The Dangers of Narrative Journalism

OPINION by Kip Hansen — 31 July 2020

featured_image_climate_migr“Narrative journalism is a genre of feature writing that combines rigorous reporting with fiction-writing techniques and eschews dramatic, news-making events to focus on everyday life and ordinary people. “  [ source ]

“The narrative journalism style requires that the author put him – or herself into the article; thus, the piece may be written from a first-person perspective. ….  Of course, it’s tricky to write a true narrative if you’re accustomed to sticking to “just the facts” and not adding any extraneous adjectives or adverbs to the mix, let alone personal opinions. ”

Some Narrative Journalism Concerns:   One of the biggest worries editors and publishers have about narrative journalism is that because it’s a blend of facts and feelings, problems can occur. Recently, many authors have been nabbed for stating mistruths in their pieces. Though some of the journalists accused of making up details were in fact guilty, others claimed to have simply misinterpreted situations. Because narrative journalism makes fact-checking challenging, it is still considered taboo in most news rooms.” [ Narrative Journalism ]

A narrative does not depart from the cardinal rule: Make nothing up or you’ll be out of here and working at the Sunglass Hut so fast it’ll make your head spin around. A narrative is a journalistic form that has fallen into considerable disfavor in the wake of our craft’s ceaseless, self-flagellating credibility crisis” — Patrick Beach, Austin American-Statesman  [ source ] [ my bold –kh ]

[READERS TAKE NOTE:  This is a LONG essay – 3,000 words.  Those with no particular interest in the ongoing “death of journalism” can safely skip this piece.]

So, narrative journalism is basically reporting the news by telling a first-person (usually) narrative about the topic.  A narrative is simply “a spoken or written account of connected events; a story.”  In narrative journalism, the journalist writes:  what’s happening, how I went there, who I talked to, what I saw, how I felt, how the victims and participants in the news felt, what they told me and, for most stories, what I (the journalist) think it all means.

The Patrick Beach quote above is important  – – he insists, no excuses,  that narrative journalists follow the first few points from the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics:

“Ethical journalism should be accurate and fair. Journalists should be honest and courageous in gathering, reporting and interpreting information.

Journalists should:

– Take responsibility for the accuracy of their work. Verify information before releasing it. Use original sources whenever possible.

– Remember that neither speed nor format excuses inaccuracy.

– Provide context. Take special care not to misrepresent or oversimplify in promoting, previewing or summarizing a story.”

There are many famous cases of Narrative Journalists going astray.  One of the most famous is that of Rigoberta Menchú’s autobiography, which  was part of the  basis for her receiving  Nobel Peace prize in 1992.  Unfortunately, her narrative of her life and the civil war in Guatemala contained many points that were nonfactual:

“A younger brother whom Ms. Menchú says she saw die of starvation never existed, while a second, whose suffering she says she and her parents were forced to watch as he was being burned alive by army troops, was killed in entirely different circumstances when the family was not present. Contrary to Ms. Menchu’s assertion in the first page of her book that I never went to school and could not speak Spanish or read or write until shortly before she dictated the text of I, Rigoberta Menchu, she in fact received the equivalent of a middle-school education as a scholarship student at two prestigious private boarding schools operated by Roman Catholic nuns.” [ source ]

Menchú later responded:

“I’d like to stress that it’s not only my life, it’s also the testimony of my people.”  — Menchú

An even more egregious example was that of Rolling Stone reporter, Sabrina Rubin Erdely.

“Like most journalists worth reading, she [Erdley] approached the story with a passionate purpose, a sense of injustice, of a wrong that needed to be righted. In Erdely’s case, she wanted to expose the “culture of rape” on college campuses, and she went looking for a case so vivid and gripping that no reader could dismiss it.”

After the story had been splashed all over the front pages of America’s newspapers, a careful review discovered that the story:

 “….is not at all supported by independent facts. Erdely [Sabrina Rubin Erdely] never located the supposed ringleader of the gang rape—“Drew” in the story, a lifeguard and Phi Kappa Psi fraternity brother—and his existence cannot be established. Erdely never approached the three friends whom Jackie quoted as sounding coldly unsympathetic after she told them about the rape, and all three deny saying the things attributed to them. Records show that Phi Kappa Psi held no social event of the kind Jackie described on the night she said she was raped there.”

“The magazine retracted the article following a Columbia University School of Journalism review which concluded that Erdely and Rolling Stone failed to engage in “basic, even routine journalistic practice“.[ source ]

And then there is the case of Jason Blair, formerly of The New York Times.  In May 2003, an internal NY Times investigation revealed:

“A staff reporter for The New York Times committed frequent acts of journalistic fraud while covering significant news events in recent months, an investigation by Times journalists has found. The widespread fabrication and plagiarism represent a profound betrayal of trust and a low point in the 152-year history of the newspaper.

