The Mainstream Media's Criminal Climate Coverage
The mainstream media is failing us when it comes to covering the story of the century - man-made climate change. And, as Media Matters has reported, there’s no better example of this failure than the decline of climate coverage at Reuters since that news organization hired Paul Ingrassia as deputy editor-in-chief. Ingrassia, who is now a managing editor at Reuters, is a self-described “climate skeptic,” and questions whether or not climate change is man-made.
Denying climate is absolutely insane. The UN’s Intergovernmental Report on Climate Change is a consensus document, meaning that 100 percent of the people who worked on it agreed with its findings. The IPCC’s authors are the top climate scientists on earth, and they say that burning fossil fuels causes climate change.
In light of this sort of scientific consensus, denying climate change is about sensible as believing that a shape-shifting reptile Illuminati controls the world. In fact, in terms of pure percentages, there are more who people believe in a shape-shifting reptile Illuminati than there are scientists who deny climate change.
But apparently Ingrassia is perfectly comfortable with his crazy ideas. So comfortable, in fact, that he’s been pushing them on the writers who work under him. According to Media Matters, which has just released a report on climate change coverage under Ingrassia, the so-called “skeptic” has used his position at the top of Reuters’ editorial team to both suppress actual climate coverage and, at the same time, give undue attention to climate change deniers.
Former Reuters Asia Climate Change reporter John Fogarty talked about what it was like to work for Ingrassia in a recent blog post:
“From very early in 2012, I was repeatedly told that climate and environment stories were no longer a top priority for Reuters and I was asked to look at other areas....Progressively, getting any climate change-themed story published got harder. It was a lottery…By mid-October, I was informed that climate change just wasn't a big story for the present, but that it would be if there was a significant shift in global policy….Very soon after that conversation I was told my climate change role was abolished.”
Fogarty also said in the same blog post that Ingrassia flat-out told him at a company function that he was a climate skeptic, but not a “rabid” one. You know, because there’s a rational way to deny established scientific fact. But Ingrassia’s assault on global warming coverage hasn’t just involved censoring journalists who report on climate issues. According Media Matters and the Columbia Journalism Review, since he was hired, reporters have “felt pressure to provide false balance when writing stories” on climate change. In other words, Ingrassia is making his journalists treat so-called climate skeptics as if they are one half of a really complicated debate when they are really just a small, crazy, and almost always bought-and-paid-for minority.
Evidence of this kind of false balance is easy to find. For example, one recent Reuters article discussing John Kerry’s comments about climate change being “the world’s most fearsome weapon of mass destruction” included a sentence that said “some skeptics argue that a rise in global temperatures is due to natural variability or other non-human factors.”
Would Reuters ever publish an article about the discovery of a new Neandarthal skeleton that included a sentence calling into question the theory of evolution? No, they wouldn’t, because giving creationism equal footing with science is crazy. And giving climate change “skepticism” equal footing with climate science is just as crazy.
Reuters is - or was, it seems - one of the most reputable news agencies in the world. Under Paul Ingrassia, however, it’s entered Fox News territory. During his two years in the organization’s editorial team, climate change coverage has been cut in half. And what coverage there has been has been infected with the plague of “false-balance.”
But the problem of climate change coverage isn’t just a Reuters problem. The entire mainstream media is failing us when it comes to covering climate change. Media Matters has also looked at how news outlets talked about the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s recent report on the causes of global warming and the results are staggering. Supposedly reputable papers like The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and The Washington Post quoted climate change deniers way out of proportion to their actual influence within the scientific community, which is pretty much nil.
Not surprisingly, things were even worse over at Fox So-Called News, where 69 percent of climate change guests brought on by Bill O’Reilly and friends to talk about the IPCC report were fringe deniers. And here’s the worst part of it all: the vast majority - 77 percent - of climate deniers quoted by or featured as guests by the mainstream media weren’t even scientists.
In light of what we know about global warming, about how it’s already destroying communities across the world, about how it is already literally killing tens of thousands of people, and about how it could lead to the Earth’s sixth mass extinction, it’s hard to see the mainstream’ media’s coverage - or lack thereof - of climate change as anything less than morally and ethically criminal.
If people don’t wake up to the dangers of warming atmosphere and melting polar ice caps soon, it could be game over for humankind. That’s why the media needs to stop treating climate change deniers like rational people and start treating them like what they are: whackos who are often the hired hands of the fossil fuel industry. A couple of months ago, The Los Angeles Times said that it would no longer publish letters from climate change deniers, because “Saying ‘there's no sign humans have caused climate change’ is not stating an opinion, it's asserting a factual inaccuracy.”
It’s time for the rest of the media to follow suit. All media outlets, TV, radio, print or otherwise should immediately stop publishing the factual inaccuracies of climate change deniers. The debate is over. Climate change is real, and it’s probably worse than we thought. It’s time for the mainstream media to tell it like it is and stop treating whacko theories like the truth. After all, the future of all life on Earth is at stake.