David Fogarty, former Reuters climate change correspondent in Asia, came forward on Monday to describe the hostility he faced inside the organization toward any climate-related story. According to Fogarty, “from very early in 2012, I was repeatedly told that climate and environment stories were no longer a top priority for Reuters and I was asked to look at other areas. Being stubborn, and passionate about my climate change beat, I largely ignored the directive.”
Fogarty offers an inside look at the growing “climate of fear” within Reuters and its reticence to cover one of the most pressing issues of our time — a shift that ultimately led to his departure.
In April last year, Paul Ingrassia (then deputy editor-in-chief) and I met and had a chat at a company function. He told me he was a climate change sceptic. Not a rabid sceptic, just someone who wanted to see more evidence mankind was changing the global climate.
Progressively, getting any climate change-themed story published got harder. It was a lottery. Some desk editors happily subbed and pushed the button. Others agonised and asked a million questions. Debate on some story ideas generated endless bureaucracy by editors frightened to take a decision, reflecting a different type of climate within Reuters — the climate of fear.
By mid-October, I was informed that climate change just wasn’t a big story for the present, but that it would be if there was a significant shift in global policy, such as the US introducing an emissions cap-and-trade system.
Very soon after that conversation I was told my climate change role was abolished. I was asked to take over the regional shipping role and that I had less than a week to decide.
Fogarty left Reuters earlier this year after two decades with the company, including four years on the Asia climate change beat. In April, the paper announced that Ingrassia, now managing editor, would be relocating to London, which he said “literally puts me at the geographic centre of the Reuters news operation.”
In an email to Climate Progress, Fogarty explained:
I wrote the post purely to highlight the troubling and puzzling decline in reporting on climate and environment issues by Reuters. The company had a great team of dedicated climate and environment reporters and Reuters earned a well-deserved reputation for objective and thorough reporting in this field. But over a very short space of time, the support and resources for reporting the climate and environment story were withdrawn.
In April, a Reuters story claimed scientists are “struggling” to reconcile short-term temperature variation with long-term climate change, while failing to quote a single scientist about the issue. The paper instead quoted climate contrarians like statistician Bjorn Lomborg and economist Richard Tol. Worse, as Climate Progress explained at the time, the same Reuters reporter had just reported on new studies of ocean warming in an article headlined, “Oceans may explain slowdown in climate change: study.“ Such confusion and false balance is often due to editors, not reporters.
Reuters isn’t alone in abandoning climate change — in fact, its further proof of an alarming trend among major news outlets. In January, the New York Times drew widespread criticism for dismantling its environment desk and eliminating the two editorial positions. In the aftermath of the decision, the Times‘ Public Editor, Margaret Sullivan, warned, “keeping strong environmental reporting strong won’t be easy.”
A few months later, the Times rolled back its environmental coverage even further, discontinuing the paper’s Green Blog. Curtis Brainard of the Columbia Journalism Review slammed the decision, calling the paper’s insistence that it would remain committed to robust environmental coverage “an outright lie.”
Last month, President Barack Obama delivered a significant address devoted to the urgency of climate change and his plan to combat it, despite Congress’ refusal to do the same. Viewers of the major Sunday shows, however, heard nothing about it. A ThinkProgress analysis of Sunday morning news shows, which purportedly recap and discuss the big stories of the week, devoted a total of zero seconds to the speech. Coverage of the president’s landmark climate address was left to the late night comedy shows.
A Reuters spokesperson provided this statement to Climate Progress:
“Reuters is committed to providing fair and independent coverage of climate change that complies fully with our Trust Principles. Reuters has a number of staff dedicated to covering this story, including a team of specialist reporters at Point Carbon and a columnist. There has been no change in our editorial policy.”