Global Warming I: Journalism Breakdown

July 8, 2005

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Katrina's piece on global warming created quite the stir. In Katrina's defense, she referenced a (no pun intended) hot topic covered in an article in USA Today ("The Debate's Over: Globe Is Warming"). Sharing an article from "America's best-selling newspaper" simply isn't a "...leftist political smear against American Industry," as one reader responded.

Everyone's parents have told them, "Consider the source." The source, in this case—I don't care how many people buy the thing—is USA Today, for God's sake. USA Today's only example of brilliance may be that its clipped, compressed, and incomplete style predated a popular form of 'journalism' today: the Blog, which itself—this article included—is clipped, compressed, and incomplete. From the beginning, USA Today has been designed, written, edited, and marketed as quick, easy read. Nothing more, nothing less. How has it become America's best-selling newspaper? Why read a book when one can scan the CliffsNotes? An article in the Wall Street Journal or The New York Times may be infinitely better researched and presented but, well, it just takes too much time to read. Most of us don't have the time.

Consider the headline of the article: "The Debate's Over: Globe Is Warming." What self-respecting journalist—or news organization—would take what is today—still—a scientifically debatable position? (Plus, what self-respecting, national newspaper would use italics in a headline?) To support that headline, the article states…

"After decades of debate over whether the planet is heating and, if so, whose fault it is, divergent groups are joining hands with little fanfare to deal with a problem they say people can no longer avoid."

…and continues to mention the following organizations who have, apparently, "joined hands"…

• General Electric • U.N. International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) • Battelle Joint Global Change Research Institute • U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops • National Association on Evangelicals • National Council of Churches • Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger • Environmental Protection Agency

C'mon. Gimme a freakin' break. Add the National Rifle Association, Pee-Wee Herman, and The Vatican to the list, and I might pay attention.

1. General Electric, as another reader states, is clearly business-motivated.

2. Everyone at the U.N. IPCC, the aforementioned Battelle JGCRI, and the EPA would be out of jobs if it were determined that human actions won't make all that much of a difference in global warming.

3. Add to the aforementioned religious institutions another organization, Christian Brothers Investment Services, mentioned prominently in the article. That's four Christian institutions—in a single USA Today article—used as sources for one of the most heated debates in scientific history. Excuse me, but why are these organizations mentioned at all? And if you're gonna quote Christians as All Knowing Scientists, where is the journalistic balance of also representing other religions? (Hey, I was born and raised a Christian and this sort of journalism makes my skin crawl.)

4. Schwarzenegger owns more Hummers than God Himself, and showed up to give his $60 million 'Hydrogen Highway' speech in a GMC Yukon. Hey, at least he unveiled the Hydrogen Hummer.

The only instance of balance in this article is mention of the Climate Stewardship Act proposed by Sens. Joe Lieberman and John McCain, Democrat and Republican, respectively.

Global warming should be—must be—an issue of science, not covering your own butt, not politics, not profits, not votes. Science hasn't taken a back seat in the USA Today article. It's been gagged, bound, and stuffed in the trunk.

Seems Michael Crichton's onto something.

(More to come.)

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