Working the Refs

In his recent widely publicized Rolling Stone essay, former Vice President Al Gore harshly criticized media coverage of global warming. He compared  journalists to referees of “professional” wrestling. Some mainstream reporters who regularly write about climate change objected. But climate scientists nodded approvingly, as did Joe Romm, who called Gore’s essay a “devastating critique” and piled on:

I would add that the media doesn’t just mis-report the climate story, it under-reports the story of the century.

I’ll also add that, while the media grousing by Gore et al appears sincerely felt, there is another element at work here: these guys are doing what some well known basketball coaches (think Phil Jackson) often do: work the refs.

That said, it’s still worth examining Gore’s media criticism at face value, which is something John Wihbey does in an extensive post at the Yale Forum on Climate Change & the media. This observation from Stanford communications expert Jon Krosnick caught my eye:

“As a backdrop to Gore’s assertions, it’s useful to consider evidence on the impact that the news media have had on Americans’ thinking about this issue,” Krosnick told The Yale Forum in an e-mail interview. “According to our national surveys, large majorities of Americans have believed that climate change is real and human-caused, will have undesirable consequences, and merits substantial government action to address it. These majorities rose a little in the years preceding 2007 and fell a bit in the years after, but the majorities remain large. Mr. Gore might look at these data and say: “˜Ah, ha! Just as I expected! During the last 15 years, climate scientists have generated more and more evidence of the existence and threat of warming, but Americans are not being well-informed of this growing consensus by the media, so public opinion has held relatively steady instead of moving toward my views even more. The climate science is not getting the attention it deserves from the news media!'”

Krosnick continued: “But I’m not sure this would be a fair accusation: I’d say the news media have paid plenty of attention to the climate science, but truth be told, that science is now an “˜old story,’ one the media have told many, many times before. It’s understandable, therefore, that every new climate study is not at the top of the front page of every newspaper in the country. So given today’s ethics and principles of journalism, I’m not sure it’s appropriate to fault the news professionals for practicing their craft as they do.”

It may not be appropriate, but scapegoating journalists will surely continue as frustration over climate inaction mounts. Someone has to bear the blame, and since many leading climate activists have proven averse to introspection, media bashing offers a distraction from their failures.

When Phil Jackson worked the refs as a coach with the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers, it was a tactical ploy. He may have overdone it, but he also knew that players win games, not referees.

26 Responses to “Working the Refs”

  1. Jeff Norris says:

    Kieth
    Working the Refs must be a legitmate and sucesful tactic since Sen John Kerry was using it on “Morning Joe” today.

     SEN. JOHN KERRY: “And I have to tell you, I say this to you politely. The media in America has a bigger responsibility than it’s exercising today. The media has got to begin to not give equal time or equal balance to an absolutely absurd notion just because somebody asserts it or simply because somebody says something which everybody knows is not factual.”

    “It doesn’t deserve the same credit as a legitimate idea about what you do. And the problem is everything is put into this tit-for-tat equal battle and America is losing any sense of what’s real, of who’s accountable, of who is not accountable, of who’s real, who isn’t, who’s serious, who isn’t?”

    Of course he was talking about those Crazy  Tea Party people so you might agree with him.

  2. Krosnick says: “I’d say the news media have paid plenty of attention to the climate science, but truth be told, that science is now an “˜old story,’ one the media have told many, many times before. It’s understandable, therefore, that every new climate study is not at the top of the front page of every newspaper in the country.”
    Two short points.

    1. Maybe in their opinion the science that they told is an “old story”, but I don’t think they have kept up. The Allen/Meinhausen papers in 2009 on the “trillionth tonne” and cumulative emissions accounting, the Susan Solomon paper on “irreversibility”, etc. – how much have these newer framings been presented through the mainstream press? Yes, perhaps it’s “old” to write another story about how the “greenhouse effect is imagine a blanket and then the sea level rises and…”, but “cumulative emissions + irreversibility” should be a real wake-up call to the public. I fail to see that this has had any real penetration. (No, that isn’t entirely the press’s fault, but I think Krosnick is giving the fraternity too easy and out here.) My impression anyway.

    2. On the front pages of the newspapers I see, today were stories about fresh, exciting new topics like, um, jobs, debt, recession, Greece, China, Congress, etc. Now, you can clearly argue that those things are of more interest to the readership, but “that story has been told many times already, so we don’t run it anymore” is a bit of a convenient cop-out.

