Why Is Politico Reporting On Climate Change Like There’s Still A Debate?


Will Politico ever inform their readers there’s a big difference between those leaders who say climate change is caused by humans and those who deny it? Memo to Politico: The latter group are as scientifically wrong as those who used to say cigarette smoking isn’t harmful.

The popular news outlet has perfected the “view from nowhere” style of political reporting where the only thing that matters is personalities and the horse race. A classic, if depressing, example is their piece, “The Pope vs. The Donald.”

Politico mentions “climate change” three times in the piece. First, they note that during his congressional address late this month, Pope Francis is expected “to call on Americans to set aside their political divisions and unite to tackle challenges such as climate change, economic inequality and immigration reform.”

But why exactly is climate change a challenge? Politico never explains. Quite the reverse, actually. Politico obfuscates. The second mention is a few paragraphs later:

Since being elected pope in 2013, Francis has jolted the world with his actions and statements…. he’s called for a greater emphasis on helping the poor and demanded more action to stop climate change, which he attributes to man-made causes.

It’s absurd for Politico to toss in the phrase, “which he attributes to man-made causes.” The Pope is not the one doing the attribution. The world’s top scientists, and literally every major government in the world, are — most recently in the fifth assessment of the scientific literature of the IPCC.


Could you even imagine Politico writing, “the Pope demanded more action to stop the spread of cigarette use, which he says causes cancer and other health problems”? That would be absurd. But that is equivalent to what Politico did here.

The Encyclical explicitly makes clear the Pope is drawing on “a very solid scientific consensus” and “a number of scientific studies” and so on. As this New York Times headline put it in June when the Encyclical came out, “Pope Francis Aligns Himself With Mainstream Science on Climate.”

Heck, even the Politico reporter covering the launch broke character and snuck in this line in a June story, “The long-awaited encyclical put Pope Francis in line with the scientific consensus that climate change is an urgent threat that is largely human-caused, and he called out skeptics for delaying actions to solve it.”

Precisely. “Based on well-established evidence, about 97% of climate scientists have concluded that human-caused climate change is happening” — as the world’s largest general scientific society, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, explained in its 2014 report, “What We Know.” The AAAS continued:

The science linking human activities to climate change is analogous to the science linking smoking to lung and cardiovascular diseases. Physicians, cardiovascular scientists, public health experts and others all agree smoking causes cancer. And this consensus among the health community has convinced most Americans that the health risks from smoking are real. A similar consensus now exists among climate scientists, a consensus that maintains climate change is happening, and human activity is the cause.

But as with the majority of Politico pieces on climate, readers learn nothing of this. The one final mention of climate change in the recent piece about the Pope’s coming visit is simply this: “Still, many of his declarations, especially on climate change and the dangers of ‘trickle-down economics,’ are at odds with positions held by Republicans, including nearly all of those running for president.”


Yes, the Pope’s “declarations” on climate change are “at odds with” the views of Donald Trump and virtually all other GOP presidential candidates. Shouldn’t readers get at least get one sentence saying who else Trump et al. are at odds with — like, say, every major scientific society along with the world’s leading governments and their national academies of science?

Even in articles entirely about climate change, like Monday’s “GOP to attack climate pact at home and abroad,” virtually the entire focus is the political drama. The one mention of science buried in that 1300-word piece is “In Paris, representatives of nearly 200 nations will try to hammer out an agreement for curbing the greenhouse gas emissions blamed for warming the planet and boosting sea levels.” Readers never learn who is doing the blaming or why we should listen to them and not, say, the GOP leaders who are the focus of the piece.

Most importantly, readers are never told of the likely civilization-destroying outcome if GOP leaders were actually successful at killing the global effort to preserve a livable climate.

Journalism professor and media critic Jay Rosen has repeatedly criticized this “take-no-sides-at-all-cost” mentality — the “view from nowhere” as he calls it. “It’s an attempt to secure a kind of universal legitimacy that is implicitly denied to those who stake out positions or betray a point of view,” explains Rosen. “American journalists have almost a lust for the View from Nowhere because they think it has more authority than any other possible stance.”

Obviously, overwhelming scientific evidence has more authority than the view from nowhere. Rosen notes that the latter view encourages journalists to think that “criticism from both sides is a sign that you’re doing something right, when you could be doing everything wrong.”

Tragically, Politico’s refusal to call out the anti-scientific views of GOP leaders doesn’t lead to “nowhere” — it leads to inaction, which itself leads to a ruined climate and chaos.


Politico is advancing a cynical view of politics wherein neither side can be “correct” and no outcome is better than another. It is reminiscent of the “chaos is a ladder” speech by the despicable Machiavellian and master cynic of Game of Thrones, Petyr ‘Littlefinger’ Baelish.

In Littlefinger’s worldview, “chaos” isn’t a bad outcome because all other things — including “love” — are “illusions”: “Only the ladder is real. The climb is all there is.” For Politico, the chaos of climate inaction isn’t a bad outcome because there apparently is no objective or scientific reality: “Only the horserace is real. Politics is all there is.”