TRNN Doesn’t Have Stances, but the Reporters Do – Q&A with Paul Jay
Paul Jay and Dharna Noor respond to viewer comments that ask the Real News to engage with a wider variety of political opinion and question climate science
DHARNA NOOR: Welcome to The Real News. I’m Dharna Noor.
We’re in the middle of our end of the year fundraising drive at The Real News right now, and we need to have one of those because we don’t take any money from corporations, or governments, or advertisers. And that means that we don’t have to answer to anyone when we’re making Real News except for you, the viewers, who keep this whole operation running. And that’s why we’re here today to respond to some of your comments and questions. So I’m here in the studio today with Paul Jay, The Real News’ editor-in-chief. How’s it going, Paul?
PAUL JAY: Good.
DHARNA NOOR: So you wanted to say something before we started looking at some of these questions.
PAUL JAY: Yeah I just want to say, as we answer these letters that have come in or comments that have been on the videos, some of these actually require some analysis, a take, an opinion, if you will. It’s got to be our own individually. The Real News doesn’t have, like, a position on something. The Real News has editorial guidelines. You know, we try to use a methodology of objective facts, following objective facts as best we can. But we don’t claim not to have bias, or opinions, or interests. The way we deal with it is to be as transparent as possible about who we are and what we think about things, and then try to do our reporting and such with as objective a methodology as we can. So when I start giving my opinion on some of the things that people are sending in mail or comments, it’s my opinion.
Now, whether it’s worth listening to, viewers will decide. But if they’re interested in The Real News, the guy who’s the editor-in-chief, I think people should know what that person thinks about things, and I think that should be more common throughout the media.
DHARNA NOOR: Agreed. And I think to start with we can actually look at a viewer question where they are sort of insinuating that we are putting too much of our personal values into our coverage, and we’re not really having people who have opposing views on The Real News. This is a comment from Klaipeida on YouTube. There’s a comment on a pitch that you recently did. And this viewer is essentially saying as a frequent viewer of Real News, I would say your biggest problem and opportunity is to have much more opposing views represented, many more opposing views. And they say that that would be a more challenging environment for journalism, and that they could, you know, really open up our audience that way. What do you think of that?
PAUL JAY: Well, I think it’s a correct point. We have had trouble in the past, and you know because you used to have a job of booking guests. And a lot of the people on the right, even in the sort of, quote-unquote, center, what some people call corporate Democrats and that sort of thing politically, they don’t like to come on. And they don’t like getting pushed, and they don’t like getting challenged, particularly because, you know, when we challenge, we don’t challenge with what I think is kind of the normal liberal rhetorical formulations, and that I think is more of a challenge. So we have trouble booking people, is the truth of it.
I’m all for that kind of programming. I used to be the executive producer of a debate show in Canada on CBC called Counterspin. And you know, in that debate we used to have the real political spectrum, including, you know, real right-wingers, and centrists, and left-wingers, and such. But that was CBC in Canada. That is a big presence, so everyone wanted to get on. They don’t feel like they need to come on The Real News. Maybe we’re not big enough, or they don’t like, like I say, the challenge. On the other hand, maybe we’re a little bit too internalized hearing those, and aren’t pushing the issue more.
And I’m glad we get this kind of a letter, because they’re absolutely right, and we should really make maybe a better attempt at getting more opposing–when I say opposing views, opposing not just to us personally. But you know, when we take, like, we cover Bernie Sanders. We’ve had critical stuff about Bernie Sanders and we’ve had positive stuff about Bernie Sanders. I personally think, and it certainly influences how we do stuff, that the preponderance of the facts is that the kind of policies Sanders promotes is better for the well-being of most people than a lot of the other politicians and their policies. And we say so. But there’s people that disagree, and maybe we should make more of an attempt to get that opinion on.
DHARNA NOOR: Sure. So maybe in 2019 that’s something we can try to do, is foster more of those debates. But I will say, though I think you’re right that all of us try not to sort of let our own personal biases get in the way too much of reporting objectively, there are some kinds of dissenting opinions that we don’t really have on as often. And maybe we could have more of an effort to. But for instance, here’s a comment from PaulMA on YouTube. He said, “Global elites created the false notion of global warming as a grand moneymaking opportunity. Stop the liberals and you solve most problems. Stop the conservatives and you solve a few problems.”
So this is something that sort of resonated with me, as the climate change producer here at The Real News Network. And I realized, you know, he’s right. Many networks across the United States when they try to have balanced coverage on climate change, what they mean by balanced is either a Democrat or a Republican, or a climate denier and somebody who believes in human-caused climate change.
PAUL JAY: Yeah. I mean, I think CNN was doing that for a long time. When they bothered to cover climate change at all it would be this 50-50 debate. You know, somebody who thinks it’s not true and someone who thinks it is. And I think that’s a mistake. But I also think it’s a mistake not to deal with the arguments of climate change denial. For years, literally almost from the beginning of The Real News, we tried to get scientific debates going with climate scientists versus either–hopefully some form of climate scientist. The truth is most of the climate denier scientists aren’t specialists in climate. They’re usually scientists in some other discipline altogether.
But the climate scientists, who certainly do think based on facts that climate change and such is real, didn’t want to debate the deniers, because they were saying, well, you’re giving them airtime. Well, if the great preponderance of public opinion believe that climate change science was real, then I don’t think you have to make room for something that I don’t think is very [fact-based]. We don’t have to debate whether the earth is round, unless somebody does come up with a fairly scientific, fact-based argument that it looks round but it isn’t. And I wouldn’t rule anything out. I mean, that’s the whole point of science, is you don’t–you know, you get to a preponderance of understanding of something, but you don’t rule something out. Which is why even in the IPCC reports on climate change, they always say with 95 percent certainty, right? Because science can’t say 100 percent.
