Media chasing their own tails on issue of climate change

Aug. 22, 2016
Self-assessment loses much when self-assessors set the framework of analysis.

Self-assessment loses much when self-assessors set the framework of analysis.

Because the popular news media perpetually chase their own tails inside this trap, coverage of complex, intensely political issues like climate change tends to be abominable.

A rich illustration of the problem emerged during the highbrow Diane Rehm radio program on Aug. 11.

The call-in show featuring thought leaders discussing provocative topics airs daily in the US on National Public Radio.

During the show in question, a group of Washington news stars discussed how the media have handled and should be handling the intemperate utterances gushing from Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.

How can a reporter call attention to evident falsehood and still treat the candidate fairly?

The conversation was interesting.

Then an astute caller introduced the subject of false equivalency: the dilemma of having to cover both sides of an issue in service to fairness when the reporter thinks one side preposterous.

The guest host offered an analogy: "This was something the media was criticized for in the debate over climate change, that you'd quote somebody that said it was real and then quote somebody who said it wasn't real when in fact the preponderance of scientific evidence is that it's real," she said, unchallenged.

The off-hand statement accurately reflects how the media treat climate change--in great measure because pressure groups push the issue as a conflict between belief and apostasy.

Yet it doesn't frame the issue accurately at all.

Of course climate change is "real." Yes, science supports that view, and most scientists believe it.

The real question is the extent of human involvement in atmospheric warming. About that, science is very uncertain.

In fact, the "scientific evidence"-observed temperature-increasingly weakens politically popular assumptions that the human contribution is menacingly strong.

But most general media ignore that part of the story. They've defaulted to simplistic certitude about the wrong questions-a sure way to miss the truth news people claim to seek.

About the Author

Bob Tippee | Editor

Bob Tippee has been chief editor of Oil & Gas Journal since January 1999 and a member of the Journal staff since October 1977. Before joining the magazine, he worked as a reporter at the Tulsa World and served for four years as an officer in the US Air Force. A native of St. Louis, he holds a degree in journalism from the University of Tulsa.