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Reuters Exposed: Publication Openly Hostile To Climate Coverage, Top Editor Doubts Climate Science

By Kiley Kroh  

"Reuters Exposed: Publication Openly Hostile To Climate Coverage, Top Editor Doubts Climate Science"

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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.

Update

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.”

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47 Responses to Reuters Exposed: Publication Openly Hostile To Climate Coverage, Top Editor Doubts Climate Science

  1. Eli Rabett says:

    It’s no joke, and no wonder that the Onion is America’s most reliable news source

  2. prokaryotes says:

    Great example of misjudgement (think Kruger Dunninger) and/pr misuse of power. How arrogant to overlook the best science we have – decades of evidence!

    Isn’t a journalist kind of researcher who should be at least skilled in using google? It takes 5 minutes to check out any argument one might have.

    Since the basic climate science is crystal clear (more CO2 = bad for the weather and growing food)and since the scientific community formed a consensus, there is not much room for reasonable doubts.

    Sit down with who ever, a real skeptic/denier always will listen and is willing to learn about climate science.

    What kind of evidence does it require to have the basic scientific reporting at Reuters? Paul Ingrassia should explain why he use his shortcomings to bias the entire news reporting? Or better yet, replace Paul Ingrassia with someone who is fit for the job.

  3. Ken Barrows says:

    The press is free for those who own it. Good thing Joe Romm owns a little corner of the web.

  4. Mike Roddy says:

    I’m with Eli here. American mainstream media is no better than Stalinist Russia when it comes to coverage of anything to do with fossil fuels. It’s not about “climate” specifically, but rather stories that might threaten their stranglehold on the country.

    They lie or avoid the truth every day, and get away with it. Most journalists are afraid to offend them, even those who aren’t employed by MSM, for fear of losing future job prospects. Someone has to step up and fight the mainstream media once and for all, which is effectively the same as taking a stand against the oil companies. Otherwise we are lost.

    • Brian Smith says:

      Mike, I am still trolling for comment on the idea that , where media importance is the issue, climate advocates and donors should be collaborating on media strategy and concrete initiatives that would essentially force the MSM, lawmakers, political candidates and the public to confront the climate emergency.

      That “Someone has to step up and fight the mainstream media once and for all… Otherwise we are lost”, is an imperative badly in need of a champion. We know for a certainty that champion won’t by some miracle be the MSM itself for the reasons you put and many more.. and yet endless ink flows to complaining about and analyzing how we are at their mercy.

    • MarkF says:

      Lysenko Soviet Union

      Wikipedia

      “In 1964, physicist Andrei Sakharov spoke out against Lysenko in the General Assembly of the Academy of Sciences:
      “He is responsible for the shameful backwardness of Soviet biology and of genetics in particular, for the dissemination of pseudo-scientific views, for adventurism, for the degradation of learning, and for the defamation, firing, arrest, even death, of many genuine scientists.”

      The Soviet press was soon filled with anti-Lysenkoite articles and appeals for the restoration of scientific methods to all fields of biology and agricultural science. I

    • Brian Smith says:

      Climate scientists are the only people who can convince the public of the emergency and counter the denialist fraud. They, and the civil society team they need to arrange the venues for that mission, are the champions we are looking for. It’s simply not true that the climate movement has to be hostage to whims of either the MSM or political elites. It can self-organize to be the authority that finally steps up to the plate with 11th inning determination.

      It’s time for seriously intervening to correct course. The way to fight the media, Koch money and all the other obstacles is not to fight them on their terms but to go around them, directly to the public. Where is the inspired strategy to get this done? Where is the grave warning to the nation by climate scientists that changes the game?

      • Mark E says:

        Other than commenting on blogs, what specific steps have you taken to try to make that happen?

        • Brian Smith says:

          Not enough. But three things: I am working on a website that will focus narrowly on what’s been done and what more can be done to support climate scientists in reaching the public directly, outside the MSM filter.

          I am working on a survey to ask climate scientists what kinds of support they are getting, or would like see happen, through collaboration with non-scientists. I am also in touch with the one environmental philanthropist I know personally, and she is educating me on how to prepare to talk to donors.

          I have no credentials for this, which is not helpful, but I’m convinced I should try anyway. The best I can hope for is to be a catalyst for actions I can’t carry out by myself. This could be very naive, or not.

