The only thing we can be sure of about the future is that it will be absolutely fantastic. So if what I say now seems to you to be very reasonable, then I have failed completely. Only if what I tell you appears absolutely unbelievable, have we any chance of visualizing the future as it really will happen.

- Arthur C. Clarke (h/t Brin)

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Revkin Beyond the Pale

Revkin falls into his old habit of splitting the difference between lies and truth, and then offers some lame justification on his blog.

This is not acceptable. Revkin should take a hint from Joe Romm on what the actual climate news is this week.

I am also 100% behind Joe Romm on his take on Revkin's article. Just when you think Revkin is actually performing a service he comes up with this sort of poison.

Unlike George Will, Revkin knows better. That being the case, this sacrifice of genuine balance for a cute but shallow sort of journalistic symmetry is not just lazy but unethical.

Update: If this sort of tempest is your cup of tea, there's a vast array of related links at Thing's. Whatever you do, though, don't read Revkin's rant without also looking at Brad Johnson's detailed critique of it.

Update: Comment by me at Climate Progress:

For me this isn’t nearly as much about George Will or the Post as it is about Revkin and the Times. To be sure, neither part of the tale is pretty.

In the article in question, Revkin frames the debate as balanced between Gore and Will. Yet, from the point of view of the most informed people on the topic of climate change, the IPCC represents the middle of the road, not an extreme, and Gore himself is a dyed-in-the-wool moderate. Anything that casts Gore’s position as extreme drastically misframes the issues we should be talking about.

Revkin clearly knows enough about the situation to know that the posited equivalence between Gore and Will is not just strained but ludicrous. His readers may not know this.

The disservice of knowingly and falsely presenting the two as roughly symmetrical in the interest of a tidy little article is more than run of the mill journalistic laziness. It is a betrayal of the public trust. If ever a journalist were eligible for impeachment it would be Revkin as a consequence of this travesty.

Any sensible points made in passing (and there were some) notwithstanding, his article is unacceptable and uncivilized, because Revkin surely knows better. I care little for George Will’s opinions. On this matter he is a confused old man, and will for the most part be ignored.

Revkin is presumably not so confused, but if one presumes so, it seems that he is willing to confuse others. It is no exaggeration to suggest that by capitulating to the Times’ desire to be nonthreatening, Revkin may have contributed directly to worsening the scope of the catastrophe our world will face.

Revkin owes us a vastly more cogent explanation or apology for this gobsmackingly shallow and vile blithering than he has managed to date. If he was pressured to produce this travesty by management at the Times, all the more so. I believe this matter is so severe that Revkin ought to make it his highest priority to repair it immediately or failing that to resign.

Update: Will goes on as expected. Revkin, to my eye, backpedals a bit without addressing the core malpractice in his column:

The office of former Vice President Al Gore complained about my story on climate exaggeration the other day and now George Will, the other (very different) example in that piece, has weighed in as well with a column, “Climate Science in a Tornado,” defending his accuracy and questioning my competence. I’ll leave the competence judgment to readers.

Update: I've recently become a huge fan of Jay Rosen. I am pleased to note that he gets it exactly right in the comments at Dot Earth (#183):

... in my opinion you have seriously under-estimated and mishandled the "false equivalence" issue. It's good that you acknowledged it; it's bad that you dismissed it. And I don't know why you reduced it to a question of qualifications. I think you've seen in the days since how little resemblance there is between Gore as a mistake-maker and George Will. This alone should cause you to regret what you wrote suggesting they were caught in the same trap.

You talked of temptation in your original story on exaggerations in the climate change debate. I urge you to please consider what a temptation there is for editors and reporters in a "both sides engage in hype" story. The temptation to portray the two sides as equally at fault, equally misleading, equally loose with facts is HUGE, and you failed to resist it.

Please re-consider. I think your judgment about the original story is off. Way off.



In case you missed my point, I am very, very, very disappointed by this. I see all the moaning about the future of the press, including by a couple of my friends who are practicing old-school newspaper journalists, and I worry about it, I really do. But frankly, if this is the best the press can do, I have to say to hell with it. (edits blogroll)

Henchman: I promise you it won't happen again.

Zorg: I know.

12 comments:

Hank Roberts said...

Shudder.

But Revkin isn't Tierney.

Hank Roberts said...

Oh, wait, I read Wonk Room.
Maybe Revkin .... aww, hell.
There's no good way to think about that.

Good catch, good pointer.

thingsbreak said...

The false equivalency was bad enough, but really of all of the climate-related stories the NY Times can devote inches of its print paper to, they chose that?

*sigh*

I wonder if they'll run a follow-up on Gore's weight gain and the status of his electricity bill...

Michael Tobis said...

Brad Johnson's column is showing a 404 today. Here's the text from a Google cache:

In a “news analysis” column, New York Times reporter Andrew Revkin lumps together global warming denier George Will, Vice President Al Gore, and President Barack Obama for engaging in “hyperbole,” “inaccuracies,” “overstatements,” and “hype.” Gore and Will are “two leaders of their tribes waving the tribal flag,” said David Ropeik, a “consultant on risk communication who teaches at Harvard University.” Communications professor Matthew Nisbet complained that criticism of George Will “only serves to draw attention to his claims” and “reinforces the false narrative” that “the mainstream press are seeking to censor rival scientific evidence and views.”

