June 23, 2024

Keeping Media and Government Accountable.

Wichita Eagle climate change reporter fails objectivity test

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In December of last year, the Sentinel raised concerns about the objectivity of a new climate change reporting position for the Wichita Eagle.

Those concerns appear to have been fully justified.

The Sentinel was concerned that the new reporter — funded by a grant from ostensibly politically-neutral non-profit “Report for America” — would be approaching climate-change reporting from an activist rather than journalistic position, particularly in light of the way the Eagle story announcing the position was worded.

In the Eagle piece, Suzanne Perez Tobias wrote, “One reporter will be assigned to write about how climate change affects Kansas and the surrounding region. Most Kansans now believe in climate change, but about half do not believe man-made activities have contributed, according to the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication,” and stated as fact that “climate change impacts are real.”

At the time, the Sentinel reached out to both Kansas Press Association Executive Director Emily Bradbury, and Eagle Editor Michael Roehrman and was assured basic journalistic standards would remain in place.

“We have complete faith in our local newspapers to manage these new employees and their respective beats,” Bradbury said at the time. “The grant announcement specifies that the employees will be ‘edited and managed by the local news organization where they work.’ This is a strong endorsement of autonomy.”

Roehrman agreed, stating simply: “The two new reporters will be held to the same standards as all of the Eagle’s reporters.”

However, new climate change reporter Sarah Spicer’s own words in a July 12 column introducing herself belie those statements.

“First and foremost, I believe in telling truthful and accurate stories and finding narratives from people, or in the case of climate change, animals, land and ecosystems, that otherwise don’t have a voice,” Spicer wrote. “We will learn from and use a wide range of sources and opinions, take a holistic approach to reporting on the problems and focus on actions that the government, nonprofits and individuals can make towards developing solutions.”

While “a wide range of sources and opinions,” would suggest opposing viewpoints would be considered, Spicer had already stated a need for “solutions.”

Moreover, in a concluding paragraph Spicer makes a statement which explicitly shows a predetermined viewpoint. 

“We cannot ignore, however, the larger political, economic and environmental situations that have played a part in our current situation,” she wrote. “Context is incredibly important and without it we cannot understand the problems or the solutions.”

Indeed, context is incredibly important, but it is nearly entirely left out of the article.

First, while Report For America bills itself as non-partisan, it is anything but, with a list of donors including the incredibly liberal Ford Foundation and is a subsidiary of the Ground Truth Project, another left-of-center nonprofit.

Second — despite claims to the contrary — the science is hardly “settled” on climate change.

There are significant researchers who doubt the current “consensus” on climate change and even many who do agree with the man-made theory do not believe the impact will be as dire as many politicians and activists claim.

It remains to be seen if Spicer’s suggestion that she will consider a “wide range of opinions” while working her beat is accurate, but it seems unlikely given her statement that she’s been speaking with “farmers, ranchers, conservationists, state and national researchers, nonprofit organizations and activists. While everyone has an opinion on climate change, it is undeniable that it is real and is changing our everyday lives.”

In other words, you can have an opinion but you’re wrong unless you agree with her.

A journalist’s job is to report the truth and to do so requires an openness to facts contrary to personally-held opinions.  Spicer’s statements suggest such openness is lacking.

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