How media are (subtly) misrepresenting climate science

I am listing a few phenomena I  have observed in the media discussing the climate emergency which misrepresent news 1) to provide positive context to otherwise negative news, 2) negative context to positive news, or 3) increase the drama of otherwise boring facts:

  1. “Not taking sides”: Here, media present topics by giving both sides similar space. This strategy seems to be objective and is consistent with a dialectic approach to an unsolved problem. However, this may also make a problem seem more controversial/dramatic than it actually is and may appeal to a wider readership who will find their preferred opinion in the media.
    However, if there is scientific evidence in clear favor of one opinion, giving the same space to both sides of the argument, is serving the spread of misinformation, continuing an already resolved discussion, engaging both parties using their time and attention and, therefore, supports the strategy of “predatory delay”. As someone put it: “If somebody says it is raining, and the somebody else says the sun is shining, your job as a journalist is not to report both opinions, but to look out of the window and report what the weather actually is like.”
  2. New “records” & “happy” fotos: Extreme weather news are often accompanied by terms as “new record” which is often associated with positive connotations, like “performance” or “best value”. In addition, extreme heat news are often accompanied  with photos of happy children jumping into water for refreshment. Thereby, the media is misrepresenting the negative impacts of extreme heat, like damage to health or even death of humans, wild animals,  and plants.
  3. Politicians “fail”: Describing decisions by politicians as “failure” gives the association of a person trying but not reaching her/his goal because of a lack of competence or unfortunate circumstances, but still assumes the good intentions to act according to the problem. However, this may hide the alternative explanation that politicians in full understanding and with great skill act against the greater interest of the current or future generations or scientific recommendations, because of corrupted interests to gain financial or political advantages.
  4. “Focus on people instead of problems”: Since humans are deeply “social animals”, the current power hierarchy and social networks are of great interest to many people, while the facts are of lesser interest. Ongoing debates of politicians filling positions of power (some succeed, some fail) provides more drama than a focus on the (constant) facts of a problem, and will attract more attention from readers. However, this approach provides information of less relevance (“Who is who?”), while the underlying facts (“What is what?”) of the problem receive less space.
  5. Truth as social construct”: Humans as social beings tend to perceive (inconvenient) facts as primarily motivated by the agenda of the person or  his/her peer group, with which the person complies to avoid losing social support  (cf “argumentum ad hominem”). A variation of this cognitive style to perceive facts as a social construct is that an opinion for which no social support is expected is disregarded as wrong, relying on the often correct but sometimes dangerously misleading heuristic that the “crowd is right” (cf “The emperor has no clothes.”).
  6. “Climate protection is a luxury”: Here, media emphasize that other problems are more important especially in poor countries, eg food, jobs, security, than climate protection which is described as “luxury”. However, humans in poor countries are already or will be often affected worse than in rich countries. Here, the term “luxury” insinuates that climate protection is expensive and unnecessary and it creates the impression, that those asking for climate protection are rich, spoiled, and ignorant of the needs of the poor. However, if poor people do not prioritize climate protection alternative explanations may be that poor people do not have access to the information, do not have the resources (time, money) or do not feel morally responsible to address a problem which is has been created by  the rich, industrialized countries.  Therefore, describing climate protection as “luxury” may be misleading on multiple levels.
  7. “Low commitment, qualitative language”: Media describe the situation regarding the climate emergency  in terms or “we are not reaching the goals”, “we are falling behind”, “we need to do more”, which describes the situation in qualitative instead of quantitative terms. Quantitative terms would state, for example, that “current policies continuing “business-as-usual” will lead to global warming of 3.9 degrees Celsius in comparison to pre-industrial levels” or “current consumption-based carbon emissions per person per year  in Sweden were 10.1 tons CO2e in 2016 and are about about 4.4 times higher than the sustainable personal annual budget of 2.3 tons CO2e”. These qualitative statements hide the size of the emergency because of a very vague, however, not incorrect, description of the situation. Although the media are missing out on the “drama” of the climate emergency, this has the advantage of making less of a commitment (“putting your chin out”) and, therefore, giving less opportunity to be attacked or proven wrong.
  8. “being open-minded”: Having an open-mind (“I don’t know whether something is correct.”), before evidence is presented is a methodological appropriate approach to avoid bias. Having an open-mind after (!) strong evidence is presented, is unscientific, and actually just a euphemism for denialism (or ignoriance or lack of understanding).