Never give both sides when you know you're right

by Russ Roberts on March 1, 2007

in Environment

The Tennessean (HT: Drudge) reports on a speech where Gore attacks the media for being balanced in their reporting on global warming. Gore thinks it’s a mistake for the media to report on any dissension or skepticism in the scientific ranks. After all, Gore knows there’s a consensus. He does not seem to realize that his attitude toward scientific inquiry, the role of newspapers, and his assessment of the significance of global warming are not a source of positive energy for anyone who doesn’t already agree with him. The last sentence is just icing on the cake:

"I believe that is one of the principal reasons why
political leaders around the world have not yet taken action," Gore
said. "There are many reasons, but one of the principal reasons in my
view is more than half of the mainstream media have rejected the
scientific consensus implicitly — and I say ‘rejected,’ perhaps it’s
the wrong word. They have failed to report that it is the consensus and
instead have chosen … balance as bias.

"I don’t
think that any of the editors or reporters responsible for one of these
stories saying, ‘It may be real, it may not be real,’ is unethical. But
I think they made the wrong choice, and I think the consequences are

"I think if it is important to look at
the pressures that made it more likely than not that mainstream
journalists in the United States would convey a wholly inaccurate
conclusion about the most important moral, ethical, spiritual and
political issue humankind has ever faced."

Gore would not answer any questions from the media after the event.

This approach and behavior further increases the odds that we will do nothing politically.

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cranky March 1, 2007 at 2:15 pm

The gamble for him is whether it is better to radicalize an influential minority or to persuade the median voter. If the radicalized minority are influential enough, they can stifle debate, stigmatize opponents, and force institutions to change so that the median voter has no choice but to do something.

And if the goal is not really to reduce global warming but to increase the degree of environmental regulation favorable to his world view, he may be on the right track.

Patrick R. Sullivan March 1, 2007 at 3:26 pm

This isn't the first time Gore has expressed the opinion that dissenters should be censored.

M. Hodak March 1, 2007 at 3:37 pm

Democracy is a bitch.

Daniel March 1, 2007 at 3:47 pm

In regards to global warming and other envirpnmental issues, Gore's claim that balanced is actually biased isn't new. For instance, look at the following from the group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting 12/24/04 issue of Counterspin:

"Also this week: There's little– if any– serious scientific debate about what causes global warming. But you wouldn't get that impression from the media, where industry-sponsored "skeptics" sometimes get equal billing to argue that human activity isn't responsible for climate change; or even that Global Warming might even be a good thing. We'll speak to politics professor Jules Boykoff about what's wrong with the media cover climate change, and how journalistic 'balance' can, in fact, result in bias."

It's funny that a goup called FAIR wants unbalanced media reporting. It must be in the eye of the beholder.

I must be biased but, in my humble opinion it seems the opposite is true. I can't recall when a report showing evidence of global warming also included a response from skeptics. But whenever someone presents a skeptical viewpoint, the media includes an environmentalist to dispute the claim. I can recall two examples of this: Back in 2000 (i think) there was a report out of NASA saying that we've just been through a 25 year long cycle of El Nino's and now we're headed into a 25 year cycle of La Nina's. ABC news led the newscast wth the story but included responses from environmentalist saying that it was too soon to tell. The second was and episode of Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's science show "Quirks and Quarks." When the show interviewed Bjorn Lomberg about hs book, they concluded the interview with responses from environmental groups. Again, I can't recall reports stating that global warming is a problem including responses from skeptics.


Bruce G Charlton March 1, 2007 at 3:55 pm

Russ says: This approach and behavior further increases the odds that we will do nothing politically.

Quite so. Another sign is the current fuss about whether Gore (and other media advocates of carbon regulation etc.) are/ are-not hypocrites and whether they are/ are-not setting a good example.

This waffle about moral leadership implies that the real incentives are to do the opposite of what is being advoacted, and that – in fact – is what will be done.

Matt C. March 1, 2007 at 4:35 pm

Is it possible to be a Bootlegger and a Baptist? It would seem that Gore is both.

Bill Hobbs reports on his blog:

Just a quote:
"But how Gore buys his 'carbon offsets,' as revealed by The Tennessean raises serious questions. According to the newspaper's report, Gore buys his carbon offsets through Generation Investment Management:

Gore helped found Generation Investment Management, through which he and others pay for offsets. The firm invests the money in solar, wind and other projects that reduce energy consumption around the globe . . .

