Big Picture News, Informed Analysis

This blog is written by Canadian journalist Donna Laframboise. Posts appear Monday, Wednesday & Friday.

Still Clueless in Australia

A flawed, but fascinating analysis regarding climate change and the media appeared yesterday on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation website.

Margot O’Neill, a senior journalist, observes that the climategate story – which broke a year ago this month – was responsible for triggering a paradigm-shift in newsrooms. The mainstream media did a pathetic job of reporting on climategate (especially in North America), but it appears that the scandal nevertheless shook some editors from their slumber.

Journalists are the people who write the news stories but it’s editors who decide the degree of prominence a story merits, whether a story should be trimmed to half its original length, or whether it’s even fit to print. Thus, if climategate made the flawed judgments of environmental reporters manifest to their editors, a valuable public service has been performed.

According to O’Neill, in the aftermath of climategate senior journalists have been on the receiving end of dirty looks in the newsroom. They’ve been accused of “going native.” Their editors have said things like: “you told me the science was settled – and it isn’t!” Well hallelujah. It’s about frakking time.

O’Neill may have just returned from “a sabbatical studying climate change reporting at the University of Oxford” but it’s clear she’s still out of her depth. Note her awkward phrasing:

The biggest hurdle mentioned by most journalists was the so-called ‘Climategate’, the controversy surrounding the publication of hundreds of hacked emails… [bold added]

This is as foolish as talking about the Watergate. In popular parlance, reference is made to climategate – not the climategate. Writers at publications as diverse as the The Atlantic magazine and The Economist understand this. By now most journalists have also stopped putting quotes around the word climategate – and have dropped the use of so-called – which is really just the writer signaling her contempt. Alas, O’Neill appears to be a hopeless case.

I’ve previously pointed out that she is a shameless promoter of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). In a piece written a year ago titled Conspiracies and the IPCC, she slapped down someone who said they were looking for independent, reliable information about climate change that wasn’t generated by the IPCC:

Now, it could just be me, but I would have thought that the world’s most comprehensive assessment and review of climate science by thousands of international experts should probably be the first port of call when searching for facts.

On a scale of one to 10, in which which one means a journalist is highly suspicious of the the IPCC and 10 means they want to award it another Nobel Prize, O’Neill was a 10 when she wrote the above-quoted words. Based on her article published yesterday, her Oxford sabbatical did little to expand her views or add nuance to her understanding.

How is this possible? How can one be a senior journalist and still be this clueless? The short answer, I believe, is that O’Neill is blinkered by her personal politics. It may sound as though I’m casting aspersions, but it so happens that journalists are more likely to be left-wing than is the general population. In 1992, only 43% of the public voted for Bill Clinton for president, yet 89% of Washington-based journalists did. (See here for a broader discussion of media bias.)

This left-leaning mindset becomes even more pronounced when taxpayer-funded news organizations enter the picture. O’Neill’s employer, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), is the equivalent of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC).

Journalists who work for these entities belong to public service unions (see here, here & here) and tend to share the same feelings of entitlement as other government employees. Since left-leaning administrations usually increase public broadcasting budgets while fiscally conservative ones impose cutbacks, it would be surprising if most journalists employed by the ABC, the BBC, and the CBC didn’t view all things conservative with hostility.

But this situation has consequences. When the public tunes in to someone like O’Neill it receives a decidedly skewed view. That wouldn’t be so bad if, for every reporter like her there was another who, say, emphasized the foolish economics underpinning a great deal of climate change policy. The two would then balance each other out.

In the 1970s feminists argued, correctly, that women have a different perspective on the world, and that a newsroom containing only men deprives readers and viewers of that perspective. These days, the problem has shifted.

While majorities in several countries doubt that climate change is caused by human beings, and while roughly half the population tends to be right-of-center,  in most newsrooms the climate skeptic perspective – and the conservative perspective – remains significantly underrepresented.

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