Thursday, December 17, 2009

Choose Your Media Weapons!

Michael B. Farrell has an interesting piece written last night for the Web site of The Christian Science Monitor concerning the "global warming rumble" between Sarah Palin and Arnold Schwarzenegger. I am not particularly interested in what this spat tells us about what Republicans really think about how one is supposed to debate complex issues and what role disciplined argumentation plays in such debate. Rather, I have been fascinated by the way in which this debate is being conducted as a sequence of media salvos. In Farrell's account the affair began on December 9, when The Washington Post ran an opinion piece by Palin, entitled "Copenhagen's Political Science," discussing the skeptical claims in the recently leaked electronic mail messages that attracted so much media attention. Here is Farrell's synopsis:

In her Dec. 9 article, Ms. Palin criticized the Democrats cap-and-trade plan to limit greenhouse-gas emissions as a jobs killer and called on President Obama to boycott the Copenhagen climate talks, reflecting a skeptical view of global warming often seen in conservatives' Tea Party protests.

Schwarzenegger, on the other hand, not only rejects the idea of a boycott but, as I write this, is now in Copenhagen. Before his departure, he gave an interview to Matthew Garrahan of the Financial Times, which was published on December 14. Garrahan covered the Republican "rumble" over the climate issue as follows:

The California governor has become an environmental standard bearer for the Republican party, which is split on the merits of curbing emissions. Sarah Palin, John McCain's running mate in the 2008 presidential election, has attacked cap and trade and questioned any link between man-made emissions and global warming.

Mr Schwarzenegger said: "You have to ask: what was she trying to accomplish? Is she really interested in this subject or is she interested in her career and in winning the nomination [for president]?"

The governor also addressed leaked "Climategate" e-mails that indicated some scientists had been selective in their use of data to back up research on global warming. "I understand there are mistakes made in the environmental community but I see [the impact of global warming] first hand, with the fires we have in California and the lack of water in the state," he said.

The following day Schwarzenegger was interviewed on Good Morning America, providing yet another sign that George Stephanopoulos is turning this program into a platform for substantive news coverage and analysis. Farrell provided the following Schwarzenegger quote from his interview, which shows how blunt he can be about the Republican split:

I think there are people that just don't believe in fixing and working on the environment. They don't believe there is such a thing as global warming, they're still living in the Stone Age.

This prompted Palin to retaliate. However, it would appear that she could not find a platform to do so within the mainstream media. So she did what anyone else would do in the Internet age. She took the fight to her Facebook site. Here is Farrell's summary:

Palin fired back on Facebook: “Why is Governor Schwarzenegger pushing for the same sorts of policies in Copenhagen that have helped drive his state into record deficits and unemployment?”

She was “among the first governors to create a sub-cabinet to deal specifically with climate change,” she said, adding, “While I and all Alaskans witness the impacts of changes in weather patterns firsthand, I have repeatedly said that we can't primarily blame man's activities for those changes. And while I did look for practical responses to those changes, what I didn't do was hamstring Alaska's job creators with burdensome regulations so that I could act "greener than thou" when talking to reporters.”

As I see it, Palin has decided that she would prefer talking to her "Facebook friends" about this matter, rather than continue the exchange in a more open forum, if not in a face-to-face encounter then through written articles for the usual channels to the historical record. (I pity the poor historians of the next generation, who will probably find themselves spending the better part of their time wading through the Internet Archive "Wayback Machine" and figuring out what to make of the detritus they encounter at sites like Facebook and MySpace.) Meanwhile, the Web version of Farrell's article begins with a photograph of Schwarzenegger taking a question during a debate at the Climate Summit for Mayors at the Copenhagen City Hall yesterday. Granted, Schwarzenegger may be playing the Obama card in going after global, rather than national, opinion. Still, he does not have to worry about running for President; so that may give him more flexibility in how he both forms and expresses his opinions. Regardless of whether or not I agree with him, I have to sympathize with his trying to figure out just what Palin's motives are!

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