I’ll Have the Climate Coverage, Please

Kurtz wants some; so does the Times, though it doesn’t deliver

On Sunday night, CNN’s Howard Kurtz seconded CJR’s call for more coverage of the series of inquiries and investigations rebutting recent controversies stemming from minor errors in an international climate report and e-mails leaked from a British climate research center. (Kurtz did not mention CJR.)

Last Wednesday, we pleaded for reporters to pay more attention to five recent reviews reaffirming the integrity of the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the scientists involved in the so-called “Climategate” affair. On his regular Sunday-evening media show, Reliable Sources, Kurtz highlighted the fifth and most recent report, released last week, asking why it had received “such scant media coverage.”

Kurtz did give The New York Times credit for “putting the British report on the front page.” Unfortunately, the so-called paper of record did no such thing. On Wednesday the Times ran a decent, 1,200-word piece by Justin Gillis online, but buried it on page A9 of the print edition on Thursday (two days after the report was released). Then, on Sunday, the Times’s editorial board expressed its hope that the British report, as well as a Dutch report debunking Climategate, would “receive as much circulation as the original, diversionary controversies.” Three cheers for the editorial—but given the paper’s own low-profile coverage of the story, it seemed ironically shallow.

[Update, 7/14: Tony Davis, who covers environmental issues for the Arizona Daily Star, just sent me an e-mail pointing out that the story did, in fact, run on page A1 of the Times’s National edition (why the editors didn’t mention that at the bottom of the online article—just like they mentioned that it ran on A9 of the New York edition—is beyond me). So, my apologies to Kurtz. Davis also pointed out that a piece on the British report ran on the front page of the Arizona Republic. The Daily Star unfortunately buried it on page A15.]

Kurtz’s guest on Reliable Sources, Sharon Waxman—the editor of TheWrap.com, an entertainment news site—speculated that the low levels of coverage could be chalked up to the “complicated” nature of the story and reporters who “don’t know what to believe.” (A transcript of the interview can be found here.) While the story is certainly complicated, there are plenty of reporters out there who are perfectly able to keep up—if only their editors would turn them loose.

Another confounding factor is the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s ongoing struggles to improve its communications strategy and foster “openness,” as recent reviews of its methods have called for. On Saturday, New York Times blogger Andrew Revkin had an important scoop, highlighting a letter that IPCC chairman Rajendra Pachauri recently sent to the 831 researchers who will contribute to the panel’s next assessment report, its fifth. In it, Pachauri tells scientists to be wary of reporters. That’s a disappointing stance, given the calls for more transparency. The one hope is that it will prod journalists to deliver the kind of coverage that Kurtz, and CJR, would like to see more of.

Last week, Media Matters for America, a nonprofit organization that watchdogs “conservative misnformation in the U.S. media,” announced that it had joined twelve clean energy and progressive organization in signing a letter urging news outlets to cover the inquiries and investigations rebutting the Climategate and IPCC controversies. One step in the right direction is a short, but on-point article that ran in the print edition of The Economist last week. CNN’s The Situation Room also had a segment on the story, but more is needed.

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Curtis Brainard writes on science and environment reporting. Follow him on Twitter @cbrainard.