The more serious debates within climate science right now are what to do about it. What does effective climate change policy look like? There’s even some debate over urgency. What are timelines? But there should be some debate with straight climate denial scientists, if for no other reason that it has such influence amongst the public.
DHARNA NOOR: I will–I should also say that in acknowledging differing opinions on something like climate change, it’s important to look at where the people who are getting their opinions are getting them from. For instance, if your top funder for your research is an oil company, we can’t reasonably journalistically not mention that if we’re saying that your opinion is that climate change is not human caused.
PAUL JAY: Yeah. You know, when I did this debate show in Canada, we would invite left wingers to debate right wingers, and we would also have debates amongst the left, and all kinds of configurations. But I found it very interesting that left wingers that were very used to talking and arguing with other left wingers sometimes actually didn’t do so well against the right wingers. And sometimes the more conservative position would win simply because they’ve done their homework. And the left wingers were so used to certain formulations, and people just nodding their heads to them, that they would actually lose. So it’s very important, really, to have those kinds of debates. And I wish we could attract more serious conservatives to get into the mix. And like you say, in 2019 maybe we’ll do better at that.
DHARNA NOOR: And in the meantime, I think sometimes we get comments that presume that if you’re posing a question to an interviewee, that means that that question comes from your personal opinion. But it’s our responsibility as the interviewer to sometimes pose questions that we may individually agree with or not, but to force people to defend their beliefs, and really challenge people, and their understanding of the world and their topics.
PAUL JAY: And I’d like to actually now give my view on something that the person who wrote this comment on climate said. As far as I understand the history, and I’m certainly no expert, but the climate change discussion really broke through in 1968, a long time ago, when climate scientists were sounding the alarm. It was far from some game by Wall Street to make money. Quite the contrary. Anyone that was speaking about how apocalyptic this could be was thought to be crazy. I know I heard–I heard there was a conference in 1968 in Toronto where I was, and some people that had been to it came, and I was–I just didn’t take it seriously myself. It just seemed so outlandish that you could have such a threat that the rich, the billionaires, the governments, capitalism wouldn’t deal with it, because it was such an obvious threat even to them if the science was true.
There was a letter went to the Secretary General of the United Nations on behalf of scientists and activists calling for climate action in 1970. This was far from an effort to make money. I would say that in and around 2006-2007 when the IPCC report came out, and this report called the Stern report came out, something that the British Prime Minister had commissioned from Stern, who was the former head economist at the World Bank, and they were preaching how apocalyptic this whole thing was going to be. There was a window there where I do think whole sections of capital said, oh, what a good way to make money. And you had this–there was going to be all kinds of investment, and green this, and green that, and cap and trade schemes. Ways to financialize the problem, make money out of the problem. But I don’t think it had a lot to do with actually fixing, solving the problem.
Now, that started to wane with the crash in ’07-’08. And I think when when big capital look the problem in the face and realized if you’re going to get serious about climate you’re going to have to really change the way this whole economic political system is organized, and they didn’t want to go there.
So you know, there is some money, of course, still behind green. If the money and the profit-making winds up doing something effective, well, then, good. I don’t know how much we’re seeing of that. But to think it’s primarily a scheme to make money is quite the opposite. Money’s betting on fossil fuel, money’s betting on financial speculation, money’s betting on military-industrial complex. At least for the next 20 years they’re all–expect to continue to ride a fossil fuel gravy train.
DHARNA NOOR: Although–and this, again, is me, Dharna, not The Real News speaking–I do think that we we still should be critical of movements pushing for a green economy, and try to ensure that there aren’t just–that this doesn’t turn into another way to make money. Another way, for instance, an Exxon to control the green economy. I think that we need to sort of ensure that this doesn’t become the push for green capitalism.
PAUL JAY: So the only thing I would disagree with, if there actually was such a thing as green capitalism, and capitalism actually would actually see what an existential threat this is, and through profit-making could actually solve, have effective policy, then I wouldn’t be hung up with, you know, it’s got to be socialism.
DHARNA NOOR: Democratically owned.
PAUL JAY: Yeah. I mean, if they can actually stop the end of the earth the end of the human society, then good on them. There’s just simply no evidence that that profit-making and the free market, quote-unquote “free market,” that’s another conversation, will go there. Because they’re all into quick profit-making. And to take on the fossil fuel industry and deal with the whole politics of this, it’s just not, it isn’t quick profit-making money.
But yes, like–we had a story just recently on the Green New Deal. It was an interview with Medea Benjamin. I had a similar thing with Daniel Ellsberg. You gotta link the question of demilitarization to this Green New Deal, because you gotta answer where the money is going to come from. And if you don’t have a massive cut in the military budget-
DHARNA NOOR: And taxing the wealthy.
PAUL JAY: Taxing the wealthy. Then, you know, you’re not really dealing in the real world, in my opinion, with how you’re going to pay for this Green New Deal. So yeah, so we are critical of sections of the Green New Deal movement who don’t want to deal with this side of the militarization. But because it’s–you know, the evidence seems to lead there. If the evidence was you could do it some other way, then we’d say OK, good for that.
DHARNA NOOR: Sure. OK, stay tuned. We’re going to keep doing this. We’ll be looking at your comments on our coverage of the Green New Deal, and climate change, and everything else. So thanks for coming on, Paul. A reminder again that we’re in the middle of our end of the year fundraiser right now. We’re still doing matching grants, matching donations, on the Real News Network. So please, please donate today. We can’t do this without you. And thanks for watching The Real News Network.