Gore is chairman of the firm and, presumably, draws an income or will make money as its investments prosper. In other words, he 'buys' his 'carbon offsets' from himself, through a transaction designed to boost his own investments and return a profit to himself. To be blunt, Gore doesn't buy 'carbon offsets' through Generation Investment Management–he buys stocks. . . ."

Here is the list of the investment for which Generation Investment Management holds:

Francois Tremblay March 1, 2007 at 4:41 pm

"Democracy is a bitch."

If by "bitch," you mean "an epistemically-absurd, immoral system of decision-making that leads to social warfare and the dissipation of freedom," you're right.

Kit March 1, 2007 at 4:56 pm

Gore should move to the UK. The British media, led by the BBC, are true believers and you rarely hear a skeptical voice.

daveinboca March 1, 2007 at 5:21 pm

The National Geographic now reports lots of ice melting on Mars. Gee whiz, doesn't this indicate that the Sun is biased in favor of Global Warming?

Brad Hutchings March 1, 2007 at 7:22 pm

Dave… The Martian Global Warming (MGW) actually suggests that there is life on Mars. How could bovine flatulence be contributing to MGW without there being cows on Mars?

ben March 1, 2007 at 8:24 pm

There are contexts in which balanced reporting of a controversy is inappropriate, for example creation vs. evolutionary explanations of origins. Just because one side of that debate has a point of view is not sufficient to give them column space next to scientists.

It seems to me a rejection of Gore's call for balance should rest on whether there is a scientific controversy about global warming. In this case I think there is, but an unqualified rejection of anyone's complaining about a lack of balance is probably too strong.

ben March 1, 2007 at 8:25 pm

oops, should have read "anyone's complaining about balance is probably too strong."

eliXelx March 2, 2007 at 3:45 am

So, Ben!! Cow fart arguments should be balanced, but Darwinism shouldn't?
Don't you think you're making Bovine Flatulence into an Evolutionary Gospel?

Max March 2, 2007 at 5:51 am

"I believe that is one of the principal reasons why political leaders around the world have not yet taken action."
Here in Europe, we have almost unanimous support for Global Warming, due to an almost entirely statist population which has lost the ability of critical or original thinking a while ago (well, at least if we talking about the voting masses ;) ).
Still, measures to take action against global warming are carefully planned, because big corporations are still blocking most issues (it just would be the final stab in the back of europe's uncompetitive economy). So, what Gore says is just bull-sh*t, it is not the media reporting on Global Warming that stalls "political action", it's the fear of economic feedbacks that slows down the law-making process.

Ray March 2, 2007 at 8:07 am

An interesting discussion. Economists making comments about technical issues sound just like technical people making comments about economic issues. Replacing global warming with minimum wage or free trade and you have the same construct and rhetoric.

Matt C. March 2, 2007 at 8:51 am

I didn't realize that Gore was a technical expert…or did I miss the fact that he was a climatologist, in addition to his other great contributions to the world. You know, he invented the internet right and he was the great politician who was teaching economics to the American public right?? I think I remember a skit from SNL making fun of him for that.

So I would like to apologize to you for everyone here thinking they know a little something about how politics works. Because I am pretty sure thats what people are commenting about, not the actual technical aspect of global warming. I would also like to apologize for thinking, at least for myself, that Al Gore is big fat hypocrit and not believing every damn thing he, along with most other politicians, say about anything.

Varangy March 2, 2007 at 12:10 pm

He does not seem to realize that his attitude toward scientific inquiry, the role of newspapers,

HAH! Of course he does!

He is not a stupid man. Being the High Eco-Priest of the Lefty Enviro-Religion, he stands at odds with the scientific method.

As far as the role of newspapers (and the media, by extension), he wants them to evangelize on his behalf.

Varangy March 2, 2007 at 12:12 pm


You should allow HTML markup tags in the comments field. It would enhance readability.

e.g. blockquote and i

ben March 2, 2007 at 9:32 pm


"So, Ben!! Cow fart arguments should be balanced, but Darwinism shouldn't?"

If by 'balanced' you mean present creationist arguments alongside evolution as if they are plausible alternatives for origins, then yes, a balanced argument in that sense would be misleading. Presenting both sides in that debate gives the misleading impression there is some sort of debate among people who study origins (as opposed to narrowly interpret scriptures) when there is not.

Hedge Fund January 24, 2008 at 8:47 pm

Just because what Gore says isn't new doesn't make it worth saying again…and again.

- Richard

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