Quantcast

Should the New York Times Fire Their Climate-Denying Columnist?

Popular

For years now, we've been calling out for the removal of denial from mainstream media. But today we want to talk about free speech.


First and foremost, it bears repeating that the editorial separation between opinion and reporting means hiring a denier on the opinion side of the New York Times has no influence on the Times's top-tier climate journalism. One bad opinion hire among dozens of outstanding reporters does not justify canceling a subscription; that's shooting yourself in the foot.

That said, the outrage caused by the Times's decision to hire Bret Stephens, which we've covered before, is well deserved. Joe Romm is absolutely right in his (many) criticisms of the decision and responses of the public editor to the initial criticism and further comments Stephens made in a Vox interview.

Stephens published his first column on Friday. The piece suggests that if scientists and advocates told the public the science is less certain than it actually is, they would be more likely to believe it. Romm and Dana Nuccitelli at the Guardian have already done a nice job handling the factual failings with the column. We'd also like to point out that Stephens's thesis flies in the face of the social science showing consensus messaging is key to accepting the reality of climate change.

But should he be censored, his views silenced?

For some time now, the right has been building a case that the left wants to shut down free speech it doesn't like (Wall Street Journal columnist Kimberly Strassel even wrote a book on it). This argument is a deliberate distortion of the difference between silencing and ignoring speech. And there's a difference between not wanting to propagate factually inaccurate statements and shutting down opinions.

Just because a columnist is not given an audience to deceive does not mean they have been silenced. A news organization has an obligation to tell the truth. It has no obligation to provide a platform for deception. An institution has a right to exercise its editorial judgement. This is why we have no issue with a denier speaking at an event with actual experts: An informed audience knows better than to believe him and can laugh right in his face.

But for the general public readership of the Times opinion page, should Stephens be allowed to publish factually inaccurate columns, for sake of free speech? No. The Times has no obligation to deceive its own readers. Is there some value to being aware of opposing opinions? Yes, of course. Is there value in reading lies? After years of writing the Denier Roundup, we can tell you: No, we've not had any grand epiphany or uncovered any unexpected avenue for disarming deniers.

Should the Times fire Stephens? Probably not—we should see if he can learn from these mistakes. Should they fact check his columns? Absolutely. If Stephens' editors tell him not to lie about climate change or he'll be fired, is that censorship? Not at all. Should he be mocked and ridiculed for his ridiculousness? Absolutely. (And by his new colleagues no less).

There is a difference between silencing someone and choosing not to hand them a microphone. There is a difference between suppressing speech and not offering a liar a stage. There is a difference between free speech and fake speech. We hope that the Times's readership can use Stephens's upcoming columns as valuable lessons in distinguishing between the two.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Tim P. Whitby / 21st Century Fox / Getty Images

The beauty products we put on our skin can have important consequences for our health. Just this March, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warned that some Claire's cosmetics had tested positive for asbestos. But the FDA could only issue a warning, not a recall, because current law does not empower the agency to do so.

Michelle Pfeiffer wants to change that.

The actress and Environmental Working Group (EWG) board member was spotted on Capitol Hill Thursday lobbying lawmakers on behalf of a bill that would increase oversight of the cosmetics industry, The Washington Post reported.

Read More Show Less
A protest march against the Line 3 pipeline in St. Paul, Minnesota on May 18, 2018. Fibonacci Blue / CC BY 2.0

By Collin Rees

We know that people power can stop dangerous fossil fuel projects like the proposed Line 3 tar sands oil pipeline in Minnesota, because we've proved it over and over again — and recently we've had two more big wins.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Scientists released a study showing that a million species are at risk for extinction, but it was largely ignored by the corporate news media. Danny Perez Photography / Flickr / CC

By Julia Conley

Scientists at the United Nations' intergovernmental body focusing on biodiversity sounded alarms earlier this month with its report on the looming potential extinction of one million species — but few heard their calls, according to a German newspaper report.

Read More Show Less
DoneGood

By Cullen Schwarz

Ethical shopping is a somewhat new phenomenon. We're far more familiar with the "tried and tested" methods of doing good, like donating our money or time.

Read More Show Less
Pixabay

Summer is fast approaching, which means it's time to stock up on sunscreen to ward off the harmful effects of sun exposure. Not all sunscreens are created equally, however.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Mark Wallheiser / Getty Images

The climate crisis is a major concern for American voters with nearly 40 percent reporting the issue will help determine how they cast their ballots in the upcoming 2020 presidential election, according to a report compiled by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication.

Of more than 1,000 registered voters surveyed on global warming, climate and energy policies, as well as personal and collective action, 38 percent said that a candidate's position on climate change is "very important" when it comes to determining who will win their vote. Overall, democratic candidates are under more pressure to provide green solutions as part of their campaign promises with 64 percent of Democrat voters saying they prioritize the issue compared with just 34 percent of Independents and 12 percent of Republicans.

Read More Show Less
Flooding in Winfield, Missouri this month. Jonathan Rehg / Getty Images

President Donald Trump has agreed to sign a $19.1 billion disaster relief bill that will help Americans still recovering from the flooding, hurricanes and wildfires that have devastated parts of the country in the past two years. Senate Republicans said they struck a deal with the president to approve the measure, despite the fact that it did not include the funding he wanted for the U.S.-Mexican border, CNN reported.

"The U.S. Senate has just approved a 19 Billion Dollar Disaster Relief Bill, with my total approval. Great!" the president tweeted Thursday.

Read More Show Less
Reed Hoffmann / Getty Images

Violent tornadoes tore through Missouri Wednesday night, killing three and causing "extensive damage" to the state's capital of Jefferson City, The New York Times reported.

"There was a lot of devastation throughout the state," Governor Mike Parson said at a Thursday morning press conference, as NPR reported. "We were very fortunate last night that we didn't have more injuries than what we had, and we didn't have more fatalities across the state. But three is too many."

Read More Show Less