David Fogarty, a former environmental reporter for Reuters, says the news agency decided in early 2012 that environmental stories would no longer be a top priority. As a consequence, he says, editors are now wary of climate change stories, reflecting "a climate of fear" inside the company.
Strong stuff, if true. The charge comes in a July 15th post at The Baron, an independent blog covering Reuters and its people. Fogarty left Reuters, he writes, when he was stripped of his environmental beat and offered a role covering "regional shipping."
"Since I’ve left, I’ve lost count of the number of people who have asked me why Reuters’ climate change coverage has changed in tone and fallen in volume," he concludes. Fogarty, who was based in Singapore, is one of three reporters who have been taken off the environment beat, according to a July 12th post at The Baron. The other two are Alister Doyle in Oslo, who has written about the environment for a decade, and Deborah Zabarenko in Washington, who has covered the environment and climate change since 2006, The Baron reports.
Fogarty intimates–but oddly does not say outright–that the person behind the climate of fear is Paul Ingrassia, a Pulitzer-Prize-winning reporter who joined Reuters in 2011 and was recently named managing editor:
In April last year, Paul Ingrassia (then deputy editor-in-chief) and I met and had a chat at a company function. He told me he was a climate change sceptic. Not a rabid sceptic, just someone who wanted to see more evidence mankind was changing the global climate.
Progressively, getting any climate change-themed story published got harder.
That seems to blame Ingrassia, but Fogarty is an experienced reporter and writer and he was careful not to say that Ingrassia was responsible for the growing difficulty in getting climate stories published. I think he's guessing that Ingrassia is responsible; he doesn't know, or he would have said so.
It's disturbing that Reuters took three environmental reporters off the beat, but, up to this point, we still don't know whether Reuters's coverage of climate change has been altered, by Ingrassia or anyone else.
On Tuesday, we got some data that addresses that question. Media Matters for America, a progressive media watchdog, looked at Reuters stories before Ingrassia's previous appointment as deputy editor-in-chief and again in 2012, after he was in place.
The number of stories on climate change dropped by 48 percent, Media Matters reports. One explanation is that Reuters decided to de-emphasize climate change coverage. Another is that there was less climate change news in 2012. While this therefore does not constitute proof of a change in corporate policy, it does look suspicious.
The case against Reuters was strengthened, in my view, by a July 21st post by Joe Romm at the progressive ClimateProgress blog, in which he points out specific instances of unsourced climate skepticism inserted into a Reuters story.
The post, entitled "False balance lives at Reuters," examines Reuters coverage of a recent story on sea level rise from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. The Reuters story, as Romm points out, contains this unattributed criticism of the report:
Scientists say global warming is responsible for the melting ice. A U.N. panel of scientists, the IPCC, says heat-trapping gases from burning fossil fuels are nudging up temperatures. A small number of scientists dismiss human-influenced global warming, arguing natural climate fluctuations are responsible. [Emphasis mine.]
Later on, we find this in the Reuters story–again without attribution:
Climate sceptics, however, say the evidence is unconvincing. Measurements of changing temperatures are unreliable, contradictory and unsupported by solid historic data, they say.
They question the accuracy of computer climate forecasts and point to historic, cyclical changes in the world's temperature as evidence that global temperature changes are natural. Others say the evidence shows temperatures have stopped rising and that the sun plays a bigger role than human activities.
Romm says these ideas have been "thoroughly refuted," but one doesn't have to know anything about prior studies or refutations to recognize bad journalism. Controversial points of view such as these included by Reuters should never be unattributed. It's one thing to say, without attribution, that the Earth is round, but it's quite another to speculate about the causes of climate change without attributing and backing up that speculation.
Reuters told ClimateProgress that it "is committed to providing fair and independent coverage of climate change," that it has "a number of staff dedicated to covering this story," and "there has been no change in our editorial policy."
None of this proves that Reuters has decided to adopt a skeptical editorial stance in its news coverage. But if it has, then a change in its editorial policy is exactly what it needs.