Friday, October 20, 2006


Book Round Up #14: Climate Change Catastrophe and Media Failures
By Thomas Riggins [PA Archives]

Here is another in our series of book previews (reviews of reviews) on important new works that have recently appeared. If anyone is inspired to write a full review of one these works (800 words) please contact us at

FIELD NOTES FROM A CATASTROPHE: MAN, NATURE AND CLIMATE CHANGE by Elizabeth Kolbert, Bloomsbury, 210 pp., reviewed by Mariana Gosnell in The New York Times 3-16-2006.

The reviewer says this is “the latest of a large crop of books” on the subject of climate change. Climate change can be seen all over the world and dire consequences seem to be store for us. Ms. Kolbert is credited with clear, comprehensive and succinct language and Gosnell thinks the “book may make a good handbook” on the subject. Global warming is almost certainly caused by our modern industrial society. She tries to be objective but can get up set. Gosnell says “’Astonishingly’ [Kolbert writes] ‘standing in the way’ of progress [in solving the problem] seems to be President Bush’s goal. Not only did he reject the Kyoto Protocol, she notes, with its mandatory curbs on [carbon] emissions, almost killing the treaty
in the process, but he also continues to block meaningful follow-up changes in it.”

At the end of the book, after interviewing scientists, politicians, and lay people, the author allows herself to express her personal opinion when she writes: It may seem impossible to imagine that a technologically advanced society could choose, in essence, to destroy itself, but that is what we are now in the process of doing.” Actually, society does not make such a “choice.” People in power are making choices to ignore science and to continue to pollute the earth because vast, incredibly vast, sums of money are to be made in so doing. It is the capitalist economic system and its inculcation of greed and profit making at any cost that is responsible. Capitalists are blinded by greed and will take all of us along with them down the road of doom if we don ‘t resist and overthrow this destructive economic system.

FEET TO THE FIRE: THE MEDIA AFTER 9/11 by Kristina Borjesson, Prometheus Books, 2005, reviewed by Frances Cerra Whittelsey in Extra! The Magazine of FAIR -- The Media Watch Group, April 2006.

This is a book that addresses the credibility of the news media. Reporters face all sorts of pressures from the government, corporate America and their own publishers to restrict and censor the news. Ms. Borjesson has gone out and interviewed 21 "of the most respected journalists and editors" to see the extent of the problem. Whittelsey writes, "Her questions include many that progressive Americans have been urgently asking: Where were the media in the run-up to the Iraq War? Why was the coverage so unquestioning? How is it that the Bush administration has been so successful in getting its message out to the public? Why, ultimately, are we at war in Iraq?"

Here are some of the things she found out. There was agreement that TV news had failed to do as good a job of credible reporting as other media outlets. Ted Koppel was one of the few defending the record of TV news. Borjesson quotes Tom Yellen (ex-executive for Peter Jennings at ABC News) to the effect that "some of the people controlling TV aren't comfortable with the role of the press as a watchdog." How did the claim about Iraq's WMDs get taken hook-line-and-sinker by the press, especially TV? Well, it seems that ABC, CBS, and also the AP just took the administration's word for it. Some reporting!

There was good print coverage-- but not in New York or Washington "where elite decision makers tend to reside." Knight-Ridder's coverage was good (in fact the "best") but they haven't papers in NY or DC. She also quotes John MacArthur (publisher of Harper's Magazine) who, according to the review, "blames media owners for the largely unquestioning coverage of the run-up to the war. 'The owners decide what journalism we get,' he says. 'By and large, owners are very conservative, go-along-to-get-along establishment figures,' whose primary responsibility, in the case of public companies, is to their shareholders."

Besides institutional bias, threats and intimidation are also used to control the news. Knight-Ridder's reporters were threatened and "barred from traveling with the vice president." The majority of those interviewed also remarked on the profound ignorance of both our military and political leaders with respect to Iraq and the Middle East in general. The American people are also, I think, fairly ignorant on those subjects. The media is at fault, especially TV which dumbs down the news. Ted Koppel, however, disagrees. He blames the American people directly. According to the reviewer he "accused the American public of not paying attention and staying deliberately ignorant. The information people need, asserted Koppel, is available if they make an effort to find it." But wasn't that Koppel's job? I guess not. Our press has to be improved because as Borjesson concludes, "our continued collective ignorance can only lead to global-scale catastrophe." Don't blame "Political Affairs"!

Thomas Riggins is book review editor of Political Affairs and can be reached at

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