SEJ 2006: Marc Morano Takes on Alarmist Reporting

We’ve known that Marc Morano was a brave man for some time, but he proved it again last night at the Society of Environmental Journalists’ conference here in Burlington. He was the lone critic on a panel about the media and global warming entitled “And Now a Word from Our Critics…” Not only was he the only critic of the mainstream reportage of climate change on the five-member panel, but I seemed to be one of the only people in the packed ballroom not actively hostile to his point of view.

The panel lineup had changed significantly from the original plan – Associated Press reporter Seth Borenstein was sidelined due to an illness in the family (although was later noted to be listening to the proceedings via cell phone). The final lineup consisted of Oregon Public Radio producer Christy George, ABC News correspondent Bill Blakemore, New York University professor Dan Fagin, Marc and New York Times environment reporter Andrew Revkin.

Moderator Christy George started by noting in her introduction that Marc serves as communications director to Sen. James Inhofe, saying “he is sort of his Karl Rove, or maybe his Dan Bartlett.” Given the political leanings of the crowd, this cannot exactly be considered a compliment.

Marc started by making his point that many news stories about global warming science apply uneven labels to the advocates vs. the skeptics of catastrophic global warming theory, and that some more marginal media outlets have gone much farther, explicitly comparing climate skeptics to Holocaust deniers. Despite Marc mentioning it repeatedly, no one on the panel would comment on whether they thought such an outrageous comparison was justified.

It was especially disappointing that no one else on the panel thought that the Holocaust denial comparison was worth commenting on, because it has emboldened the rise to an even nastier and more offensive rhetorical trick. Not only have climate skeptics been referred to “deniers” in order to generate the (frequently) unconscious mental association, but recently one publication went further and called for Nuremberg-style war crimes trials for people who challenge the alleged “consensus” on climate change. See how that works? In one bold move Holocaust deniers become Holocaust perpetrators. Is that really the level of debate to which we’ve descended?

I won’t give a blow-by-blow of everyone’s comments (you can watch the whole thing on Google Video if you like, shaky camera work and all), except to say that the standout comments of the evening came from Andy Revkin. He drew an excellent difference between reporting on the science (a new study on hurricanes just came out) and reporting on the politics (Tony Blair calls on U.S. to embrace Kyoto Protocol). There are different standards and expectations for each, and those are sometimes forgotten.

Also good, and rather surprising, was Revkin’s choice to take some of his colleagues to task for over-hyping the results of individual scientific studies by claiming the latest paper out of whichever journal is conclusive proof that we are even now in the midst of catastrophic climate change. It was good to hear.