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PBS News Hour’s public service: demonstrating the shallowness of mainstream modern American journalism

September 17th, 2012 · No Comments

In a year with seeming unending demonstrations of mounting climate disruption and increasingly on-target science-based reporting on climate change, this PBS News Hour chose to present to the public a shallow ‘he-said, she-said’ report giving visibility to one of the blogosphere’s most prominent anti-science syndrome sufferers without providing the casual viewer any context for understanding this self-proclaimed “skeptic” and Anthony Watts’ jihad against actual climate science.

Others have and will dissect this story more fully.

Rather than delving into the slime of the story, solely two points indicating how problematic this story is and why it merits serious attention from the PBS Ombudsmen with guidance for future actual science-based reporting on climate change.

First is a very small but, imo, rather pointed indication of the situation. If you actually go to the story, which has the title “Climate Change Skeptic Says Global Warming Crowd Oversells Its Message” , take a moment to note the web page address: “Why the global warming crowd oversells its message”.  Anthony Watts, who has been shown to be removed from honest scientific engagement is taken at face value by PBS’ reporter to the extent that the, evidently, initial title for this post was fully supportive of Watts’ assertions.

More seriously, this question provides a good context as to the Newshour’s framing of the interview:

let’s start out with the basic idea that there’s this debate in this country over global warming. There’s some people who call it a complete hoax and there are some people who completely embrace it and so forth. Where do you stand in that spectrum?

Nowhere — and I mean nowhere — in this interview is even a hint that Watts is at odds with every single serious academic institution/organization in the world that has spoken on this issue.  PBS presents Watts as a reasonable man and provides its viewers absolutely no indication that Watts is at odds with the  Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences; NASA’s Goddard Institute of Space Studies (GISS); the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA); National Academies of Sciences (NAS); the Royal Society of the United Kingdom (RS); American Geophysical UnionAmerican Institute of PhysicsNational Center for Atmospheric ResearchAmerican Meteorological SocietyCanadian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society; Woods Hole Research Center; American Astronomical SocietyAmerican Physical SocietyAustralian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society; and …. institution after institution after scientist after scientist.

As the PBS introduction says,

He doesn’t claim to be a scientist; he attended Purdue. He’s the author of a blog,

Perhaps an actual journalist, choosing to interview someone so at odds with the scientific community, might not have started off with ‘he says, she says’ balance framing but perhaps with questions like:

  • Essentially every scientific institution with relevant expertise is in consensus that humanity is driving climate change. Why should anyone trust you over the Royal Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Sciences, and thousands of scientists working on the world on this?
  • Some might say that your innovative claim to fame was challenging weather station data due to urbanization and other shifts that might have skewed data. However, the scientific analysis of this issue have shown that there is not any traceable impact of ’sites of concern’ on the data that shows a warming planet.  Again, with radically lowering Arctic Ice cover, massive imbalance of temperature records to hot records vs cold records, and other real-world impacts that align with a warming planet as climate scientists have long said could and would occur, why should Americans reject the scientific community and real world events and believe you?

Much easier, of course, to ask milquetoast questions and foster deception on PBS viewers and readers of PBS websites.

Thank you, PBS News Hour, for making it quite simple how much money to donate the next time I receive a request …

As Joe Romm concluded

The News Hour should look hard at what it is doing here and remember the golden rule of climate science journalism: If you want to write a golden story on climate science, spend your time talking to actual climate scientists.

Time for the Ombudsman to step up to the plate and stress the need for standards when it comes to science-related reporting. (You can write the PBS ombudsman here.)

The ‘good’ thing about this story: the large number of online comments calling out the sad nature of the segment and the interview with Anthony Watts.  Here are a few good examples:

Soos

Can we interview a real scientist next time? Is this interview some misplaced perceived balance?

William Holmes002

In light of this craven piece of  ”he-said, she-said” false equivalence journalism, it’s no wonder that the American people are confused about climate change, even though 98% of climatologists agree that not only is it very real, that humans are causing it and we have to start doing something about it. As a long term pbs viewer, I’m appalled at Spencer Michels and PBS. DO YOUR JOB! Not every subject has two sides. You have a responsibility to educate the public, not confuse them with this kind of drivel. Are you really that afraid that Teaparty Republicans are going to defund PBS? Truly disgusting!

Peter North

I am sick of the News Media being scared and intimated by Fox News over “liberal bias”. Global Warming is a FACT not an opinion. When did reporting facts become “liberal bias?” It is definitely debatable how fast it is occurring but Global Warming “skeptics” are very few in number and usually have some ideological reason for denying it. Even a Koch Brother sponsored study came to the conclusion that global warming is occurring! The United States Military is actually creating plans for Global Warming related events (refugees, base planning for higher water levels, etc). We’ve had a record number of fires, a huge drought, and storms keep getting worse and worse but I guess the media has to keep “balanced” and report this small groups views who have been discredited over and over.

Gator

NPR — now as a “balance” why don’t you go interview a real scientist?  They will tell you that Mr. Watts’s claims about a bad temperature record are completely unsupported by his own data.  Even the papers Mr. Watts has “published”  show no effect.  Despite making a career of showing a weather station next to a BBQ, he can show no effect that the data is actually corrupted.  In fact, many amateurs have taken Mr. Watts’s scheme of classifying weather stations and shown there is no significant difference between the results from all Watts’s Class 1 stations and the NASA results.  Watts is all bluster and no substance.

So NPR — you’ve bent over backwards to interview a “skeptic”  — now go interview 97 scientists.

Tags: climate delayers · journalism

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