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Editor Claims NewsHour Reports Fairly on Global Warming - Where's the Proof?
07-17-2012, 05:03 PM
Post: #1
Editor Claims NewsHour Reports Fairly on Global Warming - Where's the Proof?
(author's note: due to the apparent disappearance of the original article - url of it here - and the instability of the url of the Yahoo cache of it - screencapture of that cache here - I'm obligated to reproduce it word for word below. This piece and its corresponding Pt II were critical support material for my August 18, 2011 "PBS and Global Warming Skeptics' Lockout", in its 3rd paragraph links.)

Editor Claims NewsHour Reports Fairly on Global Warming - Where's the Proof?
August 9, 2011

News media outlets have web forms and email addresses viewers use to send in suggestions / complaints, but the odds are stacked against us in getting our submissions read, much less acted upon. I began using the PBS NewsHour's online form in January of 2007 to suggest they balance their global warming discussion segments with skeptic scientists, ultimately sending in 30 such suggestions. I was unaware the PBS Ombudsman existed until mid-September 2009.

I promptly emailed Ombudsman Getler about balancing the NewsHour's global warming discussions with skeptic scientists, and he replied via email: "I've forwarded this to the NewsHour and asked for a response. Thanks." I followed up with five more detailed emails via his web form about skeptic scientists, ClimateGate, and the NewsHour's reliance on's Heidi Cullen as a reporter on the issue, noting how its founding director, Berrien Moore, was the coordinating lead author of the final chapter of the IPCC Third Assessment Report, and how Ms Cullen was infamous for her suggestion to strip the professional certification of any weather forecaster who questioned the idea of man-caused global warming.

Nearly three months later, on Dec 7th 2009, Getler fwd'd the private email below from the NewsHour's National Affairs Editor Murrey Jacobson, which I reproduce verbatim here (bold emphasis is Jacobson's), though only after receiving Jacobson's permission to do so just a few days ago. As it was private at the time, I immediately protested to Getler, saying such correspondence should be public, which I assume prompted Jacobson's public response at the Ombudsman page that I linked to in my article here. I invite readers to see the distinct difference between the public response and the private private one, and ask whether Jacobson ever answered my most basic question about why skeptic scientists have never appeared on the NewsHour to voice their detailed climate science assessments at great length or to debate in-studio with the several IPCC scientists that have repeatedly appeared there.
  On his first point about the [ClimateGate] e-mail story, I think we all agree within the show that we need to take a closer look at the fallout of the e-mails and we plan to do so soon.

  But let me try to assure him that our coverage has nothing to do with a political agenda.

  There is no single reason why we haven't done a full segment -- nor is there any desire or effort on our part at the program to steer clear of the story. I can't say that strongly enough. Reporting fully and fairly on stories remains our mantra. The simple truth is that on any given day, we are always juggling different news considerations. Given that we have been particularly busy of late with three big stories of national importance -- the President's decision to send more troops to Afghanistan; Congress' moves on health reform legislation, and the continuing fallout of a weak economy -- it has unfortunately meant that some nights we don't get to do every story we'd like to do at the moment we hope to do so.  There have been many nights when we do two or three discussion segments, plus a longer tape piece or two. Finding the right balance of stories on a given night leads to some difficult choices sometimes and occasionally a story gets squeezed out on a specific day. Often, we then look for the next development to get back to it. So that's part of what happened this time.

  That said, I think it's fair to say to Mr. Cook that on the first day that the story broke, I, myself, did not have adequate time to consider the full magnitude of it, and I probably underestimated its significant initially. There are times when as an editor I am trying to juggle the competing interests of different stories. On this one, I think it's fair to say that I probably didn't get it quite right. But we have been working to come back to it. (One such opportunity came on the day after Thansksgiving when there was a development in the story but we were not able to get the guests we would need on the holiday.)

