LA Times Gets Story About Portland Banning Climate Doubt Almost Right

Published May 25, 2016

Los Angeles Times reporter Joy Resmovits reached out to me yesterday for comment about the controversy over the Portland Public Schools board voting unanimously last week to institute a ban on any materials or discussion that express doubts human activity is causing a catastrophic climate crisis. Because Ms. Resmovits is an education reporter, and not an environment reporter, there was some semblance of balance.

The angle of the story, naturally, was sympathetic to the members of the school board, who were now experience a “backlash” from folks who saw the resolution as nutty at best and harmful at worst. Heck, consindering the LA Times has banned any “skeptic” commentary on its pages, I was just happy they gave us a call.

The Heartland Institute, a conservative group, posted on its blog that the school district was “demanding that their unshakable faith in catastrophic anthropogenic global warming be the only thing taught in school.” In an email, Heartland’s director of communications, Jim Lakely, said the resolution was harmful because “it teaches kids in Portland public schools the falsehood that the science is settled.” He said he’s concerned that kids will be “indoctrinated instead of taught how the scientific method works.”

I can only imagine the reaction of some readers and editors. I’m guessing they won’t make the mistake of calling me again and exposing their readers to the truth.

One quibble — aside from the angle that underplayed the radicalism of the school board — is the way Resmovitz played hide the pea with the proof that the district did ban the words “may,” “might,” and “could” from any future materials that mention climate change.

At the school board meeting, [environmental activist Bill Bigelow] pointed to two textbooks — a modern history book and a science book — that he said don’t adequately characterize climate change. “The text is thick with the skeptical language of ‘might’ and ‘could’ and ‘may,'” he said at the time.

That could explain why the story took on a life of its own, Rosenau said. And, in fact, Lakely, the Heartland Institute spokesman, said his organization opposed what he characterized as a ban on textbooks that use the words “might,” “may” and “could” about climate science. The resolution, however, doesn’t actually use those terms.

Yes, it’s technically correct that the board’s resolution on climate change curriculum does use those words. But the man who proposed the resolution said those words in his testimony, and the resolution states that the district “will abandon the use of any adopted text material that is found to express doubt about the severity of the climate crisis or its root in human activities.” That is the same thing.

I pointed that out to Resmovitz, and she did quote that passage from the resolution in her second paragraph. But readers need to see that passage in the context of my quote — and that means near my quote. Doing so, however, would get in the way of the narrative that right-wing “skeptics” are making a big deal over nothing — and that I’m mischaracterizing the controversy.

I’d be mad, but I was in the mainstream media for 16 years, and I know how this goes. At least this was almost right, which makes it better than most MSM fare.