When it comes to media coverage of climate change, we still see occasional charges of “false balance,” despite the problem having been pretty much eradicated, as AP reporter Seth Borenstein pointed out during a panel discussion in 2011. That said, a legitimate example did occur last month when PBS inexplicably turned to Anthony Watts as a critic of climate science. Bad as that choice was, the lame, softball interview with Watts was even more galling.
But again, this sort of egregious thing is pretty rare nowadays. Complaints of “false balance” have mostly given way to complaints of less journalistic coverage of climate change. I don’t think that will be as true for this past year, since a connection between severe weather and global warming has been the subject of many media stories–both in newspapers and on television.
Still, when dicey coverage of climate science occurs somewhere in mainstream media, we can pretty much bank on liberal watchdogs such as Media Matters, to be all over it. Plug “climate change” into the site’s main search engine, and you’ll get 1171 results. And while Media Matters pays special attention to conservative media, the organization is not shy about spanking CNN or PBS on any given day for real or perceived flaws in their climate reporting.
This got me thinking. As regular readers know, I’ve been writing more frequently about issues related to genetically modified crops, my Slate piece being a recent example. The theme I hit on there was the double standard liberals had for the science on global warming and the science on GMOs.
I’m waiting to be proven wrong on this, but nobody from any liberal outlet has met the challenge. (This supposed rebuttal by Tom Philpott at Mother Jones is pretty weak tea.) Meanwhile, there are plenty of instances in the media and popular talk shows where the science on GM crops is, at best, misrepresented, or at worst, freakishly distorted.
Knowing this, I was curious to see if Media Matters ever called out any of these examples. I plugged in “GMOs” and “genetically modified crops” separately into all their search boxes. Nothing. It appears that no media coverage of the GM food issue has ever caught the attention of Media Matters. Pretty amazing, when you consider how controversial the topic is, especially this year with the labeling initiative in California.
But if Media Matters was ever interested in seeing how “false balance” played out with respect to GMOs, it could watch episodes of the Dr. Oz show, including the one this past week called, “GM Foods: Are they dangerous to your health?” One of the featured guests on the show making this case (he’s been on before) is Jeffrey Smith, whose book, Seeds of Deception, links GMOs
to toxins, allergies, infertility, infant mortality, immune dysfunction, stunted growth, and death.
Smith, who identifies himself as a “leading consumer advocate,” has previously been given a platform at Huffington Post to spout all manner of anti-GMO crockery. Still, no matter how crazy and detached from reality his claims are, Dr. Oz finds him credible enough, it seems. (For more background on Smith, see this post and the comment thread.) That leads me to something Philpott wrote in his recent critique of my Slate piece:
Sure, there are wackos who campaign against GMOs, but not all GMO critique is wacko.
If Smith doesn’t qualify as a wacko, I don’t know what would. Yet he is one of the stars of the anti-GMO movement. Smith is no fringe outlier; he’s a busy speaker on the anti-GMO circuit–when he’s not appearing on popular, nationally televised talk shows. Try to find anyone in the liberal media who is calling out Smith for his irresponsible, baseless assertions, or Dr. Oz for anointing Smith as the representative voice of the anti-GMO movement.
Like I said, liberals are attentive watchdogs when it comes to flawed coverage of climate change. But with crazy talk on GMOs, they are MIA.