WSJ Op-Ed shows how bad journalism sows doubts about climate change

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.

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6 Responses to WSJ Op-Ed shows how bad journalism sows doubts about climate change

  1. jamesthurber says:


    Wow. Just wow.

    Nobody questions this idiotic assertion. Simply passing gas contributes to climate change, for heaven’s sake.

    Here are the questions that Mr. Knefel ignores, and for which he denigrates others for posing:

    To what extent is climate change anthropogenic? What are the mechanisms of anthropogenic change, and what are their relative imports? (CO2? NOX? Heat islands? Changes in albedo? Methane from ruminant animals? Hot air from mindless journalists?) Can these processes be mitigated, and at what cost to whom?

    These are serious, complex questions that require the participation of serious people to resolve.

    “This week’s episode illustrates how that works, and why lazy journalism must be attacked whenever it is found.”


  2. John Knefel says:


    Thanks for your forceful, if misdirected, comment. I say misdirected because my two columns directly contradict your main criticism of what I wrote.

    You say, “nobody questions [the] idiotic assertion” that human behavior is contributing to global warming. In fact, that’s what my post on Wednesday was all about. The poll that I cited showed that only 70% of Americans believe that climate change is happening. What I’m lamenting is the fact that the article presents this data without informing readers that there is a scientific consensus that human behavior is contributing to climate change. So, yes, people do disagree with the assertion that climate change is man made.

    As far as the WSJ Op-Ed, my specific critique involved Strassel’s attempt to use public ignorance as an argument that Congress should abandon climate change legislation. I’m not denigrating her for asking scientific questions, I’m denigrating her for using the public’s ignorance against itself.

    The “specifics” that you claim I “ignore” were not the focus of my critique. Those specifics are questions for science to answer–what I’m saying is destructive is when stenography reporting (just presenting poll results) allows cover for opinion writers to say, “the public doesn’t want this!” just because the public is misinformed.

    This is my serious, complex answer to your sober comment.

  3. mccoydelareal says:

    To characterize jamesthurber’s comment as sober is to do sobriety an injustice. Leave rabid dogs to foam at the mouth–they have only the power to drive themselves mad.

  4. vesey says:

    Why do liberals always attack and ridicule instead of discuss issues ?? “public ignorance”,thurber “foaming at the mouth”,”rancid journalism”, “mindless regurgitation”.If you don’t agree with whats said give facts, they are far more likely to change opinions than insults……..

  5. andylevinson says:

    It’s more alarming that 70% beleieve in this nonsense….

    When did “global warming” become “climate change”….is it when the second greatest fraud of all time, algore , decidied to hedge his bets?

    • kurtfawnigat says:

      I’d say right after the Nobel and just before the report on the last quarter earnings at Newscorp(s).
      There is a real man-bear pig. Sadly it’s just another poop-pile, made entirely of competeting research papers, for cocks like Al and James to climb atop and crow. I take you now inside the smokey room of petrol powered conspiracy focus groups.
      “How does the term “climate change” make people feel?”
      you mean seasons? like in New England?
      i guess it’s not as scary as the first one.
      (subjects dismissed and high-fives ensue.)

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