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The Media as Scapegoat

Collide-a-ScapeBy Keith KloorJuly 15, 2011 8:27 PM


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They're a little late to the game, but the Yale Forum on Climate Change & the Media finally gets around to reviewing Matthew Nisbet's Climate Shift report released in April, which triggered an unhinged response from a handful of popular climate bloggers . (I wrote about that here and here.) The myth of the media as a bunch of incompetents is examined in the Yale Forum's review:

Columbia Journalism Review science editor Curtis Brainard told The Yale Forum recently that he thinks the spirit of Nisbet's report is basically right in Chapter 3, at least as it relates to "news reporters and news articles." For Nisbet and Brainard both, broad accusations that public ignorance is the media's "fault" are no longer well-founded. "There is this conventional wisdom floating around out there that journalists are inept, rarely able to get their facts straight or explain or deliver an accurate account of events," Brainard wrote in an e-mail. "They're not. But it's much easier for activists and other policy or program stakeholders to blame the media when things don't go their way than to analyze the much more complicated interplay of multiple factors." (As an aside, Brainard notes that he wrote about precisely this dynamic in his recent article, "Tornadoes and Climate Change," which pushes back against such charges leveled by environmental writer and activist Bill McKibben. Brainard says McKibben is too quick to condemn the media as a whole for not making connections between various extreme weather events.) We're past those earlier days, Brainard told The Yale Forum, when the basic questions about climate science are portrayed in most mainstream news media as being unsettled: "The coverage has become so much more sophisticated since then, delving into the specific consequences of climate change, from sea level rise, to changing precipitation and drought patterns, to consequences for flora and fauna. Many reporters struggle to accurately explain the highly uncertain and nuanced science underlying these phenomena, but the flaws in the coverage are quite different from the false balance that was on exhibit before, say, 2006. First of all, there is nowhere near as much scientific consensus about these finer points of climate science as there is about the fundamentals (i.e., the Earth is warming, and humans are most likely to blame), so today's stories are really apples compared with yesterday's oranges."

Not that this will prevent the usual crowd from continuing to scapegoat the media.

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