Buyer's Remorse

Grist seems to have a bad case of buyer’s remorse these days.

There was plenty of fiery debate on the Waxman-Markey climate bill in the weeks leading up to its passage out of committee. But if you’re a regular reader of Grist you only heard one side of that debate, mainly a vigorous defense/rationalization of the bill led by David Roberts and Joe Romm (whose posts from Climate Progress are often cross-posted at Grist).

Roberts’ posts became more tortured but he left no doubt that he thought a badly compromised bill was better than no bill at all.  All. About. Them. Small. Steps.

Romm, on the other hand, has given no quarter. Yeah, he’s tried walking back his cheerless cheerleading, but if you raised any objections back then, you know Romm considers you a filthy rotten delayer. Civilization destroyer. Whatever.

So what to make of this anti-Waxman-Markey missive from Ken Ward in Grist today? It’s the latest of WM critiques that have begun appearing at Grist almost routinely in the past few weeks. But Ward’s attack is by far the baldest, in-your-face rejoinder yet. Here’s his lede:

Watching the remains of a movement strain our every organizational fiber to advance a climate bill we know is a travesty reminds me of G.K. Chesterton’s observation about sex: the pleasure is momentary, the position ridiculous, and the expense damnable.

You get the picture.  What I don’t get is what took Grist so long to start publishing counter perspectives on the  most important environmental legislation proposed in decades.

4 Responses to “Buyer's Remorse”

  1. John Fleck says:

    This highlights the core problem created by Grist’s conflation of journalism and advocacy. Its readers would have been far better served by rich and diverse explanation of the issues, rather than cheerleading.

  2. Keith Kloor says:


    I believe this problem is made even worse with Grist’s new format, which has come to resemble the Huffington Post model. There’s no “wall” distinguishing between the activists and journalists. Everyone shares the same (blogging) platform. So you have a confusing jumble, with posts from Grist’s staffers mixed  in with posts from environmental advocates like Ken Ward and Lester Brown.

  3. Interesting on several counts!

    I’m very disturbed by the tone and substance of Ward’s objections. The problem with W/M is not that “this is the endgame”. Our problems are very serious and getting seriouser, but there is nothing in any known physics or chemistry that makes 2009 a magic date wherein everything must be decided. 

    In the present case I agree that Romm is being disagreeable and he really needs a very long vacation on a very pleasant beach. And he needs to take a lifelong moratorium on saying “shame on you” to anyone, even his puppy. 

    But I think Ward is just making people miserable for no reason.

    Do I think we’ll muddle through all this? Most days, frankly, I am pessimistic. I think a population crash in this century is more likely than not, accompanied by a severe deterioration in just about everything and either a very very slow recovery or fascism or both. 

    On the days when I feel otherwise, though, it’s not out of hope for the ascendance anti-corporate greenies. If there’s a way out of here it involves being smart, which involves smart institutions, i.e., corporations and universities and government labs.

    The problem is fundamentally of intelligence vs stupidity. Consequently the job of those of us who write is to be an agent of collective intelligence. The advocacy/neutrality index is a total red herring. The issue is vapidity versus intelligence.

    While advocacy might appear to be at cross purposes with journalism, scrupulous neutrality that totally avoids judgment is completely devoid of value in these times of urgency.  

    So it’s not the conflation of “reporting” and “advocacy” that is the problem. In fact that’s pretty much backwards, I think. It was Revkin’s refusal to take a stand between Gore and Will that outraged me, and still does. (Keith will recall that is how we became acquainted.) If you can’t make a judgment in a case like that, when can you?

    I still defer to Mr. Gore’s judgment on this one, by the way. I can’t make heads or tails out of what the actual laws will do, and I strongly suspect most of them will make more of a mess than they are worth. But I don’t want America to show up in Copenhagen empty-handed for a rerun of Kyoto.

  4. Keith Kloor says:


    I’m going to address the journalism elements of your comment.

    You write: “While advocacy might appear to be at cross purposes with journalism, scrupulous neutrality that totally avoids judgment is completely devoid of value in these times of urgency.”

    Let me be clear. I don’t have the slightest problem with advocacy journalism. I’ve written for Mother Jones, High Country News and was an editor at Audubon magazine for nearly 10 years. And I’ve long admired Grist. In my post and follow-up comment I was objecting to the near absence of any voices that offered dissenting views on the Waxman-Markey bill during the heat of the debate. Most of what readers heard was pro-WM from Roberts & Romm.

    Suddenly there’s a deluge of anti-WM pieces popping up at Grist. Somebody over there must have noticed the imbalance.

    As to their new format, I think it’s problematic in that it jumbles the advocates in with the journalists. It would be like Audubon magazine intermixing articles from environmental advocates along with those from professional journalists. I’d be curious to know what the Grist staffers think. Maybe they’re fine with it; I wouldn’t be.

    As for that Revkin affair, you gotta let that go. You really make way too much out of one article. Andy Revkin, with his blog and in his reporting, does more to educate people about climate change and advance the dialogue than any other journalist. In the media-saturated age we live in, no one story carries the kind of power that you give it. (Okay, maybe Judith Miller’s front page NYT stories in the run-up to the Iraq war are a notable exception.)

    Anyway, let the Revkin thing go. Leave the bitterness to Romm. He thrives on it. You don’t.

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