There was a time when Rex Murphy spoke difficult truths and challenged powerful institutions. There was a time when Rex Murphy was a journalist that I might listen to.
But no longer. I wrote about Rex Murphy last year. Anyone that follows me on Twitter will know that I have posted some of my challenges with Rex Murphy there. And, crucially, I committed to writing a post defending and footnoting my claims. This is it. Here are six of my tweets and their reasons. 1
But first, I will express one point of admiration. Rex Murphy is a curmudgeon. For this I admire him, in part, because I am somewhat of a curmudgeon. And curmudgeon-ness is a power. It’s a virtue. But it’s not enough. And his defects are many.
My challenges with Rex Murphy: #2 he is ignorant about climate change.
This is a big one. It’s his job to understand the significant issues of our day. But most of what he is on record saying about climate change works to:
- undermine public confidence in the science of global warming
- undermine public opinion of the policies Canada and other countries have tried to initiate to mitigate climate change
He succeeds at undermining the legitimacy of the conventional wisdom of global warming by being, well, confusing about his claims. He uses obfuscatory language when discussing the facts and he casts doubt at every turn on the scientist that purport the facts. He speaks mostly in derogatory and demeaning ways about environmentalists and climate change activists. And while some of his individual criticisms are defensible, the nature and direction of his criticisms is patterned.
Take, for example, his televised rant on the so called climate-gate emails: http://youtu.be/lgIEQqLokL8 He casts a number of aspersions on the scientists studying climate change and casts a number of aspersions on the activists and advocates trying to make social and cultural change. He uses the following language (partial list): “alarmism,” “manipulation,” “destroying the data,” “unprofessionalism,” “ideology,” “dishonest science,” “stink of intellectual corruption,” “lack of neutrality,” “lack of good science,” “partisan.” But he has never returned to the issue to retract his claims. He simply has never bothered to follow up.
It’s not rocket science. Just go to a real newspaper online and see what they say.
The thing is that there are real and important issues around climate change. And we need curmudgeons asking questions and pushing for a better analysis. But when every soundbite you issue works to confuse the electorate, support the oil industry interests, and undermine public opinion about global collective action, then you deserve biting criticism.
It’s worth doing a search on the DeSmog Blog for “rex murphy.” And just in case you think it’s all old news, just check out his recent soundbites at the National Post as of April 16 2011.
Remember this the next time someone says that the science of global warming is “settled,” for many environmentalists are inspired not by science, but by spirituality — Andean and otherwise. – Rex Murphy
It’s worth noting here that many of his individual points are defensible. Most of the best propaganda is, after all, true. But the article’s logic is invalid. You cannot argue from some hand picked examples of environmentalism (no matter whether they are actually examples of fuzzy thinking or not) to the general conclusion that “environmentalism rots the mind.” That’s a bullshit argument. And it’s a fancy piece of rhetoric that fits a larger pattern in which his columns and soundbites are continually critical of certain issues, in this case climate change, and never critical of others.
My challenges with Rex Murphy: #4 he complains about expedience in electoral communications, but he is, himself, a master sophist.
Take, for example, his recent article of April 16, 2011. The first sentence is a question. It’s the question which frames everything he says in the article. He asks the question, because he can deny asserting it, in the next sentence. Here’s the full first paragraph:
Does environmentalism rot the mind? I am beginning to believe that the more feverish and agitated greens are suffering from a morbid condition. There is, it appears, no intellectual folly to which they are immune, no frenzied leap off the pier of reason they will not joyfully execute, in their reliably bizarre efforts to horrify the rest of us into supporting their cause.
Anyone can ask a question. I could ask some about Rex Murhpy. Does Rex Murphy eat kittens? Does Rex Murphy have actual friends? Is Rex Murphy getting senile? These are just questions. I’m not asserting that he is senile. I don’t know that. I have no evidence. wink wink It’s a slick move. In the very next sentence, once he’s already planted the framework and subtext for the rest of the article, he says something very safe. Actually, if you read the second sentence carefully, it’s practically a tautology. He basically asserts that he is beginning to believe that the more agitated greens are mindless. Well, that’s a very carefully constructed sentence. It’s a highly defensible sentence.
This device works like this. Is Rex Murphy a jackass? I’m beginning to think so, because sometimes he acts like a jackass.
There is a second rhetorical device that Murphy employs in this first paragraph. His argument structure is to find some people that identify as environmentalists and then argue that their ideas are crazy. And maybe the people in his examples have crazy ideas. Most people will think so and that is why Murphy picked these examples. But the move is to then argue that all environmentalists are crazy. That’s what the article is about. He’s not informing us of the national green mvoement of Bolivia. Not really. He’s actually informing us about the nature of environmentalism here. But he paints all environmentalists with the same brush. It’s a tremendous leap of inductive logic. Were it not so cleverly hidden in his well penned prose it would be laughable. But it somehow passes.
Both of these techniques are very strategic acts of communication. Murphy somehow thinks that he’s allowed to do this but that politicians aren’t. We should expect more from politicians. But we should also expect more from journalists.