          As for commenting here, I can tell from reactions (mostly none) that there’s no further point repeating myself until there is more substance to report. I take your point. It would have been helpful to have gotten more thoughtful criticism along the way, but terse reality checks, like your question to me, also point the way.

    • Brian Smith says:

      can my 6:19pm comment be released?

  5. prokaryotes says:

    Why companies need to be held to account over their environmental debt

    Unpaid environmental debt could jeopardise the world’s financial security as sub-prime mortgages did http://www.guardian.co.uk/sustainable-business/companies-held-account-environmental-debt

  6. Marie says:

    The conservative takeover of publications and news services and the bias that is evidenced in their coverage is just another example of the American public being deprived of complete news — it is better when the masses are ignorant — they’re easier to control.

  7. Daniel Coffey says:

    Don’t worry, when News Corp takes over the Wall Street Journal, nothing with change. When the Koch Bros. buy the remaining newspapers in the nation, nothing will change. Indeed, the climate will improve, as we all know the environmental scary is really just a creation of the media, not physics.

  8. Who Killed Canada
    Media Ownership and the Radical Right in Canada

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d8D67YiLcOM
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fiurWhmOIgk&feature=related
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iRnZ43wxGvY&NR=1
    Part 1, 2 & 3. Note: each video about 10 minutes long

    No time for video? Read review instead:

    Mr. Hurtig begins by discussing the Canadian media and how we now have the greatest concentration of media in the western world. In fact, he states this would simply not be allowed in any other western democracy.

    And since these same media outlets control newspaper, television and radio news; we are essentially only being given one voice. There are few or no alternative views. As stated in the video, a healthy democracy should foster a healthy and independent news media.

    http://pushedleft.blogspot.com/2009/11/under-stephen-harper-we-are-no-longer.html

  9. Marie Logan says:

    The nice thing about reality is that it’s not belief driven. Whether you believe it or not, whether you report it or not, it is there. And if you try to ignore it, you place yourself in peril.

  10. Jeff Huggins says:

    A Key Paragraph / and what comes first, the chicken or the egg?

    A key paragraph, and point, in what David Fogerty wrote is this one:

    “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.”

    Do you notice the point, or at least its implications?

    The media will cover climate change only when the focus, actions, and persistence of prominent politicians cause them to. In other words, only when the persistent words and actions of political * leaders * — and in particular a president — draw unavoidable attention to the matter. But the key word is ‘leader’.

    This all-so-true and all-so-revealing comment on Fogerty’s part should help us understand the immense damage that has been done, and time lost, by President Obama’s prolonged silence about climate change, and even now by his continuing mixed messages (“all of the above” energy strategy) and vagueness and hesitation (what will he actually do regarding KXL, and when?).

    In the context of writing about institutions and power, noted philosopher John Searle (U.C. Berkeley) has written this about leadership:

    “Roughly speaking, power is the ability to get people to do something whether they want to do it or not. Leadership is a special case of power, the ability to get them to want to do something they would not otherwise have wanted to do. Leadership is a form of power and can thus be exercised intentionally. Thus, different people occupying the same position of political power with the same official status functions may differ in their effectiveness because one is an effective leader and the other is not.”

    (from Searle, John R., ‘Making the Social World’, Oxford University Press, 2010)

    These points should underscore the crucial importance of making sure that the next person we nominate and subsequently elect to be president has the skills and (even more importantly) courage and will to lead the country to address climate change in the crucial years 2017-2021. Indeed, it is our responsibility to do our very best to identify and nominate such a person. That includes CP and CAP, as well as all of us.

    (How many times does one need to state the obvious?)

    When a president shows persistent leadership on an issue, and treats it with utmost importance, and uses the bully pulpit energetically and sufficiently, and shows a bit of creativity and verve in how he does so, the media will have no choice but to begin paying attention.

    Be Well,

    Jeff

  11. BobbyL says:

    I would call this cherry-picking examples. You really need a comprehensive survey to draw any firm conclusions about what the mainstream media is doing and not doing.

    • Jacob says:

      “I would call this cherry-picking examples. You really need a comprehensive survey to draw any firm conclusions about what the mainstream media is doing and not doing”

      The people who write the articles (and most who comment) on this site have done their homework.

      As far as the MSM with their mixed message and disinformation reporting on Climate Science goes: If the shoe fits, wear it.

