AT his popular New York Times blog, environmental journalist Andrew Revkin asks the question “Can a scientists be a Citizen, Too?” But what Mr Revkin is really asking is: should scientists become involved in advocacy?
Mr Revkin provides the case of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies Chief, James Hansen, as a specific example and suggests that because the issue of global warming has such “big consequences for society” Dr Hansen is almost obliged to become involved in politics.
In the following note, Mr Coleman goes on to explain that reporting on global warming at Mr Revkin’s newspaper, The New York Times, is unfortunately more advocacy than journalism.
“DID advocacy Journalism first get out of hand during the civil rights movement or the Vietnam war? It seems to me it began to sweep the newspapers and TV in the 1960’s and hasn’t been arrested since. I have little expectation that in the difficult times reform will take hold, but I will here and now hope for it.
There are two sides to everything. One of those sides is usually wrong, dead wrong. People who advocate the more unseemly or, to the Journalist, least supportable or correct position are often people the Journalist cannot stand or understand. But, to the solid Journalist, they must be covered and the coverage must be unbiased. That can be very hard, but it should be done.
That does not mean every single story must delve into both sides. The side that has taken some new action or released a new statement should dominate and may, in fact, be the only side covered in an article. But, over time, through a series of article, stories or reports a high degree of balance should be achieved.
In the case of the desegregation movement, the segregationists needed to be heard. They were wrong, in what we perceive to be only correct position. But, the Journalists needed to hear and report their statements and report their actions and positions without deriding them.
In the case of the Vietnam war, there were two sides of opinion, but it seems to me the media advocated the “end the war” side daily for several years and ignored or even derided the advocates fighting for victory. In the case of women’s rights, we all know there was only one side, so no balanced reporting was needed. (What’s this; a small joke creeping into this note?)
And, now the case of global warming; a current cause celeb: The news has flooded us with Al Gore’s pronouncements of climatic Armageddon and the constant barrage of supposed proof. From the dying Polar Bears (They were and are not dying), to the melting ice at the North Pole (The ice extent at the pole is now the same as it was when satellite surveillance began in 1979), the devastation of hurricane Katrina (A more or less average hurricane in a more or less average hurricane season, that created havoc in New Orleans because the levies were poor and the Mayor and Governor and well as federal officials did a poor job of evacuating the people and protecting property), all sorts of things including the die off of bees, shrinking coral reefs and a laundry list of other events have all been attributed by Journalists to global warming.
And, the connection between fossil fuel exhaust emissions of carbon dioxide has been presented over and over again as accepted science without the slightest bow to the growing throng of scientists protesting the entire silly foray of bad science and resulting public policy.
The meetings and publications of the UN IPCC have been reported like the final decisions of the high court.
If you search the files of New York Times articles about global warming, is there one single story that presents the skeptic’s side without demeaning them or their position? There is hardly such a story, much less a fair and balanced one.
In this day where everyone is in a position to be a publisher on the internet, advocacy is all around us. An individual’s website and blog and comments posted elsewhere are not meant to be Journalism.
But the writings and speech of a reporter for a paper or TV station or website should be expected to set advocacy aside.
This is fast and unedited since I must now quickly meet my 10 and 11 PM deadlines.
John Coleman has been a TV weatherman since he was a freshman in college in 1953 and TV was brand new. He still loves predicting the weather and relating to the television viewers. He has been a TV weatherman in Champaign, Peoria and Chicago, Illinois; Omaha, Nebraska, Milwaukee, Wisconsin and New York City. For seven years he was the weatherman on “Good Morning, America” on the ABC Network. http://www.kusi.com/about/bios/weather/1838191.html