Carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere passed 400 parts per million (ppm) on Thursday for the first time in human history. But one thing hasn't changed: false balance still crops up in climate change stories.
False balance occurs when journalists give equal weight to arguments from both sides, regardless of where the facts lie. Climate change is a textbook example of this problem -- in fact, the term was coined in academic papers to criticize climate coverage in the 1990s.
Yet 20 years later, we still get articles like this from Bloomberg News, reporting on the 400 ppm milestone:
"The Earth has had many-times-higher levels of CO2 in the past," said Marc Morano, former spokesman for Republican Senator James Inhofe and executive editor of Climate Depot, a blog that posts articles skeptical of climate change. "Americans should welcome the 400 parts-per-million threshold. This means that plants are going to be happy, and this means that global-warming fearmongers are going to be proven wrong."
That position is disputed by many researchers, said Melanie Fitzpatrick, climate scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists.
"This needs to be a wake-up call," she said in a statement. "Reaching 400 parts per million represents a dire experiment with the climate system. As long as humans have walked the Earth, we've never seen carbon dioxide levels this high."
Marc Morano is not a scientist and has no scientific education. He is paid by an oil-industry funded organization to confuse the public about climate change, and has compared climate science to the Mayan calendar, Nostradamus, and medieval witchcraft. Moreover, his argument is laughable: by focusing on how carbon dioxide stimulates plant growth in a controlled environment, he ignores that our huge emissions of it and other greenhouse gases are warming up the planet, thereby increasing the risk of extreme rainfall and drought to the detriment of agriculture. A Wall Street Journal op-ed made the same argument on Thursday, leading to a deluge of condemnation.
As the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum opens today, some in the press have been caught up in a swoon over the former president.
Pundits from the center and the avowed left called on critics to re-examine the former president as a "good man with a good heart," while those on the right declare that "Bush is Back." Political analysts are compiling lists of "The 7 best moments of George W. Bush's presidency" and highlighting polls indicating that Bush is more popular now than he was in office. And Fox News has pulled out all the stops, lining up their Bush-administration-officials-turned-Fox-employees to sing the former president's praises.
Presidential historians and veteran reporters who covered the Bush White House are speaking out, saying that reporting on the Bush library and legacy should put his failures in their proper context.
The academics point out that while some of Bush's defenders in the press have said that the Bush legacy is a question for history, historians largely pan his tenure. And the veteran reporters who covered Bush's presidency urge that coverage of the presidential library provide a complete accounting of his tenure in office, including its many missteps.
"The press needs to take a really cold-eyed look at the circumstances ... look at the state of the country and world on Jan. 20, 2001 and eight years later," said Ed Chen, former Los Angeles Times and Bloomberg correspondent who covered the White House from 1999 to 2010. "Were mistakes made? Sure, the whole WMD fiasco ... it sure has a long way to go for anything close to a full rehabilitation."
Chen later added, "Of the three [presidents] that I covered, we have to put Bush at the bottom."
Several top presidential historians echoed Chen's low-ranking view, noting a week of positive coverage cannot erase that.
"Right now he's ranked as one of the lower presidents because of the War in Iraq and the economy tanking so he's got a long way to go to get rehabilitated," said Douglas Brinkley, a top presidential historian and author. "It is a long revisionist road up from the bottom for George W. Bush. He is ranked toward the bottom rung of presidents."
Indeed, surveys of historians regularly find Bush ranked among the worst of U.S. presidents.
Having toured the new library at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Brinkley described it as having a "compassionate conservative motif" for Bush, adding, "I was surprised how much wall space was given to AIDS in Africa, marine conservation, No Child Left Behind. I got the feeling that the Bush crowd was trying to paint their president as more of a centrist than many people feel."
But Brinkley stressed that whatever positive image is being attempted this week cannot rewrite his presidency.
"I don't think it matters two weeks from now, it is a building opening and people tend to be jubilant," he said. "It's the beginning of revisionism of a presidency."
A Bloomberg article on troubled electric automaker Fisker reports that the company's co-founder was first encouraged by the Department of Energy to pursue its federal loan guarantee, but never clarifies that those overtures, as well as the loan program itself, began during the Bush administration.
However, Bloomberg did not note that Fisker stated that he was approached about the Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing (ATVM) program, during the Bush administration, even as it quoted a Republican congressman suggesting the Obama administration had inexplicably chosen Fisker. From Fisker's testimony:
In January 2008, Fisker Automotive showed the concept car for the Kanna at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. Soon after, I was approached at a sustainability conference in California by Mr. John Mizroch, the then-Acting Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. We discussed the technology that Fisker Automotive was developing and he encouraged the company to apply for a loan from the Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing program (ATVM). Fisker continued its conversations with the Department and the company applied for a loan at the end of 2008. At that time, we already had significant financial backing from private investors.
