We have a couple of clients involved in climate change – esteemed climate scientist Micha Tomkiewicz and a theater group, Theater Three Collaborative; the theater group is trying to fully produce a climate change play called, “Extreme Whether.” So, we are always on the lookout for developments in climate change and in opportunities to join the conversation.
Recently, we noted an interesting media development on climate change that caused quite a stir.
On October 8th, the LA Times’ editor of its letters to the editor, Paul Thornton, declared that he doesn’t print letters asserting that “there’s no sign humans have caused climate change.” He went on to say, “Just last month, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change — a body made up of the world’s top climate scientists — said it was 95% certain that we fossil-fuel-burning humans are driving global warming. The debate right now isn’t whether this evidence exists (clearly, it does) but what this evidence means for us. Simply put, I do my best to keep errors of fact off the letters page; when one does run, a correction is published. Saying “there’s no sign humans have caused climate change” is not stating an opinion, it’s asserting a factual inaccuracy.”
The right wing news site, NewsBusters, actually kicked off the whole controversy when it claimed that LA Times’ editorial writer Joe Healy, in a longer piece, had said that “letters that have an untrue basis (for example, ones that say there’s no sign humans have caused climate change) do not get printed.” That is what prompted Paul Thornton to write his piece and to correct NewsBusters.
As you can imagine, the responses came fast and furious, especially from climate change deniers, accusing the LA Times of impeding free speech, among other things. Of course, Newsbusters itself was one of the first out of the gate: “So letters to the editor ‘that say there’s no sign humans have caused climate change…do not get printed.’ That’s quite a statement coming from a writer not named Al Gore.” And, naturally, the right wing “commenters” were out in force. “It’s not just in California; liberals in the media are doing it everywhere. The primary tool of Marxism is propaganda. The truth hurts their cause;” “Climate change: this is not science – it’s mumbo jumbo.” “At the risk of stating the obvious, the MSM (mainstream media) has devolved into a Soviet-style propaganda arm for the Washington establishment and virtually every leftist cause brought forth. The fact that the Feral Government is devolving into a fascist oligarchy is undoubtedly more than coincidence.”
For those who believe in actual science, however, it was welcome news to hear the LA Times express out loud what virtually everyone has known for quite a while: climate change is real, and humans have contributed to it. If you read the whole piece that Thornton wrote you will see that he is not actually saying that the LA Times will never print a letter in opposition to the human-induced climate change theory; what the LA Times is objecting to is printing the kind of silly, baseless non-scientific claims that are often made by the right when referring to climate change. Thornton says, “As for letters on climate change, we do get plenty from those who deny global warming. And to say they “deny” it might be an understatement: Many say climate change is a hoax, a scheme by liberals to curtail personal freedom.”
To follow up on the Paul Thornton’s column, Mother Jones magazine asked the opinion page editors of the Washington Post, the Dallas Morning News, the Tampa Bay Times, USA Today, the Plain Dealer, The Houston Chronicle, the Denver Post, and the San Diego Union-Tribune if they’d follow the Washington Post’s lead on climate change denier letters to the editor. There was a general consensus that most of the outlets wouldn’t publish “factually inaccurate letters,” but, except for the Washington Post, whose editor agreed outright with the LA Times, many of the other outlets responded cautiously or in line with their paper’s editorial stance on climate change. The whole article, How 9 Major Papers Deal with Climate Denying Letters, is a very interesting and enlightening read and a peek into how editorial and opinion pages are molded.
For us, it brings up the journalistic idea of balance wherein journalists try to get “both sides” of a news story. But what if there is no balance? Certainly, while part of the climate change story does include the fact that there are some people who deny that humans are helping to cause global warming, the deniers, by and large, are basing their claims on right wing political views, not real science. Should journalists feel compelled to include that in their stories? Currently, the jury’s out on this one, but we certainly don’t think so.