      • BobbyL says:

        True, people are well informed, but there are a number of examples where the MSM has provided excellent coverage including some examples that have been the subject of blog posts on this site. It seems illogical that if they were trying to hide anything they would be providing all this excellent information to the public. I follow the MSM and do not get a sense anything is being hidden. I think the main problem at most media outlets is that climate change is such a long-term problem and one that is so slowly evolving that it gets crowded out by other more timely issues. For example, today you had the Zimmerman trial aftermath, a major blow against Mexican drug cartels, violence in the streets of Egypt with seven deaths, the Senate resolving the filibuster fight. So what happened with climate change that would get it in the news? Nothing that I can think of.

        • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

          So, the greatest crisis in human history, rapidly making itself apparent through rapid climate destabilisation is, in your opinion, a subject that the MSM correctly finds less important than the repercussions of a lynching, another episode in the narco-jihad against Mexico and Latin America and the Pentagon ordered military coup that destroyed the USA’s ‘beloved democracy’ in Egypt? Need I point out the pretty plain fact that creatures who make that sort of decision, day after day, year after year, are either moral imbeciles, ignoramuses or something altogether far worse.

          • BobbyL says:

            The irony of climate change is that it is probably the most severe threat humans have ever faced yet it rarely makes the front pages of the daily news or one of the lead stories on TV news. Exactly what recent climate change stories do you feel have not been reported or are under reported that Americans would be interested in? I can’t think of any. Obama’s speech could have gotten more play but I think it was on a busy news day.

        • I don’t think it’s a matter of trying to hide climate change so much as trying to marginalize any realistic discussion of it. For example, how many times have extreme weather events or conditions been reported without any mention of their connection, or likely connection to climate change? It’s more like what John Kerry called a “conspiracy of silence” than an actual attempt to “hide” the issue.

          • BobbyL says:

            When an extreme weather event occurs all that the press can ever say and be accurate is that such and such scientist says that these type of events are predicted to be more frequent because of climate change but we cannot say for sure whether this particular event was caused by climate change. Some activists are not satisfied by that type of statement but it is good reporting.

    • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

      Your constant apologias for the MSM are quite intriguing. Did you miss the bit here, and repeated often in other articles at this site, about how the dropping of climate change stories is a widespread phenomenon in the MSM? Would you care to enlighten us as to which MSM titles are, in your opinion, treating the climate crisis with concerted interest that it deserves?

      • BobbyL says:

        I think the PBS News Hour has done a good job. They have run a continuing series on the effects of climate change. NOVA has done some good shows as I remember. CBS had that Face the Nation roundtable of experts which was the best thing that I have seen on the major networks. Brad Plummer in the Washington Post has very good blogs and is a wealth of information. I only have basic cable so I can’t comment on CNN, etc but I have a low regard for cable news.

  12. prokaryotes says:

    Kudos to Reuters for replying to this post, im kind of impressed ^^ Though i hope the people at Reuters understand that climate coverage goes beyond writing an article about the latest science find. This is the topic of the century, because it affects all parts of our life. Therefore Reuters and other news media outlets need special coverage to encourage CO2 reduction. Which means to inform readers about CO2 emissions when writing about cars who are powered by gas, which means to inform readers about the heat trapping gases from fossil fuel burning, which means to mention climate change impacts when covering weather extremes. And there is so much more…

  13. Mark Shapiro says:

    The fossil fuel industries have the means, motive, and opportunity to communicate their likes and dislikes to the media, to “steer” media coverage.

    Assuming they are steering, my question is simply: How?

    I am not enough of a gamesman, negotiator, or manipulator to imagine how its done, but there are several parameters.

    They employ the massive PR machine: think tanks, chambers of commerce, industry associations, and the “natural capture” of media, regulators, politicians, and even academics.

    Businesses routinely signal each other: casual conversations over meals, suggestions, changes in advertising buys, public statements. It is mostly hidden from view, legal, normal, powerful, constant, consistent, and horrifying. I doubt that even David Fogarty saw it happen — he just lived the result.

    I would love to read an expose about how this happens, though I don’t expect to. Oreskes’ Mercahnts of Doubt shines a lot of light, and business schools teach gamesmanship, but the details are hidden.

