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And the 2009 “Citizen Kane” award for non-excellence in climate journalism goes to …

By Joe Romm  

"And the 2009 “Citizen Kane” award for non-excellence in climate journalism goes to …"

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Citizen Kane

Okay, I think it’s pretty obvious to regular Climate Progress readers who the winner is.  Indeed, I was originally going to ask readers to vote on the winner from the top 10 list below — but it’d be like asking readers to vote for which major sports figure fell from grace farthest this year.  As always, though, I welcome your thoughts on the “winners” and any omissions.

I do a lot of media criticism, so I thought I would end the year with an award for the major media outlet and/or reporter who has moved furthest from journalistic excellence.  Next year I might name the award after this year’s winner, but for now, it’ll be named after Citizen Kane‘s “Declaration of Principles,” which publisher Charles Foster Kane idealistically enunciated early on in the film classic, but later on “Without reading it, Kane tears it up, throws it into the wastebasket at his side.”  And no, I’m not including any of the “new media” in the list because none of them has even one-tenth the impact of any of the major media outlets on this list nor do most of them claim to be journalists.

And yes the entire media deserves a dishonorable mention for its generally poor coverage of climate science, politics, and economics this year:

Skipping the musical number I had prepared for the awards ceremony, let’s dive straight into the top ten list:

10.  Nicholas Dawidoff, the author of the NYT magazine cover profile on Freeman Dyson — not just because the piece was deeply flawed (the media does bad profiles all the time) but because the author apparently didn’t care:

9.  Fox News — just because they are dreadful on every subject doesn’t mean they don’t deserve to be on this list:

8.  NYT‘s John Tierney — the main reason he isn’t higher is that I’m not certain many people take him very seriously and his output level in print is on the low side (the second bullet below is actually from 12/26/08):

7.  David Broder — uninterested in the gravest problem of our time (except, that is, when he writes nonsense about it), and more interested in quick decisions, than right ones:

6.  Rush Limbaugh — a buffoon, yes, but his remarks in this case are far beyond the pale even for his brand of extremism:

5.  Newsweek — they win a special award for the single worst story of the year, and make the top 5 here because it turns out they’ve been selling access to the subjects of that story:

4.  Andy Revkin — ’nuff said:

3.  The New York Times — the so-called paper of record publishees Dawidoff and Revkin and Tierney and much, much more that is inexplicable:

2 & 1.  George Will and the editors of the Washington Post.  The two are, sadly, almost inseparable.  Will is #2 for his disinformation dysentery.  The Washington Post’s senior editors are, easily, the winner of Climate Progress’s first annual Citizen Kane award for giving George Will an un-fact-checked platform again and again (while making a travesty of their letters to the editor) — as well as Lomborg and Palin and many, many others.  On the climate issue, the Washington Post editors have, shamefully, abandoned journalism:

UPDATE:  One final note.  I am not comparing Broder and Revkin with Will and Limbaugh here, or the New York Times with Fox News.  That would be comparing apples and oranges or perhaps airplanes and oranges.  Individual rankings are based solely on an individual curve compared to where these outlets/journalists aspire.  It is precisely because the New York Times aspires much higher than everyone else, to be the so-called paper of record, that its myriad failings — despite much outstanding coverage and an excellent editorial/opinion page — give it such a high rank.

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40 Responses to And the 2009 “Citizen Kane” award for non-excellence in climate journalism goes to …

  1. john says:

    I agree completely, although I would put Hiatt first and Will second, merely because Hiatt has the power to influence both opeds and the editorial position of one of the nation’s top newspapers.

    [JR: I did put Hiatt first. Sorry for any lack of clarity.]

  2. Leif says:

    Last attempt, #4:
    To see the NY Times come in third is very sad. If they are going to be branded a “Left Wing” paper by the right at least they could give us something to be proud of…
    It would sure be nice if next year they could get off the list completely.

    [JR: Not sure why you are being put into spam. I tried one possible fix.]

  3. Richard Brenne says:

    Joe, thanks for this and all your great work this year. Who are the best at reporting and communicating climate change?

    [JR: Right now, Time and AP, I think.]

  4. Deep Climate says:

    Meanwhile, a story that has never been covered but should be: the Wegman Report shenanigans. Check out how Wegman took hockey stick co-author Raymond Bradley’s classic text book on paleoclimatology and spun it right round …

    http://deepclimate.org/2009/12/22/wegman-and-rapp-on-tree-rings-a-divergence-problem-part-1/

  5. ken levenson says:

    Sorry, but I must say (perhaps predictably) that Revkin should be alone at #1.

