If readers had any doubt that the corporate “mainstream” media was any more than a puppet for Corporate America, doubt no longer. By pandering to whining climate change deniers, the Associated Press (AP) has taken a big step toward indicating that it no longer intends to present real, unbiased news. Instead of using the accurate description of “Climate Change Denier,” journalists in the corporate media will be expected to employ the Orwellian term, “Climate Change Doubter.”
It may seem like a matter of semantics, but it is significant. It is the same difference as that between the words “atheist” and “agnostic.” Since the former denies the existence of a Deity altogether and the latter is still open to the possibility, the word “agnostic” is more palatable to religious conservatives. Likewise, the term “climate doubter” suggests that the denier isn’t necessarily a corporate stooge.
It still amounts to putting lipstick on a pig.
Since 1954, journalists have looked to the Associated Press Stylebook and Briefing on Media Law, or simply, the “AP Stylebook,” as a guide to standard practices and principles when it comes to presenting news stories. Since then, it has also become the leading reference for magazines, public relations firms and corporate marketing departments. The AP Stylebook is updated annually. It is a style that – in theory, at least – is meant to present news and information in an unbiased, objective manner.
That went out the window last week. On September 22nd, this short addendum was inserted into the AP Stylebook”: “To describe those who don’t accept climate science or dispute the world is warming from man-made forces, use climate change doubters for those who reject mainstream climate science. Avoid use of skeptics or deniers” (emphasis added).
The change, oddly enough, came as the result of pressure from members of a committee at Center for Inquiry, a non-profit organization with the stated mission of “foster(ing) a secular society based on science, reason, freedom of inquiry and human values.” The organization counts many prominent scientists among its members. Members of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry felt that “skeptic” was a more accurate term. Here is what they wrote in an open letter to the media:
Proper skepticism promotes scientific inquiry, critical investigation, and the use of reason in examining controversial and extraordinary claims. It is foundational to the scientific method. Denial, on the other hand, is the a priori rejection of ideas without objective consideration.
In the wake of this letter, the climate change advocacy organization ClimateTruth.org began petitioning the AP to stop giving climate deniers any credibility that the term “skeptic” might suggest. At the same time, Center for Inquiry president and CEO Ronald Lindsay stated that use of the term doubter “still imbues those who reject scientific fact with an intellectual legitimacy they have not earned.” Lindsay also expressed concern that the public “will still not get a clear picture of which public figures are basing their positions on reality, and which are not.”
Kent Davies of the Climate Investigations Center added that the “change in terminology would give an increasingly marginalized minority of mostly non-scientists and crackpots new credibility.”
That is just the way the fossil fuels industry would like it.
The AP continues to draw fire. Ryan Grim, who heads up Huffington Post’s Washington Bureau, agrees: “To call them ‘doubters’… is almost always simply false. It presumes knowledge of somebody’s state of mind, but more often is just inaccurate.” Respected climate scientist Michael Mann wrote to ThinkProgress, stating that “to call them anything else, be it ‘skeptic’ or ‘doubter,’ is to grant an undeserved air of legitimacy to something that is simply not legitimate.” Dr. Joseph Romm, another scientist at the Center for American Progress, laid it on the line in no uncertain terms: “[It is] one of the most pointless, if not senseless moves in the storied history of the AP Stylebook.” He compared the issue to that of the tobacco industry, which continued to deny the connection between cigarettes and respiratory disease for at least three decades after medical science made the connection. Romm added:
The media doesn’t even pay attention to people who deny the health dangers of tobacco smoke anymore. So why treat those who deny the reality – and danger –of human-caused climate change any differently?
Not surprisingly, climate science deniers are quite pleased with the new addition to the AP Stylebook. Oddly enough, the change was defended by science writer Seth Borenstein, who has reported extensively on the effects of global climate change and who has been attacked by right wingers on this issue. Recently, Borenstein was interviewed on National Public Radio. He said the decision was “all about precision” as well as an attempt to bring consistency: “We at the AP hadn’t used deniers, skeptics, or doubters in any regular way, there was no Stylebook entry there…one of the problems with denier is that it has a connotation….that is associated with the Holocaust in many ways.”
Borenstein and the AP Stylebook editors may have had good intentions. But remember that old proverb about the road to hell. The unfortunate aspect of this change is that it is giving climate deniers more legitimacy and credibility in the eyes of the low-information public. That is the last thing the conversation needs at this point.
In the meantime, with all due respect to the venerable institution that is the Associated Press, we in the progressive media will continue to use the accurate label: climate change deniers.