Revkin, Kloor, even RP Jr. (who is not a journalist but much beloved by them) puzzle us deeply.
Jay Rosen has an analysis of the journalistic ideology that is helpful.
At first, I thought that the US press’s (not always but sometimes excessive) attacks on BP and their delight in overstating the disaster disproved the idea that they will always find themselves in the middle. But love of oil companies (or even due respect for the enormity of the task they have) is very rare in the public. Consequently “both” “sides” are on board for flaming BP. Not only was the press not taking an independent evidence-based stand (incorrectly, I thought, but at least vigorously) but in fact it was sheepishly going along. When both “sides” agree about something, the polarizing press has no poles to choose between.
In this worldview, says Rosen,
“center right” is the right place for politics to be played not because the center-rightists have the best answers to the nation’s problems but because “the reality [is] that America is a center-right nation.” Now we’re near to the beating heart of the ideology that holds our political press together. That is when journalists try to win the argument not by having better arguments but by standing closer to a reality they get to define as more real than your reality.
Rosen isn’t even thinking about our turf, so the direct hits he makes on the failure of the press regarding our interests here in climate science, sustainable economics, and rational science-based policy are almost uncanny.
“He said, she said” journalism means…
– There’s a public dispute.
– The dispute makes news.
– No real attempt is made to assess clashing truth claims in the story, even though they are in some sense the reason for the story. (Under the “conflict makes news” test.)
– The means for assessment do exist, so it’s possible to exert a factual check on some of the claims, but for whatever reason the report declines to make use of them.
– The symmetry of two sides making opposite claims puts the reporter in the middle between polarized extremes.
When these five conditions are met, the genre is in gear.
When there is news, two and exactly two positions must be identified, one “left” and one “right”. When the CRU emails were hacked, McIntyre quickly stepped up as the voice of the pole of the discussion that alleges that what is revealed in the emails is consequential and shocking. After all, making mountains of climate molehills is the key to his celebrity. He has been practicing the technique and has it down to an artform. So now Climate Audit becomes something of an official opposition.
Official oppositions don’t make peace, particularly in situations where the rewards for two-sided polarization dominate. Curry takes people at CA at face value when they say they are criticizing real flaws in how science is conducted because they genuinely want to improve matters, or at least gives them the benefit of the doubt. I suspect that they are criticizing “flaws” with near-complete indifference to whether they are real or fake, important or trivial. It’s criticism, but on the whole it isn’t constructive criticism. The idea is to make the science look bad, not to fix it.
(That all said, it may still be worthwhile to redirect amateur scientists’ energies into a less confrontational vein. It just seems unlikely that this will happen at CA.)
McIntyre’s purpose is probably self-aggrandizement rather than political gamesmanship or financial reward. But it works because it plays directly into the sleight-of-mind that the delayers favor, and the delayers are there to protect the investment of fossil fuel interests.
The fact that this whole mess works at all is largely the press’s fault, which they are constitutionally incapable of admitting. Rosen again:
2. The Quest for Innocence, which is the agenda (I say) the press must continually serve, even as it claims to serve no one’s agenda.
Innocence [is] a determination not to be implicated, enlisted, or seen by the public as involved… The quest for innocence in political journalism means the desire to be manifestly agenda-less and thus “prove” in the way you describe things that journalism is not an ideological trade.