CNN's Climate Change Denial Darkens a Dimming Media Picture

CNN axed their entire science, environment and technology unit in December, as documented by the Columbia Journalism Review. The Society of Environmental Journalists (disclaimer: I serve on the board of directors) joined three other journalism groups on a letter to CNN's leadership protesting this "short-sighted" move "at a time when science coverage could not be more important in our national and international discourse." Unfortunately, further developments suggest that we can expect further ocular dysfunction from the media majors in general and CNN in particular.

This week CNN anchor Lou Dobbs gets the silliness award for devoting precious broadcast minutes to a poorly documented rehash of climate change skepticism, putting sunspots and natural cycles in the climate change driver's seat in place of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. See the video clip above, immortalized by progressive media watchdog group Media Matters' County Fair blog.

The deterioration of science reporting threatens to spread as other major media outlets follow suit with budget-slashing bloodletting. Joel Makower, a pioneer in reporting on sustainable business, made that point last month in a discouraging post entitled Are Environmental Journalists an Endangered Species?. Makower sees the cuts at CNN as just one example of a "devestating" trend, noting the recent loss of senior journalists at Fortune magazine, The Weather Channel, and the Los Angeles Times.

The likely result is fewer reports on the environment, which today is largely a function of energy consumption according to the IPCC (which Dobbs ignores). As Makower points out, those news reports that do run will be delivered by generalist reporters scrambling to get up to speed on complex topics:

I hear from such reporters every week: general-assignment reporters from newspapers and broadcast stations around the U.S., niche trade magazines, and others seeking comment or context on a story they're covering. I can tell you unequivocally that the nature of their questions reveals a high degree of ignorance. I'm happy to bring them up to speed, but it's a slog.

One of the few bright spots is the New York Times, where the environment team is still growing. However, given that the paper recently announced plans to re-mortgage its headquarters building to make up for slumping ad revenues, one wonders how long the leadership will last.

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