This guest post from Dean Baker provides a different perspective on inadequate media discussion and coverage of climate change issues. In short, Dean reminds us that journalists do know how to dig to the bottom of a story and how to pressure politicians. He asks media outlets and journalists to treat climate change with, at least, the serious energy expended on making (in)famous a certain blue dress.
The Washington Post ran a column last week that blamed the baby boom generation for global warming. Even for the Post this was extraordinarily low. This is not an issue of defending my generation; it is a question of how bad policy persists. And the answer puts the blame far more on media outlets like the Washington Post than people born in the two decades after World War II.
Most people don’t spend their days enmeshed in policy issues; they have jobs and lives. They rely on the media to let them know what is important. Unfortunately, this has generally not meant much coverage of global warming. The media have largely treated global warming as sort of a sidebar of interest to a narrow clientele, kind of like sailboat races.
Contrast the coverage of global warming with the near wall-to-wall coverage of Ebola back in the fall of 2014, a disease that infected a total of three people in the United States. Or, take the current coverage of ISIS. If we envision a worst case scenario for ISIS, there are probably several thousand times as many lives being put at risk by global warming than will ever be threatened by ISIS.
We got an excellent display of the media’s ability to ignore global warming in the two presidential debates that took place immediately after the Paris climate talks. There was not a single question on global warming in either party’s debate.
Part of the reason for ignoring the issue likely stems from the fact that one party insists that global warming is not happening, or at least that humans are not causing it. It is a basic tenet of the Republican Party that global warming is not an area for public policy.
As a result, all of the leading candidates for the party’s presidential nomination, as well as the leadership in the House and Senate, deny knowing anything about it. “I am not a scientist” is now rivaling the pledge of allegiance as an oath taken by Republican Party leaders.
But Republican denials of global warming don’t put the issue in dispute any more than their refusal to accept arithmetic would make addition a debatable topic. A responsible press would treat these denials as the scandal they are.
What does it mean for a member of Congress with responsibility for voting on climate policy to say they are not a scientist? They also are not economists or criminologists, but this doesn’t prevent these politicians from having all sorts of things to say on tax policy and the criminal justice system.
If the point of not being a scientist is that they lack expertise on the topic, that’s fine. Their responsibility is to find someone with expertise they can rely upon.
This means that the logical next step for a reporter being told by a Republican politician that they are not a scientist is to ask which scientists they are turning to for expertise on global warming. And, if they can’t answer the question today, then the question should be asked again tomorrow and the next day and the next day.
And, the same question should be constantly posed to their staff. The public should know when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan, as well as all the leading Republican presidential candidates, have something to say on global warming. Every day that passes without a clear answer should intensify the scandal of one of the country’s major parties ducking what could well be the most important issue of the century.
The media know how to press a case like this. They pursued Bill Clinton back in the late 1990s to get to the bottom of his relationship with Monica Lewinski. They repeatedly asked him at press conferences about the relationship, they pursued inconsistencies in his statements, and they followed up with questions to White House staff and political advisors. In short, they do know how to get to the bottom of a scandal when they try.
So let’s see the media attack something a little more important than a fling with a White House intern. How about a headline, “House Speaker Paul Ryan still has nothing to say on global warming: Says he is not sure on issue.” And of course, the follow-up, “Speaker Ryan refuses to talk to scientists about crisis facing planet.”
If the media exposed these people for the fossil fuel industry hacks they are, then the public might be more willing to push for measures that would address the problem. But, the media can be as corrupt as Republican politicians, so instead we get asinine columns blaming the victims of their inept reporting.