New study lays out 11 indicators of a warming world, media focuses on contrarian views

From time to time, journalists like Andy Revkin and Keith Kloor protest that the mainstream media doesn’t do an awful job covering the issue of climate change. They believe that the well-documented, systematic bias of undermining scientific conclusions by “balancing” them with contrarianism is behind us. Unfortunately, this is demonstrably false.

The above image is from the self-proclaimed “Most Trusted Name in News” CNN’s coverage of NOAA’s just-released 2009 State of the Climate Report, copy from The Financial Times. The State of the Climate report details how the planet is warming as captured by 11 different indices, from land surface temperature to glacial mass balance.

In the Financial Times article republished by CNN, equal if not more time is devoted to discussing the manufactured scandal over the stolen CRU emails and getting reactions from cranks like Steve Goddard and industry shills like Pat Michaels and Myron Ebell vs. covering the actual contents of the report itself.

The release of this report represented a huge opportunity for CNN and The Financial Times to explore the signs of a warming world in detail- perhaps to discuss with credible experts the causes and expected effects, to explain why specific humidity would be expected to increase in a warming world, or why Antarctic sea ice is not a representative indicator of enhanced greenhouse warming while Arctic sea ice is, etc. And who knows- perhaps they eventually will. For now, however, “most trusted name in news” is continuing to grossly mislead its audience because it simply can’t give up the outmoded narrative crutch of “balance”.


49 responses to “New study lays out 11 indicators of a warming world, media focuses on contrarian views

  1. Rattus Norvegicus

    Steve Goddard? They quoted noted crank and incompetent Steve Goddard?

    I’m afraid that the press has really hit bottom.

    • Yes, I can’t decide which was worse: quoting “Steve Goddard, a blogger”, or “David Herro, the financier, who follows climate science as a hobby” for the rebutting views.

  2. The story you cite is indeed glaringly flawed. A financier who follows climate science a hobby? C’mon! Also, the citations of CEI and CATO as sources–since they are mentioned– should have included their political/ideological orientation.

    I could go on…already have a post I’m working on related to journalism and climate change.

    • Thanks for commenting. I hope you appreciate that I’m pointing this out not to attack you and Andy, but to show you that the resistance to climate science still owes a great deal to media failure.

  3. People pay attention to the legacy media at their own peril. I think more and more of people are beginning to figure out that the MSM is nothing but corporate shills protecting its owners. Whether enough people figure this out and then act in time is anybody’s guess.

  4. Well displayed, TB.

    “…toxic brew of retired physicists, TV weather forecasters, political junkies, media hacks, and anyone else willing to tell an interviewer that he/she is a climate scientist” – Emanuel

    Woods Institute: empirically, false balance disinforms –

  5. TB: “the resistance to climate science still owes a great deal to media failure.”

    That’s a leap I don’t join you in. Romm is wildly off the mark today, as well, in his related post (and annoyed that Pooley didn’t make the leap in his own Yale 360 piece).

    The media has failed spectacularly at times (tragically so during the run-up to the Iraq war) but if you’re going to pin it all on media, well then how do you account for when the mainstream press was mostly uncritically positive after Gore/IPCC Nobel/Oscar etc. There was a good run there for a while, The wind was at activists back. You’ll blame Bush & company, of course. But that would be so convenient.

    It’s time advocates stopped looking for scapegoats and started thinking more creatively and productively. For what it’s worth. Probably not much hereabouts.

    • me: “the resistance to climate science still owes a great deal to media failure”

      you: “if you’re going to pin it all on media”

      I think I might see why it seems as though we’re talking past each other on this issue so often.

      Edited to add:

      “Blame Bush” for what exactly? His administration was active in downplaying the danger, gutting regulatory agencies, etc., but I don’t believe that it’s his fault that the media is incapable of letting go of j-school crutches like “he said, she said”.

      This is similar to something that Curry seems to think, with her harping that Karl Rove and Big Oil aren’t behind the current wave of denialists. I don’t and never believed it to be the case, much like I don’t believe that the hordes of anti-evolution commentors are all in the employ of evangelical churches or the Discovery Institute.

