Media Matters, a left-leaning press watchdog group, posted an email today that shows a Fox News managing editor ordering staff to downplay climate science data.

From the email:

Fox News managing editor Bill Sammon

…we should refrain from asserting that the planet has warmed (or cooled) in any given period without IMMEDIATELY pointing out that such theories are based upon data that critics have called into question.

The email was sent in December, amid the “Climategate” email scandal and the COP15 climate summit in Copenhagen. Media Matters further details how “Fox’s news and opinion programs relentlessly hyped the supposed scandal in order to cast doubt on the scientific case for climate change.”

Politico has picked up the story, but tiptoes around the issue of climate science, instead focusing on Media Matters’ “crusade” against Sammon.

That, frankly, is the more revealing of the two stories.

Bear with me for a moment.

Journalists have an obligation to give voice to the voiceless. It’s a longstanding, noble tradition of the press that helps to provide a bit of political power to the otherwise disenfranchised. And it is from this obligation that we get the idea that every story must be “balanced,” that is, if there is an opposing point of view on a subject, it needs to be aired.

As a general rule, this isn’t a bad thing. Viewpoints shouldn’t be shut out just because they’re in the minority, and in fact, one could argue that the press has a duty to ensure those viewpoints are amplified.

When this dynamic is applied to science, however, we run into problems. Sammon is ordering “balance” to information that is demonstrably true. The planet is getting warmer, and we’ve known for the better part of a century that increased concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will trap more heat. Reasonable people can debate how best to deal with this, but to deny the basic fact that the climate is changing is journalistic malpractice.

Sammon’s orders are akin to requiring every story on the moon landing include the point of view of people who claim the whole thing was staged in a movie studio.

Back to the Politico story for a moment. Notice that the story casts the email as “offering guidance on how to handle the climate debate” (emphasis mine) and never points out that the information that Sammon was objecting to is factual.

Ever wonder why news organizations are so shy about this? It’s because the “debate” over climate change has been successfully cast as a political dispute. The Left says it’s happening, the Right says it’s not, and journalists can’t be caught choosing sides. It’s a dynamic that is specifically unique to the United States.

For the record, when it comes to climate change, Midwest Energy News stands firmly on the side of science. My hope is that other news outlets will do the same.


UPDATE: The Hill has picked up the story, and again, not a word about whether the climate data was factual. Instead, “The e-mail has caused quite a stir in the liberal community, feeding the left’s criticism of the news network’s coverage.”

Ken is the director of the Energy News Network at Fresh Energy and is a founding editor of both Midwest Energy News and Southeast Energy News. Prior to joining Fresh Energy, he was the managing editor for online news at Minnesota Public Radio. He started his journalism career in 2002 as a copy editor for the Duluth News Tribune before spending five years at the Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Washington, where he worked as a copy editor, online producer, features editor and night city editor. A Nebraska native, Ken has a bachelor's degree from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and a master's degree from the University of Oregon. He is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors.