DDT propaganda machine

January 23, 2010

Media Check carries edited excerpts from a book by Daniel Gutstein from last year, Not A Conspiracy Theory: How Business Propaganda Hijacks Democracy (Key Porter, 2009) by Donald Gutstein, Key Porter (2009).

In the excerpted chapter Gutstein details how nefarious interest groups conspired to ruin the reputation of Rachel Carson and environmental protection activists with false claims about DDT and environmentalist aims.

The problem with the coverage of the DDT issue and with the eco-imperialism charge is that they are based on falsehoods that the media did not investigate. Former CBC-TV National News anchor Knowlton Nash once said that “…our job in the media… is to… provide a searchlight probing for truth through the confusing, complicated, cascading avalanche of fact and fiction.” In this case, the media let their audiences down; fiction prevailed over fact.

Despite what the pro-DDT organizations alleged, DDT was not banned for use in mosquito control and could continue to be used in 25 countries in malarial regions. In these countries, limited amounts of DDT can be sprayed on the inside walls of houses to combat malaria-carrying mosquitoes. “The environmental community is collaborating with the World Health Organization to ensure that the phase-out of the remaining uses of DDT does not undermine the battle against malaria and the well-being of people living in malarial zones,” the United Nations Environmental Programme reported when the treaty came into force.

Has anyone read the book?  Has anyone seen it?  (So what if it’s aimed at Canada?)

More thoughts:  Years ago, when Jan Brunvand first achieved some fame cataloging urban myths, it occurred to me that his books should be required reading in the very first survey classes in journalism school.   Maybe they should be required reading in political science, rhetoric, and philosophy, too.

Gutstein’s book would be a good reader for a class on reporting, or investigative reporting, or science reporting, or political reporting.  I’m not sure where it would fit in to a science curriculum, but I wish more scientists came out of undergraduate years aware that they can get hammered by these hoax-selling, axe-grinding disinformation machines.  All those reports about how Rachel Carson is the “murderer of millions?”  They coarsen dialog, they misinform, disinform and malinform the public.  They do great disservice to citizenship and voters, and ultimately, to our democratic institutions.

It’s not enough to have a counter, good-information plan.  These people must be convinced to stop.

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