No Denying of Access for Climate Change Deniers

May 22nd, 2015 · 1 Comment · climate change, energy policy, environment, journalism

By Denise Tessier

It’s been nearly two years since the Los Angeles Times stopped running letters from climate change deniers, and a few other media outlets have since taken a stand against disseminating misinformation about the science of climate change.

The Albuquerque Journal is not among them.

Once again this past week the Journal ran a guest column advocating skepticism of the existence of climate change.

The May 16 piece by William E. Keller, identified by the Journal as a “Santa Fe Resident,” was written as rebuttal to a letter to the editor that had run a month earlier.

It is possible that Keller submitted his rebuttal in letter form as well, but whatever its intended format, it was run by the Journal as a column. In doing so, Journal editors gave it much more prominent space – on the Journal’s Op-Ed page, at the top right-hand corner – than was given to the letter, which was all of five paragraphs in a page full of letters that ran April 14.

Having cornered Op-Ed page real estate, Keller’s column also got a two-part headline to top it off. “Data support skepticism on climate” was the main headline, followed in smaller type by the sub-head “Hard evidence has debunked some hypotheses that have been part of the party line.”

In his piece, Keller called the previous month’s letter from Charles Caldwell of Albuquerque “a misguided polemic against skeptics” and he put those who are not skeptics on a par with Kermit the Frog (“It’s not easy being green”). From Keller’s column:

Kermit could also have said “it’s not easy being skeptic.” While skepticism is an essential element for science, Caldwell reviles skeptics who don’t agree with him, brazenly exhorting the Journal to “stop wasting ink on denial letters.”…

One may judge for oneself whether Caldwell was “brazen” when he wrote:

PLEASE STOP WASTING ink on climate change denial letters. The science is settled: human activities are contributing to global climate change. It’s no longer opinion; it’s fact and one shouldn’t argue about facts.

One might consider some of Keller’s rebuttal brazen: At one point he countered the assessment that humans cause 27 percent of the rise in CO2 on the planet (as posited by the the U.N. International Panel on Climate Change) by quoting the much lower assessment of 4 percent put forth by an associate professor at the University of Oslo, Tom Segalstad. As one astute reader (Ryan Patterson) posted on the comment stream below Keller’s column on the Journal website, “Tom Segalstad is on the payroll of the Heartland Institute, the leading fossil fuel industry funded think tank in the U.S.”

Keller’s use of a single scientist, Segalstad, to counter the consensus of the majority number of scientists on the IPCC is reminiscent of what BBC News staff members were criticized for in a report from the BBC Trust last summer.

Back then, The Telegraph in Britain reported that the BBC Trust had starting sending hundreds of BBC News staff to seminars and ongoing courses in an effort to stop them from giving “undue attention to marginal opinion.” The training came on the heels of a BBC Trust report that criticized its news journalists for going out of their way to find climate deniers in a misguided attempt to “balance” stories about climate change.

Specifically, the report criticized BBC for trying to find an opposing view when a landmark UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change research project concluded with 95 per cent certainty that the climate is changing and that human activity is the main cause.

Salon.com noted in its story about the BBC report:

As was their due diligence, BBC reporters called a dozen prominent U.K. scientists, trying to drum up an opposing viewpoint. When that didn’t happen — probably because 97 percent of scientists agree that man-made climate change is happening — they turned instead to retired Australian geologist Bob Carter, who has ties to the industry-affiliated Heartland Institute.

In publishing Keller’s column, the Journal used a retired scientist to counter a climate change letter. It seems odd that the Journal would give Keller a tagline of “Santa Fe Resident,” when it could have checked online and followed the Santa Fe New Mexican, which in June 2010 tagged a Keller column it ran, also calling for skepticism of climate change, like this:

William E. Keller holds a Ph.D. in physical chemistry. He retired from Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory in 1989 after 38 years of research and administrative assignments.

But back to the BBC report: The Telegraph said it found an “over-rigid application of editorial guidelines on impartiality” which sought to give the “other side” of the argument, even if that viewpoint was widely dismissed. “Science coverage does not simply lie in reflecting a wide range of views but depends on the varying degree of prominence such views should be given.”

Just a month before the BBC took action to rein in its climate change coverage, the editor of the Flagstaff Arizona Daily Sun published a notice similar to that previously issued by the Los Angeles Times but going even further, telling letter writers:

. . . you are entitled to your opinions, but not your facts. Let’s save our breath and get on with saving the planet.

In his June 2014 column, editor Randy Wilson said it’s not censorship to exclude from the newspaper letters and columns that deny climate change. He wrote:

Yes, journalism is supposed to give voice to the powerless, but that’s not the same as allowing a small minority to filibuster what is arguably the most pressing problem on the planet.

. . . tackling climate change will take collective, global action that deniers don’t seem willing to contemplate, much less engage.

It’s no surprise that the entertainment giant Fox News then criticized the Arizona paper for taking this stand. More than five years ago, Fox ordered its staff to “refrain from asserting that the planet has warmed (or cooled) in any given period without IMMEDIATELY pointing out that such theories are based upon data that critics have called into question,” according to a memo obtained by the watchdog group Media Matters.

(For a long and very thorough look at how Fox, buoyed by its success as an explicitly conservative network, has used right-wing bias and inaccurate reporting to become a powerful influence on the Republican Party and the public at large, read this piece that was posted today by Bruce Bartlett, a former Republican and one-time Fox commentator, who worked for Ron Paul and Jack Kemp and in the administrations of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.)

To sum up: Charles Caldwell wrote a letter to the editor asking the Journal to stop running climate change denials.

The Journal ran Keller’s column, making it clear that’s not going to happen any time soon.

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One Comment so far ↓

  • Charles Caldwell

    Thank you for the fine rebuttal to Mr. Keller’s editorial which criticized my letter to the Journal. While I don’t have a PhD I am a retired professional engineer who reads widely on many subjects and I’m worried about the world we’re leaving to our grandchildren. Keep up your good work and may the climate deniers raise their heads from the sand sooner rather than later.

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