New York Times public editor Margaret Sullivan believes the paper is making progress when it comes to using the more accurate term "denier" -- rather than "skeptic" -- to refer to those who reject the scientific consensus on climate change.
In an interview with Media Matters, Sullivan described "denier" as the "stronger term" and the appropriate label "when someone is challenging established science." Sullivan said that "the Times is moving in a good direction" on the issue, adding that the newspaper is using the term "denier" more often and "perhaps should be doing it even more."
She also likened the discussion to the Times' process for evaluating whether to refer to "enhanced interrogation techniques" as torture, stating: "After a long time the Times came around to calling it torture and I thought that was a very good thing. I think we're sort of in the same realm with the business about skeptics and deniers."
Sullivan, who briefly addressed the distinction between "skeptics" and "deniers" in her May 7 column, said she doesn't have any immediate plans to return to the topic. But she reiterated that "language choice is something that interests me a lot because I think it's something that matters."
Philip Corbett, the Times' associate managing editor for standards, confirmed to Media Matters that Times staff are "aware of the issue and have discussed it." Corbett said Times reporters and editorial staff "do our best" to keep the proper use of labels in mind "even if the process is not always perfect," and that "[w]e intend to continue scrutinizing future stories with these concerns in mind."
From the June 18 edition of CBS Evening News:
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From the June 18 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Briet Baier:
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Pope Francis' encyclical on climate change reveals his belief that there is a moral obligation to act swiftly on climate change, which disproportionately harms the world's poor. But conservative media are relentlessly attacking the pope over the encyclical, calling it "insipid" and "blasphemous," and fearmongering that the Catholic leader is a "Marxist" pushing for "a new world order," among other things.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush made news on his first official day as a GOP presidential candidate by suggesting that Pope Francis' forthcoming encyclical on climate change could inappropriately push religion "into the political realm" and declaring: "I don't get my economic policy from my bishops or my cardinals or my pope." But the media should be covering Bush's remarks in the context of a closed-door meeting he held with coal industry CEOs earlier this month -- an important piece of information that could shed some light on who Bush is actually getting his "economic policy" from when it comes to climate change.
Bush's June 1 appearance at the Coal & Investment Leadership Forum was first revealed in a May 29 report by The Guardian, based on materials the newspaper received from the Center for Media and Democracy, a non-profit watchdog group. As The Guardian reported at the time:
The former Florida governor is appearing at the invitation of six coalmining company owners and executives: Joe Craft III of Alliance Resource Partners, Kevin Crutchfield of Alpha Natural Resources, Nick DeIuliis of Consol Energy, Garry Drummond of Drummond Company, John Eaves of Arch Coal, and Jim McGlothlin of United Coal Company.
Between them, the six companies have spent more than $17.4m on campaigns and lobbying since the last presidential elections, according to the Center for Responsive Politics Open Secrets website.
The Guardian further noted that the meeting occurred "at a critical time for the energy industry and for Bush's political ambitions," with the Environmental Protection Agency "expected to finalize new rules for carbon pollution from power plants this summer" and Bush "relatively free of fundraising disclosure requirements until the official launch of his presidential campaign."
From the June 16 edition of Fox News' The Five:
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From the June 16 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:
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A June 13 New York Times article about the pope's forthcoming climate change encyclical failed to follow leading Times staffers' recommendations by using the term "climate skeptic" to refer to those who blatantly deny established climate science.
The Times article stated that the Vatican's stance on climate change has "rankled ... climate change skeptics, who have suggested that Francis is being misled by scientists[.]" It added that "a group of self-described climate skeptics, led by the Heartland Institute" organized a protest of the Vatican's position in Rome, and described Marc Morano, a member of the Heartland delegation to Rome, as a former "aide to Senator James M. Inhofe, an Oklahoma Republican and climate change skeptic."
But these descriptions of Heartland, Morano, and Inhofe run counter to the recommendations of The Times' public editor and one of its environmental reporters, each of whom has firmly gone on record against referring to climate science deniers as climate "skeptics."
Just last month, Times public editor Margaret Sullivan responded to an open letter from a group of Fellows from the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry and a petition by Forecast the Facts (which Media Matters supported by conducting research into media coverage) asking media outlets to stop incorrectly referring to climate science deniers as "skeptics." Sullivan stated: "The difference between skeptic and denier ... may seem minor, but it's really not. Simply put, words matter." And in February, Times environmental reporter Justin Gillis wrote that the term "skeptic" should not apply to those who "make scientifically ludicrous claims, such as denying that carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas or rejecting the idea that humans are responsible for its increase in the atmosphere."
But making "scientifically ludicrous claims" about climate change is precisely what the Heartland Institute, Morano, and Sen. Inhofe have done:
Bloomberg has published several columns by contributor Robert Bryce that either attack renewable energy or promote oil without disclosing that he is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute's Center for Energy Policy and the Environment, which has long received significant funding from ExxonMobil.
The Wall Street Journal's opinion page has been serving as a mouthpiece for the fossil fuel industry's attacks on the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Clean Power Plan, which will set limits on carbon pollution from power plants. Nearly every WSJ op-ed about the proposed rule since it was released on June 2, 2014 has been written by people with ties to the energy industry -- and every single one has attacked it.
