Earlier this week, Politico, the influential Beltway newspaper, ran an awful story on climate change skeptics (two, actually). I kind of, um, flipped out, and Politico got bashed by Joe Romm, Brad Johnson, Ezra Klein, Matt Yglesias, Steve Benen, Curtis Brainard, and Adam Siegel.

Now Politico has run a long letter by Russ and me and a response from Politico editor Jeanne Cummings. Most of what there is to say about the original piece is in there.

A few extraneous thoughts as the hubbub dies down.

Some sympathy is due reporter Erika Lovley. She got pretty brutal treatment, from me among others, but she’s just an inexperienced cub reporter who’s no doubt horrified at the storm that’s blown up. (I wish now that I hadn’t impugned her natural intelligence, which I know nothing about; it’s not like I’ve never been rolled.) The real blame here belongs to Politico‘s editors, who should have given her more guidance, at least enough to stop this piece.

In her response, Cummings says, "The reaction by that broad community to this relatively minor nod to their last opponents seems, itself, a bit overheated." I’ve heard similar things from other people, along the lines of, “The story was bad, but it’s just one little story, a goof, why the nuclear response?”

Well, there’s a history here, that’s why. The media too often treats climate change as a squabble between right-wing skeptics and "extreme environmentalists". For decades, it’s been portrayed as an interest-group pissing match or a quasi-religious dispute between ideologues. Serious people, grown-up non-ideologues, didn’t much get involved.

But that portrayal is utterly at odds with reality. It’s not a squabble. Average global temperature is rising and humanity’s greenhouse gas emissions are responsible. That is something "environmentalists say" because it is a fact. It is firmly entrenched in mainstream science, having undergone peer review of a scope and intensity beyond any other scientific theory in memory. It has been corroborated across dozens of scientific fields and new findings bolster it every day.

For those of us writing about climate change, and for climate scientists, it’s been like being stuck in the Truman Show (or Network). Imagine, I don’t know, health advocates being forced to waste years arguing not about solutions and policies but simply that tobacco is a genuine health threat. Oh, wait …

A lot of anger has built up over time, and yes, a bit of a hair trigger. After I published my post I was contacted and thanked by science reporters, congressional aides, and various greens. They, like me, were under the impression that the media’s propensity for false “balance” on climate change was finally in the past — that the era of Potempkin debate about basic climate science was over.

That’s what I forgot in my unduly heated post, though: It is over. Pieces like Politico‘s are anachronisms. The antediluvian up-is-downism of Marc Morano, Chris Horner, and Ed Morrissey is an anachronism. Reality is back in season. National, state, regional, and city leaders all over the world are collaborating and moving forward on strategies for reducing emissions; even the hardcore polluters whose interests Morano seeks to represent are no longer clinging to outright denial.

Here’s the thing: The deniers and the interests they’re fronting for will be back. All these same guys — the same think tanks, industry coalitions, and good-soldier bloggers — will be back next year lying about the cost of carbon legislation, with economics as shoddy as their science. If a paper like Politico is still getting hoodwinked by their last bag of tricks, how can we trust it will see through the next one?


And a note from the editor:

Too often in these days of the instant online news cycle, arguments about serious subjects devolve into personal attacks — blog vs. blog, anchorman vs. anchorman. Grist was right to go after the two Politico stories, but we took unfair shots at the reporter who wrote them. Dave’s mea culpa aside, it was my slip up, not his.

We can’t erase our mistake, but I can promise Grist readers that we’ll keep our snark and razor wit aimed at bad ideas, not people (though we do reserve the right to continue calling Sen. Jim Inhofe a cynical flat-earther). Enjoy the rest of the Thanksgiving weekend.

— Russ Walker