Newsweek: We Mislead You

A cover story from a recent issue of Newsweek about a highly-funded, highly-organized movement of individuals who promote an agenda of denial in regard to global warming caused quite a large stir. The article was linked from blogs and discussion forums all over, with many calling the piece a disgrace, not to mention downright inaccurate. Now one of Newsweek’s critics is also one of its editors. Robert J. Samuelson wrote a column outlining why he thinks the story was “highly contrived”:

If you missed NEWSWEEK’s story, here’s the gist. A “well-coordinated,
well-funded campaign by contrarian scientists, free-market think tanks
and industry has created a paralyzing fog of doubt around climate
change.” This “denial machine” has obstructed action against global
warming and is still “running at full throttle.” The story’s thrust:
discredit the “denial machine,” and the country can start the serious
business of fighting global warming. The story was a wonderful read,
marred only by its being fundamentally misleading.

NEWSWEEK’s “denial machine” is a peripheral
and highly contrived story. NEWSWEEK implied, for example, that
ExxonMobil used a think tank to pay academics to criticize
global-warming science. Actually, this accusation was long ago
discredited, and NEWSWEEK shouldn’t have lent it respectability. (The
company says it knew nothing of the global-warming grant, which
involved issues of climate modeling. And its 2006 contribution to the
think tank, the American Enterprise Institute, was small: $240,000 out
of a $28 million budget.)

alleged cabal’s influence does not seem impressive. The mainstream
media have generally been unsympathetic; they’ve treated global warming
ominously. The first NEWSWEEK cover story in 1988 warned THE GREENHOUSE
EFFECT. DANGER: MORE HOT SUMMERS AHEAD. A Time cover in 2006 was more
alarmist: BE WORRIED, BE VERY WORRIED. Nor does public opinion seem
much swayed. Although polls can be found to illustrate almost anything,
the longest-running survey questions show a remarkable consistency. In
1989, Gallup found 63 percent of Americans worried “a great deal” or a
“fair amount” about global warming; in 2007, 65 percent did.

But the overriding reality seems almost un-American: we simply don’t have a solution for this problem. As we debate it, journalists should resist the temptation to portray global warming as a morality tale—as NEWSWEEK did—in which anyone who questions its gravity or proposed solutions may be ridiculed as a fool, a crank or an industry stooge. Dissent is, or should be, the lifeblood of a free society.

This column was published within the pages of Newsweek. Now, I don’t know about you, but it warms the cockles of my cold heart to see a publication print barbed criticism of its own work. It’s just not as common a tactic as it once was. Newspapers and magazines seem to flinch nowadays at the prospect of having one of their own take them to task within their very own column inches. However, I think it’s a completely classy move. What better way to prove that your news publication has an open mind and values all viewpoints–even those that disagree with the premise of a lot of hard work?

Kudos to Robert J. Samuelson and Newsweek for having the transparency, not to mention the guts, to print a negative assessment of one of their own articles. Much respect.

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Michelle Ryan

About Michelle Ryan

Michelle Ryan is obsessed with good food, great shoes and Alabama football way down South in Savannah, Georgia. She hasn’t met a kitchen gadget she hasn’t at least thought about buying (trying them is another story) and devotes her time to Bikram Yoga, baking and trying to overcome long-held finicky eating habits.