How to write a Daily Mail article about climate change
- 18 Apr 2012, 13:40
- Robin Webster and Ros Donald
Over the last few days, shell-shocked civil servants have seen
clear evidence of just how effective the Daily Mail's brand of
campaign journalism can be. A story that began on Easter Monday
front-page attack on a proposed element of the government's
energy efficiency loan scheme culminated in a full-scale Tory assault against the
entire Green Deal and a retraction by David
Never mind the fact that the 'conservatory tax' didn't apply to most
conservatories, wasn't a tax, and has apparently
already been running in one (Tory-led) district council for
five years with no problems at all. The Prime Minister has promised
reject the measures the Mail criticised, without waiting for
the results of the
consultation that proposed them.
This isn't the first time the Mail's had a political impact in
this area. Last Autumn, for example, we saw George Osborne
Mail line on green policies' contribution to energy bills -
despite the evidence that the figures the Mail was citing were unfounded.
The Mail is a powerful political animal and over the last few
months it has had the issue of climate science, and 'green' policy
measures clearly in the sight-lines, so it probably won't be the
last time either. So after spending a bit too much time than is
good for us reading them, here are our pointers on how to write a
Daily Mail article on climate change, based on our record of its
1. It's all going to be VERY EXPENSIVE
The Mail's key message on government 'green' policies kicked off
with a front
page headline last June: it's going to cost you.
Subsequently, however, the paper published
three corrections to its claim that green energy measures add £200 -
possibly £300 - to current energy bills, following complaints
that we made to the Press Complaints Commission (PCC).
How else can you make green policies seem jolly expensive? There's
also the option of only reporting one
side of research on the subject, or basing an article on
results that only apply to
one tenth of households. Then, why not throw in statistics it's
to interrogate? It's also fun to mix up
electricity prices with energy bills - try it and see
your 'green tax' estimate double.
Most recently, the Mail has launched a full-frontal attack on the
Green Deal. This seems a little strange to us, given that the
scheme is the main plank of the government's policy to help bring
down energy bills in the future by increasing the fuel efficiency
of UK housing stock. But never mind.
2. Climate change isn't certain/ won't be that bad/ will
give us cancer
Mail Online can't resist generating a bit of silly news
out of relatively sensible climate science research. As a
result, a few of its science headlines appear to have been written
by the Daily Mail random headline
generator. How about, for example, global
warming could make us shorter? Or - a predictable personal
climate change could give you cancer.
Recently, however, there's been a trend toward repurposing
research to fit the paper's skeptical stance on climate change and
mitigation policies. Over the last couple of weeks, for example,
global warming hasn't been a problem because
glaciers are growing, or because of
past warming (the scientists concerned have responded to this
misrepresentation of their work
here and here
questioning sub-head is a useful tactic. Or, alternatively
adding a rhetorical question:
"Is this finally proof we're not causing global warming?" (no), or
could space dust be at fault for climate change?" (no)?
Or, you could always just herald a
new ice age.
This line all adds up to editorials claiming the "science of
remains questionable" - providing a useful backup to those
criticisms of green policies.
3. Rely on the blogs
To be fair to the Mail, it's come quite late to this party:
Christopher Booker and James
Delingpole have been relying on the network of climate skeptic
blogs for ever.
One of the strangest examples of this
is the Register - an IT blog, which oddly also has a skeptical
line on climate science. And there's also Watts Up With That, a
very popular skeptic blog - although it doesn't appear to
think much of the compliment.
Once a skeptic blog's
angle on climate science appears on
Mail Online, it's got a free pass to crop up in mostly
skeptical reporting, especially
in the States, citing a "UK newspaper" - a phenomenon
discussed more generally in this piece in the New Yorker.
Scientists have recently shown more of a tendency
to speak up when they see their work being misinterpreted. But
they will have a job matching the
original reach of the Mail story.
It may not be irrelevant that two senior Mail journalists -
environment correspondent David Derbyshire
and science writer
Michael Hanlon, have both departed in recent months, just as
the Mail's climate coverage appears to have started mirroring the
4. Reuse, rewrite, recycle
If you haven't got that much time to devote to a piece, you can
rehash the same text from
The Mail also makes a bit of a speciality of rewriting headlines
to ensure they fit the editorial line. For example, when the Met
Office released its
assessment of the effects of climate change last December, the
piece in the paper
headlined with "Water crisis, hotter days, floods - the
weather for 2100" - very gloomy. But by lunchtime on Tuesday the
online version had been reworked (twice) to provide a more positive
end result: "Global warming would BOOST Britain's farm crops by
10pc". That's much better.
This example, meanwhile,
takes the tactic to surreal extremes.
5. If you're stuck - there's always the
Nigel Lawson's climate skeptic thinktank the Global Warming Policy Foundation
gets double kudos because it criticises green policies and its
founder, Nigel Lawson, was former Prime Minister Margaret
According to the journal ENDs, the Mail's dive into attacking
had its origins in a lunch between Lawson and the Mail's editor
Paul Dacre. At the height of the Mail's attacks on 'green bills'
last July, we calculated that the Mail gave
five times more space to the GWPF than any other news source on
So there you have it - we could probably start there tomorrow. And
on the plus side, we couldn't help but enjoy a few articles -
exploding wind turbine on the front page during the UN climate
talks in Durban last year. Luckily for us, we doubt the Mail will
decide it's had too much of a good thing just yet: as a recent
article for the New Yorker puts it, sometimes Daily Mail
editor, Paul Dacre, "with Harmsworthian vim, will fixate on a
subject." So we'll have some blog material for a while yet.