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Soul searching enviro-journalists admit they look duped and should have talked to sceptics

Posted By Joanne Nova On November 9, 2010 @ 2:48 am In AGW socio-political,Global Warming,Media-matters | Comments Disabled

There is much introspection going on among environmental journalists. Last week, in a remarkably candid piece, Margot O’Neill of the ABC revealed for the first time what the flummoxed and frustrated would-be journalists are  discussing behind the scenes.

The admissions are extraordinary. Despite the fact that hardly any of the journalists wrote about Climategate, for many the emails from East Anglia were not just important, but a defining moment (though not, apparently, because it dented their faith in the global warming dogma). Instead, it was the effect Climategate had on editors and others in the office: people who had previously thought climate science was scientific, and environmental journalists were journalists. Suddenly, others realized they had been cheated of the real news, sideswiped by a development none of the supposedly “investigative” reporters saw coming.

Now for the first time, we find out that the formerly respected writers got looks of betrayal.

Probably the most important reaction to the UEA hacking for journalists was in their own newsrooms, among their own editors who are the gatekeepers controlling if your work appears and how prominently. While some UK surveys show no dramatic loss of credibility for climate scientists with the public, here’s how some senior journalists described what it was like in their newsrooms after hacking:

“dirty looks”

“sense of betrayal”

thought we’d “gone native”

“you told me the science was settled – and it isn’t!”

Presumably, the other editors read about people using tricks to hide declines, but instead of seeing the would-be journalists pursue the obvious deceit and malpractice, they must have been shocked to hear whitewash excuses about how it was “taken out of context”. This is the point when alarm bells must have gone off for the real journalists in the room. It was not just the Climategate emails themselves, but the rush to downplay them. Methinks you doth protest too much.

How bad was climategate? Awful:

Climate-gate was extremely damaging in many ways. It gave the impression that journalists had been duped…

Wow. I mean, WOW! Let’s repeat that. It gave the impression that journalists had been duped. Yes, it did “look” like journos had been duped. That’s because they were. Fooled by one of the oldest tricks in the book.

Powers of all kinds tapped into the inner desires of writers aspiring to grandiose self-importance by offering them an excuse to play the heroic savior, to tell us how we should live, eat, play, and work, and to set the rules of “fashionable behavior”. The journalists took the opportunity, swallowed the pill, and volunteered in droves to be the marketing arm of large financial institutions, mediocre unprincipled scientists, and ambitious bureaucrats.

So what followed was a year where the environmental writers fell from glory, and even now they still don’t get it. They’re finding it harder to get stories published, the ratings have crashed.

O’Neill and the other fallen writers wonder what happened, but only find a litany of excuses. What they miss is that they’re still not behaving either scientifically or investigatively. They’re behaving like a PR team.

When the IPCC said they were 90% sure, an investigator would have asked: Why is that? How did you arrive at 90%? Was that measured, calculated, or was it just a show of hands? A PR writer asks: How can we convince the masses?

The litany of weak excuses:

The key problems? The list is long but includes a cold winter in Europe, the distant impacts, the failure of the December 2009 UN climate change Copenhagen summit to produce a binding international agreement, public confusion about whether there is a reliable scientific consensus, and alarmist media coverage with Hollywood-horror headlines like “Be Scared; Be Very Scared!” that are more likely to induce the purchase of popcorn than solar panels.

…the issue has become newsworthy at a time when many newsrooms have been downsized while servicing an accelerating 24-hour news cycle. Not enough people. Not enough expertise. Not enough time.

Forgive me for saying I told you so

Even as newspapers were avoiding Climategate, I predicted that everything had changed, that this virus would be unstoppable, and 11 months later, Margo proves my point. The impact of Climategate is far-reaching and still unfolding.

O’Neill’s honesty about the soul-searching is refreshing. But, the story is loaded with the ritual caveats that show she is still part of the tribe. She assumes the emails were hacked, but they could just as easily have been leaked.

Given the underlying science has been exonerated in successive inquiries…

None of the inquiries even seriously investigated the science.

Then there’s the actual climate. If the scientists and insurance companies are right, it will produce increasing horror temperature…

Who are “the scientists”? I can name more scientists who declare man-made global warming to be a wild exaggeration than she can name who think impending catastrophe is inevitable.

A commenter Paul wonders why she even mentioned insurance companies in the same sentence:

If the “insurance companies” are right? What an odd comment – their input is irrelevant. They MAKE MONEY by selling fear – they are currently making millions in increased premiums by leveraging off climate change hysteria and to top it off most policies won’t even pay out in the event of a “natural” disaster!

Then here’s a whopper of an admission:

…there are many different kinds of sceptics and a range of other debates. Some say they wished they had engaged credible sceptics earlier.!!!

Finally, at least some environmental journalists realize that some skeptics have a point, but as usual, not many seem to be rushing to actually interview people like Richard Lindzen, Willie Soon, Roy Spencer, John Christie, Will Happer, Ivar Gievar,…or Steve McIntyre, or Anthony Watts either.

Most likely, the word is “credible” — and that goes to the heart of the problem. How do they define credible? If they are still holding out for Nobel Prizes and Ivy league university professors (which some of the aforementioned are), that’s a sign of the problem that got them into this mess in the first place .

What makes someone credible is not their office or degree, it’s that they don’t break laws of reason,  they can cite evidence, answer questions convincingly, and they are internally consistent.

The newsworthiness of climate change has lost a lot of it’s appeal:

Where did all the climate change stories go? “The [programmers] are against it because it loses ratings,” says a senior BBC journalist. “The wave [of public interest] has gone. There is climate change fatigue. That is why I am not [reporting] it now.”

Other journalists agree. Even reporters at The Guardian, which especially targets environmental reporting, complain that it’s difficult to get a run. Another UK broadcast journalist said he was warned that putting climate change on prime time would risk losing a million viewers.

But, O’Neill (and apparently the rest of the enviro-pr-journalistic world) misses the key role of a journalist: to ask good questions:

Climate change is a multi-disciplinary story that requires at least some knowledge ranging from science and energy policy to potential military deployments, from coastal development to diplomacy and to mass biodiversity loss, to name a few. A BBC correspondent said it is arguable that journalists need qualifications in science, politics and economics to straddle the demands of climate change reporting.

No, as long as they can write well, they can be lawyers, doctors, engineers, teachers, or well-read car mechanics. They don’t need to “know” anything more than how to ask relentlessly probing questions, along with understanding the basic rules of logic and reason. It sure helps to be able to spot cheats and frauds. Big clues to look for next time: When people hide things…when they argue from authority, when people get angry and call their critics names (denier), or launch ad hominem attacks, when they get caught adjusting the data and they can’t explain exactly why…

Margo thinks maybe journalists might have failed on climate change somehow

I’d say no, not at all. Not if their aim was to protect their religious beliefs. They concealed the flagrant breaches of scientific standards, the lack of empirical evidence, and the sheer vast number of skeptics from every other branch of science.

If they had reported the full story of the seedy corruption in science, the misplaced thermometers, the lost records, and the bogus graphs, then thousands of people would have fled from the cult of climatism. The fact that man-made global warming is not yet known as the modern Piltdown debacle of science and politics is a testament to the ability of well-meaning, poorly trained “journalists” to censor the news and keep relentlessly pumping the UN PR.

It’s time (about 30 years past) that science journalists were better trained.

Thanks to Stephen H for pointing me at this ABC piece.                                                        Tiny URL: http://tiny.cc/rhr8q

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