Gerard Baker: “Journalism is no longer about trying to tell us what happened; it’s about telling us what we must believe.”

From a Wall Street Journal column by Gerard Baker headlined “Climate Change Has Consumed Journalistic Standards”:

‘Is this the end of summer as we’ve known it?” a New York Times headline asked the other day, with characteristic hysteria. (It’s an old truth in journalism circles: when a newspaper headline asks a question, the answer is almost always no….)

In this case the self-evidently refutable proposition framed as a question was prompted by the summer of meteorologically fraught events we’ve been experiencing: record temperatures and wildfires, droughts and ocean surges, wild storms and flash flooding. Just when we were looking forward to a well-earned summer of escape from the misery of the last 18 months, forget it: Climate change means fire and brimstone forever.

It’s been noted elsewhere that in the modern media’s received taxonomy, we don’t have weather anymore. We have climate. Specifically, man-made climate change..

My beef here isn’t mainly with climate extremism itself. I’m no climate scientist: I’m confident the planet is warming and that evasive action would be smart. I’m less confident that a spate of historically familiar extreme weather events constitutes proof that we’re all going to burn in the next decade or that the answer lies only in the most drastic government-mandated responses, which the media will insist we must immediately adopt. Better-informed writers on these pages have put the case for a more measured judgment and approach. “Unsettled: What Climate Science Tells Us, What It Doesn’t, and Why It Matters,” a recent book by Steven E. Koonin, a scientist and former Obama administration official, provides an elegant rebuttal to much of the extremism.

My concern is with the way these topics are now almost universally reported by the news media. “Reported” is a misnomer. They aren’t facts; they are sacred revealed truths, unchallengeable arguments invested with epistemic certainty and moral clarity.

Journalism is no longer about trying to tell us what happened; it’s about telling us what we must believe, on pain of moral peril. On every major topic—climate, Covid, race relations, electoral law—almost every story blares out at us with censorious didacticism, the journalist’s smug disdain for the unbelievers poring through the prose.

News stories are not really covered in the old sense these days. The editors and reporters simply cull from the innumerable events around them those that fit the prevailing narrative and make sure they include a healthy dose of moral prescription.

In its heyday journalism demanded skepticism and curiosity. The good reporter doubted whatever he was told, even what time it was. He’d weigh competing accounts and explanations and actively seek out alternative versions. Read the bios of great reporters from the past and they’ll be scattered with adjectives like ornery and insubordinate.

The modern journalist is different. His primary ambition is to be part of the expert class, to identify as a member of the cultural elite, happily swaddled in all their shared nostrums. He’s most content when he’s wagging a finger at the selfish fools who continue to doubt climate extremism, express skepticism about vaccines, or deny their innate white sinfulness.

His virtue thus signaled, he luxuriates in the knowledge that he’s on the side of the chosen ones. It’s just a pity it’s no longer journalism.

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