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A Warning On Warming Coverage

(CP Photo)
Global warming has been a hot topic (sorry) here at Pubic Eye, and with Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth" hitting theatres, it's a good time to reflect on the evolution of press coverage of the issue. For a long time, press accounts focused on whether or not the phenomenon even existed, but lately it's been treated as established fact in the mainstream media, perhaps most notably in Time Magazine and on "60 Minutes." Consider the comments of Scott Pelley, the correspondent on the "60 Minutes" global warming piece, who told me in February that "60 Minutes" didn't air the voices of global warming skeptics in his piece because "[t]here is virtually no disagreement in the scientific community any longer about global warming. The science that has been done in the last three to five years has been conclusive."

Those who feel that global warming is a significant and too-long-ignored issue, such as Gore, are no doubt generally happy with the change in the tenor of the coverage. But appearing on "On The Media" this week, New York Times science writer Andrew Revkin said advocates should consider the potential ramifications of the recent coverage, which, he says, too often plays up the drama while not always nailing down the science:

Many people out there, including many scientists I've talked to, are incredibly frustrated that scientists have not been able to kind of explain this situation in a way that galvanizes a big public response. And so, this is almost a natural reaction, to kind of reach out, to grasp a little farther toward the thing in the here and now world that might make it a media story or might get people's attention. This can backfire. You get into a realm where there's enough debate that opponents of action on global warming can jump right in and say, "You're just fear mongering."
Certainly the "60 Minutes" pieces on the issue and the Time magazine cover, with its tagline "Be worried, be very worried," attracted such charges.

More Revkin:

When you start focusing on the things that are happening in the here and now world, like hurricanes, my God, it doesn't get any more vivid than that, so you're really - every bone in your journalistic body is trying to find that link. Where's the front page thought here? And the front page thought is clearly that global warming has somehow juiced up last year's hurricane season specifically, in a way that is our fault. You get into this realm where there is legitimate debate still in the science, and you move away from the things that no one disputes, that these gases, like carbon dioxide, trap the sun's heat, they're warming the climate, and they will warm the climate more in coming years.
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