Both ‘sides’ in the climate change policy debate might at least share one thing in common: disdain for the media. News reporters covering climate issues are often singled out for their stories, and sometimes justifiably so. But critics could sharpen their criticisms if they want reporters to do a better job.

To borrow from the late stand-up comic Rodney Dangerfield, the news media don’t get no respect.


Several months ago, former Vice President Al Gore slammed journalists for failing to report accurately on climate change. Veteran climate reporters rejected the Gore critique as outdated, and social scientists challenged the premise of Gore’s criticism.

Gore’s lament is nothing new, of course. It’s been a common refrain of climate activists yearning for aggressive controls on CO2. But the reality is that similar criticisms are frequently voiced also by conservatives and well known climate skeptic bloggers.

The endless grousing from the Left and the Right has led Tom Yulsman, a long-time environmental journalist and professor with the University of Colorado’s Center for Environmental Journalism, to sardonically ask, “Are we really that awful?

One theme of the inveterate press bashing is that journalists are a bunch of lapdogs (Gore had that on his Rolling Stone checklist, too). Now, scholar Walter Russell Mead has aired at the American Interest a variation of this theme. (He is a perceptive critic of climate policy and politics, but with a biting, caustic style, as a recent series on Al Gore demonstrates.) What he mostly wrote is a withering rebuke of American environmentalists who have been thwarted on climate change and are feeling jilted by President Obama’s pale green policies.

Somehow, Mead traces the impotence of environmentalists, and what he considers their misguided ideas, back to the media. Consider this quote from his posting:

The United States and the world need a strong and intelligent environmental movement. We won’t get one until and unless the press stops flattering and indulging the pack of incompetents who currently lead it. Good (but poorly conceptualized) intentions linked to terminally stupid ideas and self defeating methods are a terrible curse. They steadily discredit environmentalism and push those who care about the environment away from real influence. I don’t actually enjoy tweaking the greens — but until the mainstream press gets on the case, somebody has to point the way.

It would be nice if Mead had perhaps fulminated less and specified how exactly the press flatters and indulges this “pack of incompetents.” (Or does he mean newspaper editorialists and columnists? Hard to know, since he paints with a broad brush.) In his post, Mead references a recent New York Times news story that quotes a number of greens voicing their anger over President Obama’s widely panned reversal on ozone regulations. From there, Mead launches into a screed against environmentalists and suggests that the press should call them out on their failures and fuzzy thinking.

But is it a reporter’s job to spank an interest group for its track record and tactics?

One wonders if Mead would suggest that mainstream political reporters have similar license to get on the case of Republicans or Democrats for their “terminally stupid ideas and self-defeating methods”?

If not, at least we know there are plenty of bloggers out there — including Mead — who are willing to point the way.

Keith Kloor

Keith Kloor is a New York City-based freelance journalist who writes often about the environment and climate change.