|Lomborg and the Danish media
Lomborg and the media
in USA International
media Conclusions about the media
I will start to expose how Lomborg has benefited from the printed media in Denmark (the newspapers). After that I deal with the electronic media (radio and television).
Lomborg first appeared on the public scene when the Danish social liberal newspaper Politiken printed four feature articles in January 1998. What happened is described in the page "How Lomborg benefits from support from an editor-in-chief". Even though the newspaper subsequently printed many reader´s letters protesting against Lomborg´s articles (and only few supporting Lomborg), the crucial point was that letters by experts who directly pointed out several concrete errors were rejected, that is, the relevant criticism was held back. In addition, Lomborg was given much space to defend his postulates, and he was backed up by the editor-in-chief, especially in an editorial in which the editor stated that surprisingly, no relevant criticism had been brought forward. It looks like there must have been a sort of agreement or cooperation between Lomborg and the editor which ensured that relevant criticism was held back.
This state of things in Politiken was upheld further on. For instance, the page "How Lomborg won a debate in Politiken" goes into detail with a debate during 2000 - 2001. Even though Lomborg´s opponents had several reader´s letters printed, the most direct and concrete criticism against him was not printed, and in the end, Lomborg had a final letter with many accusations and much derogation of his opponents. These wanted to reply, but were not allowed to by the editor.
Typically, if somebody is provoqued by an article by Lomborg in Politiken and submits an emotionally laden letter in which they express their contempt for Lomborg, then this will be printed. But if somebody submits a letter which contains severe or concrete criticism, then this will be rejected. The effect of this policy is to give the impression that antagonism towards Lomborg is founded on irrational emotions and that there is no concrete criticism against him.
On 17th March 2003 Politiken wrote a long article about when Lomborg was at Harvard University to debate his book with Carl Pope, chairman of the Sierra Club. The Danish journalist talked with both parties - Lomborg and Pope - afterwards, and referred some of what both parties said. But the resulting article us subtly biased. We hear that even though Lomborg is in `enemy territory´, he still manages to convince at least some of the audience that he is at least partially right. For instance the article has this passage: ` "Why is it so wrong to say that we can use our money better than for the environment? And if my book were so poor, why then can nobody provide the smoking gun that shows that I have made errors?" he asks and gets scattered applaus.´ When I corresponded with Americans who actually attended the meeting, they gave a very different impression of what happened at the meeting. Carl Pope actually concentrated on pointing out error upon error in Lomborg´s book, whereas Lomborg constantly tried to shift the debate away from concrete errors. So there were lots of smoking guns. But the readers of Politiken in far-away-Denmark got the impression that even at Harvard, nobody could point out anything wrong in Lomborg´s book.
Another newspaper supporting Lomborg was the large right-wing newspaper Jyllandsposten. During 1998, after the publishing of Lomborg´s first book in September that year (at the publishing house of that newspaper), much space was allotted to Lomborg in the columns of that newspaper. Whereas the normal maximum limit for contributions to the debate are set at 700 words, the first several contributions from Lomborg contained more than 1,000 words. Then he had two contributions with 700 words, and a final remark of about 1,700 words. In comparison, his opponent and colleague, Michael Skou Andersen, a specialist in environmental economy, had only one full length (700 word) letter accepted. All other letters from him were severely cut down. A biologist specialised in forest ecology had first two small letters, then one with 300 words, and finally two with 700 words. The last two were apparently accepted because he adopted a very polemic tone which had a certain entertainment value. Altogether, Lomborg and his opponents were not treated equally. This bias has continued ever since.
The situation has been much the same in other Danish newspapers. For instance, the newspaper Kristeligt Dagblad (the Christian daily newspaper) had on 29th Nov. 2003 a full page article on Lomborg. Here he was presented as a lonely brave rebel against the elite, and as such he was placed in line with Gandhi, Luther and even Jesus. Those who lodged a complaint against him for scientific dishonesty were likened to the medieval inquisition. The strange thing is: How come that the journalist had made no attempt at all to hear the other side of the debate? How could she just liken the opponents to such an ugly institution, without hearing their side of the story? Apparently, Lomborg had seduced her to see him as a brave, suppressed, innocent man attacked by evil persecutors, which, being evil, should of course not be heard. A protest letter from me was rejected.
The newspaper Weekendavisen (the weekend newspaper) brought on 23rd Dec. 2003 a long article by Lomborg in which he wrote that the opposition against him is politically motivated. He put forward a lot of postulates about what were the motives of his opponents, including me, and then slated me by arguing against these unsympathetic motives that I allegedly had. Good journalistic practice would have been to hear both sides. If one party is attacked, he must be given equal space to counter the attack. But not so when Lomborg is involved. In such cases, normal journalistic principles about balanced presentation are suspended. I sent in a short and fairly polite reader´s letter, but that was rejected.
