WE … WashPost Reporting Balanced vs Objective

Tomorrow, Al Gore and the Alliance for Climate Protection are launching a $300 million advertising campaign to mobilize American support for serious action to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in “one of the most ambitious and costly public advocacy campaigns in U.S. history.”

One of the real challenges when it comes to press reporting on Global Warming issues is the desire for “balance” in reporting, the desire to have all sides represented.  This balance, of course, can be contrasted (balanced) by the question of objectivity, of focusing on facts.  With the first, Flat Earth society members would be quoted in any discussion of NASA programs.  With objective reporting, they wouldn’t even be in the reporter’s rolodex.  Sadly, as Al Gore highlighted in An Inconvenient Truth, “balance” is more prevalent than “objective” when it comes to Global Warming reporting, truthiness rather than truth.

With that context, let us look at the prominent Washington Post article on the We campaign, by staff reporter Juliet Eilperin.  This was (is) a relatively good article that discusses the campaign’s approach and objectives, with the desire to change the way the public thinks about Global Warming, options for moving forward, and translating this into impetus for serious Congressional action:

“The simple algorithm is this: It’s important to change the light bulbs, but it’s much more important to change the laws,” [Gore] said. “The options available to civilization worldwide to avert this terribly destructive pattern are beginning to slip away from us. The path for recovery runs right through Washington, D.C.”

And, Gore simply does not see the Congressional will to act, to set this path forward. Thus, the We campaign, with advertising with unusual partnering of people calling for action. Consider, an ad with Pat Robertson and Al Sharpton sitting together on a couch … one might have thought this would only have occurred when Hell froze over, instead it is brought by our trying to make Earth more like Hell? 

Yes, there is this initiative.  But, what about the Climate Skeptic branch of the Flat Earth Society?

The climate alliance’s initiative, however, will not go unchallenged by climate change skeptics.

At what point will this read something like “by those seeking to confuse Americans about actual facts”? 

Americans for Balanced Energy Choices, a nonprofit funded by the coal industry and its allies, is spending about $35 million this election to bolster support for coal-generated electricity.

Yes, ABEC will try to confuse you about Sort-of Less Dirty Coal, Slightly Less Polluting Coal, or Somewhat Less Deadly Coal and to ensure that you (and leading politicans) are comfortable with the dishonest “Clean Coal” rolling off the lips.  (Reminder:  “clean coal” would still have CO2 emissions, highly contaminated fly ash, and rely on destructive mining practices like mountain-top removal.)

The Competitive Enterprise Institute, a Washington-based think tank that receives part of its funding from oil and gas companies, recently spent close to $35,000 to run a television ad both in the District and in scattered cities throughout the country attacking Gore, and plans a follow-up campaign.

 Wow, $35k.  We really must give attention to that sort of investment alongside a discussion of a $300 million campaign.  Janet, aren’t we stretching it a bit here?

That $35k gets a couple paragraphs within a prominent article in the Washington Post, alongside too much other reporting of it.  Want to talk about good media investment, far more effective than buying a print ad in the Post to help pay Juliet’s salary.

The ad argues that Gore and his allies in Hollywood use plenty of energy but that “Al Gore wants to cut our energy use, putting our jobs and our future in jeopardy.”

CEI truly focuses on taking the truth out of truthiness.  We can “cut our energy use” through energy efficiency with better jobs and taking our future out of “jeopardy”. 

Myron Ebell, who directs energy and global warming policy for CEI, said the fact that Gore feels compelled to run such an elaborate ad campaign highlights the extent to which his conservation message has failed to resonate with the American public.

This could be true, that the message has failed to resonate … which is why Gore is pursuing an effort that starts to be recognizable against the scale of investment to encourage greater energy use (such as advertising for large McSUVs, large McMansions, large McTainment systems … creating a demand for systems that are from energy efficient, even within their size).    For once, Myron might actually be speaking some truth with this angle.  But, Ebell and CEI have a limited relationship with truthful commentary.

“He’s spending a hundred million dollars to convince the American people to make sacrifices that he and his elite friends are not willing to make,” Ebell said, adding that while many Americans may now blame humans for causing climate change, “the American people are not there with other alarmists” when it comes to supporting deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.

Thus, Myron, let’s make this about the messenger rather than message. And, when it comes to Gore, he does seem to be doing what he preaches:  reducing use (with a LEED renovation of his home), using renewable power (solar panels on his home, buying green credits), and remediation (buying carbon credits to cover his fossil fuel use).  Gore does seem to practice what he preaches, Myron. 

In any event, why would Gore spend this $100 million, Myron? 

And, one can see from responses to questions in an online conversation Monday afternoon that Juliet struggled betweeen balance and objectivity.  The deniers came out in force and had an audience.

Va.: There are more and more scientists who oppsoed climate change and they are not being heard. Why is Al Gore ignoring them?

Scientists like those celebrated by Senator Inhofe (R-Exxon)?  What do you think Janet answered?  Something factual like:  “This is a fantasy and false statement”?

Juliet Eilperin: I don’t know if it’s true that more and more scientists are opposing climate change. There is a cadre of researchers who question human-induced climate change–many of whom are actually not PhDs, actually, and they’re vocal now as they have been in the past. As I’ve mentioned, the most credible climate skeptics do not deny human-generated greenhouse gas emissions change the climate. There are controversial issues about climate change, such as how much sea level rise will occur in the decades and centuries to come, and how intense storms will be during this period, but the idea that human emissions are linked to global warming is not one of them.