  3. Bob Koss says:

    I certainly don’t agree with Gore’s reasoning,   That said, I looked in vain at your associated link to thinkprogress for the names of those multiple climate scientists you claim nodded approvingly.   
    Not only didn’t I find multiple climate scientists approving, I didn’t  find even one climate scientist mentioned. John Abraham is an associate professor of engineering. Even Brad Johnson at thinkprogress didn’t call him a climate scientist.  It does appear he was trying to lead readers to making that inference by claiming Abraham was “with the Clmate(sic) Science Rapid Response Team.
     
    If Abraham had any credibility as a climate scientist, don’t you think his university would at least mention it?
    http://www.stthomas.edu/engineering/faculty/jpabraham.htm 
     
    All the media spinning is coming home to roost. You just can’t fool all of the people all of the time. It is little wonder the public puts little trust in what the media says.

  4. Chuck Kaplan says:

    So Al Gore and the BBC (when reviewing itself) view the overwhelmingly pro-“consensus” MSM as not pro-Cagw enough.
    How about the climate journalists actually do a real study of what many scientists in related fields actually think? There is GW. There is some AGW. There is precious little evidence for CAGW.
    That distinction between AGW and CAGW is enormously important, and the media totally fails in understanding/reporting that “nuance”.
    That is where the interesting scientific arguments are.

  5. The line of argument featured in the Yale article and offered by Krosnick is consistent with the findings and conclusions of the media analysis in the Climate Shift report.  See chapter 3:

    http://climateshiftproject.org/report/climate-shift-clear-vision-for-the-next-decade-of-public-debate/#chapter-3

    Shorter version, see article I contributed to Momentum magazine:

    http://environment.umn.edu/momentum/issue/3.2s11/blamegame.html 

  6. thingsbreak says:

    @2 rust:
    On the front pages of the newspapers I see, today were stories about fresh, exciting new topics like, um, jobs, debt, recession, Greece, China, Congress, etc. Now, you can clearly argue that those things are of more interest to the readership, but “that story has been told many times already, so we don’t run it anymore” is a bit of a convenient cop-out.

    Amen.
     
    [And no, the answer is not to use each newest paper as both gospel and a peg for a story; that’s just as bad as Andy Revkin has pointed out repeatedly.]

  7. jeffn says:

    What an honest story would look like:

    WASINGTON–Climate activists are preparing for the 19th annual declaration that “time has run out for action on global warming” – this time to be announced in Durban, South Africa.
    The first such gathering happened in Rio in 1992.

    In keeping with the Rio tradition, the Durban gathering this year is expected to avoid discussion of CO2 and focus exclusively on UN policy debates. Attendance is expected to be sparse given light interest in hiking taxes during a recession and because observations continue to show little to no warming since 1992, in stark contrast to activists’ claim at the time that warming would continue dramatically.

    There is a hint of controversy this time around as a growing offshoot of activists threaten to advocate functional alternatives to coal and oil – the main drivers of human CO2 emissions. Scientists, policy experts, engineers, and even liberal and conservative politicians increasingly agree that only nuclear and natural gas are functional alternatives. The vast majority of climate activists steadfastly oppose gas and nuclear power.

    Most observers predict the self-described “pragmatists” will be effectively marginalized in Durban as in years past and the conference will end with it’s traditional call for world-wide adoption of a vague “new, more fair, economic model” as well as announce the location for the next conference.

  8. Keith Kloor says:

    Matthew (5)

    Thanks for the link to the Momentum piece. I hadn’t seen that.

    Rust (2)
    I’d venture to say that Krosnick and his colleagues have followed climate science developments closely. Also, that Susan Solomon paper got huge media play, given the hook.

    And if you’re using examples of the spiraling global economic crisis as examples of old news…well, you’ve got a different definition of news than me. 

  9. Keith Kloor says:

    grypo,

    That’s a nice well done post you did. But it doesn’t really address what Krosnick is asserting in his quote from the latest Yale Climate Forum piece I cite. 

    My take-away lesson from those AAAS panels and from what I consistently read from the likes of Rust, TB, MT, etc on this site is that there is a fundamental disconnect between what they think journalism should be and what daily journalism really is. Krosnick also gets at this when he mentions the “principles” and “ethics” of journalism.
     

