"Our greatest responsibility is to be good ancestors."

-Jonas Salk

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Columbia Journalism Review Gets It

Curtis Brainard at CJR :
On Sunday night, CNN’s Howard Kurtz seconded CJR’s call for more coverage of the series of inquiries and investigations rebutting recent controversies stemming from minor errors in an international climate report and e-mails leaked from a British climate research center. (Kurtz did not mention CJR.)

Last Wednesday, we pleaded for reporters to pay more attention to five recent reviews reaffirming the integrity of the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the scientists involved in the so-called “Climategate” affair.


Then, on Sunday, the Times’s editorial board expressed its hope that the British report, as well as a Dutch report debunking Climategate, would “receive as much circulation as the original, diversionary controversies.” Three cheers for the editorial—but given the paper’s own low-profile coverage of the story, it seemed ironically shallow.

Several interesting links at the CJR article.

Update: Deech56 in a comment points to this revealing brief interview with journalist Sharon Waxman linked by the CJR article (note: scroll down if you follow the link). Emphasis added.
KURTZ: A British panel this week cleared a group of scientists of the controversy known as "Climategate." This group had charges of hacked e-mails that they had manipulated their research to support their view on global warming. The British panel didn't completely let them off the hook, but basically said they didn't cook the books.

So, why has that received such scant coverage this week?

WAXMAN: I think that's just extremely complicated, A, for readers. And B, for journalists to comprehend.

First of all, this kind of thing gives scientists a bad name and it gives journalists a bad name, because for years now there's been this really politicized battle, as we all know, over global warming. And these Climategate e-mails have given those who are skeptics a reason to say, you see, it was a plot from the beginning and the liberal media has bought into it, and they're selling us a bill of goods, and et cetera, when there had been, or there has been -- and I believe there still is -- wide agreement on the science.

So when you find out that the scientists are not giving access to the other side, to the research, or that maybe the data that involves the temperature rises might not be so solid, I think it puts journalists who are trying to report on this in a weird position because they don't really know what to believe exactly. It becomes very complicated.


KURTZ: And yet, "The New York Times," to its credit put this British report on the front page. Most of the major papers I looked at stuck it inside. CNN's "SITUATION ROOM" did a full story on it, but there was not many mentions on cable news, nothing on the broadcast networks.

And here's my favorite. Glenn Beck didn't report on this at all. Last fall, when the e-mails were leaked, he called global warming a big hoax and he said, "Why has no network covered this global warming fix?"

Why has Glenn Beck and others not revisited it? And you're saying it's the complexity.

WAXMAN: I do. And what would be the headline for you? It says "Climate Scientists Cleared of Cooking the Books," but.

You know, it's a very mitigated kind of situation. And when there's complexity like that, I think that, you know, journalists, or editors, anyway, put stuff on the front page, are inclined to say you know what? We'll punt, which isn't necessarily the right thing to do.

KURTZ: Yes. Well, if I was one of those climate scientists, and I felt my reputation had been unfairly damaged, I certainly would not like anyone to punt.

We've got about a minute left. And I want to hold up a couple of New York tabloids here.

As you can see, Lindsay Lohan. There was a lot of coverage on cable when she had her court hearing this week and got a 90-day sentence, essentially for blowing off alcohol treatment classes. Why is this worthy of a lot of attention? Is this a significant story?

WAXMAN: Oh, I see. It's a juxtaposition between the entire planet melting down versus Lindsay Lohan going to jail for 90 days.

KURTZ: That's a very shrewd observation.


WAXMAN: Are you asking why we care about this?

KURTZ: Why do the media care?

WAXMAN: It's exactly for the reason why -- because it's easy, for the exact reason that the Climategate decision got almost no coverage, as you pointed out.
In other words, journalism is about what's easy, not what's important. From the horse's mouth.

Also, I think, there is the question of what makes the audience feel superior rather than what makes the audience feel challenged.

Anyway, obviously, melting planet, no! Melting irresponsible young celebrity, si! The future generations of mankind (if any) thank you sincerely for the entertainment.


Deech56 said...

Did anyone else find Sharon Waxman's comments strange? She seemed to still be sticking to the story that scientists were "cooking the books" and had no clue on how the news media should react to these recent vindications.

Anonymous said...

Does not compute. Why was it just as "easy" to report the original bullshit accusations of fraud and conspiracy, as it was to report on Lindsay Lohan?

(a voice intones: pay no attention to that man behind the curtain...)

Steve Easterbrook said...

I don't think this takes a PhD in journalism to explain. Three events here:
a) the original breaking of the "climategate" story
b) Lindsay Lohan being sent to jail
c) inquiry reports clearing climate scientists

What do a & b have that distinguishes them from c, and hence makes them newsworthy? The whiff of scandal. Oh, those evil climate scientists! Oh those evil celebrities! But someone being found not to be evil? Not news. The press doesn't exist to inform us, it exists to entertain us with gossip and scandal.

Deech56 said...

Thanks, Michael.

And what the press is missing, besides the story behind the theft itself, is what the Russell report is actually saying, which does require some knowledge of the field - as reported in various blogs like, um, this one.

Michael Tobis said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Michael Tobis said...

Bah, scooped.

A very similar article by Jason Linkins appeared at HuffPo dated a day earlier than this one.

That said, many thanks to Huffington Post for putting the story in a reasonable light. (Now, about your coverage of "alternative" medicine...)