Shoot out at the “I’m OK” Corral
BPSDB Tom Yulsman at CEJ is not upset. Apparently people are criticising media coverage of climate issues, leading him to ask “Environmental journalists: Are we really that awful?”
At first he was upset with Anthony Watts, Brad Johnson and Joseph Romm, but now the list includes Michael Tobis, Scott Mandia, Gavin Schmidt, Michael Mann, and Kevin Trenberth.
This began as a very different post, but then I read the materials more closely and it changed everything. Actually reading the material I intend to discuss is a nasty habit which ruins all of my best ideas; I really should stop doing that.
A day in Tombstone
At the Progress Saloon
1) Joseph Romm posted “And the 2010 Citizen Kane award for non-excellence in climate journalism goes to …“, an overview of quite a lot of really ghastly penny dreadfuls masquerading as irresponsible tabloids reporting on climate in 2010.
2) Brad Johnson of Think Progress comments on the piece, being critical of media generally, environmental journalists and climate scientists in particular. A bit over the top in some respects, but he makes some good points.
Down by the stables
3) Time Magazines’ Bryan Walsh did a piece Holiday Blizzard: More Signs of Global Warming discussing how snow storms were consistent with the science of climate change and in no way supported the Denier position.
4) Watts Earp(withthat) took exception to the Walsh (3) piece. He strongly objected to the “Preemptive straw man arguments” in Walsh’s “annual piece on global warming causing blizzards.” Presumably what upset Watts most was that Walsh’s “preemptive straw man” anticipated Watts’ idiotic annual piece on blizzards proving there is no global warming.
5) Tom Yulsman writes “Environmental journalists: Are we really that awful?” taking potshots at Romm (1) while objecting to Johnson (2), defending Walsh (3), and critiquing Watts (4) (there’s more, but this is confusing enough as it is).
At the ‘Tombstone Times’
6) Andrew Revkin [one of those criticised by Romm (1)] in his year end piece touches on the lack of media coverage of climate issues, which he follows up with The Greatest Story Rarely Told and then Climate News Snooze? He also mentions a new analysis of media coverage of sea level rise by Ursula Rick, Maxwell Boykoff and Roger A. Pielke Jr.
The stage coach arrives
9) Yulsman (5) writes “RealClimate refutes ludicrous column in Forbes magazine” (which includes mention of the Rick et al paper), the thrust of which is “Then directs ludicrous attack on the target of Forbes’ ludicrous attack” in which he expresses mixed feelings about the general lament in (8). For the most part he agrees with them, but then he concludes:
“So I have some advice for Michael Tobis, Scott Mandia and other scientists who are frustrated that they haven’t been able to get their message across to the public and want to blame it all on journalists: Take a look in the mirror first. Then let’s talk.”
10) Concerned that their reputation as clueless ideologically driven twonks might be in doubt, Forbes publishes another egregious blunder viz “Climate Scientists Deepening Skepticism of Democracy”
11) Yulsman (5, 9) competently confirms Forbes’ (10) reputation as clueless ideologically driven twonks with “There they go again.” [Aside: if anyone cares, background on David Shearman may be found here].
Meanwhile, back at the Saloon
12) Romm (1) had meanwhile posted “Silence of the Lambs: Media herd’s coverage of climate change “fell off the map” in 2010” taking all media to task for ignoring the climate story, but most particularly the New York Times.
In his piece at the ‘Tombstone Times’ Revkin (6) largely acknowledged the truth of declining coverage of climate change as a main science story, but discussed how it is getting coverage in other guises such as energy policy ie the issue is quite nuanced and complex.
He also includes a lengthy quote from Randy Olson re: signal to noise that is critical of the science community.
A stranger rides in
13) Keith Kloor writes Cry Me a River, in which he:
- takes Romm(1) and Johnston (2) to task for being so critical of media reporting;
- cites Yulsman (9) for more perspective even though Yulsman largely agrees with the negative assesment;
- compliments Revkin for defending the Times against Romm’s (12) even though Revkin acknowledges Romm’s main point about declining coverage;
- is snide with Tobis et al (8) for complaining about declining coverage even though he just complimented Revkin for a post in which he agrees it is declining;
- takes Johnson (2) to task for his cabal remark.
Hits, misfires and crossfire
Watts Earp(withthat) (4) and the Forbes Gang [Bell (7) and Pentland (10) ] were firing intellectual blanks and were easy kills in the first volley.
Pronounced DOA, their passing is of no consequence.
Brad : “enviro-journalist cabal that have complicated reasons for muddying the science, that reflect decades of being manipulated by propagandists.”
Really? that’s reminiscent of baseless slanders like “religious importance that the IPCC holds for this cadre of scientists; they will tolerate no dissent, and seek to trample and discredit anyone who challenges the IPCC. Who are these priests of the IPCC? “
I take it on faith that you had something substantive in mind and merely expressed it in a sloppy and sensationalist manner, but regardless the onus is on you to clarify, substantiate and/or retract. That really was a hyperbolic vacuity that contributed nothing.
Tom and Kevin: You accuse Romm of one sided reporting, and then fail to mention that he replied to Johnson:
I don’t think there’s a cabal. And I think most day-to-day environmental reporters are pretty good. I think this is mostly the uninformed editors and the publishing management who have made decisions about what stories should run and who have fired many of the best environmental/science journalists.