The reporter, Jayson Blair, 27, misled readers and Times colleagues with dispatches that purported to be from Maryland, Texas and other states, when often he was far away, in New York. He fabricated comments. He concocted scenes. He lifted material from other newspapers and wire services. He selected details from photographs to create the impression he had been somewhere or seen someone, when he had not.

And he used these techniques to write falsely about emotionally charged moments in recent history, from the deadly sniper attacks in suburban Washington to the anguish of families grieving for loved ones killed in Iraq.”

Jason Blair was writing narrative journalism – and “making things up”.

In the media today, and here I mean newspaper, magazine and television news, we find lots of this type of “reporting”  – narrative journalism.

The New York Times Magazine featured this piece on 23 July 2020:

The Great Climate Migration by Abrahm Lustgarten | Photographs by Meridith Kohut.

Abrahm Lustgarten is a longstanding, well respected journalist.  He is not, as we say in the Real World, “an unbiased observer” or a  fair-handed journalist.  Lustgarten has been an anti-fossil fuel, anti-Exxon, anti-fracking warrior at ProPublica for well more than a decade.   His NY Times Magazine climate migration piece is truly a masterpiece of propagandistic narrative journalism.  The Editorial Narrative [ and see here ]  of the NY Times on climate migration apparently requires frightening images of hordes of poor starving Latinos storming US borders.  The Times story misrepresents the World Banks 2018 report on climate migration repeatedly in the current article but in the end, the World Bank found the that almost all “climate migrants” just moved within their own countries, moving from the countryside to the cities, finding specifically:  “The report finds that internal climate migration will likely rise through 2050 and then accelerate unless there are significant cuts in greenhouse gas emissions and robust development action.”

That just didn’t fit the bill for ProPublica, The New York Times and Lustgarten – it doesn’t fulfill the required narrative.  What to do?  They paid someone to give them a different result!

“ProPublica, with The New York Times Magazine and funded by the Pulitzer Center, hired geographer Bryan Jones at Baruch College to build an extended version of a climate migration model that Jones had done with the World Bank for its 2018 report, “Groundswell.” The model aims to understand how climate change might lead to population shifts in Central America and Mexico, including how people may move across borders between these countries and to the United States.” [ source = the Jone study’s  methodology document ]  [Note:  I have been unable to find a full copy of the actual report – I only find the methodology supplement ]

Here’s the propaganda pitch [from the methodology]:

“We focused on changes in Central America and used climate and economic-development data to examine a range of scenarios. Our model projects that migration will rise every year regardless of climate, but that the amount of migration increases substantially as the climate changes. In the most extreme climate scenarios, more than 30 million migrants would head toward the U.S. border over the course of the next 30 years. “

One has to admire the audacity of using this weasel language:  “…would head toward the U.S. border .. “ – meaning move in a northerly direction.  The report’s finding is not that these migrants would attempt to move into the United States, or even cross the US border, but that they may move north towards the border.

Lustgarten , having made such an alarming, headline- producing statement, then gives us the real finding, the small print,  of the purpose-bought study:

“Migrants move for many reasons, of course. The model helps us see which migrants are driven primarily by climate, finding that they would make up as much as 5 percent of the total.

Even that five percent, that 1 out of 20, is mostly imaginary. They are claiming that the coffee blight (coffee rust) was “worsened by climate change“ [which is not true],  so the 5% includes every coffee planter/worker  laid off since the Coffee Rust hit:

“Central America, where smallholders with less than 7.5 acres of land produce 80 percent of the region’s coffee, has been particularly hard hit by rust. Some 70 percent of the farms have been affected, and over 1.7 million coffee workers have lost their jobs. Many are leaving the coffee lands to find work elsewhere. “

“The problem is not just the rust; it’s the rust and catastrophically low coffee prices,” says Stuart McCook, author of the upcoming Coffee is Not Forever: A Global History of the Coffee Rust. “It’s difficult for farmers to weather both.” [  source ]

This entire Climate Migration piece is filled with examples of this kind of misleading information.

But it gets worse.   Like the stories of Rigoberta Menchú, Jason Blair and  Sabrina Erdely, Lustgarten’s climate migration story contains reportedly factual statements that are obviously either “mistaken” or simply made up.