  14. Mark Shapiro says:

    Adam Smith noted that business leaders naturally meet at their clubs and social events, and just as naturally conspire for their mutual benefit and against the public interest — against free markets.

    Yes, that Adam Smith, back in 1776. Presciently perhaps, he called these leaders “masters”.

  15. Ben Lieberman says:

    Even news organizations that cannot be described as part of the radical right do not seem very interested in covering the climate crisis–for an example, try the Boston Globe.

  16. runnerin1 says:

    “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.”
    But, seeing how we’re trying to get the Koch Brothers to buy us, we had to change our tune.

  17. prokaryotes says:

    Must watch for every “Top Editor”

    This Film Will Convince Every Skeptic That Climate Change Is Real

    http://www.businessinsider.com/chasing-ice-climate-change-is-real-2013-7?op=1

  18. Panoply says:

    Dear Mr. Ingrassia and Reuters

    It is not your decision to determine for the world if climate change is newsworthy. The scope, the threat and the potential effect climate change will have on our lives is beyond your expertise to assess and project. That prediction is in the realm of science, not “journalism”. And the scientists have spoken. It is now YOUR DUTY— not your decision— to report what they say.

    The press has made several mistakes this past decade in not reporting news that has effected us in profound ways; and now you’re ignoring the biggest story of our lives. History will hold you and Reuters to account for not doing your job; and for allowing yourself the undeserved luxury of being a self-appointed arbiter of information that you are tragically unqualified to judge.

    • Stephen Watson says:

      @Panoply

      “Dear Mr. Ingrassia and Reuters
      It is not your decision to determine for the world if climate change is newsworthy. … It is now YOUR DUTY— not your decision— to report what they say.”

      An admirable, but utterly unrealistic and naive attitude. The DUTY of corporate media is to make money and therefore for its shareholders. That is it. It does this by connecting advertisers with consumers – something called “news” (which is whatever the media decides it is, or isn’t) is used to facilitate this process.

      • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

        I’m afraid you have it precisely and Panoply is rather naive.

        • Panoply says:

          If an asteroid was headed for Earth and 97% of the world’s scientists said that it will collide, is it Reuter’s job to determine if the threat is real or if it’s news? If NASA and the Pentagon and all of the national and international science organizations put out a press release saying we are in imminent danger from an asteroid hit, is it naive to think that it is Reuter’s duty to report this to the public?

          I know full well that the media is corporate owned and marches to the tune of their owners and backers, but that shouldn’t stop me from holding their feet to the fire. If that makes me naive, then so be it.

          • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

            Yes, that is what I meant by naive. Reuter’s job is to protect the money interests of its owners, the 0.01% who control the planet. Saying that it is Reuter’s ‘duty’ to report the facts is, in my opinion, a very much too high-minded view of the MSM’s real role, which is that of the propagandist.

      • BobbyL says:

        Isn’t Reuters a news service? How is it involved with advertisers?

  19. prokaryotes says:

    Here’s how the Koch brothers retaliate against journalists they don’t like http://grist.org/news/heres-how-the-koch-brothers-retaliate-against-journalists-they-dont-like/

  20. Philip Pease says:

    Those of us who are aware of the scientific evidence and the overwhelming consensus about global global warming caused by fossil fuel use recognize that if we continue to use fossil fuels the consequences will be so horrendous that civilization itself would be threatened. For the main stream media to ignore this story implies that they are ignorant or they have an agenda to deliberately downplay the causes of the problem. Whichever is the case they are failing in their duty to make sure the public is informed. I personally believe they are purposely choosing to keep the public uninformed (they do not want the public to demand fossil fuels be curtailed as quickly as humanly possible).

    • Mark Belgium says:

      People don’t want to be informed by the media, they want to be entertained. This was happening already long before Climate Change became an issue. Don’t be naïve about this. Journalism is about opinions, one-liners, emotions all wrapped in a 10 minute format. Nobody wants to watch a 90 minutes documentary about the complex situation in Lebanon, they want to see Kalashnikov’s and reporters dodging bullets when reporting. We are all Romans in the arena. Guess who’s outside the city walls.

  21. Andrea says:

    Who owns Reuters?

  22. Leslie MaKenzie says:

    Reuters used to be an independent news organization. That is no longer the case. It was bought out by Thomson. You may remember that company as the destroyer of small and mid-sized newspapers in the 80s and 90s.