During the recent election, I thought a lot about how the TV press portrays the news. Whichever candidate generated the most recent controversy got the most air time that day. The topics ranged from who was friends with terrorists to who spent too much on their wardrobe. Meanwhile, the average viewer knew very little about the candidates’ actual policy positions on jobs, health care, and a time table in Iraq – you know, the stuff people actually need to understand before casting their vote.
As a former reporter, it annoyed me then and it annoys me now when I come across media reports that purport to be news, but are really just tabloid junk.
Slate just did a story on this topic as it relates to how the press portrays the economic costs of climate change. In reality, the prevailing opinion among economists is that however much it costs to do something about climate change now, the costs of inaction will be much, much worse. It will be cheaper and easier to create and enforce a system curbing pollution today than it would be to keep polluting at our current rate and then have to pay to clean up the mess of increased climate-related storms, droughts, and food shortages. But instead of reporting this consensus, journalists tend to focus on the little drama that exists among economists who arrive at the same conclusion, just in a slightly different way. According to Slate, economists are a critical bunch, tending to tear down the methodology of their peers even when agreeing with their basic premise.
Of course, it’s easy to blame journalists for this sort of lazy reporting. But to me the real blame sits at the feet of the media consumer. Most of us prefer our news to look and act like entertainment. So, it’s not worth watching or reading unless it’s full of conflict and bickering. God forbid a news outlet offer any real analysis, which furthers debate on important issues – like just how we change our policies so that we not only cap our pollution, but help the people who are already struggling to deal with the effects of climate change.
Nope, we pretty much get what we demand. So, next time you hear that global warming isn’t real or that there’s no agreement that we need to deal with it now, consider the source. And take a second to decide if they’re really just telling you what you want to hear.