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News & Perspective from the Center for Environmental Journalism
This item was posted on December 9, 2009, and it was categorized as CNN, CRU email controversy, Climate Change, Global Warming, Global warming skeptics, climate change coverage.
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cnn-programs-today-on-cnnIn the online teaser for Cambell Brown’s “Global Warming: Trick or Truth” feature, CNN promises “the latest on the global warming debate.”

And what do we get? I haven’t been able to watch all of the programming, so perhaps I’ve missed something. But from what I’ve seen, both on television, and the video on their Web site, it’s mostly talking heads disagreeing vehemently with each other, and a confusing mess in which the science and the politics of climate change are mixed up together. There doesn’t seem to be any actual reporting — no attempt to actually get at some semblance of the truth.

In one case, we get climate skeptic Patrick Michaels of the Cato Institute squaring off against Bill Nye the Science Guy. When it comes to discussing specific aspects of climate science — surface temperature records and stratospheric temperatures — Michaels pretty much eats Nye for lunch in one gulp.  This makes me wonder how CNN chose Nye to represent the “other side” of the debate. Did it have something to do with his bowtie? Check out this video:

At the end of the clip, Campbell Brown reveals her bias, saying, “I would love it if I could get a little common ground between the two of you to end on.”

So this is CNN’s approach to trying to get at the truth of a complex issue: Put up a couple of bloviators against each other (and stack the deck), hope they bloody each other for the audience’s edification, and then hope that they hug each other at the end.

With this kind of lazy and ultimately dishonorable coverage, viewers are treated to an entertaining spectacle suggesting that an equal number of scientists on both sides of “the debate” are exceedingly angry at each other. I’m guessing that many if not most viewers come away from this thinking that the “global warming debate” is getting louder and louder, so this must mean that we don’t really know anything about the Earth’s climate.

In my new “Covering Climate Change” course at the Poynter Institute’s News University, I advise journalists to move beyond the “he said/she said” coverage that so typifies the ratings-driven coverage of CNN and Fox News. And I specifically recommend against using the term “the global warming debate,” because there simply is no single debate:

If journalistic coverage is to add to civil discourse, and help expand society’s policy options, it must move well beyond what often prevails, particularly on American television. Climate policy debates often are portrayed as titillating political battles featuring rowdy talking heads arguing about the scientific basis for action, economic impacts and the like. But this superficial coverage masks much deeper issues – ethical considerations that form a surging current beneath all discussion of climate policy.

And this:

Too frequently, and to the detriment of public understanding, media outlets conflate the vast and varied terrain of climate science and policy as a unified issue. A good example is when reporters refer to “the climate change debate.” What debate would that be? There are separate debates within science and within policy, and there are even debates about how scientific findings should guide policy. So rather than referring vaguely and unhelpfully to the “climate change debate,” reporters should specify what debate, specifically, they are covering in a story.

As someone who went to journalism school when the legacy of Edward R. Murrow was still fresh — and when his producer, Fred Friendly, was still around to teach one of the best classes I ever took — the continuing descent of American television journalism into triviality and intellectual dishonesty is particularly depressing. What a vast wasteland it has become.

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This thing has 10 Comments

  1. Harpo
    Posted December 10, 2009 at 7:16 am | Permalink

    Thank God for Patrick.

  2. bubbagyro
    Posted December 10, 2009 at 8:40 am | Permalink

    The warm-monger Nye did score with a sound bite that was punctuated by the “neutral” interviewer. He said, and she swore to it, that the debate had alarmists outnumbering the skeptics, and this is not the case. The media-academia-governmental cabal of scientists (they are not basic scientists, by the way, just applied “climate scientists” to whom physics and statistics seem to be foreign languages) do sing the same tune and walk in lockstep. However, 31,000 scientists signed the skeptic position statement this fall versus 250 “scientists” who wrote the IPCC reports. We must now, since the CRU emails touch all of the warmists, start to discriminate the scientists who are “Feeding At the Government Troughs” (FAGTs) These FAGTs are making millions and millions in grants, special investment status in carbon trading schemes, etc.

  3. Joe Olson
    Posted December 10, 2009 at 8:50 am | Permalink

    Here we are, three weeks after the ‘Blessed Hadley Hacking’ and eight weeks after initial disclosure to BBC and the Mass Stream Media (MSM) is still in denial. The science community is not in denial and we can all see the obvious. On Dec 5th there was a challenge issued to MSM on the Canada Free Press website, titled “High Noon on Main Street” which is an unanswered gauntlet toss at these imposter protectors of freedom. To quote the CFP article…

    Two decades of relentless global warming propoganda has come to an end. There are plenty of highly qualified spokesmen for the rational explanations of ‘climate change’ waiting to explain reality. We have had enough.

