Dispassionate follow-ups. Subtle analyses. A careful adherence to facts.
Hey, who am I kidding? These aren’t landmarks of the mainstream media anymore. (Were they ever?)
So let’s not feign surprise that last week’s exoneration by an independent panel of the scientists smeared for the so-called “Climategate” scandal got about as much attention on cable news as did all those ice shelves melting into the Southern Ocean.
In case you were too busy reading scientific journals last fall to notice, Climategate refers to the non-scandal that erupted after someone stole 13 years worth of e-mails from the Climate Research Unit at East Anglia University in Great Britain, routed the data, in cloak-and-dagger fashion, through Turkey and Saudi Arabia, and posted choice portions of it on a Russian computer server.
A handful of snotty comments by scientists who were e-mailing each other privately, a few phrases that could be taken out of context, the occasional bunker mentality exhibited by researchers who were sick of being harassed by serial open records requests from mysteriously well-financed climate change deniers — and voila! You have a scandal worthy of throwing out 40 years of peer-reviewed research — a scandal worthy of weakening whatever willpower our pitiful, fossil-fuel-addicted citizenry had been beginning to muster to kick the nasty habit that is threatening the standard of living of our children.
Actually, I pronounced “voila!” too soon. The other necessary ingredient to cook the non-scandal into Climategate was our over-reactive and under-thinking media — particularly the thoroughly corrupt right-wing media.
Don’t expect Fox, talk radio, and the rest of the partisan propagandists to change their tune on the topic now though — much less issue corrections or apologies. They won’t let facts get in the way of their script, which, on the environmental stage, is that the “us” is made up of good, hardworking pickup-driving Americans (along with their natural allies: energy company billionaires), while the “them” is made up of polar bears, greedy scientists, Al Gore and their natural allies: the liberal-socialist-fascist-environmentalist-dogooder-Democrat-communists who want to pry the gasoline hose from our cold dead fingers.
The exoneration came in the form of a report by independent academics. Along with mild criticism over the openness of the climate scientists to their own critics, the panel hailed the scientists’ professionalism. “We find that their rigor and honesty as scientists are not in doubt,” the report says.
Get this: It was the fifth independent report on the non-scandal to exonerate scientists on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. Which brings up an inconvenient question: If the lack of wrongdoing was so obvious, why was this considered a scandal in the first place?
The answer is an inconvenient truth for the news media: Journalists did more to misinform people about the stolen emails than did everyone else combined.
Search the word “Climategate” on the Fox News website. You’ll be hard-pressed to find anything on the five studies exonerating the scientists; I didn’t find anything at all the day after the report was released.
But you can still watch Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity and even so-called “news” reporters hyperventilate on the horrors of Climategate and the finality of its proof that climate change has always been a hoax. Why, if you’re the kind of person who could be hoodwinked into sending thousands of dollars to a TV preacher or into buying a pipeline I’d be happy to sell you up in Alaska, you may even drink the Fox News Kool-Aid.
And you’ll be outraged! Outraged, I tell you. Outraged along with millions of Tea Party-goin’, Palin-exalting, “freedom-loving” dittoheads.
The problem, though, isn’t the 40 percent of Americans who can be convinced that any effort made to solve one of our society’s great problems actually is a ploy to take money and freedom away from them. The problem really is the 20 or 30 percent of Americans who stand wobbly-kneed in the middle of the road when it comes to climate change.
Which means that the mainstream media — especially CNN and the broadcast networks — shouldn’t be let off the hook. Back in the fall, CNN and the broadcast news networks covered Climategate with the false sense of “balance” and sensationalism that are the defining characteristic of American journalism. I mean “balance” in the sense that the accusations of industry-funded activists, political opportunists and proven liars should be weighed as credible enough to place ethically impeccable scientists on the defensive. And I mean "sensationalism" in the sense that the most outrageous claims made against someone else should be reported in breathless fashion because it's "conflict".
Even the “balanced” press isn’t treating the exoneration with the same sensational vigor that it did the “scandal” last fall. The story did make the front page of the July 8th New York Times. But its coverage falls back into the same muck of false balance that marred much of the media’s coverage last fall.
Rather than addressing the true outrage of false accusations leveled on credible scientists, the writer, Justin Gillis, relies on “balanced” scientist Roger Pielke Jr. as his golden source. Pielke, who actually is rather controversial in the climate science field for appearing at times to play both sides against the middle, pronounces his bottom-line lesson from Climategate: “The e-mails ... changed the notion that people could blindly trust one authoritative group, when it turns out they’re just like everyone else.”
That’s kind of a ridiculous thing to say right after a fifth-straight independent report found precisely the opposite: Granted it included some criticisms, but mainly — and unequivocally — it vouched for the trustworthiness scientists’ actual research.
The real story — which Pielke and other tightrope walkers miss — is painfully obvious: It’s that a corrupt bunch of mysteriously well-funded hoodlums stole e-mails, posted them in a skulking fashion, and made wildly false accusations about what the e-mails said. And more to the point: That much as it did during the McCarthy era, the media amplified the grift, which had the effect of hijacking any reasonable debate over what to do about climate change.
The mainstream media is unlikely to dwell too long on that subject. It involves too much looking into a mirror.
Instead, even the venerable New York Times is offering an encore to the Climategate cast. While one of the falsely accused scientists was relegated to a “[we could] do a better job in characterizing what we know and what we don’t know” quote at the bottom of the story, a so-called “skeptic” at the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) got a chance to thunder high up in the story on the front page (without any mention that CEI is funded in part by fossil fuel interests).
“This is another example of the establishment circling the wagons and defending their positions,” he said. No second-guessing himself on whether he could have done a better job characterizing what he knows.
Yes! Don’t you see? It’s another scandal! Circlethewagongate! That’s the real story. Crank up the talking heads again. Get Hannity. Get Beck. Get Limbaugh.
Scientists whitewash scientists! It’s an outrage! An outrage, I tell you! Now, how much you going to pay me for that pipeline in Alaska?