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Media Bias in Covering Obama Climate Change Policy?

Joseph Romm's picture
American Progress
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  • Jan 28, 2013 2:00 am GMT

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This Washington Post headline sums up so much that is wrong with the media and politics today:

I understand why fossil-fuel-funded conservatives assert that climate change is “liberal.” By why do the Associated Press and Washington Post fall into that trap?

These remarks in Obama’s inaugural are, apparently, what the AP and Washington Post consider liberal:

We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations. Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms.

Now even Rasmussen, a firm with a well-known conservative bias, found in a poll the day before the election that 68% of American voters see global warming as a “serious problem.”

Uber-wonk Nate Silver dismantles the media’s lame frame in his look “at the most recent polling on some of the agenda items Mr. Obama laid out:”:

The database includes two polls on global warming conducted after the Nov. 6 presidential election. An Associated Press-GfK poll in the field from Nov. 29 to Dec. 3 found that 78 percent of respondents said they believed the planet had warmed over the past 100 years, and 49 percent said they thought global warming would be a “very serious” problem for the United States if left unaddressed (31 percent said they thought it would be “somewhat serious”).

Fifty-seven percent of the 1,002 adults surveyed said the United States government should do “a great deal” or “quite a bit” on global warming.

A United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection poll conducted Nov. 8 to 11 found that 57 percent of adults said they thought global warming was increasing the likelihood of storms like Hurricane Sandy.

I guess liberals are now a (silent) majority in this country!

Even the Washington Post‘s own economic and White House reporter, Zachary A. Goldfarb, mocks this media spin in his piece, “Obama’s daring liberal agenda is neither daring nor liberal. Discuss”:


In his speech, by contrast, Obama hewed closely to public opinion. He defended “the commitments we make to each other through Medicare and Medicaid and Social Security” — but did not propose expanding the safety net.

“Judged on an absolute scale, going back to Roosevelt, that’s a pretty centrist or conservative position: ‘I’m opposed to cutting it,’ ” said James Stimson, a professor of political science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “Back in the 1970s, the two parties jostled about who could be more generous in dispersing Social Security.”

… Obama’s call to battle climate change in his second term underscores a similar phenomenon. His position sounds liberal because it appeases the environmental base of the Democratic Party and because Republicans have increasingly opposed efforts to stem global warming. But there wasn’t always such an ideological gap between the parties. In the 2008 presidential race, Obama and his opponent, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), had almost exactly the same plan to help solve the problem of a warming planet.

Looking at this history and today’s opinion polls, it would seem pretty easy to find consensus in America on a lot of big issues — not just “liberal” or “conservative” solutions.

Then again, in Washington, everything needs a label.

Yes, well, the media in particular need a label. Heck, the Center for American Progress Action Fund, where I work, is routinely called ”liberal leaning” by the media because we support things like climate action.

Goldfarb notes, “the central mechanism of Obamacare — the individual mandate, which Republicans blasted as a massive liberal exercise of power — began as a conservative idea.” And cap-and-trade was actually first put into law for controlling pollution by President George H. W. Bush.

Obama is basically pushing a moderate Republican agenda. It’s just that there aren’t any modern Republicans left, much as we don’t have any “below average temperature” years any more. Shifting baselines, indeed.

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