Revkin’s article, “In Climate Debate, Exaggeration Is a Pitfall,” fails on several fronts:

Revkin Is Attacking Gore For Trusting The New York Times.

In a February appearance before the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Vice President Al Gore included a chart displaying a catastrophic rise in weather-related disasters. Andrew Revkin accused Gore of misrepresenting the data and of “inaccuracies and overstatements.” The chart was constructed in 2008 by New York Times visual op-ed columnist Charles M. Blow, who blamed manmade global warming for the rise. [NYT, 5/31/08] [AAAS, 2/15/09]

David Ropeik Is A Public-Relations Expert For The Bush White House And Top Corporate Polluters.

Revkin quotes David Ropeik, a “consultant on risk communication who teaches at Harvard University,” to paint Al Gore and George Will as equivalently “polarizing figures.” Ropeik is in fact a former television reporter who runs a public relations company that specializes in “media training” and “risk communication” for clients like the Bush White House, Dow Chemical, DuPont, Entergy Power Corporation, the Edison Electric Institute,and Foundation Coal Company. Although he used to work at the Exxon-funded Harvard Center for Risk Analysis, Ropeik’s current association with Harvard University is limited to a position at the Harvard Extension School. [Ropeik & Associates]

Revkin Cites A Paper’s Argument Without Disclosing The Paper Cites Revkin.

Revkin writes, “In a paper being published in the March-April edition of the journal Environment, Matthew C. Nisbet, a professor of communications at American University, said Mr. Gore’s approach, focusing on language of crisis and catastrophe, could actually be serving the other side in the fight.” Revkin fails to disclose that Nisbet’s paper relies on Revkin himself to support that argument: “Andrew Revkin, who has covered climate change for nearly 20 years for the New York Times, argues these claims are effectively countered by critics, such as Inhofe, as liberal ‘alarmism,’ since the error bars of uncertainty for each of the climate impacts are much wider than the general link between human activities and global warming.” [Environment, 3/09]

Andrew Revkin genuinely believes that discussion of the real and present danger of climate-related catastrophes is counterproductive to combating global warming. Unfortunately, motivated by that belief, he presented misleading, distorted attacks on political leaders that rely on the support of people like David Ropeik and Roger Pielke, Jr., both of whom have ties to corporate, right-wing America.

Revkin piece on the reality of climate science fails to quote a single climate scientist. Fortunately, he put email correspondence from climate scientist Richard C. J. Somerville in the comment section of his blog. Somerville is scathing, saying that Revkin’s depiction of Gore and Will as equally “guilty” misleaders “doesn’t square with the facts

It’s a false dichotomy, and I doubt you could find well-regarded climate scientists who would agree with your framing. Gore is imperfect here and there. Will is just 100% plain dead wrong throughout. There’s a huge qualitative difference between them, and your readers deserve to hear that from you.

Andrew Revkin can be reached at arevkin@nytimes.com, public editor Clark Hoyt at public@nytimes.com, and national editor Suzanne Daley at national@nytimes.com.

Dano said...

Corporate news media.

I stopped reading Revkin's work anyway, this incident will make it likely I won't go back to see if he's changed.

Best,

D

Michael Tobis said...

Revkin is still useful as a news source, but this is beyond disappointing. It marks a commitment on the part of the Times to drag its feet. Look at the framing if Tierney and this version of Revkin are portrayed as the poles of the discussion. It's irresponsible beyond comprehension.

If Revkin came up with this noise himself, he should think long and hard about what he has done and issue something beyond a feeble justification.

If Revkin was pushed to write this he should quit. Period.

Dano said...

Apparently George Will has a column defending his denialism due out tomorrow as well.

In my mind, as we see in biotic populations under stress, the graph of media denial is undergoing wild swings. The twitching of the dying?

Best,

D

Hank Roberts said...

I notice Doonesbury is rerunning the newspaper layoff cartoons.

It's sure going to be a damned shame when the newspapers are gone.

Bad as they are, there's something about having one medium in which everybody gets handed the exact same package stuffed with text every day.

Yeah, people pick and choose. But the alternative is going to be -- talk radio and blogging? Selective attention by self-selected audiences tuning out anything else.

Not that I approve of the mess that engendered this topic. But I'll sure miss newspapers, anyhow.
http://blog.seattlepi.nwsource.com/davidhorsey/archives/161337.asp

rcram said...

I wonder what Revkin would say about the report filed by Japanese government scientists reported at

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2009/02/25/jstor_climate_report_translation/

Michael Tobis said...

I don't know; hopefully something like what James said about it, but frankly I am very nearly past caring.

RobertM said...

I find it interesting that your real climate news of the week points to an updated statistical projection that is dependant in some part on an enhanced GDP projection! That is certainly out of date now.

Michael Tobis said...

Yes. Actually once the dust settles from the blogstorm I would like to revisit this paper.

I am hearing criticisms of it from multiple directions. Note especially what James has to say, which carries a lot of weight with me.