Friday, February 9, 2007

Reframing Global Warming While Equating Skeptics with Holocaust Deniers

Although global warming still can't compete with Iraq and the so-called "death tape" of Anna Nicole Smith (yes, one has surfaced on the web showing paramedics administering CPR), it continues to garner attention from columnists and pundits. Toay's installment comes from Ellen Goodman in her Boston Globe syndicated column.

"It may be, paradoxically, that framing this issue in catastrophic terms ends up paralyzing instead of motivating us," Goodman writes. "Remember the Time magazine cover story: 'Be Worried. Be Very Worried.' The essential environmental narrative is a hair-raising consciousness-raising: This is your Earth. This is your Earth on carbon emissions." Faced with the catastrophe, people just go into a state of denial.

Goodman calls for a reframing of the issue: "Can we change from debating global warming to preparing? Can we define the issue in ways that turn denial into action? In America what matters now isn't environmental science, but political science."

In his excellent blog, "Framing Science," Matthew Nisbet aplauds Goodman for writing "one of the best summaries I've seen on just how central public communication is to this issue," and for issuing a "call to arms" on reframing climate change.

But there are two issues Nisbett does not discuss. They deserve an airing. First, Goodman indulges in a typical liberal rhetorical maneuver to frame the issue of climate change skepticism in apocalyptic terms, not only undercutting her laudable main point but also casting grave doubt on her credibility.

"Let's just say that global warming deniers are now on a par with Holocaust deniers, though one denies the past and the other denies the present and future," Goodman writes.

Excuse me, but being skeptical about the scientific basis for global warming is nowhere near on a par with Holocaust denial. That is an utterly offensive statement — one that seems to comes up more and more in liberal discourse about climate change. If this is reframing the issue, count me out. I'll take run-of-the-mill catastrophism, thank you very much.

The second issue is this: What role should journalists play in reframing climate change from one of catastrophe in the making to a moral and religious issue, a corruption of science issue, and an economic issue, as Nisbet puts it?

I would argue that it's not the job of a daily news reporter to reframe the issue, at least not per se. A daily reporter's job is to ask challenging questions designed to elicit news and essential information, and to go where the story leads. And if the story leads to new details about catastrophe on the way, that's where we have to go. But it is also a reporter's job to try to stay ahead of the story. And if doing that means asking experts like Mathew Nisbet whether a reframing of the issue is in the offing, or essential, that would seem like a great story to me. Moreover, the questions reporters ask may well contribute to a reframing of the issue. Should this be a reporter's mission? That word "mission" makes me nervous. We're supposed to report the news, not make it. On the other hand, if something is happening out there — if others are taking on this mission, that's where we need to go with our reporting.

And please do note: I'm making a deliberate distinction between daily news journalism and other forms. As a magazine writer, I would feel no qualms at trying to change the terms of the debate.

Lastly, I see a story here about the expropriation of "Holocaust denier" for use with reference to global warming skeptics. I suspect there are some people who are mighty angry at Ellen Goodman today. That would make an excellent jumping off point for a potentially compelling story.

— T.Y.

6 comments:

David said...

It is ridiculous to compare Holocaust deniers and climate change contrarians, but it is also ridiculous to continue calling them skeptics. Skeptics are searchers after truth and too many contrarians are simply blinded by their fear of potential solutions to global warming (more government regulation) rather than any actual skepticism about the science. This gets to the heart of the matter: how science gets politicized. The IPCC report is a collection of data (not even new data), not a policy proscription. And I think we can safely say that, just like with tobacco doesn't cause cancer, some powerful economic interests have made extra sure that certain voices of contrarianism get heard very loudly.

Davo said...

David said...

It is ridiculous to compare Holocaust deniers and climate change contrarians, but it is also ridiculous to continue calling them skeptics.


Actually the word "skeptics" is a good description as wikipedia states "science itself may simply be thought of as an organized form skepticism".

David said...
The IPCC report is a collection of data (not even new data), not a policy proscription.

Actually David the IPCC report is a bit of a policy statement. Especially since the scientific report will not be released until much later and will be "made to fit" what was stated in the Summary for Policy Makers. Hardly the makings of a rigorous scientific document....

FINALLY! A FAIR AND BALANCED REPORTER said...

CBS 4 Reporter Shomari Stone was praised on the “Schnitt Show,” a syndicated, moderately conservative talk-show, for his ground-breaking report on “Global Warming.” ( http://cbs4.com/video/?id=34785@wfor.dayport.com )

South Florida affiliate station 610 WIOD airs the show from 3:00pm to 6:00pm, Monday - Friday. On average, host Todd Schnitt has an estimated 800,000 listening audience across the country after scoring a huge deal XM Satellite radio.

The Schnitt Show began praising Shomari Stone on Monday, May 21, 2007 at 4:00pm about his report on Global Warming.

Schnitt said, “I have to give credit where credit is due. I have to highlight this individual. I am taking the time to reach out to a reporter, Shomari Stone, in Miami, he’s a CBS 4 WFOR reporter. Shomari did a news story on Global Warming. Instead of asking Hurricane Expert Dr. William Gray about hurricanes, he did a story about how Dr. Gray says humans ARE NOT causing global warming.” “Shomari Stone dared to expose the other side. He had the cahoonays.”

“I have no idea what Shomari’s position is personally. I have no idea. But you’ve got to hand it to him for presenting the other side of the story. A rarity. He’s good. Good job Shomari Stone. I appreciated the diligence that you put into the report.” “Finally, mainstream media, has a Dr., a professor that says, wait a sec, not so fast, on this annointed reason that’s been shoved down our faces. That’s all I ask for. Is just the other side of the debate. I’m not saying Al Gore should not present his stuff in “An Inconvenient Truth.” I just like both sides of an issue presented. Fantastic report! Finally I can’t tell you the last time I saw something like that. I don’t think it’s been done.”

You can watch CBS 4 Reporter Shomari Stone’s Exclusive Global Warming Report by clicking or copy and pasting the following link:

http://cbs4.com/video/?id=34785@wfor.dayport.com

Anonymous said...

Wow. What a great piece. Thank you for posting the CBS story by Shomari Stone on your blog. Shomari Stone is a good reporter. He won an RTNDA Edward R. Murrow award in 2006 for the Air Marshal shooting at Miami International Airport. I wish more reporters would present the other side of the global warming debate. I found this story by googling "Global Warming Skeptic." Good job Shomari Stone and congratulations on winning the Edward R. Murrow Award.

Anonymous said...

Wow. What a great piece. Thank you for posting the CBS story by Shomari Stone on your blog. Shomari Stone is a good reporter. He won an RTNDA Edward R. Murrow award in 2006 for the Air Marshal shooting at Miami International Airport. I wish more reporters would present the other side of the global warming debate. I found this story by googling "Global Warming Skeptic." Good job Shomari Stone and congratulations on winning the Edward R. Murrow Award.

Raphael said...

I like Shomari Stone because he is fair and balanced. I'm a proud republican.