In a single paragraph Romm basically made the case that Tom was making in his second post; care to credit him for that?
Keith: Was your piece meant to be anything more than partisan cheer leading? because if it was I missed it. You’re better and smarter than that, so show it.
Tom: i) Part of your defence of the media was to say that in the age of blogs and the internet everyone and everywhere is the media, that “there simply is no one “press.” ”
True that, but there are professional journalists who are paid ostensibly to inform us accurately and in context about what is going on in the world. I think it is a given that it is this group that Tobis and Mandia were referring to.
I suspect Tobis and Mandia would agree with your defence and praise of environmental journalists (as Romm clearly does), but that does not negate their point.
Actually you already agreed with their point, but I’ll still note that it takes a lot of stellar excellence to offset just those named, never mind the rest of that particular “cabal” ;-) .
Add to them the rest of the mediocrity that typifies modern
infotainment journalism and you can see why they said what they said notwithstanding the truth of all you and Revkin said in defence of a sub-class of journalists.
iii) “ Take a look in the mirror first. Then let’s talk.” As with Brad, I think the the onus is on you to clarify, substantiate and/or retract.
Michael and Tom: We have spent years writing piece after piece about how just about every new measure shows that the previous ones seriously underestimated the rate/scale/scope etc of how bad it is.
Can we stop jumping on Romm as “an extremist” and acknowledge that there is some truth to Johnson’s “And even climate scientists themselves, who have a terminal fear of saying anything clear and honest about their findings and getting the Michael Mann treatment.”
Joseph: Tone it down for people who only screw up sometimes; acknowledge their contributions as appropriate. Particularly acknowledge that someone working inside the belly of the beast as Revkin does is operating under a lot of unstated constraints and limitations. Distinguish clearly between him as a person and the beast he must live with.
Andrew: You work within a particular institution, and as I note, that involves a lot of unstated constraints and limitations, but it also influences a lot of assumptions and attitudes.
Look at your “So this Reporter says to this Scientist…” piece. It fairly describes the social realities of working journalists and notes the scientists obligation to communicate, but then implies the responsibility is all on the scientists to change their behaviour.
How about acknowledging that the journalist has an equal responsibility to get the story right no matter how difficult the scientist is? and the fact that many will not bother to do so is an ethical and professional lapse? or that the journalist needs to change their behaviour? or that there are social realities to scientists as well?
I’m not saying that it is one or the other, or that your point is not well taken. Indeed I think there would be a lot of value to expanding on this and exploring it much more fully.
I am merely noting that you come at it with an assumption about who is to be excused for how they behave and who is to be expected to change when a shared responsibility might be more objective. Whether the choice was a conscious, pragmatic one, or unconscious is moot, the point here is that the perspective informs your writing.
You know what? other than the back and forth sniping just about everyone’s writing on this was well worth reading. The backbiting aside, it was mostly intelligent, informative, interesting and I mostly enjoyed it.
Yes sensationalistic here, over generalized there, sometimes too one sided or simplistic (usually associated with the backbiting), but overall an interesting exchange. I really wish I was writing a review of a fascinating cross-blog dialogue about media and climate change rather than reporting on a range war. (I still recommend it all though, just ignore the sniping).
Yes, whenever someone is factually wrong, over the top, unfair, overly simplistic or biased they need to be called on it in no uncertain terms, but leave it at that.
That you “are all on the same side” counts for exactly nothing and I am not making any appeal to some bogus solidarity in an ‘us and them’ frame. I am noting that when you actually read what everyone writes you all pretty much agree.
We have been here before, so can we stop now? Save your most caustic vitriol (yes, that’s a scientific oxymoron, but I like the cadence of it) for the rustlers and hustlers who make up the Denialosphere.
By all means continue this discussion; it really is interesting. By all means keep it hard nosed and critical; we don’t improve if people are easy on us. Be harsh even, but when you do so be specific and substantiate your case with evidence that you cite, and remain respectful of the person regardless.
Above all do please be fair, respectful and as objective as possible, not to mention open to accurate and fair criticism of yourselves. When it happens, acknowledge it and move on. If you think someone has been off target, demand substantiation/clarification rather than firing back … they may not even have been shooting at you (as I believe was clearly the case in some aspects of this particular episode of taking umbrage).
Right now the ones caught in the cross fire are your readers. You all have a lot of really interesting and important things to say about climate change and the media. Too much of it is being lost in the shoot out about personalities and perceived slights, and I don’t think that serves anyone’s interests outside of the Denialosphere.
Now, if I did that right everyone is now more mad at me than at each other …
I’m a uniter, not a divider :-)
Reach for your shooting-irony
” “…Take a look in the mirror first. Then let’s talk.”
Oh my, there are several ways to interpret that one, but “ouch” anyways.
As per the IPCC/UNFCCC ideology, the reason climate scientists want to get the message across is to influence politics and policy to do something (preferably the UNFCCS solution) about climate change. My thoughts on playing politics with climate expertise? Don’t, unless you are knowledgeable about policy and understand politics.
Politics of climate expertise – Climate Etc
We give our consent every moment that we do not resist.
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