New York Times spins the greatest nonstory ever told
Memo to status quo media: We get it, already. You have already written your “Copenhagen has failed” stories, and are just waiting for the flimsiest excuse to “scoop” everyone else. Your desperation to file this as-yet-unwritten story is unbecoming and also perverse, since, as I’ve argued, prospects for a global deal have never been better. Worse, it is leading to the most dreadful herd-journalism and misreporting imaginable. The following should be a cautionary tale.
Andy Revkin took the biggest “dog bites man” nonstory of the year — that Obama will not get a climate bill on his desk this year — and spun it into a major piece in the one-time paper of record, “Obama Aide Concedes Climate Law Must Wait” (online Friday, print Saturday).
How old is this supposed news? Well, my very first piece explaining that the torturous process — getting through all of the House committees, then the House floor, then all of the Senate committees, and then Senate floor, and then out of conference to merge the two chambers’ bills into one, and then through the House and Senate again — would not put a bill on Obama’s desk until 2010 was on Febuary 3, eight months ago (!) — “Breaking: Sen. Boxer makes clear U.S. won’t pass a climate bill this year.“
For the record, though, Obama’s aide didn’t “concede” anything, with the implication that she was forced to make some sort of damning newsworthy admission. In fact, Browner made this incredibly obvious statement almost as an aside at a confab put on by The Atlantic magazine. The Atlantic thought so little of the supposedly newsworthiness of Browner’s statement that they buried it in the middle of their article on her remarks, “Carol Browner: Now is the Time to Move on Climate.”
In the entire story, Revkin never bothers to explain that for many, many months now the only issue for those who follow DC climate politics has been whether the Senate would pass a climate bill before Copenhagen, not whether a final bill would get onto Obama’s desk before Copenhagen. I would note that his colleagues, John Broder and John Kanter, have written stories that are far clearer — and pointed out a while back that the issue was the timing of the Senate vote (see, for instance, this September 20th story).
The paper’s own editorial desk was so confused that in the print edition’s news summary table of contents on page A2, “Inside the Times,” the headline was, “Climate Bill Called Unlikely,” which would lead any reader just skimming, as most do, utterly misinformed.
But the true result of this bad reporting can be seen in the worst climate story of the week, by Suzanne Goldenberg today (Sunday), “US environment correspondent” for the UK Guardian, which apparently was even more desperate to file the first story that Copenhagen has failed and it’s all America’s fault:
US climate bill not likely this year, says Obama adviser
Carol Browner’s bleak view deepens concerns negotiations will fail to produce meaningful agreement in Copenhagen
The White House has said for the first time that it does not expect to see a climate change bill this year, removing one of the key elements for reaching an international agreement to avoid catastrophic global warming.
In a seminar in Washington, Barack Obama’s main energy adviser, Carol Browner, gave the clearest indication to date that the administration did not expect the Senate to vote on a climate change bill before an international meeting in Copenhagen in December.
Browner spoke barely 48 hours after Senate Democrats staged a campaign-style rally in support of a climate change bill that seeks to cut US emissions by 20% on 2005 levels by 2020.
“Obviously, we’d like to be through the process, but that’s not going to happen,” Browner told a conference hosted by the Atlantic magazine on Friday. “I think we would all agree the likelihood that you’d have a bill signed by the president on comprehensive energy by the time we go in December is not likely.”
Yes, the quote in fourth paragraph does not support the conclusion in second paragraph. Revkin’s failure to explain the distinction between a signed bill on Obama’s desk (which is what Browner was talking about) and Senate passage morphed in this piece into utter misinformation.
We may well not get a Senate vote before the end of the Copenhagen meeting, it’s certainly no better than 50-50 today, but her remarks do not justify what the Guardian wrote, and they certainly don’t justify their “Copenhagen has failed” spin:
Browner’s bleak assessment deepens concerns that negotiations, already deadlocked, will fail to produce a meaningful agreement in Copenhagen.
The Guardian has just set the record for the use of the word “bleak” in a climate article that isn’t about the science.
In fact, Carol Browner said we’ve had “very positive” recent international meetings and even the AP, which felt compelled to join the herd with their version of the non-story, “Obama adviser says no climate change law this year,” concluded its piece accurately:
Browner said the U.S. could still take a leading role at the Copenhagen talks, even without a new climate law.
“We will go to Copenhagen and manage with whatever we have,” she said.
Doesn’t sound like of very bleak assessment to me. Apparently the Guardian, in its version of the children’s game Telephone, never bothered to actually listen to what Browner actually said.
I’ve blogged many times I don’t think that the White House needs to have a signed climate bill — or even Senate passage — for Copenhagen to be successful in the sense of moving international negotiations forward.
Remember, for eight years Cheney-Bush not only muzzled climate scientists and blocked domestic action, they actively worked behind the sciences to kill any international deal. It takes a lot of effort to unpoison a well. And we’ve only had the possibility of serious international negotiations since January. Anyone who thought there would be a final deal, signed and sealed in December, a mere 11 months later, wasn’t paying attention to recent history and doesn’t appreciate the nature of international negotiations.
The fact is, the news from China, India, Japan, and this country is far more positive toward the possibility of agreement than it has been for a decade or longer.
But instead we get this unmitigated bullsh!t from the Guardian:
Browner’s bleak assessment deepens concerns that negotiations, already deadlocked, will fail to produce a meaningful agreement in Copenhagen. It also threatens to further dampen the prospects for a bill that was struggling for support among conservative and rustbelt Democrats.
The UN has cast the Copenhagen meeting as a last chance for countries to reach an agreement to avoid the most disastrous effects of warming. Negotiators – including the state department’s climate change envoy – admit it will be far harder to reach such a deal unless America, historically the world’s biggest polluter, shows it is willing to cut its own greenhouse gas emissions.
Browner’s comments undercut a campaign by Democratic leaders in the Senate, corporations and environmental organisations to try to build momentum behind the bill. The day before Browner’s comments, John Kerry, the former presidential candidate who is one of the sponsors of the cap-and-trade bill, told a conference he remained confident the bill would squeak through the Senate.
Her remarks also raise further doubts about how forcefully the Obama administration is willing to press the Senate for a climate bill in the midst of its struggles over healthcare.
Embarrassingly bad analysis.
Browner’s remarks, if you actually listen to them, make clear President Obama is committed to achieving domestic action and an international deal.
Finally, for the record, back in early February, Greenwire reported:
“Copenhagen is December,” Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) told reporters. “That’s why I said we’ll have a bill out of this committee by then.”
Now that was news!
And while many different statements were uttered by many different people in the subsequent days and weeks, it has been pretty friggin’ obvious from the start that Obama would not see a climate bill on his desk this year. And once Senate Environment and Public Works chair Boxer said she wouldn’t introduce her draft bill before the August break, that outcome was 100% guaranteed (see my July post “Looks like no Senate vote on climate and clean energy bill until at least November — thank goodness!“).
Maybe now that the media has filed their “Copenhagen is dead and America killed it story,” they’ll actually be able to start covering the real story, which is certainly less tidy, but ultimately both far more accurate and far less bleak.