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The Journal’s latest completely wrong “fact find”

The late Ronald Reagan famously added an eleventh rule to the ten commandments. “Thou shalt”, he said, “speak no ill of another Republican”. This, broadly, is a commandment that has been adopted and adapted by the Irish media to “thou shalt speak no ill in public of another hack”. However scandalous the performance of their competitor outlets, Irish journalists are famously unwilling to criticise each other, even in the most egregious instances, like the Carlow Teachers scandal – which was of course really an Irish media scandal.

This phenomenon can be reasonably easily explained by basic self-interest: You never know when you might be so hard up as to need to apply to The Journal for a job doing fact checks yourself, so its best to keep a studied silence on what that outlet is putting out, lest any criticism ever be held against you at interview stage.

Thankfully, I am relatively certain that I shall not be invited to depart Gript, at any point, to replace the Editor of The Journal, so I feel freer, perhaps, than most in saying this: Their “fact-checks” and “fact-finds” and so on are, almost universally, ideologically motivated, partisan nonsense. And the latest one is another egregious example.

Let’s start with the claims they say they are “fact finding” on:

IT IS OFTEN argued by politicians and agriculture industry members that Irish beef and dairy producers are more climate-friendly compared to other countries.

The Taoiseach said this week that Ireland’s beef and dairy industry “produces in a much more carbon efficient way than other countries”.

Two independent politicians went further to claim that Irish farmers are the “most carbon-efficient food producers in the world”.

What we have there are three specific statements all saying, more or less, the same thing: That Ireland is more carbon friendly when it comes to producing beef than most other countries. Of those three statements, only one is absolute: The third. The other two leave open the possibility that one or two other countries may be better than Ireland, but the third purports to claim that no other countries are.

So, guess which of the three the Journal “fact-finded” on.

The Journal then summarises the evidence for the claim:

One study is consistently referenced regarding the claim that Irish beef and dairy is relatively carbon efficient compared to other nations.

It’s a study from the European Commission Joint Research Centre evaluating the livestock sector’s contribution to EU emissions. It was published in late 2010 using data from 2004.

This assessed that Austria and Ireland produce the lowest cow milk emissions of all countries in the EU. Ireland was ranked with the fifth lowest emissions per kg of beef produced.

Ireland also ranked among the lowest in pork, poultry and goat emissions on a per kg basis, which is how they’re generally worked out.

A spokesperson for the European Commission confirmed to The Journal that the Joint Research Council has not conducted a similar study since.

So, case closed, right? Refer back to the top paragraph of the Journal piece, to the claims they said they would be fact-finding on: That Ireland “produces beef and milk in a much more climate friendly way compared to other countries” and that “Irish producers are much more climate friendly”.

On the basis of this study, from 2010, both these claims are true.

The Journal then goes on to cite a raft of other Government figures – which for fairness, we won’t quote here, go and read their piece – which show the carbon efficiency of Irish farming increasing.

So far, so “these claims are true”.

But that, of course, would not be a desirable result. So our intrepid activist friends over at Journal media then do two things to deliver the right result.

First, they cite scientists saying that even if these claims are true, they do not matter, because carbon efficiency matters less than producing carbon at all:

Paul Price said it’s a “misdirection” to solely focus on the carbon efficiency of cattle if emissions are still going to rise at a time when they need to be falling significantly.

“What you’re into is a situation where if you produce more milk, that’s just going to require more feed and more chemical nitrogen input and therefore result in more emissions,” Price told The Journal.

“It doesn’t matter how efficient you are anyway, it’s kind of a misdirection if you’re producing the same amount of milk.”

In other words, it doesn’t matter if the claims are true, because we want to reduce carbon at all costs. Note that this opinion is entirely irrelevant to the matter of the fact-check. They were not setting out to do an “opinion check”, but to establish whether various statements were factually correct. The evidence having been unfortunate, this quote is included simply to cast doubt on its relevance.

Then they do the second, most dishonest thing of all: Having said at the beginning of their “fact find” that they would fact-check various claims, they simply ignore the first two claims in their final finding.

Those claims by the Taoiseach, and by the Dairy Industry that Ireland is “more efficient than other countries?” Ignored.

The only claim on which a verdict is delivered is the last one – that Ireland is “most efficient”:

But ultimately, in spite of the claims made this week, there is no study showing that Irish farmers are the “most carbon-efficient food producers in the world”.

And so the reader is left, at the last line, with a verdict which is intended to leave them believing that the claims outlined in paragraph one are false or baseless, when the opposite is true.

It should also be noted here that there is no allowance made at all for the possibility that the people who made the third claim slightly mis-spoke: That they intended, for example, to say that Ireland was “one of” the most carbon efficient producers in the world. This would be true, and is almost certainly what they meant. But making that allowance might change the outcome of the “fact find”.

What we have here, then, is another astoundingly dishonest and manipulative piece of “journalism” from the nation’s entirely self-appointed “fact checkers”. It is, I suspect, not intended to inform, but to shape opinions on a matter of public debate.

With the Journal, this is happening too often to be a simple matter of sloppiness or mistakes. Their errors are persistent, all in one direction, and – when they are corrected, as they were last week after I pointed one out – they are corrected without acknowledgment. This outlet is receiving state funding to inform the public, and carry out “fact checks”. That money is being disgracefully mis-spent.

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