The research consistently cited by media figures to support cutting government spending has recently been invalidated, raising questions about how mainstream coverage of economic policy promoted incorrect data.
In January 2010, economists Carmen Reinhart and Ken Rogoff released a study that suggested when countries reach debt levels of 90 percent relative to GDP, economic growth would be compromised. Conservatives in politics and media alike repeatedly cited the figure in discussions about the economy.
A study released on April 16, however, found that the conclusions reached by Reinhart and Rogoff were based on data that was riddled with errors. Reinhart and Rogoff's response to the critique -- in which they maintain they never implied that rising debt caused lower growth, just that the two were associated -- shows that media's handling of the figure was wrong all along.
These new developments show that media consistently used an apparently incorrect figure for the past few years to call for austerity measures. Here's a look back at how major cable networks cited the figure in its coverage of the budget and economic policy:
Video by Alan Pyke.
Republican Representative Joe Barton denied manmade climate change by citing the biblical story of Noah's flood, yet no major news outlet except for the online publication Buzzfeed has noted his comments.
Rep. Barton stated in a hearing on the proposed Keystone XL pipeline that climate change could be natural because the biblical story of the Great Flood, wherein God told Noah to build an ark to prepare for the flood, occurred prior to the Industrial Revolution:
I would point out, though, that people like me that support hydrocarbon development don't deny that the climate is changing. I think you can have an honest difference of opinion on what's causing that change without automatically being either all in, it's all because of mankind, or it's all just natural. I think there's a divergence of evidence. I would point out that if you're a believer in the Bible, one would have to say the Great Flood is an example of climate change. And that certainly wasn't because mankind had overdeveloped hydrocarbon energy. So, in any event -- I would ask the gentleman from the Canadian government if you agree with the professor at the other end of the table that if we don't do Keystone, that these projects won't be developed to get the oil to the West Coast of Canada and on to Japan and China?
Bloomberg published a 650-word plus article about the hearing, but ignored Barton's comments. Buzzfeed noted his comments but did not note that they run counter to 97 percent of actively-publishing climate scientists, who agree that recent climate change is mostly manmade.
The press' failure to call out distortions of science does a disservice to the public, many of whom are under the mistaken impression that global warming either isn't happening or is mostly natural:
Rep. Barton has repeatedly suggested that climate change is entirely natural and misled on climate science, including commissioning a reportedly plagiarized report casting doubt on climate change. He has also received millions of dollars in campaign contributions from oil and gas companies.
UPDATE (4/11/13): The Huffington Post, MSNBC's First Look, and ABCNews.com have covered Barton's remarks. ABCNews.com stated that a "group of extreme athletes, however, disagree" with Barton, but did not note that the vast majority of scientists also disagree with him.
A Bloomberg News article claims that new data from Norway "Shows" that global warming is "Less Severe Than Feared." But Bloomberg failed to mention that this claim is based on a PhD thesis that has not yet been peer-reviewed or accepted for publication by any scientific journal.
A press release by the Research Council of Norway states that new research has found that the amount that earth's temperature will rise if we continue emitting greenhouse gases at our current rate will be lower than estimates from the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The IPCC, a group that assembles thousands of experts to review and summarize predominantly peer-reviewed research on climate change, estimates that doubling the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would cause warming between 2°C and 4.5°C (3.6° to 8.1° F), and estimates that 3°C (5.4° F) is the most likely outcome. By contrast, the Norwegian study estimates that 1.9°C (3.4° F) is the likely outcome.
But the research, which runs counter to the IPCC and the extensive body of research on this topic, is actually a PhD thesis. It has not been accepted by a scientific journal and thus should be treated as preliminary. And according to environmental scientist Dana Nuccitellli, writing at the climate science website Skeptical Science, the study may be flawed, by "overfitting the short-term natural variability" in temperatures.
In the weeks leading up to Election Day, major media outlets whitewashed many of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's extreme positions, including on abortion, health care, and the situation in the Middle East. In doing so, these outlets aided Romney's efforts to remake himself as a moderate politician.
Conservative media outlets pushed at least eleven misleading attacks on President Obama's energy policies that have become talking points used by Mitt Romney's campaign. The conservative media bubble has largely prevented voters from hearing the facts about clean energy programs, fossil fuel production and environmental regulation under the Obama administration.
Media outlets are reporting that Mitt Romney's selection of Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) as his vice presidential running mate will shift the election debate to deficit reduction. But economists argue that creating jobs, and not cutting the deficit, should be the current economic priority for policymakers.
