Let’s Be Real

A British newspaper, the Guardian, recently announced its new campaign to directly fight against climate change, pledging to ramp up its already ubiquitous coverage of the issue with hard hitting criticisms of the fossil fuel industry and the systems that keep that industry in power.

Commenting on this unusually direct approach from a newspaper, Tim McDonnel, of Mother Jones, notes that “The idea of a newspaper undertaking an openly activist campaign straight from the playbook of Greenpeace or the Sierra Club might seem strange to American audiences, who are accustomed to news outlets at least purporting to adhere to some degree of journalistic objectivity.”

Indeed, Alan Rushbridger, editor of the Guardian, states quite bluntly that the newspaper will be taking a clear stance: “For the purposes of our coming coverage, we will assume that the scientific consensus about man-made climate change and its likely effects is overwhelming. We will leave the sceptics and deniers to waste their time challenging the science. The mainstream argument has moved on to the politics and economics.”

In response, McDonnel asks: “Is it time for the Washington Post and the New York Times to launch climate petitions of their own? [James] Randerson [assistant national news editor at the Guardian] wouldn’t say, but he did argue that especially in the United States, ‘the media have not done a service to their readers in explaining what’s really at stake here.’”

Here in the United States, we emphasize journalist integrity and objective reporting in spite of, or perhaps because of, how blatantly biased our mainstream news outlets are. It was recently reported that Fox News is America’s the most trusted news source, a frustrating, but perhaps unsurprising fact given that their brand is built on the slogan “Fair and Balanced,” (no matter how much their actual reporting betrays this mantra.) The problem isn’t that outlets like Fox News have a bias, but that by denying this bias, they establish a reputation of legitimacy among viewers, and are then able to get away with lying to their viewers. Conversely, it’s worth considering that some viewers may be aware of and even identify with the positions of outlets like Fox News, but by also believing that their particular views are rooted in objectivity, they fail to how their personal vision of objective is actually rendered meaningless.

For this reason, The Guardian’s decision to embrace a definite stance and tackle climate change head on challenges American media in good way. When faced with a situation as dire as climate change, sometimes rules need to be bent in order to do, ironically enough, what is right. Just as the future consequences of climate change are “incompatible with any reasonable characterisation of an organised, equitable and civilised global community,” so too, I argue, is the probable threat of these consequences incompatible with the currently established journalistic order. I’m not arguing that media should lie when covering climate change, but that,  like how science’s obsession with (an impossible) absolute certainty on all facets of climate change is slowing us down, pretending that covering idiotic, pseudo-scientific viewpoints for sake of being “Fair and Balanced” is also greatly impeding upon our ability to respond to climate change in a pertinent, timely manner. True objectivity is impossible to the extent that biases in the media, now matter how much we try to deny them, are an inevitability; human perception itself is an act of bias. Having a bias rooted in scientific evidence and logical analysis, however, should not be considered the journalist crime that America’s obsession with “Fair and Balanced” leads us to believe it is.

It’s this  adherence to hollow, journalistic ideals that plays into our naïveté in reelecting the same capitalist puppets to government over and over again. As long as we continually listen to these inadequate, misinformed voices in our political discourse, listening solely on the basis that we are being fair, we stand no chance of improving our situation. I believe that thoroughly changing, if not outright rebuilding our current news media is going to be crucial in the climate change fight, and while this is no simple task to accomplish, calling out the intrinsic errors in America’s conceptualization of what the media is and should be is at least an important first step. The fundamental problem with America’s media driven understanding of climate change isn’t that we’re having a debate; it’s that we’re having the wrong debate, and this is where changing our understanding of media bias is important for considering which voices at least have a point, and which are only procrastinating imminent disaster.

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