    Will and Hiatt are ideological hacks….like what we expect of Paul Gigot/WSJ editorial page.

    Revkin should and does know better. His lazy, too-cool-for-school approach of elevating the cynical/skeptic/denier positions – in an perverse act reminiscent of Roman Gladiatorial Games – hasn’t been just bad journalism, but a sham. Good riddance.

  6. Thanks, Joe! And we second Richard Brenne’s thanks for all your fantastic work this year. Climate Progress is a daily must-read for us.

    On the positive side, check out the Earth Journalism Awards: Honouring the World’s Best Climate Change reporting

    List of winners:
    http://www.awards.earthjournalism.org/winners

    About the awards:

    The 15 Earth Journalism Awards winners received their awards in the Danish Radio Hall in Copenhagen on the eve of the COP15 high level negotiations from key figures on climate and environmental issues, including Mary Robinson, the former President of Ireland; Marina Silva, the former environment minister of Brazil; and Kumi Naidoo, Executive Director of Greenpeace International.

    “The Global Public Award, determined by thousands of online voters, went to “The Route of Smoke,” a multimedia report by Brazilian journalists Andreia Fanzeres and Cristiane Prizibisczki, who documented how customary farming practices that contribute to the country’s emissions are clashing with new methods for responsible agriculture.

    “If we are to have any hope of reversing the effects of climate change, then we have a monumental task of educating the six billion people on our planet about how climate change works and what they can do to help,” Nobel Peace Prize winner Dr. Rajendra K. Pachauri said. “The media is critical in this effort, since just one reporter has the ability to reach thousands, even millions, of people. These awards help to expand and honour these vitally important efforts.”

  7. dhogaza says:

    JR: Right now, Time and AP, I think.

    Yeah, Seth Borenstein’s AP analysis of the stolen CRU e-mails was by far the most level-headed coverage in the MSM, and he consistently does well.

  8. Deep Climate says:

    #6
    Agreed. I think Time got it a long time ago – I’m not sure about AP. But Borenstein is the best reporter on climate change in the MSM, as far as I know.

  9. Paul K2 says:

    Agree with Romm and dhogaza.. Borenstein has a knack for getting the gist of the story reported accurately, appropriately focuses on the important and critical issues and information, while revealing the nonsense and hyperbole of people distorting the science.

  10. Derek Gideon says:

    RE: “Right now, Time and AP.”

    I haven’t been reading Time lately, but I agree about AP. What about the economist? They seem to do a pretty good job of reporting the climate change aspect of things like their coverage of the East African drought, ie not pretending that the effects of climate change are something far-off in the distant future

  11. Anna Haynes says:

    #1 for the Excellence award: Borenstein.

    There should be a ceremony, and the award should be presented by children.

    And there should be dual awards: for journalism, and for citizen climate heroes. 2009 citizen climate winner: Greg Craven
    (whose book made NPR’s Climate Change Reading List For Laypeople, BTW)

    Question: who has good computer-artist skills, to create the awards?

  12. john says:

    Actually, Joe it was quite clear. My bad.

  13. Jeff Huggins says:

    More Critical

    First, I must admit, I’ve only read most of the above post (in-between chores today) and am writing this quickly as well. But, I wanted to offer a quick thought based on what I thought I read.

    Although I agree completely that comparing Fox News and etc. to The New York Times and etc. is like comparing applies and oranges, I definitely don’t think that The New York Times and its group of reporters are failing (on this pivotal issue) only relative to their aspirations but that they are somehow doing well on an “absolute scale”. I DO think they have failed, and are failing, the public on an absolute scale — and dangerously so. I don’t even know that can be said about Fox — that’s even much worse, of course. But, to be clear, it’s not (to me) as if The New York Times is on this list only because they have gotten a “C” relative to high aspirations. They are failing, on an absolute scale, given the importance of the matter. It is as simple as that. They deserve to be on this list in ALL important ways, and the fact that they may be better than Fox doesn’t alter that. Indeed, because many people have more “trust” in The New York Times, the damage that their poor coverage has caused, in total, may well be MORE than the damage that Fox’s BS is causing.

    That’s just a clarification, from my standpoint.

    Be Well,

    Jeff

  14. Ronald says:

    Nothing on the Wall Street Journal? But it is true, there are so many to choose from.

  15. Jeffrey Davis says:

    I don’t understand why “selling the controversy” rules everything corporate news media does.

