Michigan race highlights all that’s wrong with climate and election reporting
We’ve gotten used to not hearing “climate change” on the lips of politicians on the campaign trail this fall. But a very close congressional race in northern Michigan, a place with no lack of grassroots green activism from the area’s residents, is shaping up quite differently when it comes to the environment — at least in some ways.
While climate change may be a part of the discussion — and even the debates — it’s still been largely up to the candidates to make up the facts as they go along, while local journalists are content to report what happens as opposed to what’s true.
The Columbia Journalism Review reports:
[T]he enormous, sparsely populated congressional district—it spans two time zones and more than 30 counties in Michigan’s upper and lower peninsulas—has an especially sensitive relationship with the environment. Here, where life is defined by the Great Lakes, environmental issues are intimately connected to economic issues.
Tea Party-backed (and oil and gas-funded) Republican Dan Benishek is running against Blue Dog Democrat Gary McDowell here. And despite the red and blue, everything’s gone a little green in their debates. But while the issue is front and center, the he-said/she-said coverage coming out of local outlets is obscuring the facts. From CJR:
There is more we need to learn about how climate change is (or isn’t) related to some specific natural phenomena. And there are political debates to be had about the costs and benefits of various policy responses. But references to “global cooling” and the supposedly doubtful existence of climate change are nonsense that impedes, rather than advances, those debates. Reporters should say as much.
Instead, according to CJR, it’s been more like:
From the Petoskey News-Review debate story: “‘The things Gary just said about me aren’t true,’ Benishek said.” And from an earlier Escanaba Daily Press article: “Benishek says that’s not true.”
Which, really, should not be a surprise to anyone who follows electoral politics.
I appreciate The Columbia Journalism Review’s indignation here, I really do. In Michigan like in so much other reporting in these last few frenzied pre-election days, facts have taken a back seat to campaign talking points. Journalists, for their part, seem happy to be along for election ride as long as its a wild one. But, real talk: The Benishek-McDowell race isn’t what’s at stake here — this is about the degradation of quality information that’s available to the public on crucial matters like climate. We’ll get further with fact-checking than we will with recycled campaign quotes or the righteous indignation they might inspire in us.
- At Michigan’s edge, global warming emerges as campaign issue , The Columbia Journalism Review