Truth vs. Balance

How the popular media continues to fail us when reporting on climate change.

Illustrator: Jaye Ahn

Most major news outlets pride themselves on having balanced, impartial reporting of important issues. But what if the search for “balance” leads to an obscurity of the truth?

Such is the case with much of the reporting on climate change. When presenting information about the changes occurring on our planet as the result of human activity, many attempts at “unbiased journalism” give the same amount of weight to climate change deniers as to the scientific consensus view. When 99.9% of empirical scientific evidence suggests that climate change is real, it is a clear distortion of truth to be pitted against a small minority of naysayers. And yet it happens constantly. A survey of 636 articles published by four major US newspapers between 1988 and 2002 revealed that the majority of articles covering the topic spend as much time covering the small minority of doubters as was offered to the climatologist consensus.

Where does the danger lie in this type of reporting? Put simply, it gives people the false idea that the issue of climate change is scientifically contentious. The truth is that the vast majority of scientists agree that it is real and caused by humans, and it is merely a fringe minority that disagrees with this. Scientific evidence should be pitted against equally reviewed scientific evidence rather than pseudoscience and evidence-free opinions.

Websites like FAIR.org work against media biases to provide the public with an accurate representation of the facts on pressing issues and hold news outlets accountable for the ways they skew information. As media consumers, it’s essential that we read with critical eyes so we can work towards becoming a more informed society. Only then can we shift the conversation from “Is climate change real?” to “What can we do about it?”