The article probably won’t make anyone immersed in this tussle happy. It describes the meeting for what it is: a gathering of scientists, economists and individuals, some with industry ties but many driven mainly by libertarian passions or a nonconformist streak, who have hugely varied views on what’s up with climate …

But I’ll surely also get angry e-mail from some of the hundreds of scientists who’ve devoted careers to identifying links between greenhouse gases and warming. Many top scientists in this arena feel none of the skeptics (or merchants of doubt, depending on whom you talk to) deserves an inch of newsprint …

I’m trying to do several things in my articles, where space allows: convey what’s confidently understood about the human influence on the climate and then honestly describe the range of responses (from the individual to the intergovernmental) that might meaningfully limit related risks …

… The hurdles to effective journalism on issues like this are many (and pressures on the media are making things worse, not better).


In technical terms, Revkin’s dilemma is known as the Hostile Media Effect, according to an interesting post by communications expert Matthew Nisbet at his blog, Framing Science. And that effect is probably the reason that most of the press didn’t touch the Heartland Institute conference: many unsure reporters do, in fact, consider it a bear trap. The few other seasoned journalists who took a shot at explaining the event, like The Washington Post’s Juliet Eilperin, who called the conference a “global warming doppelganger” of the IPCC process, found just as much controversy as Revkin. Even CNN’s Miles O’Brien is taking heat from Newsbusters’ Noel Sheppard for likening conference-goers to “flat earthers.” Only Reuters deserves a kick in the pants for its ridiculous cop-out and utterly pointless report about the ad hominem “roasting” of Al Gore.


Journalists should not shy away from reporting and analyzing events like a group of skeptics’ opportunistic use of a cold spell, no matter whom they rankle. If such things are as riddled with pseudo science and misdirection as environmentalists claim, then explaining that will surely do no harm. The public remains easily confused by climate and weather, and skeptical arguments resonate. As the Arkansas Democrat Gazette reported Monday, a local judge attended the Heartland Institute conference in order to learn something that he might use to argue against a proposed moratorium on coal-fired power plants. So a head-in-the-sand approach is simply not an option.

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Curtis Brainard is the editor of The Observatory, CJR's online critique of science and environment reporting. Follow him on Twitter @cbrainard.