Jay Ambrose: Big networks asleep at the wheel on the climate scandal

Jay Ambrose

Have they moved yet? Have they picked up the phone or maybe taken a taxi to interview some experts?

The last I heard, reporters at ABC, CBS and NBC hadn't hopped on a terrifically interesting and important scandal, and I am wondering -- have they finally learned their trade and dropped their biases? Are they up and at 'em?

For more than four decades, I've been in the news business, holding about every job you can hold, from reporter to editor in chief. I served on both my high school and college papers, ran a country weekly and worked at a small daily, two midsized dailies, a metro daily and a Washington news bureau. I've been on radio and TV and I've known journalists from all over the country.

And never, in all that time and experience, can I recall such a laggard reaction by big-time players to a major story.

The story is about e-mails written by top scientists, and here is some of what was going on -- discussions about keeping other scientists out of peer-reviewed journals, about manipulating data, about hiding data.

This sort of thing runs contrary to just about every principle of scientific investigation -- several of these scientists are at this moment in danger of losing their jobs -- and happens to involve a topic of major concern, global warming.

The nations of the world are right now debating whether they are going to inflict what could be serious harm to their economies -- and therefore to their people -- to avoid a climate catastrophe predicted by these and other scientists, but there are those who think the cure could be the worse catastrophe. This scandal matters, even if it does not disprove warming theories, because it speaks to the politicization of science at a time we need the most objective science possible.

So, a heck of story, huh? It's the kind that will typically energize even the most slow-moving of journalists, and if it hasn't, you've got to figure something pretty bad is going on, something maybe just as dangerous as the politicization of science, namely the politicization of journalism.

Here is my guess about discussions at these networks. The reporters and editors were saying to each other that they knew the theories of catastrophic warming are true. However, they were also saying, widespread knowledge of what is in these e-mails might erode public support for the sacrifices necessary to save the world. Therefore, they were going to sit this one out, at least if the seat did not get too hot.

But even if theories of human-induced, killer warming are inarguably true (and they aren't) there would remain any number of highly arguable issues of how to avert warming problems, whether some proposed remedies would work at all, whether resources would not be better directed to other problems that are just as serious, whether the world could adjust and wait for new technologies to address the issue.

And, at any rate, it is not the business of journalists to be judge, jury and legislator; it is the business of journalists to get the unvarnished facts to the public so that the truth has a chance to emerge and so that debates are informed.

Whatever the rationale of these networks in failing immediately to react to this story, their behavior is disgraceful, an example of bias or ineptitude far exceeding any example I am aware of in the news reporting at the much-castigated Fox News -- especially when you consider we are not talking about the commentary shows here. We are talking about good, old-fashioned reporting of information, something the broadcast networks don't presently seem to have wholly mastered.

Examiner columnist Jay Ambrose is a former Washington opinion writer and editor of two dailies. He can be reached at: 

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