“Damning With Faint Praise.”
A well-known precept of journalism is that “Dog Bites Man” isn’t news, but “Man Bites Dog” is. On this principle, saying something faintly favorable about an opponent implies that unfavorable statements are more frequently true.
Being a nautical guy, here is my favourite example: Its a story about a British sailing ship on which the first mate was occasionally too drunk to write the daily entry in the ship’s log. On one such occasion, the Captain noted the mate’s condition in the log, writing, “The mate was drunk all day.” The next day the mate (who had sobered up) got his revenge by adding to the log entry, “The Captain was sober all day.”
An example of “Damning With Faint Praise” is seen in a story about the work of our village project by David Biello in Scientific American.
In the name of “balanced” journalism he uses positive or neutral language when describing the critics of the village work and me. Where with us he chooses such words as “notorious” and “rogue” resorting to and demonstrating a perfect professional application of the centuries old and thoroughly described (and taught) logical fallacy of “damning with faint praise.”
In other parts of his article Biello chooses his view of balance incredibly. Instead of referring to the published paper of the most famous ocean scientist in Canada and the man for which the most prestigious prize in ocean science is named, the Tim Parson’s Medal. The SciAm what I yam approach damns with faint praise the topic of the Kasotochi volcano, its dust plume that created the observed and measured largest plankton blooms in the NE Pacific in history which Parson’s et al have published is closely tied with the 2010 historically maximum return of Sockeye salmon to the Fraser River. They do the damning by quoting not the published work of the top salmon scientists in Canada rather Biello gives this balance point to an obscure junior professor at a university whose speculation and assertion that the volcanic miracle plankton blooms and the salmon miracle of 2010 had no connection. Yeah sure…. balanced honest competent journalism.
When I and my village colleagues saw this SciAm story appear amidst the tabloid style media feeding frenzy that started on 15 October last year we breathed a sigh of relief. The comments were “Hey, this one isn’t so bad.” David Biello and SciAm did one unquestionably honorable thing, he prepared and made sure it was published a verbatim Q&A accompanying the main story where I was given the courtesy of having my own words appear.
ps. Biello has contacted me asking if he might be given an exclusive opportunity to accompany us on our next ocean pasture restoration voyage… Now that’s chutzpah!