      The case for the media undermining the science has been documented by Boykoff and others. I’m not going to rehash it all, but rather point out that it still goes on, to this day, at the most mainstream of media outlets.

      Further edited to add:

      And what’s with “activists” and “hereabouts” comments?

    • Gavin's Pussycat

      when the mainstream press was mostly uncritically positive after Gore/IPCC Nobel/Oscar etc.

      The operative word is “uncritically”. Sometimes the good guys benefit, sometimes they suffer. Good journalism it is not.

  6. The editor of the Financial Times is Lionel Barber (Born 1955 …) …Barber was appointed Editor of the Financial Times (FT) in November 2005. …joint honours degree in German and Modern History. (from WP)

    Stories need the byline of the editor as well as the original writer.
    Note to Mr. Barber (especially if you have ties to the next generation) – history being “all the data that we have so far”, you might do well to read up on what we know of the tobacco shenanigans – which *didn’t* endanger the world human civilization evolved in.

  7. Keith asserts “the mainstream press was mostly uncritically positive after Gore/IPCC Nobel/Oscar”.

    That’s not true at all. See here and here.

  8. I was at a UK science journalist conference last week and there were some interesting insights into this kind of reporting. Typically, most of the science journalists for mainstream press think that this kind of “balance” is misleading and will try and avoid it. However you do have the situation that not all stories are covered by specialists, and otherwise conscientious but under-pressure non-specialist journalists can find themselves grabbing the nearest argument for the sake of balance.

    Then there’s the influence of non-scientific editors to consider. There are some publications that take on a denialist stance as a matter of principle. Even at more responsible publications senior editors can find the lack of an opposing viewpoint uncomfortable. But I think one of the most interesting things is that science journalists who want to push responsible climate change coverage higher up the agenda at their publication are being barred. There’s a lack of willingness to cover it: “Since Copenhagen, my editor’s not interested in climate change” was one quote I heard. So it’s actually quite refreshing to see this covered so widely from that point of view, even if some of the coverage still gives credence to people the likes of which the EPA has discredited this week.

    I wonder if we will see any pick-up in the coverage of climate change in the media as a result of this, as measured on this index:

    • Well, yeah, that’s what we’re complaining about.

      It’s not individual reporters or individual articles, it’s the whole way the institution is structured to avoid letting the public make the slightest intellectual progress on these matters.

      The following is from

      Recently, a news crew from a television station in Denver came to speak with Kevin Trenberth, a climate scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder.

      “They were interested in the role of El Niño in the cold weather we’ve been experiencing,” Trenberth said during a presentation today at NCAR to the CEJ’s environmental journalism fellows.

      So far, so good. But then after the interview was over, the reporter said that his superiors back at the station wanted to know “who was going to do the other side.”

      • There is still a thriving journalistic culture that believes “a fact isn’t worth reporting unless someone is prepared to deny it.

      • For clearly smart people you do seem to be missing the point here. Although many don’t, there ARE journalists who get how to report these stories. The Guardian comes to mind – although in the session I talk about Myles Allen was very angry about the series that Fred Pearce wrote.

        The climate research community should support and empower these journalists. Give them the inside line on exclusive stories. Emphasise that this kind of assistance depends upon accurately reflecting the balance of opinion. Help them change the media institution. There are some who retain their integrity in spite of how the media works. Honestly.

  9. Tim, I said “mostly.”

    I remember the treatment he got, because I helped cover it at Audubon magazine. We were all competing for his attention for “exclusive” interviews. I sent one of my best science writers, who is a contributing writer for Science magazine, to do the profile. Many magazines did positive cover profiles.

    You need to look at the whole.

    On a separate point, TB, I should mention that by the criteria Joe Romm has set out before on his blog, this story is not on abject failure. Indeed, Joe has previously said that most readers just pay attention to the headline and the first few sentences of a story. If that’s true, then you should consider this story a smashing success.

    I kid, of course, but you see what I mean?

