Climategate: The World’s Biggest Story, Everywhere but Here
The biggest scandal of our times is a non-story to U.S media. Why are the London papers covering the Climategate collapse, but not ours?
February 21, 2010 - 11:09 am
But by the 15th, CJR wrote:
Last Tuesday, The New York Times ran a front-page article by Elisabeth Rosenthal under the headline, “U.N. Panel and Its Chief Face a Siege on Their Credibility.” On Wednesday, the Associated Press ran one over the wire headlined, “Scientists seek better way to do climate report.” The difference between the two headlines — the Times focused on the panel’s faults, the AP on its attempts to address them — is important. Each tells half the story, but it is the latter that should lead.
In two weeks, CJR has moved from saying that U.S. media should cover the controversy to specifying what the “right” lead should be. CJR continues:
Bearing this in mind, it is easy to see why — as Climate Progress blogger Joe Romm first pointed out — Rosenthal buried her lede in the ninth paragraph, which reads:
The panel, in reviewing complaints about possible errors in its report, has so far found that one was justified and another was “baseless.” The general consensus among mainstream scientists is that the errors are in any case minor and do not undermine the report’s conclusions.
That is something that needs to be mentioned in the first few paragraphs. From there, a reporter can explain that errors were nonetheless made, which should remind the world of three things: that the exact timing and scale of certain impacts of climate change are subject to a lot of uncertainty; that some scientists will behave defensively, even to the point of negligence, when they feel threatened; and that all quality control-systems sometimes fail. Thereafter, the question becomes: what is being done about these problems?
That is, the “correct” view is that these problems don’t call the science into question, and the “right” question is to ask “what can be done about these trivial little problems?”
This appears to be one of the rare occasions on which we can observe the “consensus narrative” being shaped.
The CJR observes, correctly, that “outlets in the U.K., India, and Australia have been eating the American media’s lunch, churning out reams of commentary and analysis.” But it then concludes that there are no substantial problems; the “correct” view is that the scientific issues, and even more so the way that shoddy science was put together for political impact, aren’t particularly important and don’t call any of the conclusions into questions. Except, one assumes, the ones that have been determined to be false, like the impending doom of the Himalayan glaciers in 2035, or even the claim that the IPCC reports represented the best peer-reviewed science.
Which is, sure enough, the message being presented in the U.S. media. No scandal, no scientific misconduct, and certainly no actual fraud or criminality.
Motivations are slippery things, but consider just the facts: we have a mysterious lack of coverage of the repercussions and debate over Climategate in the world media.
Along with that, we have Revkin’s admission that for an environmental story to be of interest at the Times, it must ” … fit a very comfortable theme that all environmental stories for the longest period of time had, which is there’s bad guys and good guys.”
Finally, over the span of two weeks, the CJR — which may be less influential than it once was, but is still widely read between Harlem and Times Square — starts by saying that the U.S. media should be reporting this story, and moves to saying what the right reporting should be.
What the CJR has done, by accident, is answer its own question. The story has been covered the way it was, and to the small degree it was, because it doesn’t have a good guy to cheer and a bad guy to which the media can say “shame, shame.”
Or perhaps, it’s just that the wrong people have turned out to be the bad guys.