  We are working on a story even as we speak to make sure viewers learn more about it. Over the past couple of days we thought it might make the most sense to deal with it in our coverage of the Copenhagen talks. There's no doubt that the shadow of this story lingers over these negotiations and we will make that clear to our viewers. Moreover, we are shooting interviews this week so we can reach our usual standards in the coverage of this story.
  Finally, with regard to his concerns (both past and present) about the way we cover climate change, I think I will have to respectfully disagree with his criticisms.  I know Mr. Cook does not care for the Climate Central reports and this will probably not satisfy him. But I think you can assure him that we work extremely hard to make sure those reports are balanced and we watch very closely to make sure there is nothing in the way of advocacy in those reports. In a piece on climate change in Montana that was related to drought, for example, we included the views of Roger Pielke Sr. who is considered to be a recognized scientist who does not sign on to the conventional wisdom in his field about climate change.

  In fact, here's what ran in that report:

ROGER PIELKE, SR., University of Colorado, Boulder: Droughts have been very much a part of the western United States as far back as we can tell.

HEIDI CULLEN: Roger Pielke, Sr., is an atmospheric scientist at the University of Colorado in Boulder and has studied drought in the west. Whereas many scientists see the climate of the west shifting toward almost permanent summer drought, Pielke is reluctant to link drought to manmade changes in climate. He sees the looming water crisis as one result of population growth.

ROGER PIELKE, SR.: Multi-decade-long droughts have occurred in the past, so, regardless of how climates change because of human activity, we have to adapt and we have to mitigate as much as possible to try to reduce their impacts.

   Mr. Cook says we have not had skeptics on in the studio in recent months and that's true. But that's also because we have been doing less science-based discussions about climate change recently.  Over the last year or so, we have put more of an emphasis on what politicians, regulators and businesses are DOING about climate change because that's where the action has been of late.

The storyline has become more focused about what kind of legislation might be passed, what kind of regulations will change, etc. That's where the national story has been most recently.

  In the meantime, we continue to tackle much of the scientific issues on tape in a fair and balanced manner in a way that should be more helpful to viewers.

  And one more thing should be said: While there are scientists who are skeptical of climate change and are even more skeptical that human activity is contributing to that change, the vast majority of scientists do believe climate change is real, worsening, and that human activity contributes to that problem.  We try to make sure our coverage reflects that reality as well, What a number of scientists acknowledge, however, is that we don't fully understand all of those connections adequately. That was reflected in the email exchange and I think you can assure Mr. Cook that he will hear more about that on our program in the days and weeks to come.

For the sake of brevity, some short observations:

• The 'closer look' specifically at ClimateGate was about 355 words on 12/7/09 - the same day as Jacobson's private email to me, less than 200 words two days later, a taped segment nearly four months after the story broke and finally 63 words on March 31, 2010 to essentially declare the case closed. His assurances fell far short of what actually was discussed.
• Whether I "care for the Climate Central reports" or not is irrelevant. My concerns about the objectivity of Cullen and Berrien Moore weren't addressed. A new red flag pops up about Mr Moore at the current pages of ClimateCentral as its founding director - any mention of that seems to be oddly missing.
• Jacobson speaks of working hard to have balance in Cullen's reports - plural - but offers only a singular example, while no other skeptics of any description are seen in Cullen's other reports, and Dr Pielke's skepticism is of course given no depth in just his two-sentence 'views'.
• Jacobson claims a 'vast majority' of scientists believe humans 'contribute' climate change. An obvious question is, who ever quantified that 'vast majority'? Making sure the coverage reflects this 'reality' would mean that skeptic scientists ought to be NewsHour guests, as they do think humans might contribute to the problem, although in demonstratively insignificant ways.

My actual response to Ombudsman Getler was actually over 1300 words of point-by-point questioning of Jacobson's email, and many questions about the other problems I raised in the prior five emails to Getler. I never received a response from Jacobson, either privately or at the Ombudsman page.

Half a dozen more emails to Getler and several directly to the NewsHour about this lack of response ultimately resulted in one more private email from Jacobson on June 20, 2011. I will have to address that one in my next blog, "Editor Claims NewsHour Reports Fairly on Global Warming - Where's the Proof?  Pt II"
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