March 8th, 2010
Okay. Some of you are probably irritated with me for this title — you’re thinking, “Why do you have to compliment him?” As if I’m somehow fraternizing with the enemy and being a traitor to the cause of science and environmentalism. Maybe you’re still buying into the, “Ignore them and hope they’ll go away,” strategy. If so, you might want ask the folks who have been associated with Kerry, Gore and Climategate how that strategy worked out. In fact, it was one of the bits Morano went through in the interview — more or less saying, “Thank you for making my job so easy by trying to ignore us.”
The email response to my interview with Marc Morano last Thursday has been what we hoped for. I’m going to summarize and excerpt parts of the emails on Thursday. You’re still welcome to send in your thoughts, up until probably Wednesday morning.
THE TOP TEN WAYS IN WHICH MARC MORANO ILLUSTRATES THE PRINCIPLES OF “DON’T BE SUCH A SCIENTIST”
1 SPECIFICS – I mentioned in my book the basic rule that, “The power of good storytelling rests in the specifics.” For Benshi Essay #3 I delved deeper into this, citing the wonderful article by Nicholas Kristof in Outside Magazine about the failure of NGOs in Africa to grasp this principle in their mass communication. Now we have Marc Morano as a perfect case study in what this means. Just listen to him in his television debates — everything he says is tied to specific pieces of information. And notice that I titled the interview with him, “Naming Names.” He simply knows how to argue in very specific terms. We can (and will) argue about the accuracy of it all down the road, but for now, know that this is a characteristic of a skilled communicator.
2 AROUSE AND FULFILL – One of the things you didn’t get to see in the interview was some of the mud slinging Marc engaged in when it came to Mike Mann. He called him a few names and hurled specific accusations of dishonesty. Given that the Penn State investigation recently cleared Mike (and the only issue left unresolved is trivial according to the head of the investigation), and given what I had said earlier about the irresponsibility of CBS News in propagating slander, I couldn’t see the logic or value of including those insults. Marc got to see the edited transcript before I posted it so he knew that I had pulled it back a bit. But suffice it to say, he knows very well how to toss out the sort of accusations that cause whiplash in readers, and arouse their interest. He’s very good at this, and in the short attention span world of television news it is an essential skill — not necessarily hurling insults, but knowing how to be provocative and arouse attention.
3 NON-CONTROLLING – This is one of the most important and prominent features of his style. In one of the best sets of comments that I’ll post on Thursday, a communications professor notes this difference between Morano and Mann. In both interviews at various places I interrupted and challenged them in what they were saying. With Mike Mann you can feel a tension immediately emerge (the communications professor noted this and describes it much better than I). But with Morano, he has the ability to roll with whatever resistance arises. In my book I talked about the value of improv training towards developing this skill. I’m guessing Marc would be great in an improv class. However, you are welcome to ask, “But where does truth and accuracy work into this?” The communications professor will address that on Thursday.
4 HUMOR – The first chapter of my book was about moving the process down out of the head and into the lower organs. Marc is very good with at least one aspect of this which is humor. He smiles continuously in debates, and even on his website, www.climatedepot.com, you see he maintains a fairly humorous tone as he pokes fun at climate scientists (which by the way is the same tone as The Drudge Report).
5 STORYTELLING – The core of a good story is the source of tension or conflict. Morano has a very sharp instinct for pursuing where the sources of tension and conflict are in the issues surrounding global warming. And while he doesn’t exactly spin yarns, he does know how to recount past events — whether its James Hansen’s initial testimony to congress or events in the aftermath of Climategate — with a clear sense of story.
6 DRAMA – He has a voice which is non-monotonic. It may not seem like much of an issue, but it’s painful how many brilliant academics lack the ability to speak with any sort of dramatic flair in their delivery. It’s a standard part of effective communication. He has it.
7 ABILITY TO LISTEN – At the start of the interview he talks about his best debate, which was a radio debate against George Monbiot. He doesn’t say it was his best because he feels he cut his opponent to shreds. To the contrary, he feels it was his best because of how tightly intertwined their exchanges were — that each of them was able to listen to the other one and play off what they were saying. The ability to listen is the central element to improv acting. And also, in his review of my book, Peter Kareiva said it’s the number one problem of scientists — their inability to listen. To which I can only say, Amen, brotha.
8 NON CONDESCENSION – The debate with Watson ended with him calling Morano an, “Asshole.” I wrote a whole section in my book about how we intimately learned in acting class that “rising above,” always loses your audience. You don’t see Morano rising above. He simply offers up his factoids, smiles, and says there you have it.
