At the 16th annual conference of the Society of Environmental Journalists, there was a panel on media coverage of global warming. One of the panelists was Marc Morano, Sen. James Inhofe’s right-hand man (ha ha). The full roster of panelists:
- Andrew Revkin, Environment Reporter, The New York Times
- Bill Blakemore, Senior Correspondent, ABC News
- Dan Fagin, Associate Professor of Journalism/Associate Director of the Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program, New York University
- Marc Morano, Director of Communications, Environment and Public Works Committee, U.S. Senate
Morano has the opening statement. He recounts the greatest hits from Inhofe’s media speech, with a swipe at me thrown in for good measure. The thrust of his comments is that the media are the referees, and they’re calling the game unfairly. They’re no longer giving skeptics equal time. They “label” this team, but not that team. They interview people on this team, but not on that team. They use this team’s terminology, but not that team’s.
You couldn’t find a more paradigmatic specimen of the conservative victim complex. Any time you’re losing the game, blame the refs.
I get the distinct impression from Morano that it’s all a game to him, a rhetorical jostling for position and power. There’s nothing else, no serious debate about a potentially serious problem, no hard limits set by reality or science, just competing propaganda. Morano thinks its his vs. ours. He seems incapable or at least uninterested in any broader context.
Dan Fagin is merciless. He knocks back a few of the sillier talking points and builds to accusing Inhofe of employing the Big Lie strategy.
Bill Blakemore says outright that he was among many in the mainstream media successfully spun by the denial industry. He traces his learning curve. He says he came to realize that climate change is not a political story, but an event story. “When Mt. St. Helens blew up, we didn’t give equal time to the other side.” Good anecdotes. (Mentions directly to Morano that the reason he uses Hansen as a source and not Pat Michaels is that he checked into their their relative credibility and found one credible and the other not.)
Revkin starts off acknowledging that the media has given Inhofe a lot of ammunition, and that he doesn’t cotton to a lot of the current coverage. Says we need a common definition of "global warming." Says the media has flipped from too much he-said-she-said to acting like everything’s been definitively settled, and that’s not true. Some of the broader, simpler questions have wide consensus, but some of the more cutting edge questions (hurricanes, Greenland sea ice loss, etc.) are much more tenuous.
Oh, God, now Morano’s being a concern troll. He just doesn’t want journalists doing a disservice to themselves, you see. He only has journalism’s best interests at heart. Mm-hm.
He also compares receiving attention and money from environmental organizations to having one’s research funded by oil companies. But of course that’s a false equivalence, always has been.
“Environmental alarmist predictions are made to be made fun of.”
Now he’s practically begging journalists to quote skeptics — he suggests local weathermen. Seriously.
Now they’re reading a question from Seth Borenstein about Inhofe’s distortion of the NAS hockey stick assessment. Morano bullshits. Revkin says the hockey stick is a red herring (amen). Fagin batters him with direct quotes from the assessment’s lead author. Morano stubbornly defends the one quote he’s cherry-picked.
Next question: aren’t you asking others to play by rules you don’t abide by? Morano’s answer: we’re a GOP press office. Nuff said.
Now, after more attacks on one of Seth Borenstein’s articles, moderator reads official Borenstein/AP statement on the matter, which is utterly devastating to Morano’s criticism. Nonetheless, he simply repeats it.
Next question: this has nothing to to with science, it’s about politics — so tell us why we science journalists should take any of it seriously?
Morano: we are too scientific, we have citations and links and everything. But this is political too.
Now, Jim Hansen himself takes the mic. Explains the Heinz award, which Morano keeps ridiculously comparing to oil-industry funding. Says his endorsement of Kerry was lukewarm at best. Says this administration ignored him.
Morano’s defense: we only impugn your motives, accusing you of conflict of interest, because the media does it to Lindzen and Michaels. Nothing personal, you see. A troglodytic piece of moral reasoning.
Final question asks — finally — how is there an equivalence between funding that comes from an industry that stands to lose if climate change is taken seriously, and a political contribution? What’s the parallel?
Morano seems just stunned that this point is not obvious. He barely knows what to say.
Revkin gets the last word: science is self-correcting, so none of this debate is relevant at all to science. But it’s relevant to the "what are we going to do about it" story. Policy stories require more labeling and scrutiny, whereas “science will out.”
So, that was that. I’ll say this for Morano: as full of crap as he is, as deceptive and ugly as he is in his writing, he took a lot of heat and was never less than courteous. For what it’s worth.