What I’ve witnessed in the last 28 hours, as South Australian has been experiencing the most severe weather event the Bureau of Meteorology says we have ever had, is the perfect case study of the absolute incompetency of the mainstream media and their desperation to turn absolutely every news story into a political contest, no matter the facts, logic, science and you know, reality.
South Australia’s weather event might be once in a lifetime. But the reporting is run of the mill, every day, and as pathetic as it always has been. I could write all night about the problems with the media’s framing of the unexpected state-wide blackout, but really it all boils down to this: the media jumps to conclusions based on politicised, populist statements from political players, without checking facts, without checking the validity of those statements, without questioning the likelihood of those statements representing truth, and then makes it the job of the people doing real journalism to contest the truth, after giving the anti-fact agenda a massive head start.
Here is an example:
Channel 9 tweets a headline quoting Nick Xenophon linking the power outage to SA’s reliance on renewable energy. Apparently, if you’re a politician, especially a ‘maverick’, ‘king maker’, stunt-man like Xenophon, you can literally say whatever you like, no matter how ridiculous, how outlandish, how not-true and the media jump on it, repeating it verbatim and thereby making it ‘true’.
Xenophon’s quote set the media agenda in reporting the South Australian storms. This agenda was unquestioned as fact before any expert analysis was provided until many hours later. Now, the story is not about the storm or the blackout, but low and behold it’s an anti-renewable energy story. The renewable energy story is what the 24 hour news cycle dedicated itself to today. While the wind is still blowing, and the power is still off across many suburbs, reality (the wind blowing over crucial energy infrastructure and causing a blackout, which would have happened regardless of how that energy got into that infrastructure), now has to compete with political fear mongering. And whacko, the media have found themselves a political narrative which has all the ingredients to fit their lazy template: politicians are disagreeing, someone is blaming someone else, climate change policy gets a kick and there is lots of daily-occurance-whinging from SA Liberal leader, Steven-whinging-Marshall to provide all the sound bites needed to bash the Labor government with. Like a dog eating a bone, or a train on the tracks, the media literally can’t pull themselves away from this narrative, even when experts are telling them that of course renewable energy did not play a part.
If the journalists stopped for even a moment to think about it, they would probably laugh and agree that, yes, it is a little ridiculous to even mention renewable energy in this situation when it so obviously had nothing to do with the blackout. But that’s not the point. The point is the narrative. Xenophon set it and they ran with it and all of them, lemmings, follow suit, unquestioning, and apparently unable to even laugh at themselves while they do it. I’ve just finished watching a special segment on ABC Adelaide news where Sabra Lane explained that the political mess from this storm will carry on, now that questions have been raised about renewable energy’s impact on the blackout. With a straight face.
And the worst part of this whole sorry affair? The worst part is not just that the media is shit at their jobs and the public are let down and the real story is lost in a shit media storm. No, the worst part is the impact this style of reporting has on politics. Let’s take, for instance, Trump. Trump loves being able to say whatever outlandish thing he likes. He loves watching the media put it in big letters on the TV screen, or a sound bite on the radio, or a headline in a newspaper. He loves that it takes the experts a few hours to fact-check what he’s said, and by then he’s embroiled the media in a ‘political contest’ which automatically provides him with political credibility, even though the statement he made epitomises incredible. The media can deny it all they like, but their template-political-contest created Trump. They are the Frankenstein to the Trump monster. It might just be one big storm in South Australia, but the shit storm the media is really causing is a problem for the entire planet.
Shame on these so-called journalists. Shame on them for playing the game and turning everything into a contest, when the audience deserves better. Shame on them for failing in their responsibility to uphold the values of truth and objectivity in news reporting. Shame on them for undermining their profession and neglecting to do their job. Shame, shame, shame.