Lustgarten begins his narrative with this heart-breaking story about “Jorge A.”:

“Early in 2019, a year before the world shut its borders completely, Jorge A. knew he had to get out of Guatemala. The land was turning against him. For five years, it almost never rained. Then it did rain, and Jorge rushed his last seeds into the ground. The corn sprouted into healthy green stalks, and there was hope — until, without warning, the river flooded. Jorge waded chest-deep into his fields searching in vain for cobs he could still eat. Soon he made a last desperate bet, signing away the tin-roof hut where he lived with his wife and three children against a $1,500 advance in okra seed. But after the flood, the rain stopped again, and everything died. Jorge knew then that if he didn’t get out of Guatemala, his family might die, too.”

There is a photo of the “tin-roofed hut” that was reportedly “signed away” for $1,500 (that’s one thousand five hundred dollars).

Link to the photo on the NY Times site.

This is, at best,  a hovel with a mud floor from which the rocks have not even been removed to make it smooth.  It is incredibly sad that this family of five had to live in such a place.  But there is no way that anyone would give this desperately poor sustenance farmer, who, according to Lustgarten’s story, had not returned a successful crop for five years, the incredible sum of $1,500 – either as cash or in valuable seed in exchange for this house.

How much okra seed can one buy for  $1,500?  Even at the high prices paid here in the United States for fancy okra seed, $1,500 will buy over 800 pounds of okra seed. That is enough to plant more than 110 acres, depending on plant spacing.  Needless to say, it would be improbable that Jorge A. actually had over 110 acres of fields suitable for okra available to him or that he, his wife (with babe in arms) and one 7-year-old son, would be able to plant or care for 110 acres of okra.

This part of the story – the narrative tale – is simply not credible.

Lustgarten doubles down in this story by continuing with:

In March, Jorge and his 7-year-old son each packed a pair of pants, three T-shirts, underwear and a toothbrush into a single thin black nylon sack with a drawstring. Jorge’s father had pawned his last four goats for $2,000 to help pay for their transit, another loan the family would have to repay at 100 percent interest. The coyote called at 10 p.m. — they would go that night. They had no idea then where they would wind up, or what they would do when they got there.

From decision to departure, it was three days. And then they were gone.

Lustgarten has exceeded  my ability to suspend disbelief with that.  How much do you think a goat is worth in rural Guatemala?  Lustgarten claims that Jorge’s father  “pawned” four of them for $2,000.

I have checked with my friends from nearby El Salvador.  They assure me that a nice fat goat can be purchased for $40 to $50, ready for slaughter.  If these goats could be sold for $500 in nearby Guatemala, the Salvadorans would all drive their goats up there and sell them at ten times their real value.  The Save The Children organization will gladly give a family in Guatemala a goat  in exchange for your donation of $60 (out of which comes all their administrative and delivery  expenses as well).

In short, no one would give Jorge A.’s father $2,000 as a loan against $200 worth of goats.  This part of the story – the narrative tale – is simply not credible.

Do these two incongruous little pieces of the story “matter”?  In the sense of the disaster that has befallen Jorge A. and his family:  No, they do not matter.  However, when looking at Lustgarten’s article through the eye of critical thinking, critical reading, we see in the first two pages he has included story elements that simply cannot be true —  that are “mistruths.”  And if he has intentionally included these nonfactual elements in the simple stories, how can we possibly trust the overall story that depends so much on his personal opinions and his understanding of very complex issues?  How many more “mistruths” and “misrepresentations” has he been willing to include in order to move his story forward – to convince his readers of his viewpoint?

Has Lustgarten gone the way of Menchú,  Blair and Erdely?  Has he stepped over Patrick Beach’s inviolate line – “Make nothing up” – into territory strictly forbidden to journalists?  The territory of invented stories?  Drifted into stating “mistruths” in his stories?

Have ProPublica and The New York Times, like the Rolling Stone before them,  failed to engage in “basic, even routine journalistic practice“?  Have their editors failed to even read the Lustgarten piece to see if the simple facts of his narrative, like those above, pass even the basic common-sense test?

I invite readers to read the entire Lustgarten article – vaingloriously labelled Part 1 – as an example of what goes wrong when journalists abandon the strict but necessary rules of journalism and are allowed to let their imaginations rule to fill out and punch up stories with nonfactual information — written not to inform us but to advocate for some social or ideological goal.

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Author’s Comment:

This is an OPINION piece.  If WUWT had   a dedicated Opinion Section it would appear there.

I have stopped short of expressing my full opinion on what I think accounts for the discrepancies in Lustgarten’s narrative.   It is enough to point out that in the story he presents about one family there are elements that are not credible and, yes, you may read this to mean “obviously false”.  How and why they have been incorporated into this ProPublica/New York Times Magazine article is only know to Lustgarten and his editors.

