Wrist-Slap the Media: Coverage of UN Climate Report is Really Misleading

Depending on the media outlets you follow, the latest findings from UN scientists on climate change are either overwhelming and frightening, or dubious hogwash designed to cause false alarm.

Most outlets, reacting to the legitimately worrisome findings, have taken the former tact. But a few, mostly in the conservative camp (though not necessarily) have focused on one scientist's skepticism about the report.

From Breitbart: "UN Author Severs Ties with 'Alarmist' Climate Change Writing Team"

From The Washington Times: "U.N. climate author withdraws because the report has become ‘too alarmist’"

From Reuters: "UN author says draft climate report alarmist, pulls out of team"

From Fox News (but of course): "UN author says upcoming climate report 'alarmist,' pulls out of writing team"

This coverage raises an interesting and persistent question debated in journalism schools the world over: what's the fairest way to cover two opposing sides of a major news item?

It's not untrue that a scientist, Richard Tol, defected from the report, and on some level, it's fair to include this information. But there are a couple things to note here.

One is that other scientists have stated that Tol may be making these claims because he's smarting about his own research being underrepresented in the findings. There's also the fact that Tol serves on the Academic Advisory Council of the Global Warming Policy Foundation, which has not only come under fire for its shady anonymous funding structure, but is led by a climate skeptic with links to coal-fired power companies. Both of these facts belong in any story about Tol questioning the report, but have been largely overlooked or systematically left out.

It's also unbelievably unbalanced to make Tol the focus of an entire story. The UN report, released by the reputable Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, had 70 authors, which empirically outweighs the defection of one. More disturbing still is to see headlines used by major news outlets echo that of the (ultra shady) Global Warming Policy Foundation on its dubious site: "Richard Tol Pulls Out, Says IPCC Draft Report Alarmist."

While we're of the camp that climate change isn't really a debate, we're also believers that by definition, the news should present all sides of the argument as fairly as they can. It's the responsibility of journalists not to take things out of context for the sake of selling a story. And in this case? They've failed to do their jobs. And that makes us about as angry as Mika Brzezinski lamenting shameless cable news.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

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