Last night I attended a book event for Disaster Capitalism by Antony Loewenstein, featuring the author himself and Jeremy Scahill in discussion about the content of the book and global issues. They covered topics including the Syrian refugee crisis, Greece’s economic situation, and the problems regarding disaster relief throughout North America.
It was an intellectually rigorous and engaging discussion that had me thinking about these issues in a new light. I am, and have been, aware of the Syrian refugee crisis, Greece’s economic situation, and the politicking that has surrounded disaster relief in North America, but Loewenstein and Scahill provided an extra jump that got me thinking about the role that capitalism plays and how it impacts the most vulnerable. It wasn’t just an info dump of facts I already knew, but a deft description and interpretation of events that put them in a larger context.
As I was listening to the discussion between these two journalists, and the Q and A with the audience after, I realized how much good journalism is like good science.
Both science and journalism must describe how the world is rather than how we would like it to be. Both science and journalism rely on facts and rigorous fact checking to ensure that the most accurate picture is portrayed. And both science and journalism are held to high standards, intellectually and ethically, when it comes to obtaining and conveying information.
And good journalists are like good scientists. They are both in pursuit of the truth, rely on facts to bolster a story, and are not (or rather, they should not be) so beholden to the status quo that they misinterpret data to obscure potentially revolutionary ideas.
This is where I find fault with traditional/mainstream news media. In the interest of maintaining our current broken system, news shows often feel scripted and devoid of critical thinking instead of being a meaningful discussion of ideas to arrive at a sound conclusion. While there is still some element of reporting accurate information (if you watch a news network that isn’t Fox News), there is very little critical thought that goes into shaping this information into stories. As a result, you get news networks claiming “neutrality” when they present two sides of an issue and consider them both with equal weight, even if one of these sides shouldn’t actually be taken into consideration (because of false premises, misguided interpretations, or another such aspect).
Maybe the news networks hold the belief that the viewers could draw the conclusions on their own using all of the data presented to them. But you wouldn’t present raw data from a scientific experiment to a non-specialist and expect them to know how to weed out the irrelevant information and correctly interpret the results. In both good journalism and in good science, one must address potential outliers and inconsistencies, but then explain why these outliers are potentially irrelevant to the issue at hand. This careful analysis of the results obtained from rigorous research is missing from mainstream news, and is why I turn to other news sources that do provide this extra nuance to an issue.
Many thanks to Housing Works Bookstore Cafe for hosting an incredible event! It was my first time attending an event like this (though I’ve been to Housing Works several times to browse and shop for books), and I look forward to attending more and supporting a great organization.