BBC environmental correspondent.

Bishop Hill is making hay over some of her statements related to climategate  and ties between NGO’s and climate science. But it was her dishing about the journalism profession that caught my attention.

At one point, referring to coverage of climate science, she mentions how difficult it is

trying to explain incredibly complex science in 50 words or 200 or 300 words. It doesn’t really fit. And what you have to do is hope that the policymakers do get it enough and are sophisticated enough in order to understand it. And fortunately, in a large number of cases, they do understand it, but they understand the Daily Mail headline more…there’s this panic [among politicians] about what the papers are going to say, and of course, depending on the mood or depending how slow a news day it is, you’re going to get a headline that will completely and deliberately misunderstand the science-often.

This next anecdote is a beauty:

The number of times I was rung at 7 oclock in the morning, ‘oh hi, it’s the desk here, there’s something about the environment on page 6 in the [Daily] mail. Could you do something?’

‘Well, what is it?’

‘Oh, I don’t know, it’s just something in the Mail.’

That was it. That’s all you had to know. It was in the Mail, therefore you had to do it. Despite the fact that you probably looked at the report and it was a load of nonsense, or the Mail had overwritten it. Most of my battles were over trying not to do pieces that had been covered wrongly by the tabloid press.

She then sighs and lets it rip:

This leads you to the conclusion that you have the political class and the media class, which are essentially the same thing. They all went to the same schools, they all went to the same places. They all know each other, have known each other since university days, or earlier…[they're] locked into some mutually destructive embrace. The politicians trust the media, because they think that they are in touch with normal people. I don’t know how the hell they are, because they spend their whole time with the politicians. Therefore the politicians give the stories to the media and the media then reflect that back…And actually nobody is talking to normal people at all. Nobody. No politicians. No journalists.

Ouch. All 75 minutes (which includes an interesting Q & A with the audience) are well worth watching.

6 Responses to “Former BBC Reporter Pulls Back the Curtain”

  1. Barry Woods Says:

    She has it spot on with the media class and the political class…

    One could add, that this little grouping includes the environmental class.. step up Baroness Worthington, ex Friends of the Earth, Sandbag, who was instrumental in writing the climate Change Act.

  2. thingsbreak Says:

    This (last graph) is exactly the same complaint made about the beltway media and our political press in the US.
    People like David Brooks are treated by the political class and others in the media as speaking for the working stiff. Yes, David Brooks.
    So Brooks or someone talks about courageous Paul Ryan’s courageous plan to courageously “address” the deficit by cutting taxes for the wealthy (i.e. for people like Paul Ryan and David Brooks) while shifting medical costs to the elderly and poor, and that becomes conventional political and beltway media wisdom unless a sufficient backlash develops.
    To the credit of the media more broadly, in this instance there was encouragingly strong pushback against the Villagers.

  3. Tom Gray Says:

    Despite the fact that you probably looked at the report and it was a load of nonsense, or the Mail had overwritten it.

    Isn’t this true in the trivial sense that it is true fro all media outlets and especially true about AGW?

    Isn’t it also true about the science by press release and spin strategy employed in AGW?

    Why is this supposedly a description of ethe Daily Mail and not of any other media outlet?

  4. Keith Kloor Says:

    “Why is this supposedly a description of the Daily Mail and not of any other media outlet.”

    That is a fair question to ask.

  5. Bishop Hill Says:

    The comment about NGOs funding climate science was very surprising. I’m kind of assuming there is a misunderstanding of some kind. I’ve read quite a lot of climate papers and I can’t recall any that mentioned funding by NGOs.

    Does anyone know anything about this?

  6. Eli Rabett Says:

    <a href=””>Why yes</a> but there are others

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