From the June 4 edition of CNN's The Lead with Jake Tapper:
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"The floods in Texas, the strengthening storms ... these things are a result of human activity making things worse."
On CNN, Bill Nye provided this necessary climate change context to the devastating floods, which killed dozens last week in Oklahoma and Texas, where new monthly rain records were set. But this time, it isn't just "the Science Guy" who is connecting the dots. While past media coverage has largely failed to explain the role of climate change in extreme weather events like wildfires, snowstorms and droughts, Nye's CNN appearance was just one of many examples of major media outlets covering the recent floods in a science-based global warming context, a promising sign that the press is beginning to do more to address the relationship between climate change and extreme weather.
In recent days, the role of human-induced climate change in devastating weather events like the floods was also a featured story on both NBC's Nightly News and the CBS Evening News. On NBC, anchor Lester Holt introduced a report about Texas's "weather whiplash" in which national correspondent Miguel Almaguer explained that "[s]cientists say climate change is exacerbating the wild swings."
On CBS, correspondent Kris Van Cleave noted that a new study by researchers at Rutgers University found that "climate change in the Arctic is slowing the jet stream over the Northern Hemisphere," resulting in prolonged weather conditions that lead to more heavy rain, heat waves, droughts, and snowstorms. As Rutgers climatologist David Robinson explained during the CBS segment: "Everything slows, and with it, weather patterns persist over areas for longer periods of time. That could make a wet situation dangerously wet ... [and] a heat wave dangerously long."
CNN's coverage of the floods has also stood out. CNN's Carol Costello began her May 29 interview with Nye by affirming that "97 percent of scientists say climate change is real and much of it is driven by man," and what followed was a helpful discussion about how the floods demonstrate the need for media to "talk about" climate change.
From the June 1 edition of CBS Evening News:
Univision and the Los Angeles Times have thoroughly debunked an ad by the anti-immigrant group Californians For Population Stabilization (CAPS) that blames California's drought-induced water shortage on immigration.
Although CAPS presents itself as an organization focused on "preserv[ing] the environment," numerous experts have pointed out that the group disingenuously uses environmental concerns to promote an anti-immigrant agenda. For example, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has described CAPS as "a nativist organization masquerading as an environmental group." Similarly, Huffington Post reported that the executive director of the California Immigrant Policy Center (CIPC) remarked of CAPS: "They're basically trying to find any way to spin their anti-immigrant vitriol, so hey, why not choose the environment?" And NBC News reported that "[t]he National Council of La Raza said CAPS can say their concern is the environment, but that it is actually an anti-immigrant group."
According to SPLC, CAPS is part of an anti-immigration network that includes several organizations that have been labeled as "hate groups." Further, SPLC notes that CAPS has received funding from the Pioneer Fund, which has bankrolled "leading Anglo-American race scientists." The California drought is not the first example of CAPS exploiting a crisis in order to advance its anti-immigrant agenda -- in 2011, the group used California's unemployment rate to advocate for "slow[ing] legal immigration."
CAPS' television ad that plays on concerns about the drought features a young boy asking, "[i]f Californians are having fewer children, why isn't there enough water?" On the May 27 edition of Univision's Noticiero Univision, correspondent Luis Megid interviewed San Francisco State University professor Oswaldo Garcia about the ad:
Garcia, a meteorology professor and tropical climatology expert, dismissed CAPS' claims. He noted that although California's population has grown, 80 percent of the state's developed water supply is used for agricultural -- not residential -- purposes.
The Los Angeles Times also rebutted CAPS in both a news article and column. Addressing CAPS' claims in a May 24 article, the Times reported:
Some drought experts have taken issue with [CAPS'] claims, pointing out that the majority of the state's water supports agriculture.
Blaming the drought on immigrants "doesn't fit the facts," said William Patzert, a climatologist from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The drought is caused by meager snowpack and poor planning, he said, "not because the immigrants are drinking too much water or taking too many showers.
Others point out that many immigrants probably use less water than the average California resident because they tend to live in multi-family dwellings, not higher-consuming single-family homes.
"It's unlikely that the 'burden' of immigrants is very significant," said Stephanie Pincetl, professor in residence at the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability at UCLA."
Additionally, in a May 26 column, the Times' Michael Hiltzik wrote that CAPS was "exploit[ing]" the drought by "immigrant bashing," and added that "pointing the finger at immigrants" is "cynical, dishonest and factually incorrect." Hiltzik noted that even with population growth, "a sharp reduction in urban per capital water use" has allowed the state's total water consumption to go down (emphasis added):
The truth is that California has been able to sustain that huge increase in population without a commensurate increase in water consumption--actually, with a decrease in water consumption. In 1990, when the census placed the state's population at 29.8 million, the state's freshwater withdrawals came to 35.1 billion gallons per day, according to the authoritative U.S. Geological Survey. In 2010, with a population of 37.3 million, that state drew 31.1 billion gallons per day.
How did that happen? Chiefly through a sharp reduction in urban per capital water use, which has been falling steadily since the mid-1990s, according to the Public Policy Institute of California, and especially in the populous coastal zone.
CAPS' anti-immigration claims, which were recently echoed by the National Review, are reminiscent of other conservative media outlets that have used the California drought as an opportunity to baselessly attack environmental policies.
From the May 29 edition of CNN Newsroom:
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