9 SPEED – The poor fellow who is given the burden of transcribing my interviews groaned at this one. Morano speaks very fast. Pretty much twice the speed of anyone else I’ve interviewed so far. It’s not clear he needs all the extra words at times (and be sure to read the comments of my transcriber below), but he is a bit like Mohammad Ali at times in his ability to float like a butterfly and sting like a bee.
10 LIKEABILITY – If you’re a liberal you’re probably choking on this last point. But the fact is when we interviewed him for “Sizzle” in the summer of 2007, my crew actually really liked him. Nobody agreed with his policies and overall everyone pretty much felt he was “dangerous.” But there was lots of laughter and it was one of the most fun interviews we did (though not quite in the same league with “Dr. Chill” who served us champagne).
So by now you may be fed up with what I’m saying. But let’s take an analytical look at the situation.
We have in our society what I constantly refer to as “a new media environment.” It is rapidly changing, and even in just the past year, with the advent of Twitter, the landscape has changed yet again. There are two ways to go about understanding how this new media environment works.
The first way is to focus on the environment itself — the types of channels for communication and how they work. The second way is to focus on someone who is succeeding in the new environment. The latter is the philosophy I’m bringing to this presentation of Marc Morano as a mass communicator. I cited all the evidence last week (his profiles last year in the New York Times, Newsweek, Rolling Stone). He’s made impressive accomplishments for a guy who is not already some blue blood member of high society.
On Thursday I will present a summary of all the emails that have come as a response to last Thursday’s interview. Tune in then!
WHAT THE TRANSCRIBER HEARD
We hire a transcriber to do the hugely tedious and painful job of transcribing each of the interviews I do. For Marc Morano, his finished transcript was just over 10,000 words, which I eventually cut down to 4,000. As the transcriber began sending me sections of the transcript, he also made comments about patterns he felt he was hearing in the way Marc speaks and presents information. I asked him to write this up.
While transcribing Dr. Olson’s 70 minute interview with Marc Morano, I noticed a few key strategies that Mr. Morano uses consistently, as follows:
1) RAPID RANDOM & OBSCURE REFERENCES
Citing lines from obscure scientific papers is an obvious strategy that every global warming skeptic uses, but Mr. Morano does it better than anyone I’ve ever listened to. He has his own particular method of using climate scientists’ words against themselves. He is very good at tracking down specific statements and comments that important climate scientists made, then citing them back, out of context. Yet it doesn’t matter because no one he argues with can possibly have an exact transcript memorized of everything that every climate scientist has said in their entire lives.
2) TALKING OVER
Mr. Morano’s strategy when debating is to follow up these specific, obscure points with a very quick barrage of attacks against climate scientists that are easily refutable for a knowledgeable debater, but the moment you try to chime in and refute them, he starts talking over you and uses this next tactic …
3) ENCAPSULATING STATEMENTS – “The bottom line is …”
In his discussion with Dr. Olson, Mr. Morano hit double figures in the number of times he said, “The bottom line is …” This allows him to seal off a string of inaccuracies, as if the topic is finished, and move on to the next topic, making it difficult for his opponent to be able to “reopen” that last topic to correct things.
4) TRUTHINESS (with a tip of the hat to Stephen Colbert)
Mr. Morano has an ear for statements that are very hard to argue with because they are more or less true — you could call them “truthy”; they ring of truth but are hard to confirm or deny. Here are some of his statements that he likes to use a lot that I picked up on: Al Gore sucks and the American public is tired of him (hard to argue against that), white Europeans and Americans are being racist by telling people of color in developing countries that they can’t follow our footsteps of development (the race card is almost impossible to argue against for a white person, without coming off as racist in-so-doing), the U.N. IPCC is just a political organization as opposed to a scientific one (this statement is basically true, also it is hard to argue with because it rides on the distrust that many Americans have with the political process and the U.N. in general), President Obama doesn’t agree with global warming, or isn’t acting on it, or is delaying cap-and trade or some variation of this (hard to argue with because no one knows for sure exactly what President Obama’s stance is on acting on climate change at present), and he also loves using the line about “global warming doesn’t even rank in the top ten environmental issues” (doesn’t rank? what’s that even mean? is he using the BCS or AP poll? how do you even begin to argue with that, but more deceptive is that it implies that there are all these other powerful important environmental issues that we are ignoring, and it implies that he cares deeply about them and most importantly, that you don’t). When he follows up the first two stages of attack with a couple of these emotional, heart-wrenching, almost “human-sounding” points, it really throws his debaters for a loop.
Overall, he is skilled at making claims that cannot be argued against in a live format, not because they are necessarily good points, but merely because they are random, obscure references that would require time and research to dispute. Furthermore, he uses these arguments in combination with each other, one after another, very quickly, so that by the time you have a response in mind to one of the specific points he made, he has already moved on to three or four other points.