I oppose hearings into “journalistic malpractice” underlying Washington Post climate coverage

Let me state for the record that I oppose Congressional hearings into “journalistic malpractice” underlying Washington Post coverage of global warming.

Sure Gawker said “The Washington Post Has the Worst Opinion Section in America.”  But is that “journalistic malpractice”?  Sure the Post seemed to abandon any journalistic standards when it let George Will publish a third time global warming lies debunked on its own pages.   Heck, even Bill O’Reilly accused Dana Milbank of an “outright lie,” but he also joked Milbank should be beheaded.

But surely that isn’t justification for holding Congressional hearings into “journalistic malpractice” at the Washington Post?

Stop the presses!  I’m now told whole darn story “may not be true.”

It turns out maybe nobody wants to hold Congressional hearings into “journalistic malpractice” underlying Washington Post coverage of global warming.

Sorry.  Never mind.

But wait?  What about this repeated accusation that there was “journalistic malpractice” at the Washington Post?  Won’t Climate Progress readers come away with that phrase stuck in their mind.  Shouldn’t CP set the record straight so the WashPost isn’t tainted by a false accusation, particularly by the large fraction of readers who never get past the headline?  Nah.

Because then the Washington Post would have to apologize and retract this story, which keeps repeating the false frame of the disinformers with no debunking [italics added]:

GOP leadership cool to hearings into “scientific fraud” underlying global warming

Last week there was widespread speculation that the GOP is planning to hold high profile hearings next year into the “scientific fraud” behind global warming. The news touched off a round of anxious commentary among liberals about the coming rash of GOP investigations and fake scandals.

The only problem is that it may not be true.

A spokesman for the leading Republican on the committee that would undertake such hearings tells me that isn’t the plan. And a senior GOP leadership aide says the leadership is cool to the idea.

Rep. Joe Barton of Texas (the same dude who apologized to BP) is in line to be the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. A committee spokesman, Larry Neal, emails that global warming science won’t be the focus of upcoming hearings. Rather, Barton wants to hold hearings to try to get the Environmental Protection Agency to study the impact action on global warming will have on jobs.

At issue is the EPA’s recent “endangerment finding,” which determined that greeenhouse gases contribute to air pollution that may endanger public health or welfare. According to Barton’s office, EPA chief Lisa Jackson said at some point that studying the impact on the economy of scientific action in response to the greenhouse gas problem would have “limited utility.”

“Our committee will finally get to inquire” why Jackson “proudly refuses to analyze her agency’s actions to determine either the potential job losses they will cause or the pressure they will put on U.S. companies to relocate overseas,” Neal emails. “Congressman Barton is very interested.”

Separately, the GOP leadership is apparently aware what a circus hearings into the allegedly fraudulent science underlying global warming would be — and how it would play into Dem efforts to paint Republicans as hostage to extremists.

“It’s just not the best strategy,” a senior GOP aide says. “The most effective way to fight the national energy tax is to talk about the economic effect and jobs.”

So you’re certainly going to see Republicans use the machinery of government to push the case that action on the environment is devastating to the economy. And no doubt there will be bit of grandstanding at these hearings from select GOPers about global warming perhaps being a hoax. But no hearings as of yet are being planned that would focus specifically on the science underlying global warming.

What a relief!

So in this story, counting the headline, the Washington Post repeats the “scientific fraud” frame 3 times and the ‘hoax’ claim once, guaranteeing that most readers will walk away with those phrases or frame in their head.  The Post never bothers to mention the multiple vindications for climate scientists or the overwhelming science underlying our understanding of human caused:

Yes, if read this story very closely you might get the implication that the Post possibly thinks this is a fake scandal.  And they did at least throw in the word “allegedly” and suggest it might conceivably play into efforts to paint Republicans as extremists.  None of that comes close to undoing the power of the incredibly strong repeated word “fraud.”

Indeed, there is a long body of research on the fact that you can’t debunk a myth by repeating (which I discuss here).  “When people find a claim familiar because of prior exposure but do not recall the original context or source of the claim, they tend to think that the claim is true,” noted a 2005 journal article, “How Warnings about False Claims Become Recommendations,” which concluded “Telling people that a consumer claim is false can make them misremember it as true.”