During the years, there have in various Danish newspapers been many large articles by experts who defend Lomborg and slate his opponents, especially me, on the basis of severe misunderstandings. Attempts to have protest letters accepted have usually failed.
The conditions for having a debate in the larger newspapers are not good. Every day the newspaper receives many more reader´s letters than can be printed. The editors think that letters with an emotional content may appeal to a wide group of readers, whereas letters which deal with matters-of-fact and go into technical details are believed to be of interest to only a few specialists and are therefore often rejected. People who insist on having the details correct may often be a little ridiculed. So it will be difficult to have extended discussions on what is true and not true in a distinct technical question.
It must be said, however, that there are some cases when a printed article by Lomborg containing misleading information has been followed by a similarly sized reply from his opponents where some of the misinformation has been corrected. In general, however, this is presented in the way that in this particular case, some of Lomborg´s claims were not fully correct. It is very difficult to have the point of view published that Lomborg in general is not credible.
Lomborg uses this situation to his advantage. Typically, he starts out with an article which gives a simplified deceptive picture of the situation, often with insinuations of the suspect motives of his opponents. Somebody writes a protest letter to point out that the details are not correct. Lomborg then replies with a text that has very technical details which are stated to be the pure facts, and says that his opponent writes against the facts. And then the debate is stopped there by the newspaper that does not want any more letters with technical details, and the impression that is left is that the opponents write against the facts. Or, at least, that `the doctors disagree´ and that Lomborg´s postulates have therefore not been proven false.
If the debate were led in a smaller newspaper with more space for reader´s letters, and if the editors were less prejudiced against Lomborg´s opponents, the situation would be very different. I can refer to a case when such a debate was actually possible. In a local Danish newspaper there was space for three turns forth and back between Lomborg and me. Reading the debate here on Lomborg-errors, you may note what would be the conclusion if the debate had been cut off at any point when Lomborg had had the last word, respectively at a point when I had had the last word. See the debate here. I guess you will agree that the outcome of the debate depends entirely on who has the last word. A main reason for this is that Lomborg lies very convincingly. If Lomborg has the last word, his lie is so convincing that any reader will believe him. This is a special talent which is crucial to his success. In the large newspapers, he nearly always gets the last word, that is, every time there is a debate, Lomborg´s latest lies are left unchallenged.
If everything were fair, the situation when Lomborg has the last word would happen just as often as the situation when his opponents have the last word. It may often happen that Lomborg has a large article, and subsequently, there are one or two short reader´s letters expressing dissatisfaction with Lomborg. But when we are talking of matter-of-fact information, in the far majority of all cases Lomborg has the last word. And as we have seen, he who has the last word is the winner of the debate. The editors who have the power to decide who has the last word, thereby also have the power to decide who wins the debate. And strangely, they usually choose to make Lomborg the winner.
In conclusion, public debate in larger Danish newspapers simply does not help to clarify the matters-of-fact, if (at least) one of the parties lies. And in most other countries, the newspapers are even larger.
In Danish media, the attitudes of journalists to Lomborg is variable. But the attitudes of editors are usually pro-Lomborg. The overall effect is that the debate is not fair, and that relevant criticism is stopped. If the debate had been fair, and if relevant criticism had not been stopped, Lomborg would not have had the tremendous success that he has had.
As I have argued here, there is a danger that the printed
mass media may misrepresent the evidence. But there is an even larger
danger that the electronic mass media misrepresent the evidence. In the
elctronic media there is no possibility that a vigilant audience may
send in critical comments to the editors. Instead, we must rely on the
self-discipline of the journalists and the editors. We must hope that
these carefully live up to the fundamental virtues of fairness,
balanced representation, checking their sources etc. Unfortunately,
these standards have certainly not been met when the media darling
Lomborg entered the scene.
Already two weeks after the printing of the first of Lomborg´s articles in 1998, these articles became a short news item in the news in Danish television. Soon afterwards (in February 1998) , there were debates with him in Danish state radio and television. Invited opponents complained afterwards that they were given too little time - just a few seconds - to say anything of importance, whereas Lomborg was given much more time and managed to give the impression to the public that he was a man with a mission to bring forward the hidden truth. For instance, he said that a leading Danish scientist supported his estimate of the rate of extinctions of threatened animals, with no possibility for anybody to correct that lie. Here, he utilised that the attacked part had no possibility of defense.
A few examples from later years will illustrate how Lomborg benefited from the electronic media.
An example out of many: On 28th June 2002, when the Danish Ecological Council published its book against "The Skeptical Environmentalist", a journalist at Danish state radio made a radio presentation. This journalist is interested in environmental protection and not pro-Lomborg, but he seems very afraid to appear biased in the favour of his personal attitude in public. Two contributors to the book (one of them was me) were interviewed in advance by telephone, and had the opportunity to present our views only in this way. However, Lomborg himself had been invited into the studio and had the opportunity there to counter our arguments, without any possibilities for us to respond. Also, he was allowed much more time than the two of us. The whole setup was very biased in Lomborg´s favour and what should have been a presentation of much-needed criticism became PR for Lomborg.
