"fair And Balanced" Runs Amok

by The New Republic | May 6, 2008

I can't say for certain what role The Wall Street Journal's in-house conservatives played in this incident, recounted by one of the paper's news editors, but there are at least a couple important insights here:

The other night, the phrase "global warming" drew our attention. Its use as a "stated fact" in a commentary piece seemed loaded, and we decided to edit it out and work around the possibly debatable usage. It was a quick solution during the heat of deadline, but it got me thinking: Global warming is a theory? Well, yes, I understand that there's a fraction of people who out and out challenge whether global warming is real, but as a layman and (hopefully) concientious editor I thought that scientists who doubted or were skeptical of the specifics of what causes it at least agreed that the globe is indeed warming.

So, I decided to do a little research.... [Here he lists a bunch of research confirming the global warming consensus.]

Do we always need to nod to the other side of the equation, that global warming doesn't exist or that the specifics aren't entirely settled? Or can readers and editors accept that the planet is warming and that humans are contributing to it — and save the semantical debate for another story?

On the one hand, this is a pretty plain example of the hoops that mainstream reporters and editors feel they have to jump through in order to feel like they're being objective. After all, if some crank in Montana or on Mars thinks manmade global warming is a fraud (or, to take an issue near to Jon Chait's heart, if a partisan can point to an "economist" or "consultant" who still holds that that Laffer guy was really on to something) then a journalist is betraying bias by taking sides. Right?

As an enviro, though, it's interesting to see an editor—particularly at a conservative newspaper—grapple with reality. In some sense, it offers hope that people might just come to the obvious conclusion about global warming if they simply evaluated the facts; and that those who still deny global warming, or the threat it poses to the planet, are either refusing to evaluate the facts or lying.

--Brian Beutler

Source URL: http://www.newrepublic.com//blog/the-vine/quotfair-and-balancedquot-runs-amok