Guest Opinion by Kip Hansen
Using the ever-popular propagandistic visual cliché — a photo of back-lit steam rising from a power plant (making it look like air- polluting black smoke) — the NY Times, represented by Lisa Friedman, boldly mischaracterizes the results of the latest international Pew Survey on perceived threats, using the headline: Islamic State and Climate Change Seen as World’s Greatest Threats, Poll Says.
“Climate change is essentially tied with the Islamic State as the most-feared security threat across much of the world — except in the United States, where cyberattacks are considered a greater danger than global warming.”
The Pew Survey announcement uses this language: “Globally, People Point to ISIS and Climate Change as Leading Security Threats” stating in their lead paragraph:
“People around the globe identify ISIS and climate change as the leading threats to national security, according to a new Pew Research Center survey. The survey asked about eight possible threats. While the level and focus of concern varies by region and country, ISIS and climate change clearly emerge as the most frequently cited security risks across the 38 countries polled.” — Pew
What exactly do they (the Pew researchers) mean by “leading”? (repeating, for emphasis)
“While the level and focus of concern varies by region and country, ISIS and climate change clearly emerge as the most frequently cited security risks across the 38 countries polled.” — Pew
What was the exact question asked? (at least in English):
“I’d like your opinion about some possible international concerns for (survey country). Do you think that ____ is a major threat, a minor threat or not a threat to (survey country)?” — Pew
There were eight threats (in most countries) asked about: ISIS, climate change, cyberattacks from other countries, condition of the global economy, large number of refugees from Iraq and Syria, U.S./Russia/China power and influence (separately).
“In 13 countries, mostly in Latin America and Africa, publics identify global climate change as the topmost threat. It is the second-ranked concern in many other countries polled.” — Pew
Note that the Pew Survey did not ask respondents to rank threats in order of seriousness, only to characterize them as a major threat, minor threat or not a threat. Whenever Pew says “leading” or ”topmost” they only mean that the item was characterized as a major threat more often, by a higher percentage of respondents — in other words, more people in that country considered that particular threat a major threat. There were no ranking questions such as: What do you consider to be the greatest threat to your country out of the following eight items?
Obviously, there were no open ended questions asking simply “What do you consider to be the greatest threat to your country?”
The NY Times stumbles along, pushing the climate change threat message while losing the thread on the Pew Survey:
“While Latin America is certainly vulnerable to the consequences of climate change, its countries rarely rank among the most at risk. That unfortunate distinction tends to go to Chad, Sudan, low-lying island states and other places where poverty and civil strife meet rising seas, floods and drought. So it’s not surprising perhaps to see so many countries in Africa put climate change at the top of their worry list. But 74 percent of people surveyed in seven South American and Latin America countries cite climate as their top global concern, the highest of any region surveyed.” — NY Times
This survey was not conducted in Chad, Sudan, or any of the low-lying island states — at all. Nothing in the survey was related to any actual real-world threat — only perceived threat.
The only “Latin American” country surveyed (outside of South America) was Mexico — no Central American or Caribbean countries were surveyed. In South America, only seven countries were surveyed. In Africa, only seven — out of fifty-four (54) African nations.
None of the nations “cite climate as their top global concern” — no survey respondent was asked to answer any questions about their “global concern(s)” at all, no less their “top global concern”. All survey questions were about “a threat to (survey country)?”
One can only hope that someday the editors of the NY Times will hire a new Public Editor with guts and high standards of journalistic practice and ethics — and hold some of these so-called journalists’ feet to the fire for articles this this — which I consider journalistic malpractice.
The above examples of news-cum-advocacy-cum-propaganda is no surprise from the NY Times — given that the assignment to cover the Pew Research Center’s Spring 2017 Global Attitudes Survey was passed to Lisa Friedman, a reporter on the Times’ climate desk (and proud co-owner of a pizzeria in Washington’s Bloomingdale neighborhood) rather than someone on the International Affairs desk — which might have been a better choice as the survey included the risks presented by ISIS, the Moslem refugee problem, nationally-sponsored cyberattacks, and undue influence of the three super- powers.
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Author’s Comment Policy:
Always glad to answer your questions and engage in civil conversation about the topic at hand — in this case the Pew Global Attitudes Survey (Spring 2017) and the [mis-] use of survey results in the press.
It might, however, be better not to get me started on this topic at all…
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