  10. Sure is a terrible article. But I don’t find it fair, to put the following sections in red:

    Some scientists hailed the study as a refutation of the claims made by climate skeptics during the “Climategate” saga. Those scandals involved accusations — some since proven correct — of flaws in the IPCC’s landmark 2007 report, and the release of hundreds of emails from climate scientists that appeared to show them distorting certain data.

    “This confirms that while all of this [Climategate] was going on, the earth was continuing to warm. It shows that Climategate was a distraction, because it took the focus off what the science actually says,” said Bob Ward, policy director of the Grantham Institute at the London School of Economics.

    I know that red is for climategate and contrarian views, but this section says the article shows that climategate a distraction. It’s pro the article. It should be green.

    • The point is that the media still is incapable of reporting on the issue of climate change without undermining reality by discussing political manufactured scandals on the one hand, and “balancing” the science with “blogger”, anti-regulatory mouthpiece, and “financeer” opinion on the other.

      “Climategate” has no bearing on the 2009 State of the Climate report. The reporter chose to devote time to the juicier angle at the expense of informing the public of reality.

  11. Marion Delgado

    Kloor is not a journalist. He’s an op-ed columnist, and his specialty is writing that “environmentalists can’t walk and chew gum at the same time” and promoting the “Death of Environmentalism” etc. His function is to write things that Heritage or AEI or CEI can quote so they can say “Even Audubon magazine agrees that …” Sorry, but that’s the reality.

    I was and remain impressed with his journalistic credo that when you interview a source, you must never have a story in mind. The most specific you can ever be is to tell an editor your story is about geology. or weather. or animals. anything beyond that is deeply suspect and shows you have an agenda.

    Revkin’s made an effort at times to go beyond he said/she said and horse-race politics and so on. That he’s failed more often than not still puts him a cut above the more disingenuous bloggers/columnists/op-ed writers out there.

    • “His function is to write things that Heritage or AEI or CEI can quote so they can say “Even Audubon magazine agrees that …” Sorry, but that’s the reality.”

      This strikes me as not only inaccurate, but so aggressively unpersuasive that it only undermines whatever point you were trying to make, and further the very-real hippie-punching tendencies that kkloor has exhibited so far.

      You’re like the person who wants to criticize Israeli policy but does so in such an over the top manner that its defenders are able to turn the conversation to her exaggerations and away from the very problems she sought to draw attention to.

      It’s patently clear that kkloor has some sort of strawman about “activists” and environmentalists that he enjoys tearing down, there’s no need to give him an actual example of one.

  12. Not to break out the tinfoil hats or anything, but the carbon-based version of the article (at least in the US edition) is longer and doesn’t include Goddard or Herro. Also, the Michaels paragraph is pushed to the end, after 8 paragraphs of science. Presumably, the hard copy went to press first, so why the change?

  13. Marion Delgado

    thingsbreak: well,

    “environmentalists can’t walk and chew gum” is an extract from a quote where Kloor said, roughly, xxx shows yet again that environmentalists can’t walk and chew gum at the same time.

    The stuff about how when you interview a source you shouldn’t have a specific story in mind is from one of his completely over-the-top, inaccurate, and unpersuasive attacks on Joe Romm. Instead of being content with saying “you were fishing for a quote, and that’s not journalistic” he said what I’m saying he said. And it’s simply untrue. Virtually every time a journalist interviews a source, they do have a specific story in mind.

    Kloor’s persistently, as far as I can determine, promoted the POV of the Breakthrough Institute, whose claim to fame is pushing the “death of environmentalism” trope. If I’m wrong about that, I’ll stand corrected.

    As for “not a journalist.” I don’t see what journalism he’s doing. What has he reported on, really? I would say he’s very inferior to Romm in that capacity, and also to Revkin.

    I don’t know how else to express the reasons why I don’t think Revkin and Kloor should be paired for critical purposes, because I believe dotEarth is a very different creature from collide-a-scape.

    That all said, I’ll accept that it’s unpersuasive, since, in fact, it did the opposite with a good climate blogger.

    • MD, I think you might notice that you’re defending things that I didn’t cite as being incorrect rather than what I did.

