If you like the old media's misreporting on climate (see "The NYT blows the bark beetle story" and so does NBC), then you'll love this whopper from the Politico, "Scientists urge caution on global warming," which opens:
Climate change skeptics on Capitol Hill are quietly watching a growing accumulation of global cooling science and other findings that could signal that the science behind global warming may still be too shaky to warrant cap-and-trade legislation.
Growing accumulation? Too shaky? An entire piece on climate science that never actually talks to one single reputable climate scientist?
Even as pure political reporting, the piece is beneath rank amateurish -- as if climate change deniers on the Hill are "quietly" doing anything.
Has the reporter, Erika Lovley (sic), been following this issue for more than a week? Note to Ms. Lovley: The deniers on the Hill have been shouting their disinformation for years. Try listening to the recent Senate climate bill debate (see "Is 450 ppm politically possible? Part 6: What the Boxer-Lieberman-Warner bill debate tells us").
This piece wins the 2008 prize for a press release masquerading as journalism -- a tough category to win given the competition: NYT suckered by ExxonMobil in puff piece titled "Green is for Sissies."
Even by old media's standards, the story is laughable. It is built around "Weather Channel co-founder Joseph D'Aleo and other scientists" who are pushing the "global cooling theory" (aka well-debunked denier talking point numero uno, see links below).
Note to Ms. Lovley: D'Aleo holds no doctorate in any scientific discipline. Whether holding a Masters in meteorology qualifies in general as being a scientist I will leave to others, but meteorologists should not simply be treated or quoted as experts on climate (see "Are meteorologists climate experts?").
Here's where the Politico jumps the shark into the territory best left to The Onion. The story actually builds its case around D'Aleo's article in that well-known, highly credible, peer-reviewed scientific climate journal, The 2009 Old Farmer's Almanac.
You can't make this stuff up. Well, maybe you can't, but deniers can. They can make stuff up, print it in places like the Almanac, and then get "media" outlets like the Politico to regurgitate it wholesale:
Armed with statistics from the Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Climate Data Center, D'Aleo reported in the 2009 Old Farmer's Almanac that the U.S. annual mean temperature has fluctuated for decades and has only risen 0.21 degrees since 1930 - which he says is caused by fluctuating solar activity levels and ocean temperatures, not carbon emissions.
Data from the same source shows that during five of the past seven decades, including this one, average U.S. temperatures have gone down. And the almanac predicted that the next year will see a period of cooling.
We're worried that people are too focused on carbon dioxide as the culprit," D'Aleo said. "Recent warming has stopped since 1998, and we want to stop draconian measures that will hurt already spiraling downward economics."
The story grudgingly notes "The National Academy of Sciences and most major scientific bodies agree that global warming is caused by man-made carbon emissions." But the Politico apparently doesn't know the difference between the National Academy of Sciences and the widely discredited Global Warming Petition Project (aka the "Oregon Petition"), since it gives the latter more ink.
Modern journalists from traditional media have for years made the mistake of balancing stories on the reality of accelerating human-caused global warming with a quote or two from deniers, though some are starting to do that less. The Politico's 1980s-style reporting manages to cite multiple deniers, including Patrick Michaels from the right-wing Cato Insitute and a staffer from lead Senate denier James Inhofe (R-OK), but then doesn't bother to quote a single climate scientist in opposition.
Indeed, Ms. Lovley treats those who understand the actual state of climate science as if they are the ones in the dwindling minority, ending with these two paragraphs:
Despite the growing science [!!!], the world's leading crusader on climate change, Al Gore, is unconcerned.
"Climate deniers fall into the same camp as people who still don't believe we landed on the moon," said the former vice president's spokeswoman, Kalee Kreider. "We don't think this should distract us from the reality."
Has your head exploded yet?
Note to Ms. Lovley: Why call up Gore's office to respond to scientific disinformation? You do understand the difference between scientists and non-scientists, don't you?
Some of you who aren't political junkies may be wondering what the frig the Politico is anyway. Their mission statement from January 2007 says
The Politico's goals are simple. Over the past several weeks, we set out to assemble the most talented and interesting collection of journalists -- established names as well as promising young people -- that we could find. Now, we will turn these reporters loose on the subject we love: national politics....
The traditional newspaper story is written with austere, voice-of-God detachment. These newspaper conventions tend to muffle personality, humor, accumulated insight -- all the things readers hunger for as they try to make sense of the news and understand what politicians are really like. Whenever we can, we'll push against these limits.
But wait, the Politico claims:
There is more need than ever for reporting that presents the news fairly, not through an ideological prism. One of the most distressing features of public life recently has been the demise of shared facts. Warring partisans -- many of whom take their news from sources that cater to and amplify their existing opinions -- live in separate zones of reality. In such a climate, every news story is viewed as either weapon or shield in a nonstop ideological war. Our answer to this will be journalism that insists on the primacy of facts over ideology.
Hey, that credo almost lasted a full two years!!
I actually got a call about this story from a leading print reporter expressing disbelief and asking me if I was going to write something about it since he/she can't do that sort of thing. I said I was going to call for the reporter's firing, but he/she said not to do that in this economic climate.
Fine. If you don't fire her, pull her from the environmental/energy beat and put a senior reporter on writing the real story of climate science on the Hill. Heck, instead of interviewing the deniers, who after all seem to be losing political strength in recent elections, why not talk to those who have been gaining strength in recent elections. Maybe the public knows something you don't.
Perhaps this coverage isn't a total surprise given the conservative leanings of the Politco's funding.
Also, there is a companion piece that wouldn't even make the cut at most high school newspapers.