False Balance Lives At Reuters: Climatologist Slams ‘Absurd’ Use Of ‘Unrelated Climate Skeptics Nonsense’

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"False Balance Lives At Reuters: Climatologist Slams ‘Absurd’ Use Of ‘Unrelated Climate Skeptics Nonsense’"

On Tuesday, we reported that a former Reuters climate change correspondent, David Fogarty, charged the publication was openly hostile to climate coverage.

Turns out Reuters proved Fogarty right in a major climate story this week, “Seas may rise 2.3 metres per degree of global warming-report.”

The Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research news release for the study from explains:

Greenhouse gases emitted today will cause sea level to rise for centuries to come. Each degree of global warming is likely to raise sea level by more than 2 meters in the future….

“CO2, once emitted by burning fossil fuels, stays an awful long time in the atmosphere,” says Anders Levermann, lead author of the study and research domain co-chair at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. “Consequently, the warming it causes also persists.”

So, the study is about the long term impact of warming on sea levels.

Here is what Reuters feels compelled to insert into their piece:

Scientists say global warming is responsible for the melting ice. A U.N. panel of scientists, the IPCC, says heat-trapping gases from burning fossil fuels are nudging up temperatures. A small number of scientists dismiss human-influenced global warming, arguing natural climate fluctuations are responsible.

Who are these hardcore climate science-denying scientists who reject even the most basic physics? We are never told.

Later on Reutuers says:

Climate sceptics, however, say the evidence is unconvincing. Measurements of changing temperatures are unreliable, contradictory and unsupported by solid historic data, they say.

They question the accuracy of computer climate forecasts and point to historic, cyclical changes in the world’s temperature as evidence that global temperature changes are natural. Others say the evidence shows temperatures have stopped rising and that the sun plays a bigger role than human activities.

These are nothing but climate science denier BS talking points that have been thoroughly refuted.

Note that once again we never learn who is in this apparently secret cult of skeptics, we just know “they say” anti-scientific things, while “others say” other anti-scientific things — and Reuters obligingly quotes them anonymously.

Dr. Stefan Rahmstorf, Co-Chair of Earth System Analysis at the Potsdam Institute, emailed me this critique:

This stuff has nothing to do with the paper about which the report is; the paper is about long-term sea-level commitment and has nothing to do with whether temperature measurements are unreliable. Simply, a lot of unrelated climate skeptics nonsense has been added to this Reuters piece. In the words of the late Steve Schneider, this is like adding some nonsense from the Flat Earth Society to a report about the latest generation of telecommunication satellites. It is absurd.

One final point on the source of this false balance at Reuters. Fogarty had written that then deputy editor-in-chief Paul Ingrassia “told me he was a climate change sceptic.” Ingrassia is now managing editor in London, which he said “literally puts me at the geographic centre of the Reuters news operation.”

We can’t know for certain who insisted on cramming this absurd and non-germane “climate skeptics nonsense” into the piece, but we have a strong clue. If it had been part of the reporter’s original reporting, you would have expected direct quotes from actual skeptics, because that is journalism 101. The fact that the blather was all inserted without attribution suggests it was added at the insistence of an editor. Go figure!

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25 Responses to False Balance Lives At Reuters: Climatologist Slams ‘Absurd’ Use Of ‘Unrelated Climate Skeptics Nonsense’

  1. Timothy Hughbanks says:

    …that is journalism 101.

    See, there’s your problem. You thought this has something to do with journalism.

  2. prokaryotes says:

    Unreliable Sources: How the News Media Help the Koch Brothers and ExxonMobil Spread Climate Disinformation

    The press routinely cites climate contrarian think tanks without reporting their ties to the fossil fuel industry

    The U.S. news media routinely fail to inform the public about the fossil fuel industry funders behind climate change contrarian think tanks, according to an investigation by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). http://www.ucsusa.org/global_warming/science_and_impacts/global_warming_contrarians/news-media-helps-koch-brothers-exxon-mobil-spread-climate-disinformation.html

  3. Joe,

    I don’t think false balance is the real issue here. This guy Inglassia is in his position for a reason, and I don’t think it’s because he is the only qualified journalist/ editor available. I don’t know offhand who owns Reuters, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the owners are somehow connected to the oilagarchy.

    • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

      The entire capitalist elite relies on the tens of trillions of fossil fuel assets to underwrite the entire stinking edifice of their power and privilege. They will never, ever, give that up without a fight.

    • John H. Cato, jr. says:

      Someone needs to help Ingrassia understand the differences between ‘journalistic balance’ and ‘scientific consensus’. Too much of the ‘Denialist Media’ is playing this up real good – and duping the public widely with the (inappropriate) argument about ‘balanced reporting’. The time (and opportunity) to do that was 2 or 3 decades ago when the scientific community was actively discussing and debating this issue. We are now at the stage of what the majority of scientists have already settled on — ‘consensus’. There is no ‘other side’ to this story any more — and Reuters (among many others) have already ‘missed the boat’ on playing this little game. It’s like debating whether 2+2=4 or 2+2=5. No. We’ve already established the rules of arithmetic – we already KNOW the answer is 4. Reject that – or try to spread doubt about it – and you only end up looking like an ignorant fool.

      • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

        ‘Journalistic balance’ as an excuse for pushing denialist canards is a preposterous lie. On almost every other topic the Rightwing MSM shows no ‘balance’ whatsoever, just straight agit-prop and a range of acceptable opinion from A to B. ‘Balance’ here is just the usual Rightwing bias, barely disguised by a diaphanous covering of pure hypocrisy.

  4. There is a broader structural question that needs to be addressed as examples like this one pile up: Is for-profit journalism incompatible with accurate reporting on problems that threaten highly profitable status-quo interests? This and many other examples suggest to me that the answer is yes. If true, what alternatives are there for fixing this problem? I’ve heard people talk about an endowment model for reporting on complex issues, but I don’t know if this idea is getting any traction. If it isn’t, it should!

    • Merrelyn Emery says:

      Jonathan, if your one and only goal is the maximization of shareholder return, it isn’t pursuing fact-based journalism. Wouldn’t a crowd-sourced fund work well here? One $ per week direct debited to such a fund managed by reputable journalists for a high quality publication or website, by enough people, should fit the bill, ME

    • Brian Smith says:

      Jonathan, the Society Of Environmental Journalists http://www.sej.org/ is a 501(c)3 since 1990, w/about $1M annual budget from foundation grants. Part of their strategic plan statement under “Introduction and Current Situation”:

      “As more ex-staff reporters turn to freelancing, our membership grows. But economic challenges make SEJ’s operating income more tenuous, at precisely the time when we are most needed, to provide services to journalists who no longer work in a newsroom, and provide an important professional community for independent journalists who suddenly find themselves without colleagues.”

      So this looks like one existing endowment model with direct support for journalists. But isn’t the problem also that all the important media venues for serious climate reporting are locked up with a big no thanks sign on the door?

    • Mike Roddy says:

      You ask a very important question here, Jonathan, and there are no easy answers. We could construct another silo filled with articulate truth tellers, but it is not likely to have a broad audience.

      In my opinion, fearless criticism of MSM combined with advertiser boycotts is the best strategy. Whether funding is available remains to be seen.

    • BBHY says:

      “for-profit journalism” is an oxymoron. There is no such thing.

      There is either free journalism or there is for-profit propaganda.

  5. BobbyL says:

    I believe this type of reporting was much more common in the past but clearly it is going on. On the positive side, rather than still being the rule I think it in now the exception. My guess is out of the many people on the editorial side who are in position to make decisions about what gets reported statistically there will be a few who are deniers. That may explain this situation with Reuters.

    • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

      Not in Australia it isn’t. The Murdoch apparat remains relentlessly denialist. Fairfax has some good, sane, commenters, and some typical Rightwing deniers, particularly in the business rag, The Financial Review. The ABC is fairly rational, although centres of crass denialism flourish there, too. Talk-back radio is relentlessly Rightwing and vicious, so ferociously denialist. TV is rubbish, all-around. And the big tendency is simply to ignore it all and pretend it went away, thereby abjuring the necessity of bothering to deny the undeniable.

      • BobbyL says:

        I really would like to see the results of some systematic studies of the US mainstream media to see if there has been a recent trend in covering climate change with regard to the coverage received by deniers. My feeling is that there is less about the views of the deniers than in the past but I can’t be sure that is true. Of course, when they cover Congress and the some members spout denier talking points the press is obliged to report it.

        • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

          From what I can see from across the wide Pacific, US coverage does appear to be marginally improving, with notable exceptions like the ever-odious Murdoch abomination. The UK looks irredeemably lost to hard Right denialist, or polite, ‘balanced’, disinterest, and that appears to be the Australian situation, too. The real meat of the argument, that humanity is facing a non-trivial possibility of near-term extinction, dares not raise its head in polite conversation, anywhere. What I read of non-Western media, on the web, shows that denialism is almost unknown. Strange, that.

  6. Jack Burton says:

    Corporate Journalism is For Profit Journalism. Advertiser’s money produces the profits, so how can we expect media to bite the hand that feeds them?
    The US Corporate Media have no problem engaging in a deliberate campaign of lies and cover ups as regards the global warming and the changing of the atmospheric chemistry of the planet.
    We have seen a huge spike in CO2 emissions as new nations enter the industrial and consumer era. We are seeing the Arctic Sea Ice melt before our eyes decades before it was supposed to. The Jet Stream is now operating in a totally new state, this drives new weather patterns that fill the record books with record extreme weather.
    La Nina cooling is the natural cycle at present, yet man made global warming is now swamping the natural cycle. So we see warming instead of the natural cooling. Soon the cycle with switch to natural warming El Nino, the trapped ocean heat will enter the atmosphere to add to man made warming. The result could be shocking. We can only wait and see. It is not like we have any control.
    As the clock ticks on record heat coming our way, the US congress tells lies and responds to bribes. They are a criminal gang of greedy liars who accept cash handouts in return for selling out humanity.

  7. Geoff Beacon says:

    I think the BBC is another media outlet that is poor on climate. See Andrew Neil’s interview with Ed Davey. It shocked me and Dana Nuccitelli in the Guardian.

    I used to tell them about their coverage at http://tweetstothebeeb.com but ran out of steam. Too much like hard work.

  8. Thinking about the journalism issue, as well as the rest of it, has sent me back to reading Dr. Martin Luther King: “We are now faced with the fact, my friends, that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is still the thief of time. Life often leaves us standing bare, naked, and dejected with a lost opportunity.”

    With but a very, very few exceptions, I don’t sense such a fierce urgency of now in any of the politicians that inhabit Washington. I think that it is fair to ask all of our candidates if they have the passion to act as Dr. King would have done, or is it just another case of the Emperor standing there naked.

    There was a chance in 2012 to elect a candidate who understood the urgency, at least enough to get herself arrested helping the protestors against Keystone XL. It was Dr. Jill Stein. But, all the savvy ones shrugged and said “She can’t get elected.” and looked elsewhere.

    Will we do that again or is it now too important to make the same mistake?

  9. BBHY says:

    Some people say that phrases such as “some people say” and “others say” are weasel words and should be called out as weasel words.

  10. Russ Blinch says:

    This is not about some wrongheaded editors trying to achieve balance in the their stories. We are watching the ‘Foxification” or Reuters, a once proud and independent news agency.
    Reuters was taken over by Thomson family in 2008, and after a few years, Thomson began hiring a bunch of former editors from the Wall Street Journal. They did some good things but the moves against environmental reporting were
    clear and insidious.
    This story clearly embraces Koch Brothers inspired falsehoods. It’s pretty sad how this company has fallen so far.

    • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

      The Thompson family would, I assume, be operating with borrowed money, with corporate bonds outstanding, interest payments to be met, credit ratings agencies to insinuate themselves with etc. Ergo, they need the continued support of the financial apparat, the real seat of global capitalist power these days. Therefore, climate denialism being considered essential by the rich world-controlling elite, centred on the financial money power, Thompsons follows orders, or groupthink if things are not considered to require closer control. Otherwise some ‘hostile takeover’ might occur, possibly facilitated by hacked information, in classic ‘insider trading’ manner.

  11. Jan Moore says:

    What’s causing climate change? Carbon pollution from dirty energy. Just ask 97% of the top climate scientists in the world. http://clmtr.lt/cb/uQi0fc

  12. Lionel A says:

    It isn’t only Reuters portraying false balance as David Shukman at the BBC pens another mixed message piece of confusion: Why has global warming stalled?.

  13. Joy Hughes says:

    The skeptic tank is clogged. Time to pump it out, because it is completely full of ****.