Repeat after me: “the media is too balanced on global warming, the media needlessly gives two-sided reports on global warming…..” When ordinary people learn why mainstream media journalists repeat this and where it originates, they will understand how the overall smear of skeptic scientists threatens to turn from the success it is into a failure that can bring the whole so-called global warming crisis to a halt.
What “balance”?! We’ve heard non-stop, one-sided coverage of our certain demise from man-caused global warming for the last decade! In my first American Thinker blog on this in late 2009, I pointed out the sheer lack of skeptic scientists appearing on the PBS NewsHour, while noting instances of this repeated ‘too much balance’ assertion going back to 1995. Eight months later, I was amazed to see a blogger link to a set of graphics supposedly proving skewed media reporting of global warming compared to an ‘overwhelming scientific consensus’, yet when I looked into it, I found immediate problems with the citation about the media researchers, the Boykoff brothers, and what certainly looked like a circular reference between the Boykoffs and the main promoter of the accusation saying skeptic scientists are corrupted by fossil fuel industry money, Ross Gelbspan. In a 2004 paper, the Boykoffs not only cited Gelbspan’s work four times, they also thanked him for his help in their acknowledgments section. I wrote about those problems at a pair of Heartland Institute blogs.
Such problems are incredibly easy to spot. Consider the following:
- A search of the words “balance in the media” turned up one of the most recent repetitions of it at Nature magazine on April 19, 2011, where it says,
Nisbet’s report, Climate Shift: Clear Vision for the Next Decade of Public Debate, published by American University, also analysed another common complaint of climate scientists, that attempts at ‘balance’ in the media gives too much coverage to the small minority of climate-change sceptics.
- The report author, Matthew Nisbet, used quotes from Al Gore’s movie to set up his premises about media balance in Chapter 3 of his study, the first sentence of which contains Ross Gelbspan’s infamous “reposition global warming” accusation phrase:
Gore then goes on to discuss an industry-linked memo that planned to “reposition global warming as a theory rather than fact.”
“There was another study of all the articles in the popular press,” says Gore, referring to a 2004 study by social scientists Max and Jules Boykoff. “Over the last 14 years they looked at a sample of 636. More than half of them said, ‘Well, we are not sure. It could be a problem, may not be a problem.’ So no wonder people are confused.”
Further in the chapter, Nisbet claims he replicated the Boykoffs’ study to determine that the same publications were now properly reporting the issue as settled, noting in footnote 19 how this remains true despite people like me who attempt to point out places where skeptic scientists have an audience:
…blog reading also is highly selective and strongly motivated by ideology and identity. If online users encounter information that is falsely balanced or outright misleading at a conservative blog such as Climate Depot, it likely serves to reinforce already strongly dismissive views on climate change.
Thanks for pointing out how I’m simply an ideologically motivated idiot. Nothing to see here, move along. But, back to the problems.
- Another internet search variation such as “two-sides approach” turns up a George Washington University 2003 Up Front article titled “Deciding Who Should Speak on Campus” (pdf file) by Deborah Tannen (bold emphasis added):
The two-sides approach creates a need to find spokespersons to represent “the other side,” even if it is a widely discredited position. For example, as Ross Gelbspan demonstrated in his book The Heat Is On, there is widespread agreement among experts and ample scientific evidence about the reality of global climate change, yet some Americans still consider this issue “controversial” because any article or program about it includes the same few fringe researchers who question its reality based on dubious research paid for by the fossil fuel industry.
She concludes her article with (bold emphasis added):
All individuals have a right to say what they want, but universities have no obligation to amplify the message of any particular individual by providing a platform and the credibility implied by the invitation to speak. On the contrary, all members of a university community have a responsibility to ensure that the halls of learning do not become an echo chamber for the spread of disinformation in the name of free speech.
- A combined search of her name and “ross gelbspan” results in her October 2004 Christian Science Monitor article lamenting the manner in which ‘voices of true opposition are muted by the din’ of balanced reporting. And she cites proof to back this up:
A single-minded devotion to “balance” also creates the illusion of equivalence where there is none. For example, as shown repeatedly by journalist Ross Gelbspan as well as in a recent article by Maxwell and Jules Boykoff…
- And then we have the Boykoff brothers’ own words in their November/December 2004 article at Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting (bold emphasis added):
…”balance” may allow skeptics – many of them funded by carbon-based industry interests – to be frequently consulted and quoted in news reports on climate change. Ross Gelbspan, drawing from his 31-year career as a reporter and editor, charges in his books The Heat Is On and Boiling Point that a failed application of the ethical standard of balanced reporting on issues of fact has contributed to inadequate U.S. press coverage of global warming…
- Last but certainly not least, Jules Boykoff told Environment Writer Bill Dawson in a December 2004 phone interview (bold emphasis added):
You’ve got 1,600 to 2,500 scientists …, saying global warming is a serious problem and needs serious actions. On the other side is a small collection of scientists, many of whom are funded by oil and … fossil-fuel interests.
To repeat that ‘the media gives too much equal weight to a minority of fossil fuel-funded skeptics as it does to the consensus of mainstream scientists’ is to repeat a strawman argument of epic proportions. It relies on outright faith that somebody actually quantified who the ‘scientific consensus’ is, that fossil fuel money is irrefutably proven to skew skeptic scientists’ reports, and that the media actually presented those skeptic viewpoints in equal proportion to the other side. And it is nothing more than a regurgitated 1991-era talking point. Ad-libs about Climate Depot, Rush Limbaugh, or Fox News pushing lies, or swipes about people like me being ignorant mind-numbed ideology-driven robots simply invites a two word response: Prove it!
Give “Pulitzer winner” Ross Gelbspan kudos for the 2004 brilliant admonition, and all its prior versions, “For many years, the press accorded the same weight to the “skeptics” as it did to mainstream scientists. This was done in the name of journalistic balance. In fact, it was journalistic laziness.” Can anyone guess how many journalists read those and vowed not to be lazy? Problem is, it goes beyond journalistic laziness into journalistic malfeasance when we see a long-term failure to report how Gelbspan never won a Pulitzer, he wasn’t the first to publicize coal industry memos proving skeptic climate scientists are corrupt, those memos prove nothing when they are read in their complete context…… and it turns out Al Gore received the memos long before Gelbspan, at his Senate office around 1991-92.