The First Rule About The Environment
The first rule about the environment is: you don’t talk about the environment. In 2013 when the New York Times closed its Environment desk (but maintained headings for Sports and Fashion) they sent a clear message about which topics are proper for public discourse. Environmental issues were literally taken off the menu.
Though the reporters were reassigned, the newspaper said it would continue to report on the state of our environment under the auspices of science. But appearance matters. Here’s why.
Herman and Chomsky’s analysis Manufacturing Consent introduced the idea that the New York Times is an important gatekeeper of information and propaganda. This situation holds true today. Many news outlets don’t bother with the expense of doing their own reporting; instead, they reprint New York Times articles in whole or part to fill out their content spaces. So what the New York Times says about a topic and how they do so has a tendency to set trends in thought.
After generating a profit, commercial news media have two functions in this society. The two functions can be contradictory which sometimes turns reporting the facts into a balancing act. The most important function of the news is to maintain public support for the status quo. Increasingly, news outlets employ diversion and distraction strategies to achieve that. However, news media do need to keep the elite informed when profit or influence might be at risk.
So what is the New York Times telling us about bee deaths?
On a whim I looked at the stories written about bees and compared them to what I’ve read elsewhere. An easy enough task: only eleven pieces were published by the New York Times this year — because of that first rule of the environment, I suppose.
Here’s what government, researchers and beekeepers have agreed on this year:
- The USDA (not exactly a pro-environment agency) released a report saying bee die off numbers are too high to be sustainable.
- A report from Harvard found a direct link between insecticide use and mass bee deaths.
- Beekeepers reported losing 34.2% of 670,568 colonies between April 2013 – April 2014.
You might not know these facts if your only source of information was the New York Times. If you look closely, they do mention these things but only in a context that spins the reader away from the truth. Here’s a summary of content about bees from this year so far:
- 4 pieces reported about bees in general (pheromones; social structure, waggle dance, water drinking)
- 2 suggested colony collapse disorder might be caused by a virus.
- 1 opinion piece discussed colony collapse disorder as having multiple causes.
- 2 reports suggest colony collapse disorder is waning or has even disappeared.
- 2 mention government assistance/initiatives to bolster bee populations.
If the New York Times was your only source of information you might think mass bee deaths were a thing of the past and unimportant. The nice science stories are there to entertain us. The stories about mass die offs being due to a virus and the opinion piece about multiple causes are there to protect the pesticide industry. The quibble about the terms colony collapse disorder vs mass bee deaths is meant to distract us — and may even offer reassurance to people worried about the issue.
The real news items are the very short mentions about government assistance. They tell us the problem is alarming enough that various industries (beekeeping and agriculture, for example) are asking for protection. As a side note, the call for research is an invitation for big universities and companies like Monsanto, Syngenta and Bayer to earn some extra money/credibility on the side.
Why create the fiction that everything is mostly ok? I have some theories. I’d love to hear yours.