As another example of a radio interview, I will mention an interview from 24th July 2004 in Danish state radio. The interviewer was Lasse Jensen, a well-known journalist who talks regularly about the media situation and is usually very well aware of standards for good journalism. During 60 minutes, he had Lomborg in his studio, holding the microphone for Lomborg and allowing him to say what he wanted, with only few criticial questions. For instance, one of the issues that came up was why so many people hate Lomborg. Lomborg was allowed to freely give his explanations for this, and there were no critical questions that some of the antagonism might be because Lomborg was wrong on some points and did not accept criticism. The journalist fully accepted Lomborg´s version and mentioned that there has even been a Danish hate-site established against Lomborg on the internet. Yes, Lomborg said, it is called something like anti-Lomborg.dk. Then the two laughed together at such stupidity.
The web site referred to was actually Lomborg-errors.dk, which I had established half a year before that. As you may see here, it contains lots of relevant criticism of Lomborg, and did so already by then. But Lomborg and the journalist managed to 1) cite an erroneous address, so that people would not easily find it. 2) Call it a hate-site, i.e. a ridiculous site which serious people will not read. So people were directly discouraged from trying to find the web site, but in a subtle way, by giving the impression that it is non-serious and hence a waste of time.
In a way, this is typical of Lomborg´s strategy: He somehow manages to persuade others that they should not even try to hear what his critics say. This, of course, is a crucial element in his efforts to avoid that relevant criticism is ever heard. And indeed, during the whole 60 minute interview, the normally very balanced journalist was unusually unbalanced and hardly questioned anything what Lomborg said. He made very few and weak attempts to include comments from opponents, and instead left it to Lomborg himself to tell what the opponents say.
So, Lomborg has some strange ability to have journalists forget all about usual standards for balanced journalism, as if he seduces them.
On television, Lomborg is a star, and the journalists are even more liable than elsewhere to give him more than his fair share.
In the spring of 2002, when I and others lodged a complaint against Lomborg to the Committees for Scientific Dishonesty, this was interesting to the media. One of the major TV channels, the state channel DR1, brought interviews with me and another plaintiff which lasted for several minutes. But a year later, when the committees had made their verdict and declared Lomborg to be `objectively dishonest´, the focus had shifted. The day before the verdict was announced, the same major TV channel presented a 30 minutes film with the same title as the book, `The Skeptical Environmentalist´, made for Lomborg by BBC. One may wonder how come that BBC produces such a film presenting just one of the two sides of a controversy? Anyhow, this film was sent in Danish television, followed by a debate where Lomborg and the head of Danish WWF discussed the film. So altogether, Lomborg had his views presented during 30 minutes plus half of the subsequent debate, which means altogether a very large exposition of his views.
In the days after the verdict was announced, Lomborg was interviewed far and wide. I and other opponents, on the other hand, were interviewed only very briefly. The state owned channel DR1 brought a programme of 30 minutes. Most of it was about Lomborg´s T-shirts, whereas the contribution from me was just one single sentence, and the total contribution from all opponents was about four sentences. So even though Lomborg had been declared dishonest, he - not his opponents - received all attention. The fine journalistic principles about balanced presentation and hearing both parties equally were strangely suspended.
When Lomborg became the director of the Environmental Assessment Institute, the media reported critically on the reports issued by this institute (more on this here on Lomborg-errors). They focused especially on a report from October 2002 which recommended burning of aluminium cans together with other household garbage, even though many of the Danish incineration plants operate at temperatures at which aluminium cans will not burn. The director of the Danish Environmental Agency (who was critical of Lomborg) was about to give interviews about this to several TV channels, but then the Danish government suddenly forbid him to pronounce publicly on this issue. The effect was that the media had no longer a story, and the criticism of Lomborg died out. This was an obvious attempt to exert censorship, which ought not to be possible in a democratic society. But strangely, the media accepted this. It should be mentioned that Lomborg was strongly and fiercely defended by the Danish prime minister, and apparently Lomborg had the prime minister use his power to stop the criticism.
In general, Lomborg has been exposed very much in Danish television. When an issue related to the environment comes up, and some expert is interviewed about this, the journalists will typically also contact Lomborg to hear his opinion on the same matter. In this way they think that they make a balanced presentation, and they think that they make more interesting television because they present a conflict between opposing views. However, when it is the other way around - when Lomborg brings up an issue - the journalists are much less liable to make a balanced presentation and invite an opponent to be exposed to an equal degree.
It is a general principle in a democratic society that both
sides in a conflict should be heard. You cannot know in advance
which party is right, and therefore you must hear the arguments from
both parties before you judge who is right.
Lomborg´s relation the international media is the subject of the other pages listed at the top of this page. The overall conclusions concerning Lomborg can be read on this page.