Thursday, March 1, 2007
Al Gore: Mainstream Media Still Don't Get It
If you read this posting earlier, there's a bit of an update based in part on the excellent analysis by John Fleck:
The mainstream media still reject the scientific consensus on global warming, Al Gore told a media ethics conference earlier this week, The Tennessean reports.
Speaking of the conclusions of the IPCC, Gore said the media "have failed to report that it is the consensus and instead have chosen … balance as bias." Citing a study showing that 53 percent of newspaper articles on global warming offer false balance on the issue, he said, "I don't think that any of the editors or reporters responsible for one of these stories saying, 'It may be real, it may not be real,' is unethical. But I think they made the wrong choice, and I think the consequences are severe." The consequence, he argues, has been political gridlock on the issue.
I suspect Gore is referring to the study by Maxwell and Jules Boykoff examining "prestige press" converage of global warming between 1988 and 2002. ("Balance as Bias: global warming and the U.S. prestige press," Global Environmental Change, 14 (2004) 125–136.) Included in the survey were the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal. The researchers found that "the prestige press’s adherence to balance actually leads to biased coverage of both anthropogenic contributions to global warming and resultant action."
After the release of the Boykoff study, John Fleck posted an an excellent critique, noting that the researchers conflated the scientific consensus on science with the policy response. (Also see his comment below.) "While they may be correct that there are cases where stories about the science are marred by a bias created by false balance, their conflation of scientific understanding of the issue and policy responses renders their argument fundamentally flawed."
According to the Boykoff paper, "the scientific community has reached general consensus that immediate and mandatory actions are necessary to combat global warming." It may well be that most climate scientists agree with this statement. But that certainly doesn't mean most other people do. This is just pointing out the obvious — scientific consensus by no means equals political consensus. And as we all know, we're not even close to a political consensus yet. So journalists providing balanced coverage of the policy side of the issue are only doing their jobs. Gore is just flat wrong. They are not guilty of false balance.
I suspect Gore was reacting to the hyper-bloviation on global warming that's prevalent on cable news (much of it directed at him this week), and to the low quality of news coverage in broadcast media. In this case, false balance on global warming is probably the least of our problems.