I’ve been watching the developments following the publication of the Heartland documents, what’s now very appropriately become known as Fakegate. As usual, the propaganda organ of climate alarmism, otherwise known as the mainstream media, has been very quick off the mark to circulate any material which could discredit climate realists.
What is apparent when the handful of documents are examined, is that there’s not actually much juicy scandal in them at all except for one, and that document is a rather clumsy fake. However, neither the anonymous provenance nor the dubious veracity of the material, prevented it being splashed across the internet; seemingly within an hour of its receipt in the case of the Desmog blog, if accounts are to be believed.
There seems to be a curious disconnect between prudent journalism, as exercised online, and in the more traditional media of newspapers and television. Patently, the faked material and its release were designed to damage the reputation of an institution and its members but that doesn’t seem to have been a consideration when it came to verifying, publishing or editorialising on it.
Imagine if you will, the news desk of a major newspaper receiving an anonymous package of documents and going to press immediately, without checking into their authenticity or indeed, even contacting the persons named in them. That would never happen in the real world because losing a libel suit is not only very expensive but very damaging to a newspaper’s reputation. That sort of common sense seems to be lacking in the alarmist online world. It’s interesting to note that most of the major papers did not run with the story, the Guardian being one of the exceptions. I do find it amusing that they immediately spun it as a leak rather than a hack.
I think there is a popular delusion that the libel laws that every country has on its statute books, somehow don’t apply to the online world but I’m afraid they do. This delusion is reinforced by another common one, which is that when you’re online, you’re anonymous and can therefore get away with saying or writing anything about anybody. That as well, is simply not true. It’s a digital environment, everything is logged, everything is recorded and everything is traceable if one is persistent.
When examined from an infowar aspect, Fakegate is actually a bad mistake which I think is going to be capitalised on. The climate alarmists have an ingrained habit of grabbing headlines by misrepresenting or excessively exaggerating the facts of a story. A sensational story will always get some attention and if some qualification or indeed retraction of it has to be done, it won’t be on page one and not for a long time after. It’s a consequence free method of implanting a false message into the public psyche. I imagine people think Fakegate falls into the same category.
Unfortunately for some journalists, it doesn’t. This won’t be a storm in a teacup which will be allowed to blow over. It’s going to drag on for a long time. In their response to Fakegate, the Heartland Institute have signalled their intention, in no uncertain terms, to seek financial damages in the law courts from those persons who used the fake documents to sully its reputation.
Someone at the Heartland Institute has correctly identified this as a major opportunity to get some ongoing publicity for the next year or so and also teach the more irresponsible elements of what’s laughably called environmental journalism, a very expensive lesson. Sure, this will take up some management time but not a lot and judging by some of the articles I’ve read, you’ve certainly got a few slam dunk libel actions, which can safely be handed off to a capable law firm. Make a few examples; us poor climate realists will enjoy that.
From a propaganda angle, it works okay too. Journalism is going through a bad phase at the moment and a series of actions, pitched as the diminutive David fighting against the slings and arrows of outrageous journalism should play very well. It’s an easy sell, your PR people will love it.
To certain journalists and bloggers out there, I’d advise them to re-read very carefully what the wrote about the Heartland Institute, based on false documents and perhaps get a quick retraction out, as well as consulting with their professional liability insurance provider. You do have that insurance, don’t you? I think you’ll find that recklessly trashing reputations using bogus documents isn’t covered. It’s your responsibility to check the facts before publishing. While it’s relatively easy to prove an electronic document is a fake, that’s not the problem you have. You’re going to be asked to prove it’s genuine. That’s a lot harder to do, especially when you’re in a court of law on the receiving end of a libel suit. That’s your only defense – good luck with that one.
A rather ominous sign is typing “fakegate” into google news and only getting one result. When you click on “All results for fakegate”, it magically produces over 5000 results. They’ve obviously had a word with their legal eagles.
You wanted your very own contra-climategate so badly, you could taste it. When you got it, you immediately rushed to publish it without a moment’s checking or thought. The second of the two golden rules of journalism applies; when handed a story on a plate by someone, ask yourself what’s in it for them. The thought does arise that whoever sent you the material, had a fair idea of what you’d probably do with it and the long-term consequences of running a story based on faked evidence.
Perhaps they weren’t a friend after all …
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