PBS criticized for featuring a global warming denier with no scientific credibility
By Bob Berwyn
FRISCO — Public television is the the scapegoat in one of the latest climate capers, as the network’s popular NewsHour program recently broadcast a segment on global warming prominently featureing a fringe, self-described weather expert as a spokesman for the global warming denier movement. Watch the segment here.
The segment started harmlessly enough, with an interview of physicist Richard Muller, who recently claimed conversion from global warming denier status. The interview then whirled off into the realm of the surreal, with a lengthy one-on-one segment with non-scientists Anthony Watts, who publishes a blog that’s become a rallying point and last bastion of sorts for the small minority of Americans who still think global warming is a hoax and/or a conspiracy by scientists to get more research funding.
Unfortunately, the furor over the segment has given Watts a wider audience than ever before. On his own blog, Watts said the reaction to the story drove a surge of visitors to his website, where web surfers find posts filled with inaccuracies and half-truths, along with a bunch of stuff that’s clearly just made up and silly, but presented in a way that’s somewhat seductive to anyone who doesn’t want to believe that we’re poisoning ourselves with carbon dioxide.
The debate over media coverage of climate issues also distracts from the very real need to focus on the science, the consequences of the unrelenting greenhouse buildup and the need to both reduce those emissions and to begin planning on how to adapt and survive in a globally warmer world. It’s time to move on and leave the he-said, she-said arguments behind on this topic — after all, we don’t argue about whether the Earth is flat or round anymore.
Yes, there is a war going on over climate science, and especially the coverage of climate science, but only because we let it continue. Remember the old saying, “What if we gave a war and nobody came?” The same hold true for the climate realm. If we all focus on the reality of what’s happening and what needs to be done, those shrill, ever-more desperate voices at fringe will gradually fade away.
The interview not only was panned by PBS viewers, but drew immediate fire from environmental activists and various media outlets that focus on climate science. All questioned why Watts was featured so prominently in what started out as a science story.
Here’s how the Yale Forum on Climate Change and the media assessed the situation: A PBS ‘NewsHour’ Blog Post and Broadcast Provoke Viewers’ Ire.
In general, critical comments focused on the fact that Watts was allowed to reiterate unproven and half-baked ideas about global warming skepticism without much in the way of a challenge. PBS was also excoriated by not disclosing that Watts gets money from the Heartland Institute, an organization funded partly by the oil industry to sew confusion about climate science.
“This is the kind of reporting we expect from Fox News, not PBS,” said Forecast the Facts campaign manager Brad Johnson. “PBS viewers want public broadcasting be a home for factual discourse, not pollution-fueled lies. They are looking to the ombudsman to explain how this happened and what needs to be done to make sure it never happens again,” Johnson said.
Last night, PBS NewsHour aired an egregious report on climate change, allowing Heartland Institute “expert” Anthony Watts to spout inaccuracies, half-truths, and conspiracy theories without challenge. The supposed “balance” was provided by Berkeley physicist Richard Muller, who only recently acknowledged that climate change is even happening.
Forecast the Facts, an organization that promotes accurate information on climate change, has launched a petition demanding that PBS ombudsman Michael Getler investigate the segment for violations of PBS’ standards on accuracy, integrity, and transparency, and recommend aggressive corrective action.
“This is the kind of reporting we expect from Fox News, not PBS,” said Forecast the Facts campaign manager Brad Johnson. “PBS viewers want public broadcasting be a home for factual discourse, not pollution-fueled lies. They are looking to the ombudsman to explain how this happened and what needs to be done to make sure it never happens again,” Johnson said, calling on PBS to investigate.
PBS ombudsman Michael Gettler apparently agreed, reviewing the segment in a blog post. In the first graph, Gettler got close to the heart of the issue by describing some of the criticism as centering on a “faulty application of journalistic balance.” Since there’s no real objective standard for journalistic balance, that may be a moot point. Global warming deniers were ecstatic that Watts was given a blank check.
Global warming: No science, no problem