Heat, but no light: What to do with incendiary articles?

by Flickr user kate.gardiner

I’ve had this dilemma before.

When someone has a viewpoint very different from my own, I don’t instinctively put up my dukes. For the most part, I want to engage. I want to give them the benefit of the doubt and try to see where they’re coming from.

And it’s not because I want to be on some kind of moral high ground–I’m opinionated and I get pissed off sometimes–but rather, it just doesn’t make much sense for me to waste energy sparring for the sake of sparring.

So here’s an example. In one of my comment threads, I had to make the following statement

“Before I go any further, however, I have to insist that you stop clouding this discussion with

1) Ad hominem attacks, like calling me pathetic.
2) Crude instructions to do things like “check my head”
3) Assumption-based “questions,” like “you don’t care about that, do you?”
4) Arrogant statements like “I’m schooling people on other blogs.”

Anyway, after giving the commenter ample opportunity to engage without the condescension and vitriol, I discontinued the dialogue (if, indeed, that’s what it was).

But that was a personal example, and now I’m embarking on media research that includes points of view that, to me, seem outrageously mean-spirited.

Basically, I’m writing a paper about the meta-conversation on climate change–discussing the discussion, if you will–and if you’ve been following the news on this topic, I’m sure you’ve heard some yelling and name-calling.

Enter this post:

Inside the seething green roach pit where they EAT their own

It was published by the Telegraph. (If you’re unfamiliar: the paper’s slant is conservative and its style can be brash. It is one of the major newspapers in England.)

At first, I thought “there’s no point in engaging with an incendiary opinion piece,” but in reality, these types of articles are common in the media landscape that I’m examining–after all, it came up on my google news alert for climate change. I’m wondering if I should address a few of them in my research, even if they generate heat but no light.

In this case, journalist James Delingpole offers up this comment thread on the Real Climate blog as “a really scary roach’s eye view into the festering, backbiting, cannibalistic world of the Eco Loon, courtesy of the Eco Loons’ official house blog.”

In his post, he presents a long excerpt from a comment made by Rosa Klebb, who he claims is representative of “the AGW [Anthropocentric Global Warming] brigade,” and asks why her voice is “shrill, vicious and full of almost deranged – actually, scrub that almost – hatred?”

Not to belabour the point but…Delingpole then says this brigade’s “vicious horribleness is their natural tone of discourse, even when conversing with one another.”

He then tags the post with things like “green hell,” “roach pit,” and “seventh circle of hell.”

Hmmm…

So, if you read his post with Klebb’s comments, you’ll note that they’re nowhere near as vitriolic as he says they are…and what’s more, I couldn’t even find her comment when I searched “Rosa” on 11 pages of responses on the Real Climate site. Whether or not it’s there (maybe I missed it) Delingpole’s analysis still reads like self-parody.

I really don’t know what to do with examples like these in my project.

Should I cut out the extremes, even if they are in major papers, or should I attempt to reflect on them despite their, erm, lack of insight?

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