Long-time PBS NewsHour anchor Jim Lehrer died this past Thursday, lauded far and wide as substantive reporter who always had ‘a sober approach to the news.’ Many repeated parts of his famous nine tenets of old-school journalism. Fox News stated his 9th one, “I am not in the entertainment business” and NBC News led with Lehrer’s adage about the perils of news reporters committing the sin of believing in their own superficial publicity: “it’s not about us.” As a long-time viewer of the MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour from some time in the late 1970s all the way up to Jim Lehrer’s retirement as its anchor, I get the impression he was very sincere about that last advice to his colleagues. While he’d humbly appreciate the many kind words about him now, he’d quite likely also suggest that an old-school tough reporter-style examination of his career wouldn’t be out of order, either. I wish an objective reporter could have approached him directly regarding my own personal brief interaction with him years ago, but that’s a lost opportunity now. It isn’t lost overall yet, however, when it comes to news reporting by others about the collective global warming story.
Back in 2011, I sent an 1100-word snail mail (full text here) directly to Jim Lehrer, first praising him for his advocacy of fair and balanced reporting over his long career, and then inquiring about the NewsHour’s appearance of egregiously biased reporting of the global warming issue. I received a two sentence reply, a cherished letter which also contains something that prompts a perplexing question:
I hear you on your concerns about our reports on the global warming issue.
I get the same response from everyone I show the letter to: “‘I hear you…’ What does that mean?”
The suggestion when I wrote to him was that Lehrer’s NewsHour had the appearance of violating his own first and third journalism rules about indefensibly not permitting skeptic climate scientists on the program, however, I’ve adhered to those rules myself all the way to the present time. I have to assume there is another possible side of the story – his – on why he responded the way he did to me. In the spirit of his Rule #4, that he is as smart and caring and good a person as I am, I would have gladly offered him a chance to explain the situation as he saw it. It’s plausible that he would have been livid to discover his subordinates at the NewsHour, his pro-global warming NewsHour guests, and his environmentalist friends were deliberately leaving out the skeptic side of the issue when talking with him, or were misguiding him about that side’s scientists and expert speakers. It’s also possible that one of his correspondence handlers saw how devastating my letter was, and only showed him a short summary of my praise and something about the necessity to cover the issue in a broader manner …. thus potentially prompting a generic agreement from Lehrer to such a vague ‘suggestion.’ Now, we may never know, and that is sadly a lost opportunity of getting to the bottom of the matter as to why the NewsHour has excluded the other side of the global warming issue from their program in an unending way for the last 20+ years.
The overall opportunity to investigate this indefensible news reporting of only one side of the issue is not yet lost for people with far more resources and influence than I have. FOIA requests could be sent to the NewsHour regarding what interaction they had behind the scenes with particular enviro-activist guests such as Naomi Oreskes (that Oreskes), pro-global warming scientists like Michael Oppenheimer (that Oppenheimer), and people like – potentially – Ross Gelbspan.
It doesn’t have to stop there. Retired ABC News anchor Ted Koppel arguably fits the mold of old-school traditional news reporters like Jim Lehrer, and it was Koppel who rebuked Al Gore’s attempt to steer Koppel’s reporting on the ABC News Nightline program (25:31 point and 28:27 point), where Gore was apparently committing a clear act of unwise character assassination against skeptic climate scientists. Among the ‘documents’ Gore tried to use to influence Koppel were Western Fuels Association ones – the question is, did Gore include those infamous “reposition global warming” memos that turn out to be non-Western Fuels documents? Would Koppel be livid to discover just how far Gore’s usage of that “reposition global warming” memo potentially strays into libel/slander territory? Would he be livid to see how the current field of reporters across the country show no interest on how ‘evidence’ for a ‘sinister-campaign-that-never-operated-under-those-memos’ is still used within the latest global warming lawsuits in a way that essentially buries where the memos were first publicized?
Sincere, honest U.S. journalists strive to earn a Pulitzer Prize for outstanding acts of reporting. How many would be livid to find out that the most highly praised ‘discoverer’ of that “reposition global warming” leaked strategy memo, described more than once as a Pulitzer winner, never won a Pulitzer?
My condolences to the Lehrer family, but I hope an honest look into his legacy at the NewsHour and an even harder look at the MacNeil/Lehrer Guidelines for Journalism can act as a catalyst to lift the current state of ‘reporting’ out of pure agenda-driven propaganda and back into what it is supposed to be: reporting the facts of a situation after objectively examining all angles of it in a way that can be defended, and in a manner that is fair to all involved, where reporters drop the “it’s all about us changing the world” mindset.