May 15, 2019
John Oliver And Bill Nye Fix Everything That’s Wrong With Climate Change Reporting (Video)
John Oliver and Last Week Tonight just keep nudging us ever closer to actually getting HBO. Take, for instance, this segment on climate change, which really should provide the template for all further news coverage of people who deny the evidence. When the U.S. Global Change Research Program released a report last week stating that climate change is not just a concern for the future, but is already having real, measurable effects, Media Matters noted that a ridiculously large percentage of cable news reporting on the new report included false balance from climate change deniers. Happily, Oliver has the answer to a Gallup poll showing 1 in 4 Americans don’t believe climate change is real:
Who gives a shit? You don’t need people’s opinion on a fact. You might as well have a poll asking: “Which number is bigger, 15 or 5?” or “Do owls exist?” or “Are there hats?”
It is a measure of the quality of the writing on Last Week Tonight that the segment then went on to get even better. Oliver pointed out that all that’s really needed to deal with such information is a bit of accurate reframing:
The only accurate way to report that one out of four Americans are skeptical of global warming is to say, “A poll finds that one in four Americans are wrong about something.” Because a survey of thousands of scientific papers either took a position on climate change found that 97 percent endorsed the positions that humans are causing global warming.
Plus, of course, the “obligatory photo of a polar bear balancing on a piece of ice.”
The problem, says Oliver, is that on TV, “it’s always one person for, and one person against” — and “more often than not, it’s Bill Nye the Science Guy vs. Some Dude,” which makes it look like there’s a 50/50 balance of opinion, and one of those is wearing a bowtie. The solution, “if there has to be a debate about the reality of climate change — and there doesn’t” — is to do some visual math. And so Oliver proudly presents “A Statistically Representative Climate Change Debate.” We start out with John Oliver, Bill Nye, and the obligatory Some Dude, and then Oliver turns it up to eleven. Or more accurately, to ninety-seven:
It’s pretty freaking beautiful, and in a better world, should be the last thing that needs to be shown on TV on this topic. At the very least, perhaps the next time CNN pairs a climatologist with some idiot from the Heartland Institute, they could be shown on a split screen — one that gives the climate change denier 3% the area of the climatologist’s screen.