So imagine how bad it is to repeating a myth three times and only hinting that it isn’t true!  This is not some obscure rhetorical matter.  The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention itself has studied the matter, and the Washington Post itself wrote about a it few years ago in a piece titled, “Persistence of Myths Could Alter Public Policy Approach“:

Indeed, repetition seems to be a key culprit. Things that are repeated often become more accessible in memory, and one of the brain’s subconscious rules of thumb is that easily recalled things are true.

So as amusing as it is for the Washington Post to sort of mock the GOP extremists for possibly holding hearings into allegations of fraud that have been thoroughly investigated and debunked, the way the piece is written is inexcusable, though obviously it is not “journalistic malpractice” and I want to state as clearly as possible that I don’t want anybody to think it is even “alleged journalistic malpractice” or to remember the phrase “journalistic malpractice” when they think about the Washington Post coverage of this issue.

I am going to repeat this and put it in bold face to make sure that my meaning is as clear as possible:  Do not think “journalistic malpractice” when you think about the Washington Post coverage of global warming.

For the record, notwithstanding this Post story, there remains a very good chance that the GOP will use hearings in the next two years to attack the science underlying global warming, since it is the cornerstone of the rationale for EPA action.

Related Posts:


23 Responses to I oppose hearings into “journalistic malpractice” underlying Washington Post climate coverage

  1. Sou says:

    So the rumoured investigation into journalistic malpractice by the Washington Post is probably not going to happen. Shame.

  2. And anyway, how would a journalist cover such a story?

    I sure miss Molly Ivins and Hunter S Thompson.

  3. The Washington Post does not commit journalistic malpractice. Is it journalistic malpractice when a biased reporter writes in a manner reflecting the biases that the editor and owner have? In my opinion it’s journalistic malpractice if the paper actually intends to practice objective journalism. In fact, there is much evidence that the Washington Post has become an opinion outlet of the corporate elites. So I agree, Joe, that the Post should not be investigated for journalistic malpractice.

  4. Aaron Lewis says:

    OK, the WaPo cannot do science. We learned that in the run-up to the Iraq war. Nobody in Washington, D.C. seemed to be able to do good science. WaPo just reflects the culture in DC.

    If congress wants the WaPo to get its science correct, then congress should take the lead and make a point of paying attention to good science.

  5. Leif says:

    There can be no “journalism malpractice” at the Washington Post when they have failed to exhibit any evidence of “Journalism”.

    Of course I am not a lawyer so what do I know.

  6. Gordon says:

    Hello Joe,

    But… over at the Economist, they spend 5 pages talking about the promise of geoengineering.

    And our Danish friend has a movie coming out showing that it makes more economic sense to help poor countries with the effects of global warming, and to do geoengineering, than it does to reduce our CO2 output.

    [JR: Absent very strong mitigation, geoengineering is somewhere between a dead end and a cruel hoax.]

  7. Mark at the Rally says:

    For over a decade, the national media, including the NY Times, WashPo, and others, have been clowning around instead of practicing journalism. Bob Somerby of the Daily Howler has been documenting it since the end of the Clinton presidency. He focuses on politics rather than science, but the themes are the same.

  8. Jonah says:

    “Journalistic Malpractice” is too many syllables. Something shorter would work better.

    Maybe “Newspaper fraud” or “Press fraud”? It doesn’t matter if it makes sense. Coin a new phrase.

    The more it leaves to the imagination, the better. You’re absolutely right: nobody will read past the headlines, and in their rush to pretend they know what they’re talking about, they’ll surely inflate it into a conspiracy or corruption scandal.

    Of course, I also don’t support investigations into “press fraud” at the Washington Post. Some say the evidence for “press fraud” is strong enough to push forward with congressional hearings, but I think waiting for more evidence is prudent.

    [JR: I didn’t want to use ‘fraud’ — the accusation is too strong. I was just trying to make a point.]

  9. James says:

    This article genuinely gauges the feeling about many in the Republican leadership who don’t wish to make climate science a key investigative area – BUT Darrell Issa (new chairman of the House oversight and government reform committee) has made it very clear he’ll make it so

  10. Jonah says:

    Re: #8

    Yeah, I was just playing along with my Machiavellian tongue firmly in cheek.

  11. paulm says:

    It’s surely “alleged” journalistic MALPRACTICE by the Washington Post.
    Not just malpractice by the Washington Post.

    That would be just an evil driven cooperate mechanism indicating that the Washington Post was Hijacked by cooperations with evil intent.

