Should the Media Deny the Denier?

As an online writer focusing on environmental issues, remarks posted on my pieces tend to skew toward, “Give it a rest” or “What hysterical nonsense!” This usually leads to a mudslinging fest between self-proclaimed anti-Greenies and those begging the “skeptics”—who believe the moon landings were faked—to get with reality. My MCAF article on the IPCC report generated almost 200 back and forth accusations. This is the blogosphere, where there is an abundance of give and take, much of it anonymous.

Now, a new precedent has been set by the Los Angeles Times. Paul Thornton, the Times’ Letter editor has stated,

“I do my best to keep errors of fact off the letters page; when one does run, a correction is published. Saying ‘there’s no sign humans have caused climate change’ is not stating an opinion, it’s asserting a factual inaccuracy.”

Thornton explained his stance on this tempest in, “On Letters from Climate-Change Deniers.” Plenty of folks sat up and noticed. A petition was started on the Credo website, asking people to lobby the Washington Post and the New York Times not to promote climate change denial. There was reaction as to whether newspapers should ban letters from climate deniers. Immediately, Fox News weighed in with, “Los Angeles Times endorses censorship with ban on letters from climate skeptics.” It should be pointed out that the web version of the article in question had plenty of comments.

Of equal or perhaps greater import was the report by Media Matters which found that the “Media Sowed Doubt In Coverage Of UN Climate Report.” It stated that “media used false balance in IPCC coverage.” It pointed to the fact that despite the IPCC report finding that human activity is considered a 95 percent certainty, “half of print outlets used false balance on the existence of manmade warming.”

Margaret Sullivan, the Public Editor for the New York Times defines the term as, “False balance is the journalistic practice of giving equal weight to both sides of a story, regardless of an established truth on one side.”

Through the use of pie charts, Media Matters demonstrated that among climate scientists, only 3 percent doubted that humans play a major role in causing global warming. However, in the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times and the Wall Street Journal, 18 percent of quotes were attributed to doubters, 10 percent to those with “neutral” opinions, and 72 percent to those who accepted the science. In the Wall Street Journal, 50 percent of those quoted about the report were doubters.

On the broadcast front, CBS was found to have given doubters 20 percent of the attributed quotes. Unsurprisingly, Fox News had a whopping 69 percent of their guests promoting climate denial, with 73 percent of those talking heads having “no background in climate science.” Rather, Media Matters noted that they were pundits—many who had financial connections to the fossil fuel industry.

Media Matters also underscored the distortion that resulted when forty-one percent of total coverage, and over 49 percent of print media coverage, pointed to the statistic reporting that the rate of warming has been slightly lower over the last 15 to 17 years. What the media neglected to thoroughly explain was what this occurrence, often called the “speed bump,” actually means. As clarified by Brenda Ekwurzel, a climate researcher, “The global average surface temperature trend of late is like a speed bump, and we would expect the rate of temperature increase to speed up again just as most drivers do after clearing the speed bump.”

What’s an average news consumer to do?

Perhaps Letters to the Editors should be vetted by credentialing the writer. Then, even being a Senator may not be enough…as in the example of Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), author of The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future.

Disinformation has been part of the political landscape for quite some time. It has trickled down to the media and been exacerbated by the 24/7 news cycle and the Internet.

Personally, I go with Schopenhauer. He wrote: “All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.”

Let’s hope we get there with climate change.

This article originally appeared on the website Moms Clean Air Force.


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