I don’t think his misstatements are just a problem of failing to make proper currency exchange calculations.  Guatemala uses the Guatemalan Quetzal, which is denoted as “Q” or “GTQ”.  The conversions are US$  1,500 = Q 11,550.    US$ 2,000 =  Q 15,400.

Lastly, let me point out that in the last few years Narrative Journalism has sadly become an almost comical double-entendre – it is Narrative Journalism written to satisfy the requirements of its Editor’s Narratives.  [ ref: Bari Weiss ]

Lustgarten’s piece is full of caveats but only the most skilled critical readers/thinkers will understand that they nullify and make moot  the majority of his claims about climate migration. The vast majority will be fooled and misled.  Another sad day for journalism — a black-arm-band day for science journalism – science bought and paid for in support of a lie.

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79 thoughts on “The Dangers of Narrative Journalism

  1. Last week we found out the the NYTimes “1619 Project” wasn’t actually history, after they did claim it was, but rather was about “forming an alternate narrative.”

    • Neo ==> The 1619 Project is described as “long-form journalism” another name for Narrative Journalism.

      Nikole Hannah-Jones, the reporter for The New York Times who led the project, has been back-peddalling for weeks under a barrage of very credible criticism.

      Like Rigobert Menchu, she claims itr is just a “story” and shouldn’t be confused with history. That is a total reversal of her original stance.

      • The problem arises with a parallel of Twain’s “A lie can travel half way around the world…”.

        Like the retraction on page 16, that admission will never get to the general public, and will be vigorously denied by the “useful idiots”.

        In the meantime, there are credible reports that the “1619 Project” is being introduced in early elementary school curricula.

      • The NYT assumes intellectual license for such history re-writes by invoking critical theory..
        Most folks don’t know what that is. Critical theory, redefined as “critical race theory” supports a Marxist-driven cultural re-write to find the suppress people’s true narrative. NYT, like NASA/GISS, is closely aligned with the garbage intellectual commie academics at Columbia University.

        ”The critical theory Marcuse and his colleagues created has now been recast as “critical race theory,” which dominates many academic disciplines, finding its way into faculties of law, English, philosophy, and more.”
        https://www.heritage.org/progressivism/commentary/the-new-york-times-1619-project-reeks-herbert-marcuses-divisive-ideology

        Don’t get wound up on the use of the word “critical”. It is a false flag, misdirection use of the word by those who are anything but critical thinkers.

        And the Marxist origins of critical theory discussed here:
        https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Critical_theory

      • Kip, what is amazing to me is that the NYT actually purports to have these stringent journalistic rules, or rather that they are enforced these days. They were awfully lax on much of the issues that get aired here at WUWT on climate and now on mod social issues.

        Could it be that the decline in integrity of the media has been fertile ground for creating this type of journalism. Look at the recent resignation of an honest editor at NYT in just the past 2 weeks.

        I think we see this same situation in climate science. The institutions, governments, universities have created and funded fake science (find the human causes of disastrous climate change). Had they agreed to fund the science regardless of research outcomes, the science would have been entirely different, would have attracted higher caliber scientists and we wouldn’t have 12,200 papers published in 7000 days! -John Cook 97% consensus analysis took papers published over two decades. The number of papers was the real news story for me. This was worse than the $500 goat you mentioned. Moreover they just continued publishing the same stuff over and over on about a half dozen or so topics.

        No, Kip. There is much much much bigger story with this paper and most of its fellow rags than narrative journalism. If they actually enforced these lofty rules
        across the board, there would be fewer bad journalists and the paper itself wouldn’t be in economic straits. Indeed the repurposing of these papers actually created the flood of digital alternative news outlets because of the information vacuum.

    • They really hate when people point out it was their African ancestors who sold them into slavery, not white people. Also point out that very many of those African slave sellers were muslim and they really pitch a fit.

  2. Sometimes the best writing on a subject comes from people directly involved. If you want to read about Climategate or the hockey stick, read Bishop Hill, WUWT or Climate Audit. They understand and report on the details better than anyone else. If you think they have too much self interest or bias, check out Real Climate for the other side. Try to find any details other than bland dismissal from Andrew Revkin or “Pulitzer prize winner” Chris Mooney.

    https://cliscep.com/2020/05/11/from-janet-cooke-to-chris-mooney/

  3. And if he has intentionally included these nonfactual elements in the simple stories, how can we possibly trust the overall story ”

    Shades of the hockey stick and ‘Mike’s Nature trick’ except in that case factual elements were instead left out to ‘hide the decline’ rather than nonfactual elements being added in.

