Environment

The Confusion Over Climate Reporting

Collide-a-ScapeBy Keith KloorJun 24, 2011 5:21 PM

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One reader, in response to my post on the PBS discussion of Al Gore's Rolling Stone essay, asks me if I have

any comment on Gore's primary critique; namely that the MSM is failing the public on this issue? I thought media bashing and climate change was your bete noire"¦.

I do have some thoughts, but let's first have a look at John Broder's nice summation in the NYT of Gore's media criticism:

Much of Mr. Gore's essay is devoted to criticism of the news media as failing to report accurately on the scientific consensus that climate change is real and that it is most likely caused by human activities. He said the media had been cowed by an aggressive lobbying and public relations campaign financed by the oil, gas and coal industries, or had presented ideological entertainment in the guise of news reporting.

I would say that of all these points, only the last one rings true to me ("ideological entertainment in the guise of news reporting")--but only with respect to broadcast TV, which is in line with my own critique of the PBS segment on Gore's essay. I have argued many times on this site that I think all the histrionic criticism of climate reporting in mainstream newspapers and magazines is unwarranted. I still believe that. My other thoughts on this issue are best captured by Andy Revkin here:

The [Gore] piece retreads old arguments implying that if the disinformation on this tough issue were swept away (along with bad media habits), some kind of magical consensus would emerge. That's a fundamental misreading of a lot of social science, at least to my eye. There are inconvenient truths, yes. But we also have "An Inconvenient Mind."

Additionally, here's Bryan Walsh over at Time magazine:

Gore and other critics from the left are wrong about how poorly the media reports on climate change"”and even more wrong about the difference it makes for the public.

But as Walsh also notes,

Gore's bigger concern is television, where he's on surer ground.

So in sum, I think it's important for critics of climate reporting to not conflate the different mediums when they go on their journalism bashing benders. On a related note, Walsh also makes some very important distinctions that climate concerned media critics should pay close attention to. He writes that "the scientific consensus over the reality of manmade climate change has grown increasingly strong in recent years," but that

consensus on the reality of climate change is not the same thing as consensus on the exact effects and severity of climate change, where there is significant and natural scientific debate. Nor is there consensus"”or some kind of unimpeachable fact"”on how we as a nation and a world should deal with climate change. The reporting should reflect that very lively debate"”a fact that sometimes gets forgotten by environmentalists.

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