Why has The New York Times so totally blown it on global warming?
It's the story of the century--perhaps the millennium--and the most respected newspaper in America has been AWOL. Out to lunch. Missing in action.
Our story begins in 1988, a year of record drought in the United States. At some point, I recall muttering to my wife, "Pretty soon they're going to figure out that this is global warming, and it's coming on a lot faster than they thought." Remarkably, within a day or two, NASA climatologist James Hansen testified before Congress that the telltale signs of global warming were beginning to be discernible.
I had high hopes for the Times. In my dreams, I even thought it might do what it sometimes did with truly major news developments (and shortly thereafter actually did with the crisis of Communism and fall of the Berlin Wall)--devote a special two-page daily section of the paper to climate change. What an idiot, huh?
Not only did it not put together special coverage of climate change, it has pretty much ignored it over the 23 years since--even the Science Times, its special weekly section that focuses on scientific developments, has largely given global warming a pass. And when it HAS covered the issue, too often its coverage has, to put it charitably, stunk.
What a tragedy.
I did my bit, for quite a while. From 1982 to the early 2000s, I was the editor of a renewable energy newsletter, and I saw to it that global warming received steady coverage after Hansen's testimony--right up until the head of the organization that published the newsletter called me on the phone and ordered me to stop.
There was no shortage of news--I read scientific journal articles regularly during the early 1990s to keep up on developments, and there was a steady flow of new papers with findings consistent with climate change, just as there is today. You'll read about precious few of them in The New York Times, but they're there.
In any event, I don't know why the Times has failed us all so utterly on this most important issue of our time. It's great that it's publishing occasional stories like the one a few days ago on how many of the world's forests seem to be suffering from wildfires and other problems related to--climate change--but they're far too little and too late.
For the record, from Climate Progress, the excellent blog which has been documenting the failings of mainstream media on climate coverage, here are some outstanding examples of how the Times has let us down:
NY Times strikes false balance on climate change, September 17, 2011
NY Times asks why "horrible" U.S. drought "has come on extra hot and extra early." Their answer is ... La Nina, of course!, July 11, 2011
Must-see video connects the dots, while a NY Times story on the record Arizona wildfires fails to, June 12, 2011
NY Times reports Inhofe's gleeful disinformation--with no balance at all, December 6, 2010
As nation, Russia, and world swelter under record-smashing heat waves, The New York Times sets one-day record for most unilluminating stories, July 26, 2010
New York Times public editor files final report, never mentions the paper's dreadful global warming coverage, June 13, 2010
Brulle: “The NY Times doesnt need to go to European conferences to find out why public opinion on climate change has shifted…. Just look in the mirror," May 26, 2010
Welcome readers of the NYT's front-page story with the bad headline, February 11, 2010
NY Times and Elisabeth Rosenthal face credibility siege over unbalanced climate coverage, February 9, 2010
Anti-science ideologues spin the NY Times public editor, Clark Hoyt, on 'Climategate', December 6, 2009
Signs of global warming are everywhere, but if the New York Times can't tell the story (twice!), how will the public hear it?, July 1, 2009
New York Times runs absurdly misleading headline on Revkin's sea level rise (non)story, May 14, 2009
John Tierney makes up stuff, just like George Will--does the New York Times also employ several know/do-nothing fact checkers?, February 24, 2009
Is the New York Times coverage of global warming fatally flawed?, February 22, 2009
The New York Times blows the bark beetle story, November 19, 2008
Bear in mind, most of these critiques are dated more than 20 years after James Hansen's testimony. My, my, where has the time gone?