Bryan Walsh of Time lets us know what he thinks of Nisbet’s Climate Shift with the title of his post: The Unfair Reception of the Climate Shift Report Shows That Greens Need to Be More Open to New Ideas. He explains why he thinks the reception is unfair in an aside:
So, just to get this straight, a journalism watchdog is applauding a blogger for trying to preemptively keep reporters from reading and writing about a forthcoming report, apparently because we’re not smart enough to figure out what might be true or not on our own?
Apparently. Look at Walsh’s summary of one of Nisbet’s key findings:
Mainstream news coverage–New York Times, Washington Post, CNN.com, Politico and Wall Street Journal–of climate change in 2009 and 2010 actually represented the general scientific consensus on the issue: that global warming is real and that manmade greenhouse gas emissions are a main driver. The idea that the media has engaged in “false balance” in reporting on climate change is, in Nisbet’s view, false.
Compare with Nisbet’s own statement of that finding:
In 2009 and 2010, at The New York Times, The Washington Post and CNN.com, nine out of 10 news and opinion articles reflected the consensus view on the reality and causes of climate change. At Politico, at least seven out of 10 articles portrayed the consensus view.
Did you notice which news source wasn’t mentioned? Nisbet’s analysis found that the Wall Street Journal did engage in “false balance”, but he did not mention this in his key finding. He also downplayed the substantial presence of false balance at Politico.
I was intrigued by some of the other numbers in Nisbet’s paper. He found that in the Washington Post in the 11 months before Copenhagen 93% of the articles reflected the scientific consensus, 5% were falsely balanced and just 2% dismissive of the consensus.
This suggests that “false balance” was all but absent from the Washington Post during that period, when in fact the Washington Post was indulging in a pathological version of false balance, deciding that George Will was entitled to his own facts. In the Washington Post a statement from the Polar Research Group can be balanced by a falsehood from George Will about what the Polar Research Group said.
I decided to look at the those articles myself. I selected the sample in the same way as Nisbet, except that I used Factiva rather than LexisNexis, and used all the articles rather than 1 in 4. I found that 110 (76%) reflected the consensus view, 28 (19%) were falsely balanced, and 7 (5%) were dismissive. Falsely balanced articles reporting on the science (like this one) were very rare. Instead, the falsely balanced articles were about politics, with the science being balanced by a statement from Inhofe that it was all a big hoax.
David Roberts has also commented on on Walsh’s post:
The most puzzling part of Walsh’s post, though, is his umbrage that Joe Romm is trying deliberately to “kill a false narrative.” Walsh says, “as a journalist I’m not a huge fan of being told what I should and shouldn’t think.”
But, but [splutter] … what is Nisbet’s report if not a carefully constructed and packaged narrative designed to tell Walsh and others what they should think? In fact, the entire Breakthrough assault on environmental groups, begun in 2005, has been one of the most adept and skillful constructions of a media narrative I’ve ever witnessed. They and their acolytes are brilliant at manipulating the professional mores and self-images of journalists. By contrast, love him or hate him (and I’m a lover), Joe Romm is not exactly a slick media spin artist. He doesn’t seem to know any way of communicating other than by stating, in the strongest possible terms, what he believes to be correct. He doesn’t couch his criticism in the sort of soothing, this-side, that-side, we’re-all-reasonable-people throat clearing that attracts the admiration of Serious People. He just blasts away, all guns blazing; he can’t help it. Whatever you call that, it’s hardly a devious strategy to control Bryan Walsh’s mind. It’s pretty above board! The guy who really wants to manipulate your narratives, the guy who’s good at it, doesn’t tell you he’s doing it. After all, here’s Walsh scolding greens for not meditating on the conclusions of a report based on numbers he admits are dubious. Looks like someone succeeded in capturing the narrative, and it wasn’t Romm.