06 October 2009

Revkin Pushes Back: Should Journalists Ape Activist Bloggers?

One interesting trend of the internet era is the degree to which prominent journalists (and also academics) are subject to intense political lobbying of the sort that historically has been primarily in the domain of public officials. Sure, there have always been letters to the editor, angry calls to the newspaper and the occasional advertiser boycott, but I'd argue that the internet changes these dynamics, by making pressure campaigns more easily undertaken and more public.

The best example of this in the climate domain is the incessant hectoring of Andy Revkin, a prominent reporter who covers environment at the New York Times, by Joe Romm, a political activist and blogger at the Center for American Progress, who spews forth all sorts of angry, half-thought-through diatribes when Revkin does not celebrate Joe or his political views. The point, Joe's ego aside, is to increase political pressure on Revkin to take certain actions and reflect certain perspectives.

Consider Romm's marching orders to the media not to talk with me or Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus at The Breakthrough Institute. Of course, Joe feels no need to follow his own orders, citing me, Michael and ted dozens upon dozens of times. The point of course is simple -- Joe wants to try to control the focus of attention and have a forum to himself to advocate. Pressuring the media not to cover people who disagree allows him to sidestep the substantive issues that he is generally very weak on, and instead shape debate by bluster and intimidation. Amazingly, some reporters actually follow Joe's directives. Most others do not. But the intense lobbying makes reporters no different than politicians subject to pressure campaigns. And for journalists, like politicians -- some give in to the pressure, others show leadership.

Yesterday, Andy Revkin pushed back hard to this sort of pressure on his blog when an activist took him to task for mentioning Steve McIntyre. Here is what Revkin said:
So Mr. McIntyre is a sufficiently substantive presence for the scientists at http://www.Realclimate.org to refute, and for Thomas Crowley to challenge, and for the National Academies to assess ( http://www.nytimes.com... ).

But if I write a blog post about his decision not to pursue publication of his own temperature time series, I'm illegitimate or something. You, like some others here, seem to want journalists to ape activist bloggers whose response to opposing voices -- however legit or suspect -- is to place hands over ears and say, "I can't hear you, I can't hear you... "
Is media coverage in climate going the way of aping activist bloggers? Or will there remain a place for more traditional coverage? Does it matter?