We have completed maintenance on DiscoverMagazine.com and action may be required on your account. Learn More

Everybody's a Critic

By Keith Kloor
Mar 11, 2011 6:26 PMNov 19, 2019 9:46 PM


Sign up for our email newsletter for the latest science news

Climate blogger Joe Romm has published one of his worst misleading opening sentences:

The New York Times has published one of its worst climate science pieces.

Yes, I'm being playful, but also dead serious. Romm's latest post knocking The New York Times coverage of global warming is about this John Broder article--which itself was about a political hearing in Congress that made climate science the focal point. Eli Kintisch at Science magazine nicely captures the weirdness of the event:

A panel of the House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee held an odd hearing today, which was liveblogged by ScienceInsider. The topic was climate science, but the reason for the hearing was a legislative proposal, called House Resolution 910. It would remove the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA's) authority to regulate greenhouse gases while systematically rolling back a series of steps that EPA has already taken to do so.

So Broder didn't write a NYT article about climate science per se; rather, he distilled the highlights of the presentations made by the witnesses (nearly all who were climate scientists) and the theatrics of the staged event. So it is inaccurate for Romm to imply that Broder was writing principally about climate science without mentioning the larger political context of the story. After all, the hearing was covered as news because it was supposed to be about a legislative proposal being viewed through a climate science lens. Instead, as Kintisch noted,

The hearing barely touched on the underlying issue, namely, is it appropriate for Congress to involve itself so deeply into the working of a regulatory agency? Are there precedents? And what are the legal and governance implications of curtailing an agency's authority in this way?

Now, as it happens, I prefer Kintisch's story to Broder's, because it cuts through the BS of the event and calls it for what it is: a reprise of past political hearings on climate science, with no new information coming to light. Broder, for his part, played it like a straight new story, which irked David Roberts of Grist, who called the NYT story "unforgivable dreck." (I discuss the Roberts critique here.) Romm, piling on, calls in his favorite press critic, sociologist Robert Brulle, who tells Romm that the NYT piece

fails to inform the public, and plays into the strategy of the climate denial effort, which is to sow confusion and doubt about the science of climate change.

To back up his claim, Brulle directs Romm to this well known 2004 study that found climate coverage news stories suffering from too much false balance. Apparently, Brulle neglected to mention to Romm that the author of this study has updated his findings more recently, which can be viewed here and here. So aside from partisans who seem to want their news stories framed a certain way for ideological purposes, what do actual science journalists think of Broder's NYT story? Charlie Petit, who covers the science and environmental press for the widely respected Science Journalism Tracker, gives his take:

This news story is nicely and rightly even-handed in relaying what happened before the Energy and Commerce Committee's subcommittee on energy and power.

That's how it's taught in journalism 101. If critics have a problem with Broder's story, then they have a problem with how reporters cover not just congressional hearings, but also everything from school board meetings to political press conferences.

1 free article left
Want More? Get unlimited access for as low as $1.99/month

Already a subscriber?

Register or Log In

1 free articleSubscribe
Discover Magazine Logo
Want more?

Keep reading for as low as $1.99!


Already a subscriber?

Register or Log In

More From Discover
Recommendations From Our Store
Shop Now
Stay Curious
Our List

Sign up for our weekly science updates.

To The Magazine

Save up to 40% off the cover price when you subscribe to Discover magazine.

Copyright © 2024 Kalmbach Media Co.