In the post-November 8 universe, one man’s fake news is another man’s vitally important scoop. The third-most emailed article in today’s New York Times is surely both things depending on who’s reading it. The story, “A Crack in an Antarctic Ice Shelf Grew 17 Miles in the Last Two Months,” written by Jugal K. Patel, gets the full bells-and-whistles treatment. It’s dead center on the site’s homepage and tricked out with multiple maps, graphs, satellite images, and time-lapse sequences. Here’s the gist of it: A crack is growing in the Larson C Ice Shelf, “in an area already vulnerable to warming temperatures” and may soon create a very large iceberg.
I’d be happy to list all the scary details about the speed of the crack and its changing structural reality, but for one thing. There’s this revelation buried in the story’s final paragraph: “According to [NASA’s] Dr. [Eric J.] Rignot, the collapse of Larsen C would add only a tiny amount of water to the global sea level.”
This is literally a story about an iceberg that could form—and then do no appreciable damage. And lest you think there’s any new information here, the Times reports that scientists have been monitoring the thing since 2014. To be fair, Patel mentions that the not-yet-existing iceberg could herald new dangers if its creation exposes glaciers to warm temperatures “because the melting of those glaciers can cause much higher levels of ocean rise.” But, wouldn’t you know it, the article ends before any details are offered on that point. We’re simply told: “Scientists see the impending Larsen C collapse as a warning that much larger amounts of ice in West Antarctica could be vulnerable.”
A warning? Consider this: Some 40,000 icebergs are created each year. Out of that 40,000, the New York Times can’t find one—in our supposedly perilous age of rampant global warming—that actually constitutes a threat to our well being. The paper put together a scare-story on melting ice shelves and it couldn’t find a single genuinely scary example in a sample size of 40,000.
There’s a good rule of thumb in sniffing out fake news. When a large newspaper gives a story the Super Bowl Halftime treatment, it’s making up for the fact that there’s no story after all.