If you’ve ever suspected that the global warming news in the big newsweeklies has a bias, then you need to see Robert J. Samuelson’s recent column on the topic. In an article titled, “Greenhouse Simplicities,” Samuelson attacks a recent Newsweek cover story on global warming as “fundamentally misleading.” He goes on to slam it as “peripheral and highly contrived,” adding that “self-righteous indignation can undermine good journalism.”
So why is this unusual? Because Samuelson is a contributing editor for Newsweek. What we have here is a valued member of the Newsweek family biting a hand that feeds him. And Samuelson isn’t simply disagreeing with another editor’s opinion; he’s attacking the truthfulness of the magazine’s news.
But, first, for those who haven’t seen the original Newsweek cover story, let’s stop here and explain. The original Newsweek cover was billed as “The truth about denial.” It described a so-called “denial machine,” reportedly funded by industry, trying to obstruct those who are battling the global warming threat. The article was an unveiled attempt to discredit certain scientists who don’t view global warming as a crisis.
Let’s also bear in mind that this was no small article. It was a cover. At least four reporters contributed to it, a veteran writer authored it, and probably a dozen or more editors presumably checked its facts and gave it the go-ahead. And yet, here we have someone the stature of Samuelson cautioning that “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 industry stooge.”
We’ve said previously in this space that many magazines and newspapers appear to be premature in suggesting that the global warming debate is over. We don’t know why they’re so anxious to do that, but we believe that there’s nothing wrong with scientific dissent, especially since our reader surveys suggest that many engineers aren’t ready to believe the debate is over.
And that’s significant, because the engineers of our society are the ones who are going to have to build more efficient engines, better batteries, lighter structures, and “greener” electric motors to meet the changing needs of the earth. If the dire predictions of crisis are true, then it’s the engineers who are going to have to bail us all out. So, yes, it would be nice if engineers actually believed what they’re being told.
The problem is, most people don’t know where to get their information on this topic. When I talk to engineers, I often hear them say that they refuse to get their news from newsweeklies, such as Time and Newsweek. Many also don’t believe what they read in daily newspapers about global warming, fearing that too many reporters are on the kinds of “moral crusades” that Samuelson describes.
But let’s be honest here: Most of us don’t read the white papers on atmospheric physics and climatology that might give us more scientific insight (here’s a good place to find links to such papers, though, if you’d like to start). Oh, we might read a few papers, but the volume of information on global warming is enormous, so we end taking the word of…who? Who provides the information we can trust?
That’s really what it comes down to: Given the absence of time to conduct our own personal studies, we have to find a source we can trust. And if we can’t trust mainstream newspapers and magazines on this topic – if they are, as Samuelson says — on moral crusades — then how do we know what to believe?