Interestingly, the article, which I thought was editorial is listed under NEWS. Here’s a screenshot.
My challenges with Rex Murphy: #5 he doesn’t want an election but then proclaims that the election is “unwanted, unwarranted and unwelcome”.
Rex Murphy doesn’t like this election. That’s fine, that’s his opinion. He says so here: http://www.nationalpost.com/news/pointless+campaign/4587006/story.html
He says so again on March 26 here: http://fullcomment.nationalpost.com/2011/03/26/rex-murphy-liberals-hope-to-sell-a-civics-lesson-as-a-campaign-theme/
And he says so again on March 25th. He uses the language of “unwanted, unwarranted and unwelcome” on March 25: http://fullcomment.nationalpost.com/2011/03/25/rex-murphy-if-nothing-else-the-election-will-mean-the-last-of-familiar-faces/
It’s a classic fallacy of reasoning. It goes something like this:
premise: I think that x.
premise: I'm important.
conclusion 1: Therefore, everybody thinks that x.
corollary: If everybody thinks x, then x is the case.
conclusion 2: Therefore, x is the case.
Rex Murphy makes a lot of money. His work, on the radio and on television and as an author, all adds up to him making a healthy paycheck. I say this because he has the time and resources to get clear on issues and educate himself. Generally speaking, scholars have moved beyond the arcane “objective” language of the 1970’s in which every opinion was stated as objective fact. If you want other people to think the election is unwelcome, just say so. If you think the election is unwelcome just say so. But don’t use the term “believe” to discuss the likelihood of an election, and then just pass off “unwanted, unwarranted and unwelcome” as fact.
For the record, I want, and welcome, the election.
My challenges with Rex Murphy: #6 he considers the prorogation of parliament, by Harper, a “great non-controversy.”
Murphy says so on August 7 of 2o10, “The Perils of Question 32B”: http://fullcomment.nationalpost.com/2010/08/07/rex-murphy-the-perils-of-question-32b/
My challenges with Rex Murphy: #9 he has been, by and large, a Barack Obama detractor and an admirer of Sarah Palin.
And, almost unbelievably, see April 10, 2010 “Understanding the Sarah Palin effect.” The National Post seems to have taken this article down. They do a terrible job of archiving their content. But I found a cached page of this troubling article here. 2
But there she is, in all her roughness and candour, and her spiky wit and ability to irritate her self-nominated betters. She also happens to be the most naturally charismatic politician at the moment in the United States. She is the one major figure who can claim authenticity without morally choking on the word. That makes her the populist rallying point of a nascent rejection of the fervid partisanship and Washington insiderism that is eroding the consent on which American politics is founded
It’s not the first time Murphy applauds Palin. On November 20 of 2009 Murphy praised Palin’s capacities at length.
My challenges with Rex Murphy: #10 he doesn’t understand human rights. And he repeats too many #cpc talking points.
On April 03, 2010, Murphy wrote “Please don’t call it ‘human rights'” and in this article (article here), he claims that:
By some crude osmosis, or just from the luxuriant carelessness of our pampered lives, we have overturned one of the great concepts of all human law. The concept of human rights, as experience and history inform us, is protection from the state’s power, not oversight, interference and punishment by the state’s power.
The core concept of human rights is the protection of the irreducible safety and dignity of the individual from the massive and arbitrary power of the state. Not, the state wandering in, with its apparatus and procedures, its boards and tribunals into the doings, or speech, of the individual. This is what the Guy Earle case, in its triviality — it’s about heckling, remember — upends. It perverts the name of “human rights,” earned in blood and suffering in circumstances of utter consequence and unspeakable misery.
This is flatly wrong. The core concept of a human right is not the protection of an individual from the state. Our human rights are entitlements in toto; they protect us from churches, individuals, companies, organizations, families, corporations and states. And for the record, most human rights that are actually protected, are protected by the state. Only a wealthy libertarian would claim that the core concept of a human rights protects us from the state. I have some complicated thoughts and feelings about states and governments myself. Some days, I even drift towards anarchy. But I also understand that the state also occasionally affords the protection of our human rights. And so should Murphy.
And this is one of the problems with Rex Murphy. He seems all to happy in his job at the National Post to reflect and amplify the soundbites of the Conservative Party of Canada (#cpc). Just browse the string of headlines found at http://fullcomment.nationalpost.com/author/rmurphynp/
What you will find, is a string of articles that:
- frame the election as unnecessary and dangerous
- condemn politics as a waste of time
- frame detractors of the Conservatives as time wasters
- disparage environmentalism
- undermine public confidence in climate change science
- promote the role of the oil sands in Canada
- are critical of Michael Ignatief
- abuse the notion of human rights
On January 15 2011, Rex Murphy titled his articled with the very metaphor that Harper himself uses to characterize his leadership and economic policies: “Harper didn’t move mountains — but he kept our seas calm.” Rex Murphy, and the National Post, should have a duty of disclosure.
Just admit who you’re voting for and who you want others to vote for.
It’s more honest.