    • It was actually both. Truncating data after a certain date, and splicing thermometer data onto proxy data to present a false narrative.

  4. Anyone who is a keen reader, observant and reasons logically, can soon pick up the flaws in an opinion piece or essay or article. Look for the contradictions, lack of cohesion and problems with coherence. Every adult has many years of exposure to language and subconsciously makes the connection between patterns in language and meaning. This enables us to make a surprisingly good evaluation of every narrative and to critique any shortcomings.

    • Michael ==> Unfortunately, far too many readers simply accept whatever is written as true they find it inconceivable that a journalist would “make things up” or write “mistruths” (one has to hand it to the guy that decided to use that word when he meant “falsehoods” or “lies”). It is this fact that makes Twitty and FB and other social media so dangerous to society.

      Reading the Jorge A. story to family members elicited no recognition of the absurdity of the claims – – – even my well-educated family simply accepted impossible numbers just because they were there, and were numbers. (And we all “know” — numbers don’t lie)

    • That’s especially true of radical left propaganda letters distributed in French universities, or of some FBI reports. That suggests the FBI is populated with blue haired women who did social studies.

      So can the FBI be fixed?

  5. Somewhere I heard that some Communist leader — Lenin – ? – Stalin — said that words should not be used to report history, but to shape it. So as not to be guilty of narrative journalism myself, I will simply ask if my memory is somewhat correct. (A quick internet search was swamped by the many other things Lenin and Stalin said.)

  6. Good article. Not surprising. In our current media (CNN, NBC, CBS, yes and in FOX) opinion is routinely included in supposed news reporting. This is travesty.

    BTW, “mislead” in this context should not be used. I believe “misled” is the correct usage. Let me know if I’m wrong.

    But I really enjoyed the article. Our leftist friends don’t practice journalism. They use it as a cover.

  7. There is no more journalism; there is only advocacy. Narrative advocacy adds an emotional element to the story so that it will more effectively persuade people to adopt the desired point of view. In a sense it is just advertising.

  8. Don’t forget that one of the “characters” in Obama’s biography was actually a “mix” of several folks.
    This was discovered after the biography was published. Sort of “narrative journalism” in a biography.

    • Scouser in AZ ==> This is thew primary reason I will never ever write an autobiography. After years of telling and retelling the most interesting stories, I am never quite sure of the original, verifiable facts. My wife and I often remember seemingly quite different versions — and this is without any reason to modify the stories.

  9. Some years ago, I suggested that a Physics 121 class read a tortuously-worded NYT article on storm intensity and global warming. All of the students who read the article reported that it stated that storm intensity had increased by 10%. Some strongly argued the issue (I encourage respectful disagreement with authority figures on Scientific topics.) when I pointed out that a 1% increase was being described.

    I believe the NYT deliberately intended to misinform the readers. The facts were presented correctly, but a very, very careful reading was necessary to discern them. Since Robert Byrne has passed on, why bother to read the rag?

    • EdA ==> In my youth, I was trained in the field of “intelligence” spying and all that. We were required to read, study and understand Sun Tzu’s The Art of War. One of my favorite quotes is:

      “To know your Enemy, you must become your Enemy. … If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”

      I could not write about the Climate Wars or other contemporary issues without access to the wildly biased NY Times.

    • Why does that bring to mind The Storm Channel clip of one their people on site reporting on a hurricane or something. He was stumbling around trying to stand while talking about how strong the winds were.
      Meanwhile, a couple of people casually walk by in the background.

  10. Kip
    Typo’s:
    “… the World Bank found the that almost all ‘climate migrants’ …”

    I have been a Second Amendment advocate/activist since the 1980s and have considerable experience with the MSM treatment of the subject. What got me involved was the local newspaper (San Jose Mercury News) publishing Letters to the Editor containing claims that were simply untrue. Often they were in the category of Urban Legends. However, while the editors would sometimes benignly edit the submissions so that they would appear to come from someone with a modicum of education, they never questioned ‘facts’ or made editorial judgments. If the narrative aligned with the sentiments of the pacifist editor, it got a free pass. I was limited to one response per month, while the opposing side was limited only by the number of people willing to potentially be made to look like a fool. This is reminiscent of the policy of The Conversation before they decided to not allow opposing or unflattering responses.

    It has also been my experience that Newspaper articles about gun control are written by people with no experience with firearms or ballistics technology, and are unacquainted even with the correct terminology. They frequently use raw numbers instead of per capita rates or percentages, when they would be more objective.