      It’s very easy for us to assume bad faith on the part of others, but there are exceedingly few people that believe that they are acting on bad faith themselves. Rather it’s more constructive to let kkloor know the impression he’s creating to you, rather than flatly state what his motives (which are his alone to know) ostensibly are.

      This article is a great example- there are plenty of people on various blogs and discussion boards citing it as evidence that the media is little more than a propaganda arm for its corporate owners and advertisers. This is a far more conspiratorial and far less plausible explanation than the obvious, which is simply that 5 years ago this kind of story would be considered to be completely unobjectionable and in line with standard journalistic practice. Rather than assume bad faith by the reporter, looking at the institutional forces that produce this kind of writing seems to offer more explanatory power, at least from my perspective.

  14. re: John Brinch’s comment
    Is useful.
    the red/green setup is the simplest color-coding scheme, and it is very useful, but some experimentation may well be useful in that perhaps 1-2 more colors may be useful. It’s an example of the general categories problem where one wants:

    1) As few categories as possible fo simplicity and visual ease.

    2) Enough categories to avoid lumping things together that are different.

    HOWEVER, I’M GROWING QUITE FOND OF USING HIGHLIGHTING SCHEMES LIKE THIS, although as usual “more research is needed.”

    As an example, I recommend Deep Climate’s latest “Wegman Report update, part 1: More dubious scholarship in full colour.”

    In particular this use of color coding shows:
    cyan: words extracted *exactly* as is from a source, i.e., identical (ID).
    yellow: Trivial Changes

    Just as TB’s color codes make one aspect clear, DC’s make another aspect clear. In particular, when someone copies many words, the *changes* leap off the page, because the cyan says “ignore this”, allowing focus on the changes.
    DC has a table that points to the original side-by-sides he did, with them all redone in the new style. Take a look and see what a difference it makes.

    My forthcoming tome on Wegman report uses a similar style, although with slighting more restrictive algorithm for marking identical. (he counts moves, I require locally in-order). We generally end up with about same approximations of total Striking Similarity (legal term used for alleged plagiarism).

    People may be interested to know that ~35 of pages of the 91-page Wegman Report are mostly SS, in rough terms, say 80% SS, and 50% ID. DC’s newest describes about 10… the other 25 are will show up in the near future, along with other things.

    I originally used gray for ID, then had to add a different gray for Trivial Changes, and that really didn’t work. Microsoft Word has a limited palette of highlighting colors, and so far cyan/yellow seems best, although in one section I added green for another category and a tiny section for gray.

    YMMV, and of course, there is always red/green color-blindness, and whether you care about printing in greyscale…

    BUT, I really believe it is worth experimentation with highlighting to help communication effectiveness.

  15. We can all forget about better reporting from the likes of CNN. They have no full-time specialists left covering science or the environment. And in a bid for ratings, they are going to depressingly hilarious extremes — like hiring disgraced prostitute-patronizer Eliot Spitzer and conservative columnist Kathleen Parker to go head-to-head in a new shoutfest program that will take over the 8 p.m. slot at the network. And they’ve brought on Piers Morgan, the British talent-competition judge, to replace Larry King. You just can’t make this stuff up.

    Meanwhile, we have a new meme taking hold in the news media: the oils spill “wasn’t as bad as we thought,” with Michael Grunwald of Time magazine all but agreeing with Rush Limbaugh’s characterization that it was just a “leak.” I kid you not. Far more seriously, we also have phytoplankton in the oceans in serious decline due to rising temperatures — really scary stuff, but not much coverage at all in the news media.

  16. Marion Delgado


    Fair enough –

    I apologize both for not dealing with your main point and misunderstanding what it entailed. What I meant by “his function is” was not reading the columnist/blogger’s intent, but what I saw as the practical impact. So to clarify, I don’t believe Mr. Kloor is conspiring or purposeful in that function. When praise for denialism comes from a flake like Goddard or a shill like Morano, you can ignore it. When someone like Dr. Curry offers it, it has more impact, and rightly so. I feel that way about anti-environmentalism, as I see it, coming from a venue the public associates with conservation. I was a contributor to the Audubon Society at one time, for instance.