  16. Jim O'Rourke says:

    Somewhere out there George Orwell is blushing, no, probably saying “I told you so – thought that was fiction huh? Thought it couldn’t happen here?” The Climate Disaster seems the most malevolent and final consequence of a ubiquitous system of disinforming and confusing the American people, but if your loved one already died from poverty or lack of health care, if you saw your Dad lose his livelihood and pension, your child contracted leukemia from drinking polluted water, or any one of the daily indignities that people suffer while the media goes on and on about Tiger Woods, Anna Nichole, OJ etc. you might not find any news to the revelation that the media obfuscates the climate story.

    Its hard to see this turning around. Maybe there was a time when the “sport” of American Democracy seemed like good clean fun but these days the stakes are too high, the refs are all bought and paid for, and the story line is as scripted and inane as professional wrestling. Heck, Vince McMahon’s wife is running for the US Senate here in CT and she probably couldn’t do much worse than Joe Lieberman, though she certainly won’t do any better – not that that matters.

  17. Mike#22 says:

    Fox News is definitely in the running. The video montage on Beck is is rather terrifying.

    Glenn Beck: Media Matters’ 2009 Misinformer of the Year

    http://mediamatters.org/research/200912210015

  18. National Geographic Magazine gets my vote for providing outstanding coverage of climate change. Their graphics are especially educational.

  19. jorleh says:

    Revkin has done the biggest harm. He is going out and I hope he never writes anything anywhere any more.

  20. Note that all mass media, print and broadcast – from Fox to NYTimes – all have something in common: they all receive heavy advertiser dollars from the carbon economy. Constant oil company advertisements – both print and video, audio – then more automobile ads, airlines, tires… these industries DOMINATE the ad dollars…no news industry would dare bit the hand that feeds it. They would never challenge the revenue stream.

    Oil companies and car companies need not actually own the news outlets, they only need to funnel substantial revenue into any content provider in order to influence message.

    The honest and forthright reportage coming from these outlets is tokenistic and rarely extends to daily coverage.

  21. Chris Dudley says:

    Ken (#5),

    I think you have Revkin wrong. You think he knows better but he does not have the skills to evaluate denialist claims. He can convey concepts pretty well. That is what makes him pretty good at science reporting. But he does not have a good sense of mathematical proportion. This is why he speaks of population rise as being a risk for large emissions increases in the near term. He does not get the numbers; he does not get it that population does not grow that fast. He gets the idea of say “Limits to Growth” but not the quantitative aspects. So, he is ripe for denialist stuff since he can’t evaluate for himself that the points they raise are of little numerical consequence. It is not lazy. He just knows and is interested in communication but he lacks adequate training in math.

  22. Mark Shapiro says:

    No honorable mentions to the folks who push the bad stuff — CEI, Heartland, AEI, SEPP, Singer, Michaels; and then the folks who pay them — Exxon, Koch, Massey, et al. ??

    Joe and his loyal readers know those names too well, but all the destroyers above (and their ilk) should be named and shamed at every opportunity.

  23. robert says:

    FREE ADVISE TO RID YOUR LICE?

    Report the Science
    without open license!
    Report new discovery
    or salt the old alchemy!

    Words not written, half truths said,
    spin it right then go left ahead,
    In your search for truth an balance
    you’re‘wobblen’ not unlike a bad gyro-compass?

    Speak to Truth,
    or be the Lobby.
    So what really matters;
    is it just to sell hard-copy?

    What to do;
    polarize or popularize,
    speak the truth
    or spread lies?

    Push half truths
    plus all the spin.
    Now lean left
    and then back again!

    Confusion draws a mighty crowd,
    now we’ll watch the sales rebound.
    Keep the kettle at a boil,
    and suck in all the revenue from big oil!

    What could be cheaper
    then quote a biased speaker,
    or get two to ‘duke it out’
    so we’ll hear the people shout!

    ‘He said, she said’
    what could be easier!
    Quote them all,
    It’s so much sleazier!

    No recrimination of open lies
    or rumored tails devoid of fact.
    Print ‘out of context’ is worth a try
    to thread the needle and feed the pac!

    The oft repeated farcical spin,
    If someone said it, we’ll bring it back again.
    Be it hype or simply tripe,
    do not hesitate to recite.

    It’s very slick to Cherry Pick
    or just haul back an through a verbal brick.
    Opinionate on Global Cooling
    Who’s he think he’s really fooling?

    Quote the Hoaxer
    as he redefines blind.
    Bought an paid for,
    has he lost his mind?

    What’s your purpose
    where is your point
    if you increase your sales
    but kill off the whales!

    The Crisis looms
    like no other.
    Have your way
    to the endless summer!