This is, actually, an okay answer and perhaps as close as she can get to saying “you’re full of it”.    This answer: roughly objective.  Score one for Juliet.

Baltimore: Why doesn’t anyone report on the fact that the earth hasn’t warmed since 1999? And this year’s winter was one of the coldest on record, negating almost all warming that had occured.

Juliet Eilperin: The second sentence in this question is wrong — the fact that there was a cold winter in many parts of the world doesn’t mean that it is “negating almost all of the warming that had occured.” This is based on a misunderstanding about the difference between “weather” and “climate.” Climate is about long term trends, such as the fact that something like nine of the 10 hottest years on record have taken place within the last dozen years. Weather is about day-to-day or month-to-month fluctuations in the temperature and weather in a given region.

Wow.  Score two for Juliet.  “The second sentence … is wrong.”  And, the statement about climate / weather: spot on. Bravo!

She also handled pretty well a question about skeptic Lomborg, highlighting that his argument is based on short-term rather than long-term thinking (and, to be honest, even that is a too polite statement of his truthiness).  She was also asked about how “skeptics” are changing their tune.

Juliet Eilperin: Yes, there has been a definite change. People I interviewed a few years ago, like Patrick J. Michaels, used to say humans had nothing to do with climate change, and now he says they do but we still don’t need to do anything radical to address global warming. I believe he does drive a Prius now, by the way.

Five stages for Global Warming:  Denier, Skeptic, Delayer, Despair, Activist.  Eilperin is noticing a shift to the right (to the correct understanding and position).  Gore is striving to accelerate this move, with seeking to move millions more to the Activist community.

Score 3 and 4 for Juliet.

Now, Eilperin did have one “balance” response. When questioned as to whether there are “any peer-reviewed scientific articles (in reputable publications) concluding that the vast majority of global warming over the last 50+ years is due to something OTHER THAN greenhouse gases?”  Eilperin’s resonse:  “I believe there might have been a handful of articles along these lines, though none come to mind except one that a Cato fellow wrote a few years ago. …”  Okay, Juliet, please let me know what this is, where that article was in the peer-reviewed literature. When it comes to the basic facts, the scientific community is clear: the basic analysis concludes that global warming is real and humanity is the major driver of this.  The scientific debate is about the extent of humanity’s impact, what impacts will be, how fast impacts will occur, and what can/should be done to reduce those impacts. 

In any event, it is interesting to note that Juliet Eilperin, online, is clearly striving to be objective while, sadly, the published article is far more balanced …

“Balance”, when it comes to Global Warming reporting, leads to truthiness rather than truth. For truth, reporters need to strive for “objectivity”, for fact. 


5 responses to “WE … WashPost Reporting Balanced vs Objective

  1. You should read Michael Chrichton’s State of Fear. He has reams of citations on the subject and packaged in his awesome prose. Though he is not a climate scientist he is a Harvard M.D. with a famously inquisitive scientific mind. What he says might suprise you.

  2. Yes, Mick, I really should turn to a science-fiction writer, whose work requires you to suspend critical thinking at critical points to enjoy the suspense.

    Ripping apart the misrepresentation of science has already been well done. See, for example:

    http://www.boston.com/news/globe/ideas/articles/2005/02/06/checking_crichtons_footnotes/ This is a particularly good little OPED because it deals directly with your claim “wow, look at all the footnote …”

    Again, Crichton supplies references. But UMass-Amherst climatologist Douglas Hardy, a coauthor of the 2004 paper on Kilimanjaro cited, says Crichton is distorting his work. Crichton is doing ”what I perceive the denialists always to do,” says Hardy. ”And that is to take things out of context, or take elements of reality and twist them a little bit, or combine them with other elements of reality to support their desired outcome.’


    Maybe, if you want to argue about science, you should spend some time reading scientists …

  3. Apparently some people have not yet noticed that the temperature stopped significant increase in 1998. If it wasn’t for that 22 year period from 1976 to 1998 when the atmospheric carbon dioxide level and average global temperature happened to increase at the same time, the term ‘greenhouse gas’ would be virtually unknown and Kyoto and the rest of the Global Warming Mistake would never have happened. As the atmospheric carbon dioxide continues to increase and average earth temperature doesn’t, many people are going to look more and more foolish, the faulty predictions of the incomplete GCMs will continue to be exposed, and the main-stream media’s global warming hype will cease.


  4. Dan — You are simply tiring, with youR desire to peddle falsehoods masquerading as truthiness. The simple refutation of your miserable comment is here: https://energysmart.wordpress.com/2008/03/20/new-gw-denialists-deceptive-lie-on-global-temperatures/

    And, FYI, I will not allow you to continue to use my site as the basis for providing links to falsehoods.

  5. Tomorrow, Al Gore and the Alliance for Climate Protection are launching a $300 million advertising campaign to mobilize American support for serious action to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in “one of the most ambitious and costly public advocacy campaigns in U.S. history.”

    $300 million? Where does that money come from? Surely it comes from well-meaning philanthropists who just want their children to live in a better world.

    Maybe Gore could have built a wind farm or a solar plant with that money?

    What will the “serious action” be? Whatever it is, it’s worth more than $300 million to someone.

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