    I was once being interviewed on TV on the topic and I was asked a leading question to which I had a ready answer that would have won the debate. However, the reporter looked over at the cameraman, pulled her finger across her throat, indicating she wanted the camera turned off.

    Clearly, the MSM has an agenda regarding many liberal topics. They are willing to do whatever is necessary to propagandize the topic to convince the uniformed and gullible members of the public to agree with their agenda. It is a sad state of affairs that the MSM is not objective and even-handed, and behave as though it is their responsibility to tell the public how they should think.

    • Clyde ==> Good Eye! Love careful readers. And this is after multiple careful edits and a professional editor….

      Bari Weiss arrived at the same conclusion – – newspaper and other media journalists and editors now believe it is their job to tell the public what to think — what to believe — instead of what’s going on.

      • “Bari Weiss arrived at the same conclusion – – newspaper and other media journalists and editors now believe it is their job to tell the public what to think — what to believe — instead of what’s going on.”

        That’s because they have no clue as to what’s going on. They only believe what they’re told by trusted sources. They’re told that anyone else has a far right agenda.

    • Clyde: “They are willing to do whatever is necessary to propagandize the topic to convince the uniformed and gullible members of the public to agree with their agenda.”

      🙂

    • Clyde,
      Yep, in a TV interview with one of our past Federal ministers for environment, my wife in the audience noted the “foot to opposite ankle” signal of the Minister to the moderator, beyond my sight. Several times, just as a key point was developing. Geoff S

  11. The narrative journalism style requires that the author put him – or herself into the article …

    Sounds like Gonzo journalism. The spirit of Hunter S. Thompson lives on. YES!

    The narrative journalists will deny that they are anything like Hunter S. Thompson but that’s like Social Justice Warriors denying that they are anything like a lynch mob. It seems like some lessons need to be learned the hard way, again, and again, and again.

  12. People love predictions of the future.

    The climate crisis is nothing but predictions of the future — crises that never happen.

    Media writers know bad news predictions make the best headlines .

    Good news predictions are boring.

    All predictions are narratives – personal opinions very likely to be wrong, so the people reporting them are not real journalists, in my opinion.

    In the good old days — the 1960s — we did not trust the government, or people over the age 30.

    Maybe that was wisdom?

  13. I read an opinion piece on why a Canadian oil pipeline should not terminate in Vancouver. Because ‘That would mean 400 oil tankers visiting Vancouver per year. that’s 10 per day!’ Journalists are not numbers people they are word people. That is why they went to journalism school not engineering school. It is frustrating having people who don’t understand numbers reporting on topics that require that skill set.

  14. If you work for a newspaper, you have to come up with new stories every day, and I’ll bet there is a certain temptation to make the stories better than God intended. Hunter Thompson actually made it a point of form to salt his stories with exaggerations and sometimes outright lies. His point was that the truth can sometimes best be told by overflowing the banks of accuracy. I am appalled by that attitude, but I loved Thompson’s reporting anyway.

    • There may be a currency identification problem that explains Lustgarden”s apparent exaggeration of hovel and goat prices. If you switch the quoted $1,500 and $2,000 to Quetzals, their equivalents are Q195 and Q260.

      • Doug ==> I have considered that he has simply been “mistaken” – – – but Lustgarten claims to have actually visited Jorge A. in his home they took photos, they stayed in hotels and must have been familiar with the local currency. He is a professional journalist…..professional journalists live and die on the details.

        If he had meant GTQs — the actual conversions would be, if he had simply MEANT GTQs and wrote $:

        GTQ 1500 (or about US$ 200) and GTQ 2000 (or about US$ 260).

        Even with the “conversion error” the numbers don’t make sense. The goats are still “pawned” at twice any reasonable value, and the amount of okra seed that could be bought for GTQ 1500 exceeds any reasonable amount that could be used by Jorge A. and his wife.

        Very kind of you to give him the benefit of the doubt….

        • Kip:

          I purposely didn’t ascribe motive – I don’t know enough to give or withhold benefit of the doubt. I just wanted to indicate that changing dollars to quetzals made the numbers more (if not sufficiently) plausible.

          • Doug ==> Understood….I did all that checking myself early on in the research for the essay — but it just didn’t ring true as an excuse. Lustgarten is a pro, he writes that he was there in Guatemala, that he interviewed these people, so he knew the local currency, he knew exchange rates, and I just don’t think he was likely to make such an amateur mistake as forgetting to note the currency or do exchange rates.

