Tuesday, December 21, 2010
Media spin analysis
The picture at the right accompanies another story on global warming*. The story itself is both unimportant and unremarkable - a bunch of government scientists with their models assure us that "predictions are 'an innately more difficult area of science to get some robustness on,' but stresses these papers represent a 'conservative' analysis." So it's GIGO bullshit, but at least it's conservative GIGO bullshit.
But that picture, what is it doing on this news story? First of all, the caption** is of no help; it tells us neither what, where, nor when we are looking at. But what the image shows is the easy and therefore deceptive part, for we are looking at a bridge and some dried mud. The bridge, looking forlorn and abandoned in the background, makes us think it's probably somewhere in Europe***. The image's name (t1larg.drought.turkey.gi.jpg)**** reveals that this is a large picture taken in Turkey during a drought. But since Turkey is not mentioned in the story, nor is any specific drought nor bridge, nor do we learn when the picture was taken, we must conclude this is not a picture of this story.
Or is it? From our facts (or their lack) about the picture, it's obvious that it is the image of dried mud and abandoned civilization in Europe that is most important. The story itself does contain predictions of 'more severe drought' which, of course, draws the mind back to the picture. How does the mind connect these? "The future is dried mud and abandoned civilization," thinks the brain without thinking.
And therein lies the 'spin.' Pictures on news stories are expected to relate to the story in a real and concrete way. A story about Obama's latest speech is accompanied by a picture that shows him giving the speech and a caption that says Obama is giving a speech. A story about the Korean troubles shows Korean soldiers with a note that tells us who they are. But here we have a story about scientists predicting what might happen if their computer models are correct and if their policy prescriptions are not followed. In this case, CNN has presented an image objectively unrelated to that story, as if it were a fact that is actually happening as a part of that story, to subliminally support a speculative and theoretical argument in that story.
* Climate change, whatever.
** "Current emission rates are putting the world on track for dangerous temperature rises in the 21st century, scientists say."
*** though obviously not from this week, since the whole continent is under like 7 feet of snow if I read other stories on CNN correctly.
**** Yes, I cheated, we're not supposed to look that closely.