Sometimes it seems like major news outlets just exist to prove their skeptics right. An Op-Ed in the Wall Street Journal today shows exactly how bad reporting quickly takes hold as conventional wisdom, which creates a feedback loop that keeps the public constantly misinformed.
On Wednesday I wrote about a particularly rancid piece of journalism from the Washington Post‘s Juliet Eilperin that mindlessly regurgitated a new poll about the lack of understanding in the US populace about climate change. The poll showed a drop from 82% to 70% of polled Americans who believe in climate change, an alarming figure and one that any responsible person with a public forum should be fighting to change. Eilperin instead provided her readers with no facts, only the opinions of climate-change skeptics–which is to say uninformed opinions of people who, in this case, don’t matter.
The overall effect of Eilperin’s story was to create a general feeling of unease about climate science–“sowing doubt,” as Republican operatives would say. Now, a mere two days later, we see right-wing lunatics jumping on the story, as though public opinion actually has any effect on sea levels.
The climate denier du jour in this case is Kim Strassel, whose WSJ Op-Ed today perfectly shows that bad reporting–Sadaam definitely has WMDs guys–inevitably leads to bad policy. There are many, many flaws in Strassel’s article, which this website’s Michael Roston highlighted here. I suggest reading his piece in its entirety to understand the current “controversy” over the emails that were stolen–yes, stolen–from the University of East Anglia, and how none of what transpired sheds any doubt on the validity of climate science.
The one point I’d like to add to what he wrote comes from a line towards the end of Strassel’s nonsense-rant that relates to my article from Wednesday. She writes:
“Polls show a public already losing belief in the theory of man-made global warming, and skeptics are now on the offense. The Competitive Enterprise Institute’s Myron Ebell argues this scandal gives added cover to Blue Dogs and other Democrats who were already reluctant to buck the public’s will and vote for climate legislation.” [emphasis added.]
Here’s Strassel doing her best to codify the meme that “the public is losing belief ” in climate science, a meme that will be extremely destructive if it takes hold.
To be clear here. There have always been, and will always be morons who don’t believe in science. Sometimes they are called Church Officials, sometimes they go by other names, but they will remain dedicated to bringing about the End Of Days until their last breath. I don’t know whether Strassel has spiritual or financial incentives to deny science or if she’s just simple. For my purposes, it doesn’t matter.
And to be clear about Eilperin, the WaPo reporter, it’s not as though she invented the poll. If that data exists, it should be reported on, but it should be made clear to readers that there is A CONSENSUS IN THE SCIENTIFIC COMMUNITY THAT HUMAN ACTIONS ARE CONTRIBUTING TO CLIMATE CHANGE. Without that information, you are simply contributing to the systemic misinforming of the American populace.
These two articles are simply a microcosm of how the worst kind of policy gets made. Shoddy, lazy reporting gives political cover to right-wing demagogue who use American stupidity against itself, arguing that because Americans are misinformed, then policy should reflect that lack of knowledge. The people who end up winning, in this case, are the energy corporations who have deliberately tried to muddy the waters about climate change, and who have everything to gain from a citizenry who has had the wool pulled over their eyes.
This week’s episode illustrates how that works, and why lazy journalism must be attacked whenever it is found.