What Do You Do When the Press Offends You?

Analyzing a new study on the pernicious power of right-wing media in terms of driving political polarization in the United States, Northeastern University professor Dan Kennedy observes:

Though the report, published by the Columbia Journalism Review, does an excellent job of laying out the challenge posed by Breitbart and its ilk, it is less than clear on how to counter it. Successfully standing up for truthful reporting in this environment “could usher in a new golden age for the Fourth Estate,” the authors write. But members of the public who care about such journalism are already flocking to news organizations like the New York Times, the Washington Post, and, locally, the Boston Globe, all of which have experienced a surge in paid subscriptions since the election of President Trump. That’s heartening, but there are no signs that it’s had any effect on the popularity or influence of the right-wing partisan media.

This begs the question of how news consumers should respond when mainstream news organizations provide a forum for the sort of falsehoods one often finds in right-wing media–a question that gained new salience in light of a controversy this week involving the Globe.

Twitter was appropriately aghast over the latest missive from a Globe columnist who has long put forward the dubious proposition that climate science isn’t “settled” and that carbon regulations are therefore unnecessary. The controversy stems from the idea that a responsible newspaper shouldn’t run op-eds from folks who suggest that facts aren’t facts.

Indeed, a truly responsible newspaper would never run op-eds from those who would, for example, suggest that the Holocaust was a hoax, so I’m not quite sure why a responsible newspaper would run op-eds suggesting that global warming is. After all, as an erstwhile colleague of that Globe columnist once put it:

By every measure, the U.N.‘s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change raises the level of alarm. The fact of global warming is “unequivocal.” The certainty of the human role is now somewhere over 90 percent. Which is about as certain as scientists ever get.

I would like to say we’re at a point where global warming is impossible to deny. Let’s just say that global-warming deniers are now on a par with Holocaust deniers, though one denies the past and the other denies the present and future.

Of course, the problem is that the Globe evidently still labors under the delusion that the paper must genuflect to those who think the publication is “too liberal,” and that providing a forum for all manner and manifestation of right-wing arguments, no matter how factually unsustainable, is appropriate in the name of avoiding the liberal-bias accusation. However, climate science is not a partisan issue, as seventeen House Republicans acknowledged this week.

Those offended by the Globe’s insistence upon promoting alternative facts on their op-ed page would be better off calling the paper and telling the publication that while newspapers have the right to run scientifically bankrupt views, consumers have the right to drop their subscriptions to such newspapers and put their hard-earned money elsewhere–specifically, publications that will respect mainstream science, not ridicule it.

That’s my view. What’s yours? Consider this an open thread. How do you respond to newspapers that insist upon false balance in the name of fairness?

D.R. Tucker

D. R. Tucker is a Massachusetts-based journalist who has served as the weekend contributor for the Washington Monthly since May 2014. He has also written for the Huffington Post, the Washington Spectator, the Metrowest Daily News, investigative journalist Brad Friedman's Brad Blog and environmental journalist Peter Sinclair's Climate Crocks.