The president of the White House Correspondents Association criticized Daily Caller reporter Neil Munro for repeatedly interrupting President Obama today during an event, calling it "discourteous" and "not the way reporters who cover the White House conduct themselves."
Caren Bohan, a Reuters White House correspondent and current WHCA president, made the comments in a phone interview with Media Matters this afternoon.
"It was discourteous and it's not the way reporters who cover the White House conduct themselves," Bohan said in the interview. "I've covered a number of events where the president has spoken and there are times when we need to shout a question to him. But typically reporters wait until he has finished speaking."
Bohan also said that Munro is an associate member of the WHCA, not a regular member.
According to the WHCA website, an associate member "must be employed on the editorial staff of a newspaper, magazine, wire service, radio, TV, cable TV or other broadcast organization or newsgathering organization that reports on the White House. Associate members may not vote or hold elective office."
Asked if Munro's membership would be affected by this incident, Bohan said such decisions are up to the WHCA executive board.
Three former WHCA presidents, meanwhile, also weighed in on the situation.
Ed Chen, a former Bloomberg White House correspondent and WHCA president during the 2009-2010 term, said in an email that Munro: "Betrays a shocking disrespect for the office. He owes the president a written apology." Chen also described it as "Rude. Forgot the manners he must have been taught once upon a time."
Ron Hutcheson, a former McClatchy White House correspondent and WHCA president in 2004-2005, stated: "Aggressive journalism serves our democracy. Rudeness serves no useful purpose. This was rudeness."
C-SPAN host and political editor Steve Scully, a former WHCA board member and former president, told Media Matters that Munro's actions were unusual.
"Anytime the president is delivering remarks from The White House, there has been a long standing tradition for the POTUS to make his statements, almost always followed by questions by the press corps," Scully said in an email. "It was indeed unusual for the president to be interrupted by a reporter during the middle of his remarks and clearly it caught President Obama off-guard, simply because it doesn't happen that often."
Steve Thomma, a current McClatchy White House correspondent who has been on the beat since the Clinton administration, called Munro's behavior "counterproductive."
"I think it's possible to be civil and persistent, they don't have to be mutually exclusive. You don't have to yell. There is nothing wrong with asking a question, but there is nothing wrong with waiting until the president finishes a statement," he said. "It seems counterproductive. If you are really trying to get an answer, you can wait. He might have answered it. I would not interrupt the president's statement to ask a question."
The Prius is now the world's third best-selling car line, but before it became a clear success story, it was the target of attacks from conservative media similar to those now being leveled against electric vehicles.
In 2000, the year the Prius was released in the U.S., Diane Katz and Henry Payne wrote at the Wall Street Journal that hybrid cars are not "what the public wants." The next year, the Cato Institute's Patrick Michaels declared the Prius would "never" deliver a profit for Toyota and hyped how "demand has been weak" for hybrids. That these conservative pundits have clearly been proven wrong with time is a lesson for today's pundits who suggest that current electric car sales mean that electric cars will never be successful. As Bloomberg reporter Jamie Butters noted in a video report, "a lot of people will criticize the sales of the Chevy Volt by GM or the Nissan Leaf, but when you really look back they're selling at significantly higher opening volumes than the Prius when it came out 15 years ago."
Even after Prius sales had significantly ramped up, conservative media were still downplaying the market for hybrids in the U.S. In 2004, a Fox News guest declared that "Americans don't want hybrids":
For the press, it was too good to be true -- and it was. The news media was eating up anything it could find about Solyndra when Bloomberg ran a September 28 report headlined "Solyndra Plant Had Whistling Robots, Spa Showers" focused on the amenities of Solyndra's facility including "robots that whistled Disney tunes." Fifteen paragraphs in, Bloomberg eventually explained:
Robots that resembled "a big freezer with wheels" maneuvered around the factory transporting panels from one machine to another, said George Garma, 49, a former Solyndra equipment maintenance technician from Fremont. The Disney tunes alerted workers to the robots' presence.
Or, as Politifact recently reported, the "robots" were "automated guided vehicles" designed to transport materials -- a common technology used since the 1950's -- and the "whistling" was preloaded music played to alert workers that the vehicles were nearby for safety reasons. The automated vehicles were not lavish expenses, but standard technology that reduced labor costs. Music is used instead of beeping, which "can drive workers nuts -- and sometimes they tune it out, presenting a safety hazard," according to Politifact.
But Greenwire and CNN's American Morning didn't see fit to explain any of that. Neither, of course, did Fox News in its coverage of the "singing robots" on Your World, On The Record, and Special Report. Andrew Napolitano declared on his Fox Business show that Solyndra executives "entertain themselves with robots whistling Disney tunes in the hallways." I could be entertained by this for hours:
During an appearance in New York Thursday night, Wall Street Journal managing editor Robert Thomson said that former Wall Street Journal Europe publisher Andrew Langhoff did "the honorable thing" by resigning.
