Sunday, October 09, 2005

Global Warming

The Seattle Times today has a great story on global warming, including side bar analysis of the points raised by skeptics.

Every major scientific body to examine the evidence has come to the same conclusion: The planet is getting hotter; man is to blame; and it's going to get worse.

The article goes on to explore why so many people, including leaders in this country, do not believe in global warming despite the overwhelming evidence that it is happening. One reason: the media contributes to it:

By giving equal coverage to skeptics on the fringe of legitimate science, journalists fuel the perception that the field is racked with disagreement.

"You get the impression it's 50-50, when it's really 99-to-1," Steig said.

The article goes on to describe how the work of the skeptics is typically not published in peer reviewed papers. It also does a terrific job of discussing how many scientists were skeptics of the global warming theories and how, over time, the evidence mounted and by the turn of this century, most in the scientific community now accept the conclusion that the earth is warming and that humans are contributing to the process.

So, why does the media put the so-called skeptics on the air and in print? Why mislead the public? I think it boils down to most journalists not knowing which side to believe, so they offer balance. Balance is a tendency in journalists to attempt to show a lack of bias in coverage. However, when the so-called balance is filled with deceit, where does good journalistic investigation and ethics come in? Sandi Doughton, author of the Times article, did her research. She spent time learning about the subject and understanding it. She was then able to report on how overwhelming the research is and on the source of the skeptics and their false arguments. She frames the issues well. Why don't other media outlets do the same? Why don't they spend the time and money investigating the issue and applying good ethical standards by correcting the record when the liars are deceiving the public? Do the interests in "balance" trump the interests in "ethics" and disseminating accurate, factual information?

Global warming isn't the only topic in which balance trumps ethical standards in journalism. In the lead up to the recent war in Iraq, the media offered up a few skeptics of the administration policies. Scott Ritter appeared on CNN, C-SPAN, MSNBC, and so on. However, for every Scott Ritter, there were many more mouthpieces for the administration's policies. Media outlets gave equal weight to both sides of the arguments rather than investigating why and how each side reached such different conclusions. Hence, it was only after the invasion, that the media began discussing how Hans Blix and Scott Ritter were correct and there were no weapons of mass destruction. Balance trumped the reporting on factual information.

During the election campaigns, major media outlets spent so much time worrying about balance that very often they didn't investigate the claims made wildly by both Democratic and Republican candidates and their operatives. Indeed, they often let these candidates make assertions without challenging them on the topics. Candidates finally suggested themselves that people turn to and other websites to look into their opponents allegations because the media was just letting those allegations go unchallenged.

When will the media develop some backbone, spend the money and resources for investigative journalism, and stop promoting balance above accuracy? The Seattle Times made an effort along those lines with the report in today's paper. I can only hope that this is a trend.

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