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Published: Sunday, 6/2/2013

Climate-change editorial reflected scientific consensus

BY JACK LESSENBERRY
BLADE OMBUDSMAN

Reader Ralph Russo of Findlay was unhappy that an editorial in The Blade on May 25 talked about the disastrous and growing effects of climate change and rising carbon dioxide levels.

How could the newspaper be “bemoaning so-called climate change as if it remained dogma in the scientific community?” he said.

Well, frankly, because there is no longer any real doubt in the respected scientific community that the Earth is warming nor much doubt that human activity causes most of it.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the leading international body assessing the phenomenon, found six years ago that there was no doubt the globe has been dramatically warming since about 1950. The panel said the odds were “90 to 99 percent” human actions were the dominant cause of it.

However, as has been well-documented, a lot of business and conservative groups have donated heavily to outfits that try to deny climate change. There are those who do not want new restrictions on carbon monoxide emissions, largely for financial reasons.

As “proof” that global warming is doubtful, Mr. Russo sent me two articles, one by the editor of the conservative National Review. It quoted a study that said temperatures “at the Earth’s surface” have stayed constant over the last 15 years. However, even that study admitted greenhouse gas emissions have continued to soar.

Your ombudsman isn’t a scientist. However, I do know that science requires a healthy dose of skepticism and that our understanding of the processes that cause climate change are certain to deepen and some theories change.

But I also know that good journalism — including editorial writing — is not stenography, but a process in which reporters and editors try to arrive at the best available version of the truth.

Seems to me that’s where this editorial was coming from.

The Rev. Robert Anderson of Collingwood Presbyterian Church wrote, “I never thought of myself as being prudish, but I must protest the unnecessary graphic descriptions in certain recent news articles.”

Specifically, he was offended by two articles about local men arrested in connection with Internet child pornography. In one case, a Toledo Public Schools special-education teacher was convicted in a case in which he had viewed a video of a small boy masturbating. In the other case, an Adrian, Mich., man is charged in federal court with possessing more than a thousand pornographic images, including one of a “dead infant, who had a bag on her head, a rope around her neck, and [a] message indicating that she had been raped.”

Granted, that last image is especially shocking. But was reporting the details of these alleged crimes, as the minister believes, “active participation in pornography” by The Blade?

Your ombudsman doesn’t think so. I can’t see anything sexually prurient in what The Blade reported. Reality is sometimes unnerving, and there are often no perfect choices.

I do understand where the minister is coming from. If I had young, precocious children at home, I’m sure I especially wouldn’t want them to read the story about the infant with the noose around her neck. However, newspapers should not be in the business of covering up unpleasant facts.

Internet child pornography is a growing problem, and one which many, maybe most, people barely understand. During one lecture last year, I took a question from a woman who actually thought child porn involved looking at babies splashing naked in the bathtub.

Had The Blade published any of the images in these two stories, I would have been on Mr. Anderson’s side here. But unpleasant as it may be, I think the newspaper’s duty was to shed light on the nature of these horrifying practices.

Donald Yerks was startled by a headline over a news brief in the religion pages on May 18. The headline said, “Kansas prison officials charge doctor’s killer.”

“The interesting thing is that this was on the religion page. Why was that?” he asked. Good question.

Part of the problem was that the story was too brief to supply adequate background. Luann Sharp, Blade assistant managing editor, noted, “The goal of our religion pages is to broaden coverage to include lifestyle issues, such as abortion, gay marriage, war, divorce ... and other issues with religious implications.”

This particular brief was about Scott Roeder, who was convicted of murdering Dr. George Tiller in 2009 at the physician’s church. Roeder is an anti-abortion religious fanatic who has now been accused of trying to intimidate the doctor who took Dr. Tiller’s place.

Dave Murray, Blade managing editor, added, “Opposition to abortion is a religious issue for many people, but as I read the brief I wish we would have placed it in the news sections of the paper, and not on the Religion page.”

Your ombudsman agrees that would have been a better choice.

***

Anyone who has a concern about fairness or accuracy in The Blade is invited to write me, c/o The Blade; 541 N. Superior St., Toledo, 43660, or at my Detroit office, 563 Manoogian Hall, Wayne State University, Detroit, MI 48202; call me at 1-888-746-8610, or email me at OMBLADE@aol.com. I cannot promise to address every question in the newspaper, but I do promise that everyone who contacts me with a serious question will get a personal reply. Reminder, however: If you don’t leave me an email address or a phone number, I have no way to get in touch with you.

Jack Lessenberry is a member of the journalism faculty at Wayne State University in Detroit and a former national editor of The Blade.



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