Media Proves Gore Right on Climate Coverage
Al Gore’s Rolling Stone essay spent four times as much space comparing the news media to pro wrestling referees as it did urging President Obama to act on the climate crisis. So what did media coverage of Gore’s piece exclusively focus on?
The media proved Al exactly right, presenting only his criticism of the president framed as a Gore vs. Obama edition of WWE Smackdown. The coverage might as well have been narrated by “Mean” Gene Okerlund.
In breaking the news of Gore’s essay, Dina Cappiello of the Associated Press completely ignored Gore’s media criticisms, focusing only on Gore’s call for President Obama to do more to educate Americans about the threats of the climate crisis and the need for clean energy action.
The New York Times’ John Broder makes only a passing mention of Gore’s media criticisms later in his article (which is bizarrely accompanied by a shadowy picture of a sweaty Mr. Gore).
Yes, the news value here is Gore-v-Obama; yes, that’s part of the story. But the theme I tried to lay out in that essay is that the media’s all-consuming interest in the “how” and “who’s ahead” of politics, and “oh God this is boring” disdain for the “what” and “why” of public issues, has all sorts of ugly consequences. It makes the public think that politics is not for them unless they love the insider game; it makes the “what” and “why” of public issues indeed boring and unapproachable; and as a consequence of the latter, it makes the public stupider than it needs to be about the what and why.
The reaction to Gore’s essay illustrates the pattern: from his point of view, it’s one more (earnest) attempt to say “Hey, listen up about this problem!” As conveyed by the press, it’s one more skirmish on the “liberals don’t like Obama” front, and one more illustration of the eyes-glazing-over trivia and details about melting icebergs and scientific disputes.
Remember Jon Stewart’s argument, that the real bias of the mainstream media is not “liberal” but in favor of conflict and sensationalism.
Look, it’s fair to criticize President Obama for not doing more. He hasn’t done nearly enough to reach his own goal of cutting carbon pollution 17 percent by 2020. There is in fact no known plan or any process to evaluate our energy choices and where we are heading.
But how can President Obama lead when the American public is so misinformed about the threats America is facing and the opportunities for action? As I wrote in my book, Last Chance: Preserving Life on Earth, one of my great frustrations is that the conservationists aren’t asking the media for any special treatment here – we’re just asking journalists to report what climate scientists are telling us about the potential impacts we face and the ways to solve them.
How much is global warming fueled by man-made carbon pollution to blame for 2011’s extreme weather events? Should we be building a massive new Keystone XL pipeline through America’s heartland to carry tar sands, one of the dirtiest fuels on the planet? Television, radio and print journalists cover these questions rarely, if at all.
Instead, the news media has helped turn our public square into a pro wrestling ring, with the heroes and villains refereed as equals by journalists.