  12. The WaPo should definitely NOT be investigated for its repeated journalistic malpractice. Or fraud. Or incompetence. Or negligence. Or conflict of interest. Or abuse of labor.

  13. Lorien says:

    Gordon says: “But… over at the Economist, they spend 5 pages talking about the promise of geoengineering.”

    Yes! And the geoengineering article’s glowing conclusion is apparently that geoengineering, while not a fix in itself, can be used to *buy time* instead of taking the trouble to reduce CO2 impacts right away. Hello? So we use technologies that are speculative (such as tossing quick lime into the oceans), and perhaps harmful, to buy time so that we can ease people into emitting less CO2, or horror of horrors, actually put money into green tech that is proven.

    I’m sorry, I got off the WAPO topic…but I’m so sick of the Economist pushing geoengineering.

    As to the WAPO…so nu?

  14. Raul M. says:

    If they put radiant barrier in the paint
    of new cars, they will probably get the
    climate controll story better.

  15. Prokaryotes says:

    There are different kinds of Geoengineering – BECCS with biochar is a rather new recognized field of GE.

    On the bottom line, even if we quit all emitting of heat trapping gases and even if we remove all humans from the planet, the temperature will rise for several centuries with a high chance of abrupt spikes.

    The only way to counter further climate change is to stop emitting ehat trapping gases and suck carbon back out of the atmosphere. Thus biochar, reforestation and any preservation of existing carbon sinks is number one priority.

  16. Bryson Brown says:

    Sure the accusation expressed by ‘press fraud’ is far too strong– but I think that’s the point. (It’s a lot more justified than the one expressed by ‘scientific fraud’.) Why should your satirical response be any more restrained than the crap that provoked it? If you’re aiming for Juvenalian satire, even equal treatment would be too restrained. Maybe ‘press crimes’ would be over the top enough, although (given the way this debate has been going) satire has simply been overwhelmed (or even just plain killed).

  17. John Hollenberg says:

    I know there have been allegations of journalistic malpractice by the Post, but in this case journalistic malpractice may or may not be supported by the facts once the investigation is complete. In fact, the Post may be able to show that they did not commit journalistic malpractice. However, I am sure the hearings over this kind of journalistic malpractice will be full and fair, and the Post will have every chance to prove that journalistic malpractice did not take place.

  18. David Miller says:

    On the subject of ‘hearings’….

    Given that Republicans would control the hearings I don’t think there’s any way to win. The actual science would never be allowed a voice.

    Instead, it would be a witch hunt into alleged corruption committed by the scientists.

    What? No receipt from the shoeless porters who helped lug the ice drill to the glacier? Clearly we have serious questions about how our scarce and valuable money, seized from overworked taxpayers, has been spent….

    They can’t argue the science, they can only smear it and the scientists performing it. By impugning the scientists and the research they create a means of defunding it.

    If there were some neutral court where deniers – especially those who write laws – could make their case and get smacked down by reality I’d completely agree with the “bring it on” crowd. A circus with which to harass the scientists serves only the deniers.

  19. Chris Winter says:

    Some people get (understand) what Joe Romm is doing here. CapitalClimate definitely gets it.

    I’m trying to think of a relevant quote but coming up dry…

  20. Chris Winter says:

    It’s a little like what went on at the start of the GWBush administration. The story broke that “Clintonistas” had trashed the White House upon leaving. This assured that Ari Fleischer would be asked about it at every press conference. His line was always that he didn’t want to discuss that because President Bush wanted to put it behind him and move on with governing the country.

    The net result was that the story of the trashing of the White House by the departing Democrats (which was baseless) got four or five months of press coverage.

    (There’s a little more to it. The GAO did eventually conduct an investigation, and found some damage but could not say who caused it. The investigation cost about ten times as much as the damage.)

  21. A face in the clouds says:

    “One look at Joe Barton and you just know he hasn’t been the same since he was born.” (The UB Report circa 1984)

  22. Chris Winter says:

    My #20, posted yesterday, leaves the impression that I equate the trumped-up story of the trashing of the White House with what Dr. Romm is doing in this article. That was not my intention. It’s clear that his use of loaded terms like “journalistic malpractice” demonstrates the technique in order to immunize readers against it.

  23. Jim Adcock says:

    “The Washington Post Has the Worst Opinion Section in America” ???

    Clearly Gawker has never read the Wall Street Journal !!!