  10. Marlowe Johnson says:

    @1
    Well put.  The story that is being missed is how much more expensive things will get the longer we delay and that there are real ‘lock-in’ issues with the energy choices that we make today that severely constrain our options for the future.  It’s not clear to me that MSM has done a good job explaining how the story has evolved from:

    we may have a problem (e.g. Revelle, Carney, etc) in the 70s; to
    we have a problem that can solved at low to moderate cost provided we get moving soon (e.g. Hansen in the 80s, AR1)
    We have a very serious problem that requires urgent action but costs can be managed provided we start to take moderate steps now (i.e. AR4); to
    We have a very serious problem and it is unlikely that we’ll avoid significant impacts in the future unless we invest in serious mitigation and adaptation measures in the very near future. 

  11. Marlowe Johnson says:

    btw Keith, the numbering list buttton doesn’t appear to be working…

  12. Jarmo says:

    I think that average people (who do not read climate blogs) are actually fed up with climate stories in the media. the media, in that respect, have done all they can. 

    #11 The story that is being missed is how much more expensive things will get the longer we delay and that there are real “˜lock-in’ issues with the energy choices that we make today that severely constrain our options for the future. 

    the point missed here is that the taxpayer thinks in terms of the next decade. These things (climate change) will take longer to appear. I expect that we’ll see real changes by 2040.

    Personally I think that nuclear and gas are the way to go for speedy emission control. (jeffn, complete agreement there).

    Has anybody read the post about carbon cycle at J.Curry’s? 
    http://judithcurry.com/2011/08/04/carbon-cycle-questions/

    If Murry Salby is correct (and Roy Spencer and some others), the whole AGW discussion will change. Interesting to see what happens.
     

  13. grypo says:

    Thanks Keith,

    I think the difference between what Krosnik says and what Gore says is that while people agree about the very basic nature of climate change and human contribution, the conversation is not where it needs to be. People are very distanced from the policy and moral discussion.  The media is large driver of what gets discussed in society.  What drives Gore’s and MT’s and Emanual’s and TB’s and Rust’s and my own frustration is that, if consensus science is even close to correct, the urgency about what to do now needs to be ratcheted up several notches.   Instead, what I see, is the new idea is to fight climate change by not even mentioning climate change.  Disown Gore.  Don’t make it seem urgent.  These things really grind up against physical reality and the way in which we process logic.  It’s somewhat of a helpless feeling.  On my article, I realized while writing it that there is no single institution that can get the global conversation to the point it needs to be, but an effort where both scientists and media may have to move beyond some of their traditional roles is likely necessary.  Both parties want each other to it.  I believe it will need to be many more than those already willing.  

    OTOH, while ‘Merchants of Doubt’ stories aren’t cool enough to discuss any longer, this is also a major reason why we have not moved forward.  At some point this needs to be reconciled.  One thing the media could do is investigate some of the more subtle methods at which groups of people subvert the scientists that ARE willing to speak out, by destroying the public trust in their work.  I may be biased, but I think the media has dropped the ball, at least in this area.

  14. grypo says:

    “If Murry Salby is correct (and Roy Spencer and some others), the whole AGW discussion will change. Interesting to see what happens.”

    He (and they) is undoubtedly incorrect based on his podcast.  This is EXACTLY what Chris Colose et al were saying in their comments to Judith about promoting this kind of stuff.  Rinse, repeat!  

  15. Jarmo says:

    #15

    Yes, I sort of gathered that from Colose’s comment:

    Fred,
    I have always respected you and your insight, but you are giving this blog too much credibility; this is another of Judith’s whole charade of “this is interesting! Maybe I will put it on my blog and reserve judgment to avoid any criticism of myself, but pretend it has validity.”
    I pointed this out with Loehle’s piece too. It is a dumb game she plays and everyone else sees it.

     

  16. EdG says:

    I find this claim of insufficient media coverage to border on the absurd – with the qualifier that I watch more than just US media.

    The BBC for example, WAS absolutely relentless in their daily reporting on the extreme story being sold by the AGW crisis industry UNTIL Climategate – which some political impact deniers want to pretend was a non-event ‘cleared’ by self-serving whitewashes.

