Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Real Problem with Margaret Wente

Margaret Wente's partial apology for her partially plagiarized July 18, 2009 column  titled  "Enviro-romanticism Is Hurting Africa,"  is further proof that she is above all, a stylist who specializes in sarcastic attacks on progressive causes, who rushes to conclusions that are attractive to her way of thinking. She is not distinguished by balanced, thoroughly researched and scrupulously attributed passes at the truth.

Her column on "enviro-romanticism" ranks with her memorable columns "What's Not to Love about my SUV" (2003) and "Who's in Trouble, Polar Bears or People"? (2010). Wente shows in all of these pieces a lack of desire to carefully weigh all sides of an issue, preferring to skewer what she sees as conventional politically correct thinking. To be sure, she makes some good points along the way: GMO foods can contribute to alleviating world hunger. But we need to be on guard against corporate monoculture reducing biodiversity, and we need to insist upon labelling of GMO products. The corporate lobby against labelling goes against the whole ethos of liberal capitalism and consumer sovereignty -- the kind of paternalism that says consumers shouldn't be informed, because most of them don't read Margaret Wente's columns and therefore are unduly alarmed--  is truly appalling.

The more fundamental truth is that activism to stop runaway Greenhouse effect has the characteristics of what economists call a "public good" --i.e. even if the vast majority know that there is a problem, that doesn't mean that collective action will be taken, because each individual actor has trouble seeing or capturing the benefits for herself when she isn't sure that others will join in the sacrifice. So little actually gets done. There is little danger of overly-precipitous collective action on climate change; the far greater danger is that far too little will be done far too late.  So do we really need Margaret Wente's one-sided pooh-poohing of climate change activism or other political causes that share these same "public good" attributes?

By the way, kudos to journalism professor and blogger Carol Wainio for exemplifying the role that bloggers can play in keeping the feet of the established and increasingly concentrated media to the fire. Her blog "Media Culpa" is excellent, and if you read her particular posting on the Wente column , you will see that it is careful, judicious and discriminating--and that the Editor-in Chief of the Globe and Mail, John Stackhouse,  is in substantial agreement with her.

As for Margaret Wente, perhaps it is time for her to join her climate change-skeptical former colleague Rex Murphy at the National Post. They both belong there.


Jymn said...

"As for Margaret Wente, perhaps it is time for her to join her climate change-skeptical former colleague Rex Murphy at the National Post. They both belong there."

Could yet happen. Or better yet, Wente might fit in even more comfortably at Sun Media.

Mark Crawford said...

Actually, I think she's a good enough writer to be at one of the two national papers. And the column in question is good enough. I think that small-scale organic farming is something for a western market and shouldn't be a blunt instrument in Africa. Indeed, if we could provide a western market for that organic food growing it in Africa might be a good thing. But that is precisely the sort of nuance that is missing from most of Margaret's one-sided commentaries.

Paul Eagleson said...

I agree with Jymn and disagree with Mark.

I do not believe that Wente is a very good writer. And yes, I could see her fitting in quite well over at Sun Media.

Mark Crawford said...
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