  15. Powerful people in the Press and Government and Commerce and Social Media are constantly lying about practically everything from Climate Change to Covid Case Statistics to the supposed dangers of Hydroxychloroquine. They recently failed in a Coup attempt against the President of the United States, which was the biggest crime in US poltical history yet it receives almost no press coverage. Nobody seems to care. Half the country doesn’t even know about the Durham investigation of the illegal coup.

    Pulling out all the stops to restrict the use of a safe drug with well known antiviral mechanisms during a viral pandemic points to something that’s very wrong… and not in full view of the public. Way too much effort is being put into the suppression of Hydroxychloroquine. State Pharmacy Boards are restricting it’s use but only for Covid patients. That is unprecedented…but very suspicious for being totally unwarranted based on its safety and known mechanisms of action. It’s bizarre. The Lancet published an obviously fraudulent study showing HCQ to be dangerous that was written by non-scientists using bogus data. Why would the Lancet publish that study? A cursory review should have been enough to deny publication. But then, the WHO stopped all of their ongoing HCQ studies BASED ON THAT FRAUDULENT STUDY… and they have not reversed that order even after the Lancet pulled the study as a fraud. That makes no sense. The press should be all over this. And Lancet’s editorial staff should have been fired on the spot. Nope…they remain in good standing. Nothing is normal or makes any sense about this whole HCQ story.

    Governors and Mayors are inviting pointless chaos and violence into their communities…while publicly broadcasting wholesale invective at every policeman in existence.

    Big Social Media is stepping up their campaign of censorship of conservatives…obviously to effect the upcoming elections.

    California will soon be mailing ballots out to every address in their voter rolls. Judicial Watch just did an audit of the voter roles in LA County and found over a million ineligible or deceased voters on the rolls in that County alone. People who care about the integrity of an election would never consider distributing millions of “loose”ballots out across a State. The opportunities for fraud are too obvious. At best it will take months to resolve voter signature disputes. Illegal ballots that are sent in could number in the tens to hundreds of thousands. The Governor is obviously engineering a disaster…apparently on purpose.

    I suspect that an undeclared war has started, and shots are now being fired. The November election is going to be a disaster. Another engineered disaster to bring down the stock market or the economy before the election should come as no surprise.

    • “Half the country doesn’t even know about the Durham investigation of the illegal coup.”

      Often I’ve thought that a key to understanding the crazy nature of the world and the seeming lack of knowledge and intelligence is that, assuming a normal distribution, half of the people in the country are below average.

      And they vote!

      • Kid
        Actually, when you take into account head trauma from accidents, dementia from age, and neurons destroyed from alcohol and drug abuse, far more than half of adults have IQs less than 100.

  16. “How many more “mistruths” and “misrepresentations” has he been willing to include in order to move his story forward – to convince his readers of his viewpoint?”

    Well, the biggest whopper is that there is anything unusual happening with “the climate”. Everything else is just fluff.

  17. Thank you, Kip, for such an insightful critique of neo-journalism. This has really been an issue for decades in the “profession” of reporting/journalism, dating even back to William Shirer, Edward R. Murrow, and Walter Cronkite.

    • Dakota Kid ==> I try….

      My father was born on the Rose Bud there in Dakota (if that’s whewre you are or are from) – born on the banks of Wounded Knee Creek.

  18. The narrative is the witch doctors tool. If you doubt that, wait, you haven’t heard the full message yet.

    In science talk it is AD-HOCKERY, continually shoring up your argument against critics’ points.

    Carefully make your assertion and walk away.

  19. Mr. Hansen,
    You are far, far more patient and generous than I.

    As far as I’m concerned, Mr. Lustgarten (an anthropology major at Cornell followed by J-school at Columbia) is an idiot, a liar and a social parasite. He represents everything that is wrong with this country— an economic illiterate and innumerate given a megaphone which he has used to mislead and misinform the public.

    Why he has chosen to behave that way is anybody’s guess. I’d love to know his motives. Is he merely stupid or is there a more nefarious explanation?

    • John Garrett ==> Honestly, I suspect that he is a True Believer.

      Anyone with experience with modern “religious” cults will be familiar with the phenomenon — a True Believer has been brainwashed (by exclusive immersion) to the point which they will believe literally anything promulgated by their leader(s) and take those beliefs even further from reality on their own as a form of virtue signalling. In the modern environmentalism/climate realm, the “leader” is some form of “hivemind” groupthink; individuals never question or think critically about the positions of their group, they only look for confirming evidence, and like the wildest conspiracy theorists, everything is evidence.

    • PaulH ==> Sadly true — we are already seeing Shellenberger transformed from a “Hero of the Environment” into a Raving Madman by the green media. A few years ago he was brilliant, insightful, and the media hung on his every word…..now that he has come to his senses, he is accused of ignorance, hubris, misrepresentation, “bad science”, and treated to more just plain name-calling.

