Month 7, Day 31: Grrrrrrrrr.

Newsweek ran an article on the “biggest losers” from the Deepwater Horizon debacle. This approach is typical of the horserace-obsessed journalistic establishment, and it’s part and parcel of our national ADD. Among the “losers” was a climate bill:

Who could have predicted that a landmark environmental disaster would make a comprehensive energy bill even less likely? Yet before the Deepwater Horizon explosion, offshore oil and gas drilling was actually a point of compromise between Democrats and Republicans in Congress. Obama had lifted the moratorium on exploration off the East Coast, which seemed like a gesture to win support from “Drill, Baby, Drill” Republicans for more far-reaching proposals, including a cap-and-trade scheme to curb greenhouse emissions. Now, opposition to offshore drilling has increased in the wake of the spill. In fact, Obama has imposed a six-month moratorium on deep-water drilling permits. MSN’s Jim Jubak observed, “Without increased drilling as a bargaining chip to offer, there’s no way to build the coalition necessary to pass an energy bill that focuses on fighting global climate change.” His words were prescient–with little support from the White House, leading Democrats finally pronounced cap-and-trade dead in the Senate last week.

This analysis has a modicum of short-term political factuality to it, but it’s also a way for Newsweek to avoid confronting the truth about their role in shaping the discussion.

Yes, by taking offshore drilling off the table, the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico counterintuitively played a role in making climate/energy legislation less likely to pass the Senate. But our continuing failure to confront climate change can’t be blamed on BP’s malfeasance. Rather, the responsibility rests with those who have fostered a culture of denial which has made it possible for our policy-makers to ignore decades of increasingly urgent warnings. By perpetuating a policy of false equivalence in which every statement from a qualified scientist is balanced by a dismissal from an industry-funded denialist, our media conveys the impression of an unresolved controversy. If the “debate” over climate change were represented accurately, we’d hear forty-eight climatologists for every “skeptic.” Our print and broadcast media have abdicated their responsibility to the truth, and their failure is going to have painful consequences for us all.

Warren Senders

Month 7, Day 2: All The Specious Equivalence That’s Fit To Print

Newsweek has treated climatologist Michael Mann pretty shamefully. After Penn State’s Inquiry Panel completely exonerated Mann, Newsweek finally printed a pathetic excuse for a retraction, without acknowledging their own part in defaming his reputation.

It would be great to have actual journalism in this country, wouldn’t it?

It isn’t just the newspapers that have to retract their misleading reports about climatologist Michael Mann, whose work was unfairly maligned and misrepresented. Newsweek itself, which accused Mann and his colleagues of “massaging” their data, has some apologies to make and a retraction or two to print. Newsweek’s earlier articles on the “climategate” non-scandal were factually flawed, riddled with omissions and decontextualizations, and written carelessly and sloppily. So-called “journalism” of that standard is more appropriate for the celebrity beat; when reporting on science, it should be the first thought of a responsible news writer to make sure the truth is conveyed accurately. By hewing instead to a policy of spurious equivalence, where a fact from a scientist is “balanced” with a lie from an industry-funded spokesperson, Newsweek has helped damage the reputation of a man whose work on the science of climate change is (as PSU’s Investigatory Committee stated this week) beyond reproach. Michael Mann has been working to help all of us understand the facts of global warming, the greatest existential threat humans have ever faced. Newsweek has been obscuring the facts and aiding the forces of denial. We are all diminished by such irresponsibility.

Warren Senders

14 Apr 2010, 11:09pm

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  • Month 4, Day 15: Beetlemania

    I got all the info used for this letter from a new series at Kos, “This Week In Climate Change.” Definitely read it all.

    Part of that piece was a link to Newsweek’s short article on the pine beetle in the American West, which is killing forests with brutal efficiency. So I used the Newsweek piece as the hook for a letter.

    Thanks for giving a closer look at what global warming will be bringing us in the years to come. The dying forests left in the pine beetle’s wake are just one of many phenomena which mark the planet’s rising temperatures. Some of the other things we can expect to see: more weather anomalies and storm activity (such as this winter’s freak blizzard in Washington, DC); higher pollen counts (severely affecting many asthmatics); shrinking populations of sensitive wildlife (Antarctica’s Adelie penguin population has diminished to a third of its 1980 level); more and more invasive species replacing local flora and fauna; irregular and unpredictable monsoons (potentially devastating food production worldwide)…the list goes on and on. It is time to stop treating climate change as a forum for political gamesmanship, and to start addressing it for what it is: a slow motion catastrophe that constitutes the most urgent existential threat humanity has ever faced.

    Warren Senders