Reporters Ignore Climate Change Skeptics

Published April 1, 2015

The views of researchers skeptical of the theory humans are causing potentially catastrophic climate change have become scarce in news stories covering the topic.

A recent study by George Mason University researchers published in the trade magazine Journalism found contrarian views on the subject are no longer welcome in many of the nation’s newspapers. The authors of “Covering Global Warming in Dubious Times: Environmental Reporters in the New Media Ecosystem,” interviewed nearly a dozen journalists who regularly report on climate change, formerly known as global warming.

Skeptics ‘Generally Irrelevant’

The George Mason study quotes one reporter as saying, “there is pretty much understanding across the board in the United States media now that this is real, this is true, it’s happening, [and] we’re responsible. That debate is over. [Thus] in this day and age, including climate denialists (sic) in a story about climate change is generally irrelevant.”

News editors encourage reporters to deny there is an ongoing debate over humanity’s role on climate change, the study found. Journalists (who requested anonymity in the study) reported, “this practice of ignoring skeptics was largely supported by their managers and editors. In fact, one reporter’s news organization had recently developed an explicit editorial policy discouraging reporters from quoting climate change deniers in environment and science coverage.”

L.A. Times Confirms Bias

A Los Angeles Times commentary (October 8, 2013) confirms the study’s findings. Paul Thornton, the Times letter’s editor explained the paper’s decision not to print letters to the editor questioning the theory of human-induced global warming. Thornton acknowledged he is “no expert when it comes to our planet’s complex climate processes.” Instead, Thornton stated he relies on the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which he described as “a body made up of the world’s top climate scientists.” According to Thornton the IPCC, had recently concluded “it was 95% percent certain that we fossil-fuel-burning humans are driving global warming. The debate right now is not whether this evidence exists (clearly, it does) but what this evidence means for us.”

Thornton’s commentary concluded, “Simply put,I do my best to keep letters of error off the letters page; when one does run, a correction is published. Saying ‘there is no sign humans have caused climate change’ is not stating an opinion, it’s asserting a factual inaccuracy.”

‘Witch Hunt’

Jay Lehr, science director at The Heartland Institute, publisher of Environment & Climate News, identifies something more ominous at work. “There is an old saying in law schools everywhere,” Lehr said. “‘If you have the facts on your side, pound the facts. If you have the law on your side, pound the law. If you have neither on your side, pound the table.’ What is going on now is a witch hunt, proving there are no longer any supportable facts that indicate mankind has any significant role in determining climate. All that remains is to vilify those in opposition.”

Bonner R. Cohen, Ph. D. ([email protected]), is a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research in Washington, DC.