    As I have stated here before, Climategate was the tipping point. The effects are evident and it is far from over. The insider corruption in those whitewashes is becoming clearer all the time. That was what kicked Humpty IPCC off the wall, and there is no fixing it.

    But I do agree with #14 grypo when he emphatically states: “Disown Gore.” Every time this charlatan’s name cames up it just reminds everyone of what an incredible joke the AGW hysteria is and what total self-serving hypocrites are promoting it.

    And the fact that Joe Romm is on his side says it ALL.

    (probably because they have so much pension money invested in it and much of the UK/EU establishment does too (BBC is their parrot

  17. EdG says:

    Oops. Left some tangled bits that should have been deleted at the end of my last post. Yes, BBC pensions. No conflict there.

    On another front:

    http://nofrakkingconsensus.com/2011/08/05/naming-names-marine-experts-tainted-by-activist-cash/

    Pew! Something smells. 

  18. harrywr2 says:

    Marlowe Johnson Says:
    August 5th, 2011 at 11:18 am
    <i>We have a very serious problem and it is unlikely that we’ll avoid significant impacts in the future unless we invest in serious mitigation and adaptation measures in the very near future.</i>
     
    US EIA has some interesting monthly statistics of ‘renewables’.
    If you look at the statistics there appears to be a substantial lack of  of correlation between ‘renewables’ generation and actual demand.
    I.E. The best wind month is April, the best Hydro and Solar months are June and the maximum demand months are July and August.
    http://www.eia.gov/totalenergy/data/monthly/pdf/sec7_5.pdf
    Since no-one is anywhere close to figuring out a way to store months of electricity as long as the ‘Climate Community’ talks about ‘windmills and solar panels’ then there obviously is not a serious problem.  Serious problems require serious solutions.
    Here is a nice piece from the good folks at ‘earth first’ done in 2009.
    Headline –
    ‘Nuclear industry moves to hijack Obama’s climate bill’
    http://earthfirst.com/nuclear-industry-moves-to-hijack-obama%E2%80%99s-climate-bill/
     
     

  19. Eli Rabett says:

    “If Murry Salby is correct (and Roy Spencer and some others), the whole AGW discussion will change. Interesting to see what happens.”
     
    If pigs were horses cows would fly.
     
    Someone once told Eli to be careful about reading the Economist.  Their trick is to state a number of very wild assumptions (no chancers) and then say, IF all this is correct, why then it simply follows that.  If pigs were horses, cows would fly

  20. Tom Fuller says:

    #20, your link is to a well-written article about Nisbet’s report. It actually corresponds with reality–hence your flight into the fantasy of #21. I’m not surprised you don’t read the Economist. And it seems fairly obvious you didn’t get beyond the lead paragraph in the article you cite. What pray tell do you read?

    A better indication of the state of climate change is looking at the stable of liberal American bloggers–the Ezra Kleins, Kevin Drumms, Matt Yglesias (I want to say Yglesiai…). They used to be good for a couple of climate posts a week, if not more. Just the phoned-in borathons at Climate Progress.

    The others have gone quiet on the subject. If they’re not chasing after it then it’s just us chickens.  No discussions, just rote repetitions of the same positions. 

    It’s not that public opinion on the subject has changed–it cycled back to its resting position. As for media coverage, it just got bumped off the front page. And the second. Now it’s stuck in the ‘worthy but dull’ section near the obituaries. 

  21. Marlowe Johnson says:

    @19

    “as long as the “˜Climate Community’ talks about “˜windmills and solar panels'”

    strawman much harry?

    I suspect you’re trying to make a point but I can’t for the life of me figure out what it is… 

  22. Jarmo says:

    #21

    “If Murry Salby is correct (and Roy Spencer and some others), the whole AGW discussion will change. Interesting to see what happens.”

    If pigs were horses cows would fly.
     
    Salby has written loads of articles (one with Susan Solomon) and Judith Curry takes him seriously. Has he found God or something equally suspicious? Beats me.

    Someone once told Eli to be careful about reading the Economist.

    The Economist is a bit more serious than The National Enquirer. Good advice.

     

  23. Eli Rabett says:

    Used to read it Tommie, until Eli figured out their sthick.  But then again yours is to pretend to be one of the Very Serious People

  24. Jarmo says:

    #25
     Just an interested bystander watching the great minds at work 😉

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