"How the status quo media failed on climate change"
The Washington Post has one of the best, short analyses of the climate bill’s death that I’ve seen in the status quo media. In the print edition, it’s titled “How Washington failed on climate change.”
The author, Stephen Stromberg, gets two thirds of the main blame about right. First, he notes, “With few exceptions, Republicans have behaved shamefully on climate issues in this Congress, opposing policies that their party embraced in the 1990s (think cap-and-trade). Yet none of them will pay a price in November, and many GOP challengers will benefit.” Second, he makes a good case that “The president had the political capital and the numbers in Congress to pass something big. He chose health care” over climate.
The irony is that Stomborg is “Deputy opinions editor of washingtonpost.com,” and he is strangely silent on the role of the media, which I think deserves much more blame than Obama (but less than the GOP). The dreadful media coverage simply creates little space for rational public discourse. The media has for a long time downplayed the importance of the issue, miscovered key aspects of the debate, given equal time to pro-pollution disinformers, and generally failed to inform the public. And the Washington Post itself is worse than most, which is why it won the 2009 “Citizen Kane” award for non-excellence in climate journalism.
Even Eric Pooley, author of the must-read political history of how we got into this mess, The Climate War: True Believers, Power Brokers, and the Fight to Save the Earth, leaves out the media in his listing of Murderer’s Row for the climate bill’s homicide at Yale e360:
- The Professional Deniers
- Senate Republicans
- Senate Democrats
- The Green Group
- The Power Barons: When the eleventh-hour search for a compromise began, the utilities got too greedy
- The President: Barack Obama chose not to lead on this issue. His decision to address health care reform before energy and climate change doomed the latter.
What’s strange about this omission is that Pooley’s book certainly takes the press to task, and in fact, Pooley wrote the must-read (again) Harvard study: How the press bungles its coverage of climate economics “” “The media’s decision to play the stenographer role helped opponents of climate action stifle progress.” He analyzed the 2008 media coverage of the Senate debate over the bipartisan Warner-Lieberman climate bill and concluded:
The press misrepresented the economic debate over cap and trade. It failed to recognize the emerging consensus “¦ that cap and trade would have a marginal effect on economic growth and gave doomsday forecasts coequal status with nonpartisan ones”¦. The press allowed opponents of climate action to replicate the false debate over climate science in the realm of climate economics. The press failed to perform the basic service of making climate policy and its economic impact understandable to the reader and allowed opponents of climate action to set the terms of the cost debate. The argument centered on the short-term costs of taking action-i.e., higher electricity and gasoline prices-and sometimes assumed that doing nothing about climate change carried no cost. Editors failed to devote sufficient resources to the climate story. In general, global warming is still being shoved into the “environment” pigeonhole, along with the spotted owls and delta smelt, when it is clearly to society’s detriment to think about the subject that way. It is time for editors to treat climate policy as a permanent, important beat: tracking a mobilization for the moral equivalent of war.
- David Broder is the sultan of the status quo, stenographer of those centrists who are fatally uninformed about global warming.
- The New Yorker (!) parrots right-wing talking points
- NYT’s Matt Wald blows the “Alternative and Renewable Energy” story, quotes only industry sources, ignores efficiency and huge cost of inaction
During a crucial time period for the debate, valuable print real estate and TV time was devoted to grossly imbalanced and inaccurate coverage of the stolen e-mails and the like, rather than simply explaining the science:
- N.Y. Times and Elisabeth Rosenthal Face Credibility Siege over Unbalanced Climate Coverage
- Abandoning all journalistic standards, CBS libels Michael Mann based on a YouTube video “” while reporting his exoneration!
- In yet another front-page journalistic lapse, the NY Times once again equates non-scientists “” Bastardi, Coleman, and Watts (!) “” with climate scientists
- NY Times, WSJ, and Washington Post all rejected op-ed/letter from 255 National Academy of Sciences members defending climate science integrity
- Newsweek staff who play fast and loose with the facts are imperiling not just their profession but the planet.
We have seen again and again the media skew the debate and misrepresent our increasing understanding of how dire the climate situation according to the latest science:
- Boykoff on “Exaggerating Denialism: Media Representations of Outlier Views on Climate Change”: Freudenburg: “Reporters need to learn that, if they wish to discuss ‘both sides’ of the climate issue, the scientifically legitimate “other side” is that, if anything, global climate disruption is likely to be significantly worse than has been suggested in scientific consensus estimates to date.”
- NYT’s Revkin pushes global cooling myth (again!) and repeats outright misinformation
Often, it simply fails to inform the public at all about the likely connection between human-caused global warming and serious impacts we are seeing now:
- Signs of global warming are everywhere, but if the New York Times can’t tell the (bark beetle) story (twice!), how will the public hear it?
- CNN, ABC, WashPost, AP, blow Australian wildfire, drought, heatwave “Hell (and High Water) on Earth” story “” never mention climate change
- Exclusive interview: NCAR’s Trenberth on the link between global warming and extreme deluges
- As nation, Russia, and world swelter under record-smashing heat waves, The New York Times sets one-day record for most unilluminating stories
And since this piece started with an op-ed from a deputy opinions editor at washingtonpost.com, let’s remember that the WashPost is basically the paper of record for inside the Beltway conventional wisdom. On the climate issue, the Washington Post editors shamefully abandoned journalism in 2009:
- The day DC journalism died: Washington Post is staffed with people who found ZERO mistakes in George Will’s error-filled denial column
- In a blunder reminiscent of Janet Cooke scandal, the Washington Post lets George Will reassert all his climate falsehoods plus some new ones
- The Washington Post, abandoning any journalistic standards, lets George Will publish a third time global warming lies debunked on its own pages
- Will the Washington Post ever fact check a George Will column?
- Memo to Post: If George Will quotes a lie, it’s still a lie
- Washington Post reporters take unprecedented step of contradicting columnist George Will in a news article
- Gawker: The Washington Post Has the Worst Opinion Section in America
- Memo to Washington Post: Editorial page editor Fred Hiatt just recycled a right-wing WSJ op-ed. If you won’t fire him, could you move him over to obits where he can’t hurt anyone?
- WashPost recycles another denier WSJ op-ed, this time from coal apologist Bjorn Lomborg. Funny how two new senior Post editors came from the WSJ.
- Washington Post, Fred Hiatt turn op-ed page into a “joke” with yet another falsehood-filled piece attacking climate action and clean energy “” by GOP quitter-in-chief Sarah “Four Pinocchios” Palin!
- The Washington Post goes tabloid, publishes second falsehood-filled op-ed by Sarah Palin in five months “” on climate science and the hacked emails!
The media coverage is so bad it is an open question as to whether even a great speechmaker like president Obama could have broken through with a strong, repeated public message on the urgent need for passing a climate bill. The media would have felt a need to balance that message with bad economics and scientific disinformation from the Republicans and pro-pollution disinformers. And they would quickly have tired of presenting the message, just as they I’m tired of reporting on the basics of climate science and the countless studies that have come out in recent years that make clear urgent action is both necessary and affordable. Unfortunately, we’ll never know because Obama wimped out.
But there is no question that most of the traditional, status quo media simply doesn’t get the dire nature of the climate situation that our latest understanding of science makes clear. And that media reaches vastly more people than President Obama. If the media won’t stand up to the well-funded, poll-tested disinformation campaign, then the public’s view of climate his unlikely to change dramatically until we have a series of unambiguous signals aka mini-catastrophes aka climate Pearl Harbors?
Of course, that would still require the media to explain them to the public, or even make any connection between them and global warming whatsoever, so perhaps these are going to have to be medium-sized catastrophes. More on that shortly.