    Journalism’s call
    is to seek the source of light.
    Where’d you get the idea
    to go left and then spin right!

    For some it’s fun
    to push the spoof
    but most understand
    the Code of Truth!

    Conduit of noise
    or window of light,
    your command is to offer
    real incite!

  24. dhogaza says:

    I think you have Revkin wrong. You think he knows better but he does not have the skills to evaluate denialist claims.

    A journalist is expected to be able to figure out who is credible, and who is not. If he doesn’t have the skills to sort out credible science vs. skeptical pseudo-science, he shouldn’t be working as a science reporter.

  25. who are your favourite climate journalists?

  26. ken levenson says:

    Chris Dudley,

    Revkin’s a smart guy. He has been a lazy, cynical reporter on climate change. The reason is certainly pretty prosaic: daily reporters are under great relentless deadline pressure, it is exhausting – throw in blogging and forgetaboutit. Revkin has said he’s been working 24/7 and is exhausted. The pressure cooker in the NY Times is particularly hard to appreciate. Their fear of “being an advocate” is far greater than their fear of being “co-opted” – it’s a weird dynamic but a real one (one that gives us Judith Miller and the march to war) – one that puts up bogus skeptic/denier theater along side legitimate science.
    Revkin was so tired, and his editors were so lost in this cloud of nonsensical “anti-advocacy”, they couldn’t resist using the many times discredited email hacking “scandal” as the vehicle in their “curtain raiser” article for Copenhagen. Absurd! It defies simple logic – it is a psychological condition – they are sick! (and lazy)

    If that wasn’t speculative enough for you I’ll throw in some more arm chair analysis:

    Of course Revkin has a long history of inflating the skeptic/denier position. Partly I suspect this comes from the crowd he runs with – Jesse Ausubel, a “contrarian”, is an old friend, and then there is the never erudite Peilke Jr. Revkin seems to like hanging with the kids throwing smoke bombs into the party…(and is one himself – we can’t just blame our friends!). It feels very much like revenge of the nerds. Nerds on nerds I guess.

    Hopefully the new reporters picking up Revkin’s beat will be a proper corrective.

  27. Chris Dudley says:

    Ken (#28),

    In some ways, a science reporter is supposed to be lazy in the sense that you are using the word. Sit around and read the embargoed stuff from Nature or Science or the press releases from universities, get you head around the idea enough to repeat what came across your desk and maybe dig into the Rolodex to get another opinion that mainly says the result is interesting but time will tell. Totally predictable daily grind. Revkin went beyond that with his reporting on the Arctic melting, for example, which makes him a better than average science reporter.

    I think that where he has gotten a bit off track in in what he exposes himself to in his blog. He moderates all the comments. And, I think that he is confusing anonymous commenters, many of whom are pretty obviously paid advocates, with anonymous sources who are protected by journalists. He seems to be forgetting that the journalists actually know who their sources are while he does not know who is commenting on his blog. Since he does not have mathematical perspective, the constant exposure to mathematically deceptive but seemingly reasonable sounding material from the deniers which is amplified by undisclosed industry or OPEC funding leaves him with a balance issue. He does not have the training to be adequately skeptical of the lines he is being fed daily from apparently multiple sources. So, he gives them too much weight. Probably he also gets offended when working scientist don’t jump to answer every question he has that comes out of this barrage, so like many reporters, he reports “no comment” as news. He is being used as a tool to harass scientists but he may feel that his reputation is not being respected when scientists act as though they are being harassed.
    So, he say that scientists need to be better communicators and that is the big problem when the real problem is the noise from lies amplified by the hidden fossil fuel an nuclear power industry money.

    As you say, he is a smart guy. I think he may come to his senses once he has time to breath a little.

  28. mike roddy says:

    Ken, dhogoza, and especially Chris: very interesting thoughts about Revkin, but I think you left something out: People like Tierney and Miller, both obvious idiots, do not work at the Times by accident. Remember, the paper’s home town is the global financial center, and they are deeply tied up with fossil fuel companies. As one example, many coal plants have long term financing deals, meaning that if they are retired prematurely the banks will take big hits. And Exxon’s ads in the Times may have saved it from bankruptcy.

    I don’t know how influence was exerted on Revkin, but journalists have learned lately that if they don’t play ball they are out. When Peter Arnett questioned Iraq, or Rather questioned Bush’s National Guard period, they suddenly could not get jobs. And these are highly respected and established reporters.

