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Sunday June 12th 2011


Romney alienates conservatives by embracing climate science, Washington Post alienates readers by ignoring science entirely

Another day, another head-exploding he-said/she-said climate piece in the Washington Post, “Romney draws early fire from conservatives over views on climate change.”

Last week, the presumptive front-runner for the GOP nomination said, he accepted the basic findings of climate science.  As the WashPost puts it — carefully avoiding any scientific judgment of its own — “the former Massachusetts governor stuck to the position he has held for many years — that he believes the world is getting warmer and that humans are contributing to that pattern.”

That wouldn’t be political news in 99% of the countries in the world, but here in the United States, them’s fightin’ words for the dominant flat-earth wing of the GOP (see National Journal: “The GOP is stampeding toward an absolutist rejection of climate science that appears unmatched among major political parties around the globe, even conservative ones”).

But the reason you are going to have to put on your head vises is that the WashPost wrote an entire story about how the climate science deniers have gone after Romney –  without ever bothering to explain to their readers that Romney is actually right and the deniers are wrong.

Here is what the Washington Post printed from the hard-core conservative deniers:

“Bye-bye, nomination,” Rush Limbaugh said Tuesday on his radio talk show after playing a clip of Romney’s climate remark. “Another one down. We’re in the midst here of discovering that this is all a hoax. The last year has established that the whole premise of man-made global warming is a hoax, and we still have presidential candidates that want to buy into it.”

Then came the Club for Growth, which issued a white paper criticizing Romney. “Governor Romney’s regulatory record as governor contains some flaws,” the report said, “including a significant one — his support of ‘global warming’ policies.”

And Conservatives4Palin.com, a blog run by some of former Alaska governor Sarah Palin’s more active supporters, posted an item charging that Romney is “simpatico” with President Obama after he “totally bought into the man-made global warming hoax.”

Does the WashPost point out that, say, the overwhelming majority of climate scientists and national academies and scientific journals side with Romney and that, say, the overwhelming majority of birthers side with Limbaugh?

No.  This is just a political story to them.  Romney has a “position” and others in the party have a different position.   Romney happens to believe the earth is spherical.  Others believe it is flat.  Have at it!

But wait, there’s more:

Romney, in his full answer to the question about climate change, maintained his position while offering enough nuance to extend an open hand to those who disagree.

“I don’t speak for the scientific community, of course, but I believe the world’s getting warmer,” he said. “I can’t prove that, but I believe based on what I read that the world is getting warmer. And number two, I believe that humans contribute to that. I don’t know how much our contribution is to that, because I know that there have been periods of greater heat and warmth in the past, but I believe we contribute to that.”

Romney added that “it’s important for us to reduce our emissions of pollutants and greenhouse gases that may be significant contributors.” He also said he does not support a cap-and-trade policy, saying it would put American companies at a competitive disadvantage in the world. “We don’t call it ‘America warming,’ ” he said. “We call it ‘global warming.’ ”

But it was his line that “humans contribute” that sparked the conservative backlash.

Romney has long known that the health-care legislation he signed in Massachusetts — like Obama’s federal health-care overhaul, it includes an individual mandate — could be his Achilles’ heel in pursuit of the Republican nomination.

On health care, this Onion piece is a must-read: “Mitt Romney Haunted By Past Of Trying To Help Uninsured Sick People.”  Perhaps they should write a new piece, “Mitt Romney Haunted By His Fairly Accurate Understanding of Climate Science.”   But I digress.

Now, some conservatives say, he should add climate change to that list.

“If [voters] get past Romneycare, then this will be a ‘do not pass go’-type issue,” said Christopher Horner, a senior fellow at the conservative Competitive Enterprise Institute and a leading global warming skeptic. “This could just be the last straw.”

So the new litmus test for conservatives is any acceptance of the notion that humans contribute to global warming.  Why, precisely, do conservatives think they are called ” greenhouse gases”?  Because they don’t trap heat?

Again, does the WashPost include a single sentence explaining the overwhelming abundance of evidence that humans contribute to global warming (See “Eight great figures summarizing the evidence for a “human fingerprint” on recent climate change“).

Of course not.  That information might detract from the entertainment value of the piece, which until about 7 pm the Post was touting on its front page for all of the comments it generated, urging readers to join in the debate:

There’s nothing wrong with encouraging reader comments, Lord knows, but informing your readers used to being important mission of newspapers, too, once upon a time.

But not for the WashPost.  Even towards the end of the article, where they could easily have tucked in a little science, they decide to go with some polling:

In the 2008 presidential campaign, climate change was not a major issue. Although Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), the Republican nominee, said he believed the science behind global warming, he did little to highlight his earlier bipartisan work in the Senate on climate change.

Public opinion is politicized on the issue. A March Gallup poll found that 32 percent of Republicans think the effects of global warming are already being felt and 36 percent believe the rise in the Earth’s temperatures is caused by humans, while 67 percent say the seriousness of global warming is exaggerated in the news.

The same survey found the opposite trend on the other side of the political fence. Sixty-two percent of Democrats polled said the effects of global warming have begun, and 71 percent said humans are causing the rising temperatures, while 22 percent think the situation is exaggerated. Among independents, there was a fairly even split on those questions.

[Pause to clean up gray matter.]

I wonder why public opinion is politicized on the issue.  Oh, wait.  I know.  Could it be because major newspapers have stopped explaining the science to their readers?

And I really wonder why conservatives think the seriousness of global warming is exaggerated in the news — when media coverage has collapsed and centrist (center-right?) papers like the Post devote massive front-page articles to the climate debate that simply parrot back to their readers what the right-wing deniers believe.

I repeat the question I asked back in May: What kind of media analysis could possibly conclude the Washington Post covered climate well (in 2009)?

This article was originally posted on Climate Progress