Chapter Ten Excerpt: Missing the Story of the Century

In the end, adherence to the norm of balanced reporting leads to informationally biased coverage of global warming. This bias, hidden behind a veil of journalistic balance, creates . . . real political space for the U.S. government to shirk responsibility and delay action regarding global warming. — Maxwell Boykoff and Jules Boykoff, 2004

This is no time for men who oppose Senator McCarthy’s methods to keep silent. We can deny our heritage and our history, but we cannot escape responsibility for the result.

— Edward R. Murrow, March 9, 1954

If we do not avert Hell and High Water, global warming will be the news Story of the Millennium. In a world where sea levels are risingma foot or more every decade for centuries, our coasts are ravaged by superstorms, and we face endless mega-droughts, global warming won’t be the most important story — it will be the only story.


If we do avert catastrophe, global warming will still be the Story of the Century. Starting very soon, and for many decades to come, the top news will focus on the country coming together to embrace an aggressive government- led effort to preserve the American way of life by changing everything about how we use energy — on a scale that dwarfs what the nation achieved during World War II.

While the media has begun providing more coverage of global warming, that coverage is still a long way from adequately informing the public about the urgency of the problem and the huge effort needed to avert catastrophe. The media’s miscoverage of global warming makes it much less likely that the country will act in time, and it is a key reason why only a third of Americans understand that global warming will “pose a serious threat to you or your way of life in your lifetime,” according to a March 2006 Gallup Poll.

We don’t have any Edward R. Murrows today, at least not on the climate issue. What we do have is a declining number of science reporters, and only a handful of those are dedicated to covering climate. Worse, the media has the misguided belief that the pursuit of “balance” is superior to the pursuit of truth — even in science journalism. The result is that global warming and its impacts are systematically underreported and misreported.