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[greenyes] Analysis of US Media Blackout on Climate Disruption / News / Feature

Though global climate change is breaking out all around us, the U.S. news
media has remained silent.

Ross Gelbspan
May/June 2005 Issue WHEN SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA was inundated by a foot of
rain, several feet of snow, and lethal mudslides earlier this year, the news
reports made no mention of climate change-even though virtually all climate
scientists agree that the first consequence of a warmer atmosphere is a
marked increase in extreme weather events. When four hurricanes of
extraordinary strength tore through Florida last fall, there was little
media attention paid to the fact that hurricanes are made more intense by
warming ocean surface waters. And when one storm dumped five feet of water
on southern Haiti in 48 hours last spring, no coverage mentioned that an
early manifestation of a warming atmosphere is a significant rise in severe

Though global climate change is breaking out all around us, the U.S. news
media has remained silent. Not because climate change is a bad story-to the
contrary: Conflict is the lifeblood of journalism, and the climate issue is
riven with conflict. Global warming policy pits the United States against
most of the countries of the world. It's a source of tension between the
Bush administration and 29 states, nearly 100 cities, and scores of activist
groups working to reduce emissions. And it has generated significant and
acrimonious splits within the oil, auto, and insurance industries. These
stories are begging to be written.

And they are being written-everywhere else in the world. One academic thesis
completed in 2000 compared climate coverage in major U.S. and British
newspapers and found that the issue received about three times as much play
in the United Kingdom. Britain's Guardian, to pick an obviously liberal
example, accorded three times more coverage to the climate story than the
Washington Post, more than twice that of the New York Times, and nearly five
times that of the Los Angeles Times. In this country, the only consistent
reporting on this issue comes from the New York Times' Andrew Revkin, whose
excellent stories are generally consigned to the paper's Science Times
section, and the Weather Channel-which at the beginning of 2004 started
including references to climate change in its projections, and even hired an
on-air climate expert.

Why the lack of major media attention to one of the biggest stories of this
century? The reasons have to do with the culture of newsrooms, the misguided
application of journalistic balance, the very human tendency to deny the
magnitude of so overwhelming a threat, and, last though not least, a
decade-long campaign of deception, disinformation, and, at times,
intimidation by the fossil fuel lobby to keep this issue off the public
radar screen.

The carbon lobby's tactics can sometimes be heavy-handed; one television
editor told me that his network had been threatened with a withdrawal of oil
and automotive advertising after it ran a report suggesting a connection
between a massive flood and climate change. But the most effective campaigns
have been more subtly coercive. In the early 1990s, when climate scientists
began to suspect that our burning of coal and oil was changing the earth's
climate, Western Fuels, then a $400 million coal cooperative, declared in
its annual report that it was enlisting several scientists who were
skeptical about climate change-Patrick Michaels, Robert Balling, and S. Fred
Singer-as spokesmen. The coal industry paid these and a handful of other
skeptics some $1 million over a three-year period and sent them around the
country to speak to the press and the public. According to internal strategy
papers I obtained at the time, the purpose of the campaign was "to
reposition global warming as theory (not fact)," with an emphasis on
targeting "older, less educated males," and "younger, low-income women" in
districts that received their electricity from coal, and who preferably had
a representative on the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

The Western Fuels campaign was extraordinarily successful. In a Newsweek
poll conducted in 1991, before the spin began, 35 percent of respondents
said they "worry a great deal" about global warming. By 1997 that figure had
dropped by one-third, to 22 percent.

Then as now, a prime tactic of the fossil fuel lobby centered on a clever
manipulation of the ethic of journalistic balance. Any time reporters wrote
stories about global warming, industry-funded naysayers demanded equal time
in the name of balance. As a result, the press accorded the same weight to
the industry-funded skeptics as it did to mainstream scientists, creating an
enduring confusion in the public mind. To this day, many people are unsure
whether global warming is real.







Peter Anderson, President
4513 Vernon Blvd. Suite 15
Madison, WI 53705-4964
Ph: (608) 231-1100
Fax: (608) 233-0011
Cell: (608) 698-1314
eMail: anderson@no.address

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