    I also would like to elevate Mr. Revkin a bit in people’s estimation vis-a-vis people like’s Fuller and like K. Kloor.

    Finally, I think my motivation is that people will “kick the hippies” (Just as they did in 2003 re Iraq and WMDs) and won’t stop just because they’re proven wrong, but because the hippies might occasionally kick back.

    That said, I still agree with your original response. Functionally, my comment didn’t succeed in communicating what I wished to communicate.

  17. Marion is the most bizarre case of blog hatred I’ve encountered. This is just the latest place and time he’s spouted all this stuff.

    Forget Audubon, he should wonder how I ever got to write for Science Magazine since 1999 or Nature more recently, or any other publications that hired me to write magazine stories for them.


  18. “Those scandals involved accusations — some since proven correct — of flaws in the IPCC’s landmark 2007 report…”

    Another way of putting this would have been:

    “Those scandals involved accusations — nearly all since proven dead wrong — of flaws in the IPCC’s landmark 2007 report…”

  19. What rhymes with ‘glass jaw’?

  20. TB –

    That was indeed a terrible article. Good work in calling FT/CNN out for their failings, and kudos for a clever way of graphically communicating your point. But isn’t it a bit of a stretch to generalize, to use one case to argue that a systematic “false balance” problem still exists?

    As a test of your hypothesis, I did my own quickie survey, letting Google randomize my sample, by taking the first ten English-language MSM stories I found about the report on Google news. All ten would have showed up 100 percent green in your color scheme. No Myron Ebell or Pat Michaels or bloggers or anyone else providing false contrarian balance.

    You say “The point is that the media still is incapable of reporting on the issue of climate change without undermining reality by discussing political manufactured scandals on the one hand, and ‘balancing’ the science with ‘blogger’, anti-regulatory mouthpiece, and ‘financeer’ opinion on the other.”

    To borrow your phrase, my little experiment shows that’s “demonstrably false.” The first ten randomly chosen MSM outlets I found were perfectly capable of getting it right, writing straightforward stories about the report with no injection of false balance whatsoever.

    My sample of ten is in no way dispositive, but it’s at least suggestive that the problem you claim to be identifying is not as widespread as you seem to think.

    When denialists trumpet the latest cold wave to argue that global warming is over, we all rightly call them out for mistaking weather and climate. Aren’t you guilty of the same fallacy?

    • John Fleck,

      I will respond at greater length this evening, but a few quick points.

      I respect your opinion on media issues greatly, but from my perspective it seems like you take posts like these pretty personally and respond somewhat defensively. I’m not claiming that as fact, just telling you how it seems from my point of view.

      If I wanted to do a survey of news coverage on the issue, I would have and would have done so regardless of the results. This was never meant to be one, and I never claimed it to be such. Your search is rebutting an argument I never made. That the bias exists has been documented at length by Boykoff and others. This CNN/FT coverage demonstrates that it still exists, even in the prestige press. I hope this isn’t up for debate in your view.

      I found your comparison to denialists unfair and not just a little nonsensical- if denialists claimed that cold waves would still happen and cited an example of one, I would hardly disagree.

      I am not and have never tried to lay the blame 100% at the media’s doorstep. As you well know, I am cognizant of the partisan divide on the subject, which arguably plays the biggest role in the US.

      I am simply pointing out that the problems that others have claimed have been resolved are obviously still ongoing.

      • Sorry, missed this. Haven’t got the hang of this newfangled threaded comment thing.

        I make no apology for reacting strongly. This meme is extraordinarily frustrating, driven by anecdote, and impervious to my attempts to inject data into the discussion.

        You argued that this case is evidence for the continued existence of a systematic problem. Systematic was your word. You argued that it was evidence that the media, in general, can’t in some general sense get it right.

        Perhaps that’s not what you meant. But that’s what you said.

