The New York Times is increasingly using the term “denier” to describe people who are skeptical of man-made global warming.
Margaret Sullivan, the Times’ public editor, told the liberal blog Media Matters that “denier” is a “stronger term” to use when “someone is challenging established science.” Sullivan said “the Times is moving in a good direction” on using this harsher label of global warming skeptics, adding that the paper “perhaps should be doing it even more.”
Sullivan has written on the issue before, and in her interview likened the debate over how to label skeptics to how The New York Times eventually started labelling “enhanced interrogation techniques” as torture.
“After a long time the Times came around to calling it torture and I thought that was a very good thing. I think we’re sort of in the same realm with the business about skeptics and deniers,” Sullivan said.
The New York Times, along with other newspapers, has come under increased pressure from liberal groups to label global warming skeptics as “deniers.” Media Matters itself has criticized the Times for “improperly” using the term “denier.” The activist group Forecast the Facts launched an online petition in support of using the “denier” label.
Skeptics, however, argue using the term “denier” is a Democratic talking point meant to slur their opponents.
“I am embarrassed for the New York Times,” Marc Morano, publisher of the skeptic news site Climate Depot, told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “Using the term ‘denier’ to describe skeptics is poor journalism, it comes across to the reader as a partisan tactic.”
“Using the term ‘denier’ is designed to slur anyone who dissents from the alleged ‘consensus’ on man-made global warming and the term taints the reporting of the Times,” Morano added. “It makes the paper sound like a Greenpeace newsletter, not the paper of record.”
Politicians and environmental activists have been using the term for years. Use of “denier” seems to have become even more vitriolic, especially in recent months.
“For you to believe that there’s somehow a taint being created, you have to believe that Holocaust deniers are somehow a lot worse than climate science deniers,” Joe Romm, a fellow at the Center for American Progress and blogger at ThinkProgress, told Climatewire.
“I don’t believe that,” Romm said. “If people who deny climate science continue to be successful in thwarting climate action, then it’s going to be a catastrophe beyond imagining.”
President Barack Obama recently equated denying global warming with a “dereliction of duty.”
“Denying it or refusing to deal with it endangers our national security,” Obama said in May. “It undermines the readiness of our forces.”
The Times isn’t expected to make using the term “denier” a firm rule because the label doesn’t fit those who “are kind of wishy-washy on the subject or in the middle,” a second Times editor told Media Matters.
Morano argues that increasing its use of the term “denier” will only drive away more potential readers from the Times.
“Ultimately the use of the term ‘denier’ will only lessen the impact of the Times reporting. Readers will smell an agenda whenever they see that term,” Morano said.
“Readers of the New York Times will immediately realize that the paper is taking sides and using lowbrow name calling to attempt to discredit those it does not like,” Morano added. “Terms like ‘contrarians’, or ‘doubters’ are much more balanced journalistically than ‘denier’ — which is obviously meant to conjure up the notion that climate skeptics are equivalent to Holocaust deniers.”
So how are reporters actually told to refer to global warming skeptics? The AP’s official style guide uses the word “skeptic” to describe “doubters” and uses the word “cynic” to describe “disbelievers.”