The science of climate change is settled – an overwhelming majority of the world’s climatologists say it’s happening, faster than predicted, and is 95%-100% likely caused by humans. So why do America’s biggest newspapers still publish letters denying these facts?
They shouldn’t, according to the Los Angeles Times, which recently announced it would refuse to publish any letters to the editor that deny the basic realities of climate science on the basis that doing so is factually inaccurate.
With one editorial, the LA Times has changed the game for journalism in America – and the country’s other major newspapers should follow suit to maintain their integrity, proclaims a new campaign from climate advocacy group Forecast the Facts.
Climate Change Is Fact, Climate Denial Fiction
Newspapers have a time-honored tradition of fact-checking editorials or letters from readers for accuracy, and publishing corrections if mistakes make it onto their pages. Even if they’re taking one side of an argument, reasoning goes that an opinion should be fact-based.
But that’s where climate denial goes off the journalism tracks, argues the LA Times. Multiple studies and research, including last month’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, conclude climate change is happening now and we’re the cause. When 97% of scientists agree on something, much like the link between cigarette smoking and cancer, that point is generally taken as fact not opinion.
But not so for all of the LA Times’ readers, according to Paul Thornton, the paper’s Letters Editor. “As for letters on climate change, we do get plenty from those who deny global warming,” he said. “Many say climate change is a hoax, a scheme by liberals to curtail personal freedom.”
Thus, the paper’s decision to stick to the facts. “I do my best to keep errors of fact off the letters page; when one does run, a correction is published,” said Thornton. “Saying ‘there’s no sign humans have caused climate change’ is not stating an opinion, it’s asserting a factual inaccuracy.” Shots fired, as they say.
Now For America’s Other Leading Newspapers
But what about the rest of America’s top newspapers? That’s where Forecast the Facts is taking up the cause. The group has launched an online petition urging the New York Times, Washington Post, USA Today, and Wall Street Journal to adhere to the same strict journalistic standard.
(Full disclosure – I have been a Washington Post print subscriber for nearly eight years, and I signed the online petition on Saturday, October 12)
When the campaign reaches 20,000 signatures, the petitions will be delivered to each of the papers and Forecast the Facts will press each of their editors to take a stand on the policy set by the LA Times and answer if they’ll do the same.
In an email to supporters, the campaign laid out its motivation:
“In a rational world, our nation’s journalists would have long ago agreed to this simple idea. These papers would never publish letters or opinion pieces from people who doubt that smoking causes cancer or that HIV leads to AIDS. But they still perpetuate a false balance that presents climate deniers as if they are legitimate contributors to public debate, as opposed to unhinged conspiracy theorists.”
With one sentence, the LA Times opened up a new front in the fight against climate change. Now it’s up to the editors of America’s most respected news outlets, and their readers, to decide if fact or fiction will reside on their pages.