Climate change is certainly the story of the decade and the century. And if we don’t slash emissions soon, it will be the story of the millennium (see NOAA study concludes climate change is “largely irreversible for 1000 years” with permanent Dust Bowls in Southwest and worldwide.)
But most of the mainstream media treat it as a second or third-tier story. Todd Gitlin — professor of journalism and sociology and chair of the Ph. D. program in Communications at Columbia University – has a long critique of the media at TomDispatch. Below is an excerpt of the part on climate — JR.
It’s Dumb Journalism, Stupid
By Todd Gitlin
… The Desertification of the News
Oh, and in case you think that the coverage from hell of the events leading up to the financial meltdown was uniquely poor, think again. On an even greater meltdown that lies ahead, the press is barely, finally, still haphazardly coming around to addressing convulsive climate change with the seriousness it deserves. At least it is now an intermittent story, though rarely linked to endemic drought and starvation. Still, as Wen Stephenson, formerly editor of the Boston Globe’s “Ideas” section and TheAtlantic.com and senior producer of National Public Radio’s “On Point,” summed up the situation in a striking online piece in the alternative Boston Phoenix: the subject is seldom treated as urgent and is frequently covered as a topic for special interests, a “problem,” not an “existential threat.” (Another note on vanishing news: Since publishing Stephenson’s article, the Phoenix has ceased to exist.)
Even now, when it comes to climate change, our gasping journalism does not “flood the zone.” It also has a remarkable record of bending over backward to prove its “objectivity” by turning piece after piece into a debate between a vast majority of scientists knowledgeable on the subject and a fringe of climate-change deniers and doubters.
When it came to our financial titans, in all those years the press rarely felt the need for a dissenting voice. Now, on the great subject of our moment, the press repeatedly clutches for the rituals of detachment. Two British scholars studying climate coverage surveyed 636 articles from four top United States newspapers between 1988 and 2002 and found that most of them gave as much attention to the tiny group of climate-change doubters as to the consensus of scientists.
And if the press has, until very recently, largely failed us on the subject, the TV news is a disgrace. Despite the record temperatures of 2012, the intensifying storms, droughts, wildfires and other wild weather events, the disappearing Arctic ice cap, and the greatest meltdown of the Greenland ice shield in recorded history, their news divisions went dumb and mute. The Sunday talk shows, which supposedly offer long chews and not just sound bites — those high-minded talking-head episodes that set a lot of the agenda in Washington and for the attuned public — were otherwise occupied.
All last year, according to the liberal research group Media Matters:
“The Sunday shows spent less than 8 minutes on climate change… ABC’s This Week covered it the most, at just over 5 minutes… NBC’s Meet the Press covered it the least, in just one 6 second mention… Most of the politicians quoted were Republican presidential candidates, including Rick Santorum, who went unchallenged when he called global warming ‘junk science’ on ABC’s This Week. More than half of climate mentions on the Sunday shows were Republicans criticizing those who support efforts to address climate change… In four years, Sunday shows have not quoted a single scientist on climate change.”
The mounting financial troubles of journalism only tighten the muzzle on a somnolent watchdog.