With its town hall Wednesday on climate change, CNN joined nearly 200 media outlets vowing to increase their coverage of the “climate crisis,” raising concerns that the real crisis may be less about rising temperatures than the erosion of journalistic objectivity.
The network aired an “unprecedented prime-time event on the climate crisis,” a seven-hour marathon featuring 10 of the 2020 Democratic presidential primary candidates, who took questions early on from activists and climate-woke audience members, with nary a skeptic in sight.
“We have 11 years to avoid the catastrophic consequences of this crisis. Food shortages. Rising sea levels. More extreme weather events like Hurricane Dorian,” said CNN host Wolf Blitzer at the town hall.
CNN is hardly an outlier. The Columbia Journalism Review announced last week that more than 170 U.S. and international news outlets had signed onto Covering Climate Now, a project launched in April by CJR and the leftist magazine The Nation “aimed at strengthening the media’s focus on the climate crisis.”
Not surprisingly, the list leans heavily toward left-wing organs like Democracy Now and Mother Jones, but also includes news sites such as CBS News, PBS NewsHour, a host of local television stations, and regional newspapers like the Colorado Springs Gazette and Minneapolis Star Tribune.
Those joining the initiative agreed to run “a week’s worth of climate coverage in the lead-up to the United Nations Climate Action Summit in New York on Sept. 23,” according to CJR.
Placing more emphasis on climate reporting is one thing, but by embracing the “climate crisis” label pushed by global-warming activists, critics worry that the media outlets have taken sides on a complex, contentious issue, abandoning any pretense of balanced or neutral coverage.
“The fact that the Columbia Journalism Review has joined forces with far-leftist publications The Guardian and The Nation to propagandize a phony climate panic tells you all you need to know about the sad and hopelessly biased state of legacy media outlets today,” said Jim Lakely, spokesman for the free-market Heartland Institute.
Kelly McBride, senior vice president at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies, defended the project as well as the “climate crisis” tag, saying that “a majority of scientists would say it’s a crisis.”
“I think a lot of journalists have shifted from viewing the climate issue as one that is disputed to one that is affecting different communities in different ways,” she said. “So rather than reporting on whether climate change is happening, they are reporting on the actual impact.”
All reputable climate scientists, even those dismissed as “deniers,” believe that the rise in atmospheric carbon-dioxide levels, driven by human-caused emissions, has had an impact on the earth’s climate, but that’s a far cry from declaring the planet is in crisis.
Roy Spencer, a University of Alabama in Huntsville climate scientist formerly with NASA, called the “crisis” label a “gross exaggeration.”
“To use a term like ‘crisis’ when discussing climate change is a gross exaggeration, especially for journalists,” said Mr. Spencer, author of “Inevitable Disaster: Why Hurricanes Can’t Be Blamed on Global Warming.” “There is no aspect of climate change which is of ‘crisis’ proportions.”
World is burning: CJR
That’s not the impression conveyed by CJR’s Covering Climate Now, aimed at “reframing the way journalists cover climate change” at a time when “civilization is accelerating toward disaster.”
“The media are complacent while the world burns,” declared CJR in an April 22 headline accompanied by a wildfire photo.
Then again, NASA found that the area burned by global wildfires dropped by 25 percent from 2003-19, raising the question: What happens to stories that run counter to the “climate crisis” narrative, already underreported by mainstream media outlets?
Climate skeptic Marc Morano, who runs many of those stories on his Climate Depot website, called the journalism initiative “totally unnecessary,” given that the media are “already doing the most crappy reporting they could possibly do.”
“This latest attempt basically says, ‘Keep up more of the same crappy reporting,’” said Mr. Morano. “No dissent. No debate. Let’s promote the UN line, let’s promote the UN claims, let’s promote the idea that the government can control the climate.”
Tim Graham, vice president for media analysis at the conservative Media Research Center, accused the news industry of attempting to snuff debate on climate science and policy.
“The media elites are not only goaded by the Left to see climate change as the overriding story of our lives, but they are goaded to make sure democracy dies in darkness,” said Mr. Graham.
CJR’s Emily Tamkin actually discouraged CNN from lapsing back into what she called a “both sides” approach to the climate story, saying “the moderators should operate on the assumption that the climate is in crisis and that this needs to be addressed.”
Covering Climate Now comes after years of environmental groups urging media outlets to devote more coverage to climate change, a campaign that drew headlines after MSNBC’s Chris Hayes tweeted in July 2018 that climate was “a palpable ratings killer.”
Liberal foundations have been eager to fund climate journalism. The CJR initiative reported receiving $1 million from Bill Moyers, president of the left-tilting Schumann Media Center, which also funds The Nation Institute and Democracy Now, according to InfluenceWatch.
The Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, which publishes CJR, has come under scrutiny in recent years for its Energy and Environmental Reporting Project, which is funded in part by Democratic megadonor George Soros’s Open Society Foundations and several Rockefeller charities, known for their climate advocacy.
The industry group Energy in Depth accused Columbia of “paid-for journalism” over the project’s 2017 article in the Los Angeles Times blaming the Exxon Valdez spill on climate change. Two years earlier, an “Exxon Knew” article failed to disclose the project’s funders, which the Times later added.
The Times said that the reporting was not influenced by its funders, although Rockefeller Family Fund president Lew Wasserman said in 2016 that “we paid a team of independent reporters” from Columbia “to try to determine what Exxon and other US oil companies had really known about climate science, and when.”
Climate reporting has done well in the Columbia-hosted Pulitzer Prize competition. InsideClimate News was a 2016 Pulitzer finalist for its “Exxon Knew” series, while Amity and Prosperity, an anti-fracking book by Eliza Griswold, won a Pulitzer for non-fiction in 2019.
Ms. Griswold is married to Steve Coll, dean of the Columbia journalism graduate school and Pulitzer board member, who authored the 2012 book Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power. The Pulitzer administrator said Mr. Coll recused himself from the voting in all book categories.