Aug
26
2014

WaPo Bemoans a Climate Debate It Helped 'Devolve'

wapo-climateThe Washington Post editorial page is stepping forward to send a message: Climate change is real, the crisis is urgent, and it's time to act. But we shouldn't forget what the paper has done to make addressing climate change more difficult–by regularly publishing climate deniers.

Titled "A Climate for Change," the Post series started in yesterday's edition (8/25/14) with the paper making the point that the "national debate on climate change has devolved." While there was at one point hope that politicians would accept the science and move towards some real solutions, "a faction that rejects the science of global warming dragged the GOP into irresponsible head-in-the-sand-ism."  All the while,  the paper says, the "scientists' warnings have become more dire." So the Post explains:

The shape of the climate debate now and through the 2016 election is important. In the coming days we aim to contribute to that debate with a brief series of editorials.

The piece in today's print edition (8/26/14) includes the subhead, "The Science Is Clear: Humans Have Caused Climate Change." It tells readers that political leaders "remain divided on the need to curb greenhouse emissions," which is simply "mind-boggling" to "mainstream scientists."

The Post explains what exactly is clear–the planet is indeed warming, and the climate crisis is caused by human activity–and says that "most reasonable climate skeptics accept these findings."

Sarah Palin (cc photo: David Shankman)

The Washington Post has done its part for climate discussion devolution (cc photo: David Shankman)

Except for some of the people the Post pays to write columns.

Some of the most high-profile media climate deniers–George Will, Charles Krauthammer and Robert Samuelson–are all Post columnists who have done their part to contribute to the "shape of the climate debate." Krauthammer most recently (2/20/14) mocked the idea that the science of climate change was "settled," and wrote that scientists who warn of the disastrous effects of climate change are "white-coated propagandists." Krauthammer went on TV this year to mock climate change science as "superstition."

Will has a long record of distorting climate science; in 2009 he wrote that warming was "allegedly occurring," and in a 2012 TV appearance scoffed that people were confusing warming for a hot summer: "Get over it."

Samuelson used to pooh-pooh climate change: "It's politically incorrect to question whether this is a serious problem that serious people ought to take seriously," he wrote in the 1990s (7/9/97), and he praised George W. Bush for rejecting the Kyoto accords (6/21/01). Lately (5/11/14) he seems more equivocal: "There’s enormous uncertainty about how much warming will occur, what changes (for good or ill) it will bring and how easily (or not) we can adapt. (He seems to have become one of those "reasonable climate skeptics" the Post editorialists were referring to.)

In 2009 (12/9/09), the paper's op-ed page rather famously turned to noted climate expert Sarah Palin for a piece about how "we can't say with assurance that man's activities cause weather changes."

So if this series is a sign that the Washington Post has truly shifted on climate change, that's a good thing. But if we're to take them seriously about "the shape of the climate debate," perhaps they would like to offer some thoughts about what their paper's columnists have done to warp that discussion. Whatever the case, the Post isn't going to stop running anti-science op-eds. As editorial page editor Fred Hiatt told Joe Strupp of Media Matters (8/26/14), "I'm more inclined to take op-eds that challenge our editorials than just kind of join the chorus."

About Peter Hart

Activism Director and and Co-producer of CounterSpinPeter Hart is the activism director at FAIR. He writes for FAIR's magazine Extra! and is also a co-host and producer of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. He is the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly (Seven Stories Press, 2003). Hart has been interviewed by a number of media outlets, including NBC Nightly News, Fox News Channel's O'Reilly Factor, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and the Associated Press. He has also appeared on Showtime and in the movie Outfoxed. Follow Peter on Twitter at @peterfhart.