    I think that Revkin is smart, and think that he knows a lot more real scientists than contrarians like Pielke or Dyson. I also think his mathematical knowledge is adequate, though his scientific analysis is weak for a real science reporter. If you’re a scientist and someone writes a lying paper with bad data (common among deniers), you call him on it. Revkin never did, and provided a platform and implied respect for some of the most dishonest and factually wrong climate opinions around. There’s no excuse for it.

    My complaint against Andy is more serious. I believe that he abandoned both his courage and his principles, probably out of his love for his children and his responsibility to support them. That’s an excuse, but a weak one.

    My father, John Roddy, was one of the youngest full colonels in the Army in 1959, and was a senior staffer to the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the Pentagon. They wanted to put Nike nuclear missiles on the backs of jeeps. Dad fought them quite openly, and his career was wrecked- and I ended up with a very small inheritance.

    What he left me was a lot more important. Fight for what’s right, especially if all of the people have a stake in it, and don’t be afriad of the personal consequences. That’s the way you show real love.

  29. Aaron Lewis says:

    The PBS Newshour deserves a mention for running oil ads while saying nothing.

  30. Warm Season Greetings from Southern California,

    Thanks for the typical East Coast bias. You folks in the legacy states think the whole world revolves around the Atlantic seaboard. How quaintly 20th century.

    Where’s the slowly dying Los Angeles Times? Where’s any newspaper or broadcaster west of the Mississippi?

    I suspect Joe Romm could have written this East Coast list of the most obvious in his sleep with nary a thought.

    Maybe Joe will do us a favor in the new year and offer us his list of the 10 ten most insightful journalists on the climate scene – and if we’re lucky perhaps he’ll use a Google map that encompasses more than the original 13 colonies.

    [JR: Uhh, the California media tends to be pretty good on climate and clean energy, since they are far away from most of the anti-science disinformers and the state has a strong bipartisan track record of action, which informs the coverage. The legacy states are where the status quo media lives and opines. Let me be the first to apologize for that fact, but, then that was one of the points of this post. You ought to be proud your folks didn't make the list!]

  31. Ben Lieberman says:

    What does Tierney actually do? He runs his little blog, but seldom produces any articles or content that go beyond a short interview with an often dubious source.

  32. Anna Haynes says:

    Ben (“What does Tierney actually do?”), Tierney gives memes a New York Times imprimateur, bringing them into the public conversation as mainstream science reporting.

    Yes, the contrarianosphere picks up his posts, but so does at least one site from a reputable organization: NSF’s “Science360 News Service” outreach news site has a “what the blogs are saying” section, that regularly (and prominently) features Tierney Lab posts.

  33. Anna Haynes says:

    Creative Greenius #32 (“Where[in the Citizen Kane competition]’s any newspaper or broadcaster west of the Mississippi?” ), for you we offer the San Francisco Chronicle’s special Sunday op-ed section, “Insight”, which provides “insight” from antiscience columnist Debra Saunders, who, I’m told, is popular with readers and would not consider her own column’s claims to be a mistake.

    It’s brand self-harm syndrome.

  34. Chris Winter says:

    Lady in Red,

    Yes, I’ve just read about that “rain forest algebra” — at the end of Diane Raditch’s Left Back. Excellent book! But I’m off topic, since that book’s about education, not climate…

  35. Chris Winter says:

    Mike Roddy wrote: “They wanted to put Nike nuclear missiles on the backs of jeeps.”

    Wow. Sounds like the same bunch that gave us the Division Air Defense Gun (aka “Sergeant York”) and proposed the x-ray laser for SDI.

    Kudos to your late father. Too bad he’s not around any longer.

  36. Of course Revkin has a long history of inflating the skeptic/denier position. Partly I suspect this comes from the crowd he runs with – Jesse Ausubel, a “contrarian”, is an old friend, and then there is the never erudite Peilke Jr. Revkin seems to like hanging with the kids throwing smoke bombs into the party…(and is one himself – we can’t just blame our friends!). It feels very much like revenge of the nerds. Nerds on nerds I guess.

    Hopefully the new reporters picking up Revkin’s beat will be a proper corrective.

  37. Cynthia says:

    My roommates receive the Wall Street Journal and that is definitely one heck of a denier paper! (Huge half page printouts by deniers and more paragraphs which ridicule the science)! No wonder so many Americans are uninformed!

  38. We need another 50 Seth Borensteins and George Monbiots to correct the misinformation put out by the New York Times.

    Just because Andrew Revkin left for academia doesn’t mean for one instance that the NYT will stop printing junk science bought and paid for by Exxon-Mobil ad revenues.