A new study of how environmental reporters cover global warming and climate change reveals that they see the issue as one America has endorsed and, as a result, no longer include critics in their reports because they are “generally irrelevant.”
And the orders are coming from editors.
What’s more, the study from George Mason University found that climate change reporters are weaving their coverage into stories on broader issues to get around editors who don’t want a lot of reports on global warming.
The study in the authoritative trade magazine Journalism dubbed getting both sides on the climate change issue “false balance.” The study is available by subscription.
In “Covering global warming in dubious times: Environmental reporters in the new media ecosystem,” the study authors interviewed nearly a dozen seasoned climate change reporters in the dwindling world of environmental journalism.
The reporters described how their field was getting hit by newsroom cuts and always under fire because climate change stories are both incremental and bad news.
But they said that the fight over climate change is over, that America believes it is happening, and that critics are no longer being interviewed.
“As one reporter said, ‘there is pretty much understanding across the board in the United States media now that this is real, this is true, it’s happening, [and] we’re responsible. That debate is over.’ For this reason, he concluded, ‘in this day and age, including climate denialists in a story about climate change is generally irrelevant,’” said the study.
The anonymous journalists told the scholars that “this practice of ignoring skeptics was largely supported by their managers and editors. In fact, one reporter’s news organization had recently developed an explicit editorial policy discouraging reporters from quoting climate change deniers in environment or science coverage.”
The only paper mentioned in the study was the New York Times.
The study said that how media covers climate change determines what many people believe, and ignoring criticism is a big deal.
“If accurate, this claim of a shift away from the ‘false balance’ coverage of the past is potentially quite significant, because research also suggests that how journalists choose to cover and frame climate change matters. In short, decisions about who to source, how to communicate uncertainty, and even choices of basic terminology can subtly shape how the public understands the issue, including, as numerous studies suggest, their overall level of knowledge as well as their specific views on the causes of climate change, the severity of the problem, and the level of consensus among scientist,” said the study.
Paul Bedard, the Washington Examiner's "Washington Secrets" columnist, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.