Monday, April 09, 2007

Phony Balancing Act

Speaking as we were earlier about entertaining stories in yesterday's Pensacola News Journal, we were tickled to see how the newspaper's once-upon-a-time culture reporter Troy Moon reached into the very bottom of the barrel to find someone to 'balance' consensus views about global warming while ostensibly announcing a few upcoming public events for locals who are concerned about the environment.

It was a hilariously clumsy job. What's next for the newspaper's community calendar? A word or two in favor of high stakes poker while announcing the next Women's Contract Bridge Club gathering?

In one corner, with help from the Associated Press, Troy arrayed 2,500 climate scientists from around the world; U. of West Florida geomorphology professor Chris Houser; long-time Gulf Coast environmental expert Enid Sisskin; former vice president Al Gore whose book and associated documentary respectable scientists have described as "prescient;" and Larry Chamblin, the current president of Sustainable West Florida.

In the other corner he identified three global warming recusants, all of dubious reliability.

First, there's someone Troy identifies as "
David Madison, 42." That's all we know about him. Roommate? Street musician? Hobo? Perhaps another one of those bar fly friends who live in fear of GITMO detainees being moved to Pensacola? Who knows? Troy isn't saying.

Second, there is the aged, retired, and lately severely embarrassed hurricane savant, Dr. William Gray. As our neighboring blogger Why Now? points out, Dr. Gray's hurricane forecasts the past few years have been "laughably" wide of the mark:
He built an excellent model based on the information he had, and made his name on that model. The problem is that the model doesn’t seem to work anymore. The assumptions on which the model is based are now untrustworthy.
* * *
[After wide 2005 misses] In 2006 the forecast was wrong in the opposite direction, with no significant storms.

Dr. Gray’s model is not working, and is not likely to work unless changes are made to reflect the changes in the global climate, changes that are visible in lost sea ice and melting glaciers.

Troy's third 'source' is Pensacola radio talk-show host Luke McCoy. A radio talk show host, for heaven's sake!

To be sure, as Chris Mooney wrote some time ago in the Columbia Journalism Review, "journalists face a number of pressures that can prevent them from accurately depicting competing scientific claims in terms of their credibility within the scientific community as a whole." But is there no bottom too low for the News Journal to scrape while seeking phony "balance" instead of accuracy in reporting?

A talk show host? Why not the local butcher or some convenience store clerk, for that matter?

As it happens, we know a little about Luke McCoy. His formal education is scant, as even he admits ("Graduated from the school of hard knocks"). He's lived on Pensacola Beach for some years, although you couldn't really call him a familiar face on the island; as far as we could tell from down the street, he mostly holes up inside and grouses at the neighbors. It's a guess, but we wouldn't be surprised to learn that the last brush Luke had with anything like scientific data was when he tried to explain his grade school absentee record to the school principal.

There was a real news story in all of this, and to his credit Troy wrote this part straight:
[Local] groups will hold a public meeting at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Pensacola Junior College to discuss the threat of global warming, including potential harm to the Pensacola area and its beaches. Two rallies to bring attention to the topic are scheduled for April 14 and for Earth Day on April 21.
A sidebar to Troy's article gives the details:
  • Global Warming, Local Action conference, 6 p.m. Tuesday, April 10, at Hagler Auditorium on the Pensacola Junior College campus
  • Step It Up Rally, Noon Saturday, April 14, Pensacola Beach pavilion
  • Earth Day Celebration, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. , Saturday, April 21, Bayvuiew Community Center, Bayou Texar
As for the rest of this front page article, it's essentially a pointless attempt to gin up something that looks like local controversy and then apply "journalistic balance" to pit the world scientific community against one anonymous guy on the street, a retired irrelevancy, and a crabby misanthrope who's spent the last 35 years of his life in dead-end radio jobs.

We appreciate hard-working, underpaid journalists like Troy Moon. We really do. That's why we prefer to think he was just putting one over on some dim-witted copy editor.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Funny article! Keep it up.