Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Boy Who Cried "No Wolf!"

Words kill.

That's why we can be held accountable for our words when they do just that. Canadian law students are taught the case of the guy who yelled "fire" in a crowded movie theatre sending the audience stampeding for the exits where a number were crushed to death. Now the prankster hadn't killed anyone himself, at least not directly, but he was convicted of their deaths.

The idea behind this is that we're all deemed responsible for the likely consequences of our acts. You can't say the guy in the movie theatre intended to kill those people. But here's the question - did he know or ought he to have known that he would trigger a stampede that could lead to the deaths or injuries of the other moviegoers? Were those deaths foreseeable if he'd bothered to think it through?

You see, as a general rule, we're all deemed in the eyes of the law to intend the logical consequences of our acts. If it's not logical or if it's not foreseeable you're not held accountable. If you're insane or an automaton, you have a defence. If it's an outright fluke that you couldn't have foreseen, you have a defence. However, if you have a functioning mind and cause plainly foreseeable harm, Bingo!

Which brings me to someone who I'll assume, for the purposes of this discussion, has a functioning mind and isn't insane, the National Post's Lorne Gunter. This character is but one of several "journalists" at the paper who never pass up an opportunity to claim that the global warming theory is a scam. That's plainly the policy of the newspaper itself. Indeed the Spot's web page still links to no fewer than 40 denialist rants it published going back a year ago. One sided, never ending. Gotta be a reason for that, don't you think?

It's pretty obvious that there are a great many politicians, including our Furious Leader, who don't like having to act on global warming. Oh they'll call it the greatest threat to the nation, tuck it away and then go off in search of ways to defund the government - monkey business as usual. The only thing that will make these types do anything responsible is when public opinion leaves them no choice. And shaping that public opinion is the specialty of folks like the Grunter.

The National Spot and it's clutch of pompous, ill-informed asses, is fighting a rearguard action. Eventually public opinion will reach a critical mass and no politician will survive who defies it. But, in the meantime, there are powerful groups who see a lot of money to be had in postponing that day for as long as possible. There's a direct, financial value in every disbeliever these guys can create. That's why the old RJ Reynolds "science" crowd has moved out of tobacco denialism and into global warming denialism. All you have to do is follow those who are following the money.

The best science available warns us that the longer we wait to deal with this, the worse it will be for us in the long run. Both remediation and adaptation become significantly more difficult, more harsh, and less effective the longer we put this off. And, of course, there are those - the poorest and most vulnerable in far-off lands - for whom these options will be foreclosed outright. Their option is but to die.

As a former reporter I don't like the idea of journalists being censored or censured for what they write but I'm becoming less convinced of absolute freedom of the press. It seems to me that press freedom, like all freedoms, has to come with some responsibilities. These people are influential. They are opinion makers. We need them to represent every view and yet there must be some line in the sand. A journalist can't walk into a theatre and yell "fire" and then claim press freedom as his defence.

Of course Gunter and those of his ilk will never be on the hook for their perfidy. Who will ever be able to calibrate the amount of damage they will have caused when, at last, even they can no longer get away with this nonsense? Who will ever be able to attach names of the dead to a particular article that he wrote? Better yet, by the time the hens do come home to roost, this clown will be long gone and a generation that's never heard of him will be living with the consequences he and his have bequeathed to them.

Words kill. Maybe not here, maybe not today, but there and there and over there and very soon.

For more on Lorne Gunter, Terry Corcoran and the rest of the National Post's clown car journalists, do a search on

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

bullshit baffles brains.