Juan Cole, who has himself been a target of political campaigns regarding Middle East foreign policy, lays out why climatologists haven’t been as successful as they could be in persuading the public (hint: It’s not framing). First:
Very, very wealthy and powerful interests are lobbying the big media companies behind the scenes to push climate change skepticism, or in some cases (as with Rupert Murdoch’s Newscorp/ Fox Cable News) the powerful and wealthy interests actually own the media.
Reason number two:
Powerful politicians linked to those wealthy interests are shilling for them, and elected politicians clearly backed by economic elites are given respect in the US corporate media. Big Oil executives e.g. have an excellent rollodex for CEOs, producers, the bookers for the talk shows, etc. in the corporate media. They also behind the scenes fund “think tanks” such as the American Enterprise Institute to produce phony science. [Note: changed as I double-pasted a paragraph]
Onto number three:
Media thrives on controversy, which produces ratings and advertising revenue. As a result, it is structured into an ‘on the one hand, on the other hand’ binary argument. Any broadcast that pits a climate change skeptic against a serious climate scientist is automatically a win for the skeptic, since a false position is being given equal time and legitimacy. It was the same in the old days when the cigarette manufacturers would pay a ‘scientist’ to go deny that smoking causes lung cancer.
If that sounds at all familiar to creationists, well…. Anyway, reason number four:
Journalists for the most part have to do as they are told. Their editors and the owners of the corporate media decide which stories get air time and how they are pitched.
Think he’s wrong? That certainly seems the case with financial reporting. Another reason:
Many journalists are generalists and do not themselves have the specialized training or background for deciding what the truth is in technical controversies. Some of them are therefore fairly easily fooled on issues that require technical or specialist knowledge….
The good journalists are aware of their limitations and develop proxies for figuring out who is credible. But the social climbers and time servers are happy just to host a shouting match that maybe produces ‘compelling’ television, which is how they get ahead in life.
Cole makes some other good points too–as the kids say, read the whole thing. But the take home message for me is that this isn’t about framing, but fundamental institutional and structural biases. I’m not sure how to fix these problems, but blaming scientists certainly isn’t the way to do it.