Thursday, May 23, 2019

The Moral Capitulation of the News Media

Bill Moyers asks, "What if we covered the climate crisis like we did the start of the second world war?"

Moyers addressed young journalists to mark the launch of Covering Climate Now:
Covering Climate Now, a project co-sponsored by The Columbia Journalism Review and The Nation. Joined by The Guardian and others partners to be announced, Covering Climate Now will bring journalists and news outlets together to dramatically improve how the media as a whole covers the climate crisis and its solutions.
Moyers hearkens back to the days of Edward R. Murrow and the outbreak of war in Europe.
Their names, hardly known when they started, became hallowed in the annals of journalism. Murrow of course, Eric Sevareid, William L Shirer, Larry LeSeuer, Charles Collingwood, Howard K Smith, William Randall Downs, Richard C. Hottelet, Winston Burdett, Cecil Brown, Thomas Grandin, and the one woman among them, Mary Marvin Breckinridge. You can read about them in The Murrow Boys: Pioneers on the Front Lines of Broadcast Journalism, a superb book by Stanley Cloud and Lynne Olson. 
These reporters spread across Europe as the “phony war” of 1939–40 played out, much like the slow-motion catastrophe of global warming plays out in our time. They saw the threat posed by the Nazis, and they struggled to get the attention of an American public back home exhausted and drained by the Great Depression. 
In September of 1939, with Europe hours away from going up in flames, the powers at CBS in New York ordered Murrow and Shirer to feature an entertainment broadcast spotlighting dance music from nightspots in London, Paris, and Hamburg. Here’s the account from Cloud and Olson:
“‘They say there’s so much bad news out of Europe, they want some good news,’ Murrow [in London] snapped to Shirer [in Berlin] over the phone. The show, scheduled to be broadcast just as Germany was about to rape Poland, would be called ‘Europe Dances’ … Finally, Murrow decreed, ‘The hell with those bastards in New York. It may cost us our jobs, but we’re just not going to do it’.” 
And they didn’t. They defied the bosses—and gave CBS one of the biggest stories of the 20th century, the invasion of Poland.

And still the powers in New York resisted. Through the rest of 1939 and into the spring of 1940, Hitler hunched on the borders of France and the Low Countries, his Panzers idling, poised to strike. Shirer fumed, “My God! Here was the old continent on the brink of war…and the network was most reluctant to provide five minutes a day from here to report it.” Just as the networks and cable channels provide practically no coverage today of global warming.
...Never in my own long career have I been as tested as they were. Or as you will be. Our own global warming “phony war” is over. The hot war is here. 
My colleague and co-writer, Glenn Scherer, compares global disruption to a repeat hit-and-run driver: anonymous, deadly, and requiring tireless investigation to identify the perpetrator. There are long stretches of nothing, then suddenly Houston is inundated and Paradise burns. San Juan blows away and salt water creeps into the subways of New York. The networks put their reporters out in raincoats or standing behind police barriers as flames consume far hills. Yet we rarely hear the words “global warming” or “climate disruption” in their reports. The big backstory of rising CO2 levels, escalating drought, collateral damage, cause and effect, and politicians on the take from fossil-fuel companies? Forget all that. Not good for ratings, say network executives. 
But last October, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a scientifically conservative body, gave us 12 years to make massive changes to reduce global greenhouse-gas emissions 45 percent below 2010 levels and to net zero by 2050. On his indispensable site,, Tom Engelhardt writes that humanity is now on a suicide watch.
...Can we get this story right? Can we tell it whole? Can we connect the dots and inspire people with the possibility of change?

What’s journalism for? Really, in the war, what was journalism for, except to awaken the world to the catastrophe looming ahead of it? 
Here’s the good news: While describing David Wallace-Wells’s stunning new book The Uninhabitable Earth as a remorseless, near-unbearable account of what we are doing to our planet, The New York Times reports it also offers hope. Wallace-Wells says that “We have all the tools we need…to aggressively phase out dirty energy…”; [cut] global emissions…[and] scrub carbon from the atmosphere…. [There are] ‘obvious’ and ‘available,’ [if costly,] solutions.” 
What we need, he adds, is the “acceptance of responsibility.” 
Our responsibility as journalists is to tell the story so people get it.
The Canadian media are somewhat less derelict in their coverage of the climate crisis. Some, such as The Tyee, or The National Observer, do give considerable coverage to this threat to our very civilization. The networks are bad to merely mediocre. The Sun papers and PostMedia are a disgrace to journalism as it was in Murrow's day. And look at the scribes themselves. How many of the elite accept paying gigs to deliver speeches to the Fossil Fuelers? Then there's that asshole incarnate, Rex Murphy, the English-literature grad who so freely denounces science. We have no reason to point fingers at FOX News, not with the mangy gang in our own media.

1 comment:

John B. said...

There was at least one Canadian journalist deserving of a place on that list along with Murrow et al. Granddaddy gave me his copy of this when I was a teenager:

Ten Years to Alamein, by Matthew Halton (1944)