    Its high noon…We’re standing on Main Street….We’re callin you out….

  4. bcs
    Posted December 10, 2009 at 9:14 am | Permalink

    The media has obviously failed to do any detailed analysis of any of the ‘skeptic’ arguments, even in the wake of the climategate emails. instead, they publish verbatim the un ipcc press releases and al gore monologues. a six minute shouting match on cnn wont clear anything up for the average person, but there are real questions about how the co2 ‘forcing’ has been exaggerated in the primary models being touted in copenhagen, so its better than nothing. just one real article in the new york times discussing MIT prof. lindzen’s arguments would be greatly appreciated, but this kind of stuff is willfully suppressed. so kudos to campbell brown.

  5. atb
    Posted December 10, 2009 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

    Unfortunately, it is not in the media’s interest to do as you teach and practise responsible journalism, at least not in the sort term. It is merely in their short term interest to fan the flames and not solve anything. An intense debate is much better television than one that actually does anything. Also, getting into the details of exactly what part of the debate they are covering is also not in their interest. They think (and to some extent rightly so) that the public’s interest is in the heat of the debate, not in the specifics. They are afraid that specifics, facts, and logic would bore their audience. It is probably also true that in the long term their approach actually turns viewers off as is very bad, for them, the public, and for the causes involved.

  6. Posted December 10, 2009 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

    Thank you atb for your thoughtful comments.

  7. Posted December 10, 2009 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

    Journalists used to cultivate sources. Now we have to rely on whistle-blowers.

    Encourage whistleblowers to tell the truth. Spread the word to the IPCC, Penn State, UEA, NASA, NOAA, DOE, and all over.
    Anyone who shares inside information about the AGW scammers is eligible for huge rewards.
    The momentum is with us now. We must organize and press the issue.
    Who were the perpetrators of this fraud? From the lowliest, arrogant “scientist” at Penn State, right up to the White House, and the denizens of mansions in Tennessee.
    Metaphorically speaking, heads will roll.
    Al Gore and his minions jet around the world to exotic locales, meeting and plotting how to destroy our economy and way of life, all the while demanding that we peons ride the bus or subway, and turn our thermostats down to 60.
    “Let them eat cake” attitudes are eerily similar to previous elites. The communist elites enjoyed the same privileges and mouthed the same type of platitudes. Where are they now?
    No Consensus–No Warming (NOC-NOW)–Stop the Scam–Halt the IPCC
    We have a quickly growing Yahoo Group (CO2 is Plant Food), and a petition (NOC-NOW) that simply spells out a Declaration of Climate Independence, and calls for immediate halt to all political and economic actions based on the fraudulent IPCC “science” and policy.
    The petition will be provided to the US Congress, the White House, the UN, the IPCC, the EU Commission, and other representative bodies involved in “Climate Change” policy deliberations.
    Post the call for whistleblowers in all forums where AGW insiders are present.
    We will be heard.
    Please join the group: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/co2isplantfood
    And sign the petition: http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/NOC_NOW/
    Join Facebook group: http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=191580771509
    We can stop this scam, together.
    Kent Clizbe
    Stop the Scam—Halt the IPCC
    No Consensus—No Warming

  8. Tucci
    Posted December 10, 2009 at 8:05 pm | Permalink

    Dr. Michaels comported himself very well, and Mr. Nye in contrast looked extremely uncomfortable. The conduct of Ms. Brown was not particularly indicative of bias, but of the sort of silly “let’s all play nice now” patronizing common among the chattering class, as if everything were susceptible to compromise.

    Not hardly. Think of the classic “compromise” between a glass of water and a vial of potassium cyanide.

    Take a half-and-half “compromise” of those items and you’re dead before your face hits the floor.

  9. Posted December 11, 2009 at 6:09 am | Permalink

    Useless argument. Even if they want to argue about definition of global warming, it does not change the fact that the weather pattern is less than ideal. Places expecting rain are having drought, while other areas are having flood. It is much better to offer solution.

  10. Klement Gottwald
    Posted December 13, 2009 at 8:57 pm | Permalink

    To scheng1:

    You hit the nail on the head. We want an ideal weather pattern and we want the government to provide the solution now.

    The bourgeois political classes want to debate. We will act.

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