“Environmental journalism” is an oxymoron, and if that wasn’t obvious already, it is after the Society of Environmental Journalists last week shielded a politician from one of its own members. The politician in question was none other than former Vice President Al Gore.
Phelim McAleer, a co-producer of the forthcoming movie “Not Evil Just Wrong” and a current editorial client of mine, attended the annual SEJ conference in Wisconsin, and for the first time in years, Gore took questions in a public forum. McAleer asked Gore whether he intended to correct the factual errors in his global warming movie An Inconvenient Truth.
Gore bobbed and weaved rhetorically, and when McAleer pressed for answers (as all good journalists should), Gore’s SEJ allies intervened. Two members of the group physically tried to remove McAleer from the microphone, and the organizers eventually cut the sound.
The journalists who ran interference for Gore, including Baltimore Sun environment reporter Tim Wheeler, defended their actions. Wheeler wrote on the SEJ blog that he was just enforcing the rules for the question-and-answer session by refusing to let McAleer monopolize the mic.
But the reality is that Wheeler and his colleagues violated at least two principles of the ethics code drafted by the Society of Professional Journalists:
- Support the open exchange of views, even views they find repugnant.
- Be vigilant and courageous about holding those with power accountable.
It’s clear from their coverage that environmental journalists find the views of skeptics like McAleer repugnant, but that’s precisely why they should have let him press Gore for answers in a public forum. McAleer showed himself to be vigilant and courageous in holding Gore accountable for spreading propaganda in public schools, and he deserved the SEJ’s support.
Gore has studiously avoided debate about global warming because he believes the science is settled and anyone who disagrees is as foolish as people who believe the earth is flat. Ethical journalists would not have helped Gore hide from yet another debate.
But that’s why I said environmental journalism is an oxymoron. “Environmental journalists unfortunately tend to be environmentalists rather than journalists,” McAleer said in an interview yesterday on Neil Cavuto’s “Your World.” “They have never found an environmental organization that’s ever exaggerated, that’s ever told a lie, and there is.”
Mark Tapscott of the Washington Examiner made a similar point. He called Gore’s SEJ protectors “homers” because “they are the environmental beat’s equivalent of sports reporters who never say anything critical of the home team. … The home team for SEJ is the environmental movement and its friends and allies in government who can do no wrong.”
The SEJ could have embraced the McAleer-Gore confrontation as the proverbial teachable moment for everyone in the room. Instead, they gave their profession another black eye.