        That individual cases of bias exist in the prestige press can be shown by a single example, which you have done. I see them too. I also see cases of bad reporting in the opposite direction, where reporters overstate the effects of anthropogenic climate change. There is no field that does not have individuals in its midst who are bad practitioners, and there are outliers on both ends of the bias spectrum in the media’s coverage of climate change. But that’s not what you argued. You argued the work of such a single bad practitioner is evidence of a systematic bias of a particular type and in a particular direction. That’s a testable assertion.

        I am a member of a community of diligent, hard-working journalists who try hard to get things right. You took a single example by one bad apple and generalized. You didn’t say “CNN/FT is incapable…” or “Fiona Harvey is incapable…” You said “The media is incapable…” It’s a broad generalization, which my little survey showed is untrue. So it’s pretty insulting, and you shouldn’t be surprised that I was, well, insulted on behalf of my community.

        Part of this meme involves beating us up with Boykoff’s data. If you look at coverage back in the ’90s and early 2000’s, Boykoff’s data shows we clearly deserved it. But it’s pretty insulting to have you bring up that data now, while ignoring Boykoff’s more recent data, which makes us look better, and ignoring the places where Boykoff has praised the improvement in press coverage of climate. Given that, you should again perhaps not be surprised that I take offense and react strongly?

        I’m not an academic here, so I don’t employ the formal tools used by someone like Boykoff. But because this meme keeps coming up, and because I care about my profession and believe we have an obligation to get stuff like this right, on three separate occasions recently, when this meme has popped up, uttered by someone I respect, I have tried to head down the data path, to move beyond anecdote.

        Once was an allegation by Michael Tobis re New York Times coverage. He accused them of being purveyors of bunk. I went through their most recent 100 new stories on climate change. I found a single example of what some might argue was “false balance”.

        More recently, back in May when the NAS climate report came out, I did a survey similar to the one I did here, using Google news to randomize a sample of US mainstream news media coverage. Again, I didn’t find false balance. Meanwhile, at the same time the NAS report came out, Heartland was holding its annual discussion of its views on climate change. This seemed like a good test, comparing the two. The only US news media coverage I could find was Fox news. There were those on the right, in fact, who argued that the lack of Heartland coverage was evidence of systematic bias of in favor of what you and I would agree is the scientific consensus. I happen to think they’re right, though I don’t view that as a bad thing.

        And then my little survey of coverage of last week’s NOAA report release.

        I would not argue that media coverage of climate change is without problems. But a discussion of those problems has to have, as its starting point, some sort of understanding of what we’re actually doing, rather than a straw man argument based on an outlier like Harvey.

  21. Marion Delgado

    John: What was your search?

  22. I did “climate change” and “NOAA” and took the first 10 news stories about the report.

    The resulting stories were from newspapers in the US, UK, Canada, Australia and what appeared to be a rewrite of a Reuters piece on the English-language Xinhua site. All but the Reuters piece were written by a newspaper staff writer. In the non-US cases, the reporters interviewed local experts and/or highlighted local climate.

    (And as a matter of full disclosure, I have been a co-author with one of the new report’s authors, Tom Peterson, who was lead author of last year’s edition, and is someone with whom I’ve had extensive discussion of news coverage of climate change. Hence my interest in coverage of the report’s release.)

  23. Much as I liked TB’s presentation, indeed, one must be careful of overgeneralizing, as jfleck says. I’d suggest it is far more helpful to pick specific MSM’s and follow them in detail, especially those whose material gets syndicated and used elsewhere.

  24. TB –

    Your “overgeneralizing” is to pick a single story, and through your headline (“mainstream media reports” – plural) and introductory paragraph (“systematic bias”), and your strongly worded comments (“the media still is incapable of reporting…” etc.) suggest this story is evidence of a general problem.

    And if you’re going to keep citing Boykoff in support of this generalization, could you explain why you keep cite his older data (analysis of media coverage from 1995-2004, when I would agree balance-as-bias was a problem), and ignore his more recent analysis (2003 to 2006, which suggests a significant decline in the problem, to the extent that he concluded that by 2005-06 US newspaper coverage mirrored the scientific consensus – see Boykoff, M.T. (2007), Flogging a dead norm? Newspaper coverage of anthropogenic climate change in the United States and United Kingdom from 2003 to 2006. Area 39 (4) 470-481,)?

