Sun's coverage of global warming was the right thing

Public Editor

February 11, 2007|By Paul Moore | Paul Moore,Public Editor

Last week, a report prepared by a panel of 2,500 scientists from around the world concluded that global warming is almost certainly real and is primarily man-made. The Sun placed an article by the Associated Press, which first broke the story, at the top of its Friday, Feb. 2 front page. Many other newspapers led their front pages with the story the next day.

Because The Sun reacted aggressively and intelligently by running the AP exclusive, it was able in the following days to produce a series of articles that further examined the report on global warming - including an assessment of the potential consequences in Maryland and what might be done about them.

In my view, the newspaper produced an informative series of articles about an issue that could hardly be more important to readers. Some reacted positively to The Sun's reporting, but a number of others - especially those who question or reject the concept of global warming - called the newspaper's reporting biased or inaccurate.

The article most noted by these latter readers was Tom Pelton and Dennis O'Brien's Feb. 3 piece that looked at the possible impact of global warming in Maryland. Entitled "A warmer Md. will be wetter: Threat from climate change takes form of land submersion, severe storm damage," the story was based primarily on the research and views of top scientists in the Chesapeake region. The article emphasized the serious long-term risk to coastal lands from steadily rising water levels.

Said Norris Tingle: "Just more junk science, folks. It's simply the last in the drumbeats of the left-wing agenda. You keep writing about it, and those left in Baltimore that can still read will probably believe it."

From Tim Dotterweich: "Let me guess. Each and every scientist quoted in this article is currently engaged in funded research, i.e. - they're studying an area or proving a theory that's popular enough to attract public/private funding. I'm not a scientist, but the following words used to describe what the media reports to be scientific fact are troubling: `could,' `probably,' `might,' `maybe,' and `possible.' We can't even get an accurate prediction of our local weather one week from now, should we give an even greater level of trust to what `might' happen 100 years from now?"

Bud S. wrote: "Rising sea levels? I hope the rising water waters will drown all the liberals who believe this claptrap."

Tom Holmes said: "While your assessment of the findings regarding global warming may be 100 percent accurate, they also could be 100 percent wrong. You took one path analyzing the scientists' data: the most salacious. Responsible reporting would have offered a differing opinion. The findings of 2,500 scientists is an impressive number. I can venture a guess that there are probably an equal number that have a dissenting opinion. No mention of that fact?"

Pelton responded to Mr. Holmes: "It's my understanding that the overwhelming consensus of the scientific community is now that global warming is in fact happening, and that people are responsible. The `differing opinion,' held by a much smaller number of people, is wrong - according not only to the 2,500 scientists in this international panel but to a White House-appointed panel of the National Academy of Scientists, and to many industry leaders as well. Even President Bush has acknowledged the reality of global warming."

In recent years, journalists such as Pelton who report on environmental issues such as global warming regularly have received this kind of negative feedback - especially from those demanding "differing opinions" or "the other side."

The readers who criticized this round of The Sun's reporting did so, in my view, not just because they disagreed with the conclusions of the scientific panel. They were angry because they reject the reality of global warming because they see it mostly in political and ideological terms. What the report showed was not going to shake their beliefs or change their minds.

Bending to this kind of rhetoric would diminish a newspaper's ability to be an honest broker in reporting the facts about an important issue.

At least one Sun article - Frank Roylance's Feb. 4 front-page story about scientists' efforts to create a system that would pump climate-affecting carbon dioxide emissions deep underground for storage - did not receive any criticism from readers.

Helen Skoff said: "Thanks so much for the research you put into your article. I actually understand more about what is being done about the CO2 problem."

Said Mike Caughlin: "An excellent article. After years of misinformation campaigns, it is refreshing to see that you did not feel obligated to muddy the waters with disproved contrarian rhetoric. Your article demonstrated the `think globally act locally' axiom of environmental protection. The media in general have not been helpful. Your article is a large step in the right direction. "

Paul Moore's column appears Sundays.

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