      Each of the high-powered Greens that have woken up and recovered their sense of reality, which necessitated jumping ship, are being ripped to shreds in the Green Press.

  20. I first cut my teeth on being skeptical and agendas following news out of Israel. I had an online friend living in Judea and we talked via an old Google group almost daily. She came on line very upset one day and told me how she had been in a bakery with her toddler and a Palestinian came in and started stabbing people. He stabbed on elderly Jewish man in the line in front of her and then came at her and her toddler, knife raised. Now as it happened the terrorist picked the wrong woman because she was a conservative religious American Jew from Texas originally and she was packing. She shot him at point blank range and killed him. She was eight month pregnant and she was extremely upset, worried about the shock resulting in her going into early labor, thank goodness her father had taught her how to use a gun, the poor man who was stabbed might not make it, she had never killed anyone before, she had IDF soldiers taking her statements, this big investigation was going on, she had to go now and get ready for the Sabbath but she was so upset she didn’t know what to do, on in that vein. The next day there was blaring headline in the newspaper from an AP report in my local paper, the Winnipeg Free Press. “American Settler Guns Down Palestinian in Bakery.” (or something like that. I don’t recall the actual wording of the headline.) The entire story had been changed to make it sound like this poor innocent Palestinian had been standing in line minding his own business in a Palestinian bakery on a Friday morning the Muslim holy day and this crazed fanatical American Jewish “settler”, one of thieves of land in area, had burst into the bakery and shot the poor man for no reason at all. No mention of him stabbing an elderly man, that he was trying to stab an eight months pregnant woman and toddler, nothing. I’ve been a huge skeptic and conscious of media lies and media agendas ever since then.

    • Natalie Gordon ==> Great story, thanks for sharing. Far too many of the stories we red and see in the news are just of that sort —- no real journalist has actually checked the facts, spoken to witnesses, or done any journalism at all — they are just repeating something from some other source — which usually has the story wrong.

      • Kip
        And, the few times I have been quoted in a newspaper, I not only didn’t remember saying it (when my memory was still sharp) but it didn’t sound like something I would say.

        • Clyde ==> I often write to scientists quoted in articles I write about — 90% of the time they say “off-the-record” that the quote is inaccurate but almost never give permission for me to say they said so.

  21. Journalism is & has been dead, at least from so-called “journalists”. Decline to death started in earnest in the 1960s, but was seeded decades before that.

    • beng135 ==> Journalism as a profession has had a long rocky road — I’m not sure if it ever had a Golden Era of Honesty and Fair-Handedness. Our fathers lived in the time of Yellow Journalism which resembles today, except that newspaper then had differing, opposing viewpoints (and lied and cheated to promote them) rather than today’s monolithic liberal/progressive/Democrat stance.

      • Yes, your right, the founding fathers knew it. The ancient Egyptians tried to remove/destroy evidence of disgraced/deposed leaders (ancient form of history revision).

    • To give credit where it belongs: Mr. William Randolph Hearst practically invented this kind of journalism. From the profits he built a (fake) castle in California.

  22. Here, precisely, is the problem, “Ethical journalism”. No one involved in “journalism” today has any ethics. Whatever advances their leftist political agenda is all they are concerned with. Lie, cheat, steal, kill, whatever it takes to advance their agenda. We are long past the point where “journalists” be held to a rigid legal standard and be severely punished for lying in any form whatsoever.

    • zhotel9 ==> Libel laws are incredibly weak and carrying out a suit for libel is massively expensive — impossible except for the very very rich.

      On the other hand, silencing a critic through libel suits is carried out in the climate realm — through the support of “legal defense funds” (they are actually legal offense funds) used to attack not defend.

      Much of the world today is upside down — good painted as evil; evil painted as good, right declared wrong, falsehood touted as True, truth denigrated as lies.

      Its a long hard road.

      • As I said, we are long past the point where “journalists” be held to a rigid legal standard. Thanks to the left it is coming in the form of mobs and Judge Lynch.

  23. All humans have significant confirmation bias. This bias is so pervasive in humans that an individual cannot possibly recognize the bias in themselves.
    I have a high school classmate who is the editor for a small local newspaper in Florida. Although he is a hardcore liberal, he claims to be unbiased in news reporting and choosing stories for publication. He claims his training and experience enable him to do what no other human can reliably do – realize his own bias and set it aside for the sake of the news. I told him that his training and experience actually solidified his confirmation bias instead of reveal it. He, like everyone else, simply are blind to the bias. Only others can see this bias.

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