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Washington Post advocated practicing journalism: Did they fulfill the mandate?

June 9th, 2011 · 1 Comment

A month ago, a forceful Washington Post editorial advocated that the media practice journalism when it comes to political candidates and climate change. The editorial began:

CLIMATE CHANGE is occurring, is very likely caused by human activities, and poses significant risks for a broad range of human and natural systems.”

So says — in response to a request from Congress — the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences, the country’s preeminent institution chartered to provide scientific advice to lawmakers.

The editorial continued:

None of this should come as a surprise. None of this is news. But it is newsworthy, sadly, because the Republican Party, and therefore the U.S. government, have moved so far from reality and responsibility in their approach to climate change

It was — and remains — a devastating editorial damning the Republican Party’s political elite for their anti-science syndrome attitudes and actions.  The editorial’s greatest fault was the failure to take The Washington Post to account for its failure to ask the 2010 crop of Climate Zombies questions about climate science and report how those attitudes diverged (often 180 degrees) from what actual scientists are telling us. (That was left, primarily, to bloggers.)

Today, The Washington Post had a front page story that suggested — at (very) first glance — that the newspaper was taking up the mandate laid down a month ago. The article, Romney draws early fire from conservatives over views on climate change, begins:

It seemed like a straightforward question on a second-tier issue: Would Mitt Romney disavow the science behind global warming?

The putative Republican presidential front-runner, eager to prove his conservative bona fides, could easily have said what he knew many in his party’s base wanted to hear.

Instead, the former Massachusetts governor stuck to the position he has held for many years — that he believes the world is getting warmer and that humans are contributing to that pattern.

What follows is a political story showing how Romney’s rather wishy-washy comments about humanity’s contribution to climate change have outraged “conservative” pundits and the anti-science rabble dominating the Republican Party. What did Romney say?

“I don’t speak for the scientific community, of course, but I believe the world’s getting warmer,” he said. “I can’t prove that, but I believe based on what I read that the world is getting warmer. And number two, I believe that humans contribute to that. I don’t know how much our contribution is to that, because I know that there have been periods of greater heat and warmth in the past, but I believe we contribute to that.”

Rush Limbaugh’s response?

“Bye-bye, nomination. Another one down. We’re in the midst here of discovering that this is all a hoax. The last year has established that the whole premise of man-made global warming is a hoax, and we still have presidential candidates that want to buy into it.”

Okay, so Romney’s marginal acknowledgment of reality sent Limbaugh and others quoted in The Washington Post into apoletic shock.  Truly, not a surprise.

What is a surprise (actually, more disappointing than surprising considering the Post’s actual record) is the utter failure of this major (front-page) article to discuss the actual science rather than quoting pundits and citing polls about “belief”. 

A month ago, The Washington Post emphasized a report from  the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences.

“Although the scientific process is always open to new ideas and results, the fundamental causes and consequences of climate change have been established by many years of scientific research, are supported by many different lines of evidence, and have stood firm in the face of careful examination, repeated testing, and the rigorous evaluation of alternative theories and explanation.”

Climate-change deniers, in other words, are willfully ignorant, lost in wishful thinking, cynical or some combination of the three. And their recalcitrance is dangerous, the report makes clear, because the longer the nation waits to respond to climate change, the more catastrophic the planetary damage is likely to be — and the more drastic the needed response.

This report, however, did not merit discussion in today’s article.  Oxfam G8 'Big Heads' Pinocchio Stunt, Rostock, Germany, 5 June 2007Nor, as would be appropriate, did The Washington Post apply its Pinocchio nose grading from its Fact Checker efforts to those it quoted in the article.

Let us seek to grade The Washington Post by the standards that they, themselves, laid out less than a month ago:

Every candidate for political office in the next cycle, including for president, should be asked whether they disagree with the scientific consensus of America’s premier scientific advisory group, as reflected in this report; and if so, on what basis they disagree; and if not, what they propose to do about the rising seas, spreading deserts and intensifying storms that, absent a change in policy, loom on America’s horizon.

On this basis, one would have to:

  • B for reporting on Romney’s statements re climate science
  • F for their failure to actually state what the science says (quoting, for example, the National Academy of Science)
  • F for their failure to cite actual science and scientists in the article
  • B for their documentation of statements from anti-science ideologues
  • F for their utter failure to place these anti-science ideology statements within a context of science

As a parent, I would not be thrilled with a two B and three F (a 1.2 grade point average) report card (the silver lining: this leaves room for real improvement).  As a paying subscriber, I am disgusting by yet another Washington Post failure to abide by the journalistic standards that it — itself — advocates.

NOTE: For further reading on the Romney article: Joe Romm, Climate Progress, Romney alienates conservatives by embracing climate science, Washington Post alienates readers by ignoring science entirely.  For some discussions (with further links) about Washington Post climate journalism, see (for example) Nisbet’s “Climate Shift” and where did they get these numbers (Item #374) and Energy Bookshelf: The Lomborg Deception … leads to a question: “Does the Washington Post have any honor left?”

Tags: Energy · Washington Post · climate change · climate delayers · climate zombies

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