    • I didn’t get a chance to write back earlier. I probably should devote a proper post to your response. But here goes:

      It’s a bit disingenuous to claim that only a single media outlet is at fault when the Financial Times and CNN both carried the story, isn’t it?

      And shouldn’t the acceptable number of media stories that do this be the same (to steal a line from Ken Caldeira) number of acceptable muggings of old women, i.e. zero?

      Not, fewer, but *none*?

      Additionally, I’m not simply citing Boykoff’s “older” work, as you’ll note I cited a more recent paper than the ’07 you did.

      • TB –

        As someone who respects the work you do here, it saddens me that you would defend citing Boykoff the way you did. 1995-2004 = big problem. 2003-2006 = significant decline in problem, such that by 2006 it’s largely gone from the prestige press. Citing the former and ignoring the latter is cherrypicking. You’re better than that.

        Re mugged widows, to borrow from your thoughtful comments to Marion, you’re defending things that I didn’t cite as being incorrect. I never said this story was acceptable. Zero bad journalism and old lady muggings would be great. I was questioned whether you had properly generalize from this case (these cases? I’ll give you the “two”) to media performance as a whole.

        I’d look forward to some sort of more formal look at recent media performance, because obviously my random sample of ten isn’t good enough for you and your anecdote isn’t good enough for me.

        To be useful, the analysis needs to move beyond the anecdotes that dominate this discussion. That is Dr. Boykoff’s data has been so important. That’s why I’ve tried to do my own little experiments. Perhaps Max can get a grad student to tackle the issue, which I know he remains interested in. I’d especially like to see some before/after analysis of coverage during the CRU email/Copenhagen period. It appeared to me that during that period last fall there was a lot of backsliding, a real upsurge in bad false balance reporting. For journalism as an institution to do a good job, it’s important to think through what happened during that period, and why.

        I acknowledge those problems. There was some truly awful journalism done during that period.

        But there also were major publications that rose to the occasion and did excellent work, explaining to their readers that the science was sound. Any analysis has to try to quantify all this – before, during and now after the CRUsplosion.

        I’ve already enumerated my efforts to satisfy my own curiosity and reach beyond my own confirmation bias, using some crude randomized samples and actually counting stories. I’ve shared my data, and tried to defend it.

        Obviously your perception differs.

  25. Overgeneralizing:
    headlines are hard to do right.
    had this said CNN rather than media…
    “Another example of…”

    no problem.

    Hey I once lost a big chunk of my company’s market cap through a bad headline, thankfully it was temporary.

    We should touch base with Max and see if he’s got anything newer, especially with Climategate effects.

  26. Pingback: New research: ‘Glaring obvious explanation’ is warming from greenhouse gases | Left Foot Forward

  27. John Fleck
    “But isn’t it a bit of a stretch to generalize, to use one case to argue that a systematic ‘false balance’ problem still exists?”

    I’ve been reading climate change blogs for about 3 years now, and it seems hardly a week goes by, that there isn’t a post about some lame article in the mainstream media concerning climate change.
    Go to Deltoid blog and read the 50 articles Tim Lambert has written just on the “Australian’s War On Science”. (another Murdock newspaper)

    That’s just one newspaper.

    How many newspapers carried the story of 255 NAS scientists delivering their message about the strength of evidence and dire need for action on climate change? And of those that did, how many ran it prominently displayed?

    One of the British papers had three times as many stories featuring Christopher Monckton as stories featuring Phil Jones, head of CRU.

    Of course it doesn’t help when you have Rep Joe Barton introducing Monckton at a U.S. House committee hearing, – as one of the most knowledgable if not the most knowledgable climate experts on the skeptic side.

    • Sailrick –

      Thanks for the comments.