During a panel discussion at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism -- which included Bloomberg BusinessWeek chairman Norman Pearlstine and Stephen Adler, editor-in-chief of Reuters -- Thomson was asked about recent News Corp. troubles.
Among the issues is the resignation of Langhoff, who stepped down this week following concerns over two articles published about a company with contractual links to the paper's circulation department.
In addition, The Guardian broke more information about the situation, reporting:
The Guardian found evidence that the Journal had been channelling money through European companies in order to secretly buy thousands of copies of its own paper at a knock-down rate, misleading readers and advertisers about the Journal's true circulation.
The bizarre scheme included a formal, written contract in which the Journal persuaded one company to co-operate by agreeing to publish articles that promoted its activities, a move which led some staff to accuse the paper's management of violating journalistic ethics and jeopardising its treasured reputation for editorial quality.
Responding to questions from panel moderator Stephen B. Shepard, dean of the graduate school, Thomson prefaced his statement by saying that "because it's the subject of legal things, one has to be careful about what words one uses."
"But there was the perception of pressure," said Thomson, adding, "The lesson of it is that no matter how far-flung -- and this was a supplement for The Wall Street Journal Europe -- there has to be a very clear line between church and state. That line simply cannot be breached, and creating a circumstance where even the appearance of a breach can take place is unacceptable. And so ... Langhoff did the honorable thing and resigned."
Thomson said that the situation surrounding Langhoff's resignation was "clearly" related to "a circulation agreement which involved bulk sales on the Continent." But he argued that "it's pretty fair to say The Wall Street Journal Europe is not the only newspaper with bulk sales on the Continent."
"But there has to be transparency," added Thomson. "There has to be ... contractual transparency, and there certainly has to be transparency for the reader -- that you cannot pay for play."
Without citing any source, Fox claimed that President Obama's visit to Ireland might include discussions of a U.S.-funded "bailout" for Ireland. In fact, such claims are baseless; Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny reportedly briefed Obama on Ireland's position regarding a European Union bailout, but there have been no reports that he did or plans to ask Obama to directly intervene in negotiations on Ireland's behalf.
Or put another way, is there any limit to how small or poorly attended a Tea Party rally can be before the press finally stops showering the right-wing movement with coverage? Based on the avalanche of reporting that yesterday's minuscule Tea Party rally in Washington, D.C., generated, the answer appears to be, no.
Just how sparse was the Tea Party crowd? A Bloomberg dispatch tactfully noted the rally attracted "dozens" of supporters.
I realize the fact that many high-profile members of Congress were scheduled speak at the Thursday rally meant it was going to be covered regardless, that there was an automatic news hook in place regardless of the Tea Party turnout.
But still, it's long past time that reporters and pundits started telling the truth about the incredibly shrinking Tea Party movement in America. And it's time members of the press corps asked themselves why they continue to cover Tea Party events that draw "dozens." (I guarantee you that if Media Matters promoted a rally in the nation's capital and invited members of Congress to speak, there would be a hell of a lot more than "dozens" of supporters. I can also guarantee you most news organizations would not cover the event.)
Remember, this is supposed to be a grassroots movement, which means one of the newsworthy angles is that so many Americans are supposedly getting involved in the Tea Party initiative. But if the party calls for a major Washington, D.C., rally and promises to have members of Congress addressing the crowd, but only "dozens" show up? That in and of itself is news. (i.e. What's become of the Tea Party?)
Of course, the wheels actually came off the Tea Party's grassroots movement a long time ago. Flashback: Activists predicted 3-4,000 Tea Party faithful would flock to Philadelphia last summer to hear Andrew Breitbart address the masses. Except only one-tenth of that bothered to show up.
How many disappointing rallies with crowds numbering in the low hundreds does the Tea Party have to suffer through before the press acknowledges there's no there there?
In terms of yesterday's coverage, I thought The Atlantic and Slate got it about right with their headlines, "Some, But Not Many, Tea Partiers Rally on Capitol Hill" and "The Tea Party Comes to D.C., in Small Numbers, On Message," respectively. And other news outlets, such as CBSNews.com, at least made it plain in their articles that the rally turnout was surprisingly (shockingly?) small.
Others, though, camouflaged that fact. The Los Angeles Times, for instance, politely made no references to miniature Tea Party crowd size in its report. And of course, neither did Fox News. Its online dispatch mentioned the "energized" and "boisterous" crowd. Missing from the report? The fact that the rally attracted dozens of supporters.