Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Why did American newspapers refuse to run climate change leader?

Why was the Miami Herald the only US newspaper to carry the leading article on climate change that was published in 56 titles in 45 countries?
And, just as important, why did the Herald drop a key sentence from that leader?
According to Michael Wolff, the failure of American papers to run the article was due to their pusillanimity. "They have no fight left in them," he writes.
Much as I admire Wolff, and accept that he is writing about papers in his own backyard, I'm not so sure his answer is correct. I'm convinced the failure to take up the challenge had more to do with politics, misguided patriotism and also a good dose of editorial hubris.
Wolff does concede that editors might have been nervous about the leader's liberal ethos and liberal, even left-wing, provenance. I think that is, in fact, the main reason for the papers rejecting joint publication with so many other titles around the world
Look at the content of the editorial: though it sees President Obama as likely to reverse "years of US obstructionism", it continues:
Even now the world finds itself at the mercy of American domestic politics, for the president cannot fully commit to the action required until the US Congress has done so.
The leader also mentions that the US and China are "the world's biggest polluters."
I would hazard a guess that many US editors couldn't stomach publishing those arguments, believing that readers might regard them as anti-American. (And I'm sure it plays a part in the Herald's omission).
Editors would also be aware, of course, of the huge split among their readers of believers and deniers of man-made climate change.
That's not to say that I disagree with Wolff over the lack of guts among American editors in failing to dare to publish home truths. So I nodded vigorously over his views in these paragraphs:
One of the great marketing tools for a newspaper is a campaign. If you can move your readers, have them want to join you in a mission, you build brand loyalty. That's the Fox method.
You would think the instant razzmatazz of a global editorial (even about climate change) would be a sure marketing advantage for liberal papers—I see the editorial in a big front-page box.
Even the [New York] Times might have preserved the pride of its own editorial authorship by putting this common editorial on its op-ed page. This might have been a win for climate change reform and for newspaper identity.
But I think the New York Times's reasoning had much more to do with journalistic snobbery. It sees itself as the big guy on the block and didn't see why it should be required to follow the lead of a British paper.
Hubris probably played a part in other decisions by editorial boards at the Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post.
And that viewpoint is implied in a snippy leader in today's Boston Globe, which said:
A group editorial is just as likely to foster accusations of groupthink as it is to push the world toward decisive action on climate change.
At a time when the climate debate is still plagued by the false notion that global warming is a myth perpetuated by an international conspiracy of liberal elites, a range of voices offering their own reasoning and routes to the same goal would have delivered a more potent message than a unified chorus.
So, should we be ready to praise the Miami Herald for its lone stand? I'm afraid not. I was about to conclude this posting with a pat on the back for the Miami Herald's editorial board editor, Myriam Marquez, for daring to tread where others had feared to go.
But my praise is altogether muted because, lo and behold, the Herald did NOT carry the editorial verbatim after all.
It omitted the very sentence I highlighted above: Even now the world finds itself at the mercy of American domestic politics, for the president cannot fully commit to the action required until the US Congress has done so.
I emailed Ms Marquez two hours ago to ask why. I also called her without success. No word yet.