      One of the great services people like TB and Tim Lambert perform is calling out examples of bad journalism. There has been some especially bad journalism of late in a number of Australian and British publications. Both countries have a partisan journalistic tradition (which sadly Rupert Murdoch has now brought via Fox to our shores) that has gone off the deep end as actual action on climate change has becomes more possible. I can’t really speak with much authority to the norms and culture of UK and Australian journalism, because I’m from the US, other than to report what I’ve mentioned previously regarding what’s shown up in my little survey attempts. I’ve never sampled explicitly for Australian or UK stuff. Max Boykoff’s data show almost no false balance from 2003-2006 (0.41 percent false balance stories in 2006) but I’ve no idea what it might look like today.

      But for every story Tim or TB points to, there are hundreds of stories that aren’t being mentioned one way or the other, good or bad. The question is whether the examples you’re seeing and mention here are representative of those other stories, or whether they’re outliers. The only way you can determine that is gathering data.

      In his analysis of work published in 2006, the most recent year for which data is available (at least that I’m aware of), Max Boykoff found that 3.3 percent of the US prestige press stories sampled exhibited false balance. 96.7 percent did not. I can image those 3.3 percent were plenty sufficient to generate a lot of critical blog posts, and no doubt deserved criticism, and if you read blogs devoted to the issue you might have the impression that there’s a lot of really bad journalism out there. But until you try to sample, you really don’t know what the other 96.7 percent is like.

      Here’s my experience from three decades in newsrooms: people active in heated debates notice and get angry about news coverage which they perceive as biased against their position. They tend to be far less likely to notice coverage that is generally supportive of their views. So listening to the angry people isn’t a helpful guide.

      On the blogs and comment threads, which are nothing if not forums for heated debates, people active in arguments call out journalists whose work the believe does disservice to their understanding of the situation.

      So, for example, Morano and WattsUpWithThat get all over the AP’s Seth Borenstein for his climate coverage. (Data’s hard to come by on which newspapers carry which AP stories, but my hunch has long been that Seth’s the most read English-language climate journalist in the world, given AP’s reach into mid-size and smaller newspapers all over the planet.) Colleagues like Eric Berger at the Houston Chronicle, Shaun McKinnon at the Arizona Republic, Dan Vergano and Doyle Rice at USA Today are regularly pilloried by global warming skeptics for their alleged “bias”. These are the people you don’t read about here or on Deltoid. For example, I can’t find a single mention of Borenstein’s work on TB’s blog. That’s fine. I’m not expecting TB to go around praising good climate journalism if that’s not his schtick. But any attempt to determine whether there is systematic bias has to somehow count the people TB and Deltoid aren’t talking about, as well as the ones they are.

      I’ve shared elsewhere in this thread the results of my crude efforts at sampling to get beyond the anecdotes, as well as what Boykoff’s data shows at various points in time. I welcome efforts by others.

  28. Thanks, John:

    I did a search on the title of it and got mostly blogs. Of the papers I got, the first was the Australian and it was 100% contrarians. The rest were so short that it would have been hard to work in too much contrarian POVs and still even say what the story was about.

    That said, I agree with Fleck and Mashey’s main point, though sailrick is quite correct, also.

    I think it behooves all of us – I try to do this – to praise even more often than criticize, by which I mean, praising good work, because so much bad work is out there.

    Journalists quite often write back and you learn a lot behind the scenes when they do so.

    • Marion –

      Thanks for doing the exercise. The Australian seems to be a trouble spot, worthy of Mashey’s suggestion that it’s worth being vigilant about monitoring specific MSM outlets. Though Tim seems already on the case there.

      Given that the others were short (which is one of the new realities of much of the MSM, but also reflects the fact that the vast majority of readers only read short), can you nevertheless quantify, or at least discuss qualitatively, how much skeptic POV was present in your sample?

  29. Pingback: Holding CNN accountable for phony “balance” « Dale Husband's Intellectual Rants

  30. Marion Delgado

    Hmm. The Australian was an outlier. There was hardly any skeptic quotes in the newspaper results. I searched the actual title of the report, Google, News, and nearly all the hits were blogs, which I ignored. The news articles were uniformly short – 1 or 2 paragraphs. So in a sense the denial count was quite low, but again, if you are just giving a blurb, then it’s close to impossible to include much opposing statements.

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