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Thursday, December 22, 2011

How the New York Times could cover global warming

I've complained (hmmm, maybe "ranted" is the appropriate word) here previously about the New York Times and its "coverage" of global warming.

It's interesting to compare that coverage with the Times' coverage of Congress. The e-mail alert (from the Times) for the breaking story of the day on Saturday, December 17, reads, in pertinent part, as follows:

“Senate Votes to Extend Payroll Tax Cut for Two Months

“WASHINGTON — In the ultimate cap to a year of last-minute, half-loaf legislation, the Senate voted overwhelmingly on Saturday to extend a payroll tax cut for a two months, with the chamber’s leaders and the White House proclaiming victory, even as they pushed the issue of how to extend the tax cut and unemployment benefits into the new year. …

“The agreement — should it get through the House — mirrors a series of 11th-hour deals devised by the the 112th Congress that appear to solve an impending crisis, but simply push it forward

“A failure to even extend a modest tax break for 160 million Americans for a single year — something both sides would love as political feathers in their election-year caps — is particularly remarkable in a Congress charged with far more significant items.

“‘Today is an important day for our country,’ said Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, as he explained from the Senate floor Saturday why his chamber would be voting on a bill, conceived Friday in private between Senate leaders to extend the tax for only two months. ‘We are doing today exactly what the Founding Fathers thought we would do,’ and passage of the bills is ‘an accomplishment important for the American people.’

Notice that the reporting is very judgmental--I have bolded some of the pieces of the text that, while they are arguably accurate reporting, also appear to express the personal views of the reporter.  Certainly, they are not "straight reporting."  Also, the article positions the quote from Reid in such a way as to make him appear either openly cynical or stupid.

The NYT does this regularly with political news, so its reporters do know how to take a position, in a news story. The mystery is why it is so assiduous about writing news stories about global warming as neutrally (and even cluelessly) as possible. It has, for example, carried lengthy articles about the recent rash of wildfires in the western U.S. and on the record-breaking Texas drought of 2011 without mentioning global warming at all.  Its blog even reported on the most well-known skeptic politician, U.S. Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), sending a self-congratulatory message to skeptics at the Cancun international climate conference--without any discussion of the climate science he belittles.

That said, some credit is due. On the same day as the story above, it carried a long story on methane that actually discusses climate science as if it were settled.  I hope it's the beginning of a sea change, but at this point, it's hard to be optimistic.

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