Over the summer, when Michael Bastasch and the Daily Caller parted ways, we wondered who would take up his mantle as the outlet’s resident denier attack dog. Four months later, Bastasch (at least by his Twitter) doesn’t appear to be working anywhere else yet--but it has become increasingly clear that Chris White is filling his old role at the Caller.
Though White is technically a “tech reporter,” it looks like only one out of every ten or so of his stories have anything to do with tech. The rest are either garden-variety rightwing stories positively covering Republicans and attacking Democrats, or the sort of anti-environmental hit pieces or EPA-defending stories that Bastasch used to write.
But White’s latest is one of the biggest nothingburgers of a story to date, despite the time it spent at the top of the Daily Caller’s home page yesterday. The headline, of course, promises a scoop that White fails to deliver: “Exclusive: Inside the media conspiracy to hype Greta Thunberg and the UN climate conference.”
The big scoop? That Buzzfeed and HuffPost participated in September’s Covering Climate Now initiative, information that is exclusive to… literally anyone who looked at the effort to amp up climate coverage’s list of participating news outlets. Both HuffPost and Buzzfeed are not only listed among the 170 media organizations that signed on to the effort, but were also high-profile enough to be mentioned specifically in one of the summary paragraphs that project organizer Mark Hertsgaard wrote in the Columbia Journalism Review, convener of the effort.
Ahh, but Buzzfeed and HuffPost didn’t disclose on the stories themselves that they were participating in an effort to write stories about climate change!
That’s it. That’s the whole thing. White wrote, and the Daily Caller published, over 2,000 words revealing what was already public information. And not just public, but a project whose whole purpose was to get attention for the subject, by having climate reporters, uh, report, on climate change. There are no secret emails leaked, or embarrassing audio records exposed, or new reporting revealing unknown information.
White does note in the second paragraph that the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post didn’t participate because they “feared” that the project “appeared activist in nature.” That certainly sounds like some scandalous criticisms, that might even confirm it was activism, not journalism, motivating the project. Who, pray tell, said such a thing?
It’s not until the end of the 2,000+ word feature that the reader finds out who reported that information, critical of the effort: Covering Climate Now organizer and veteran climate journalist Mark Hertsgaard. In a podcast with Columbia Journalism Review editor and publisher Kyle Pope, Hertsgaard described the big three outlet’s resistance to the project, describing how “this has an aroma -- in their minds -- of activism.” White isn’t reporting on some exclusive criticism from some journalism expert, but from Hertsgaard himself explaining the misplaced concerns of non-participating outlets.
Nowhere in the lengthy “exclusive” is any non-public information revealed, unless you count fresh but empty quotes from people like Myron Ebell and Steven Milloy, whose own fossil fuel funding as part of a decades-long effort to influence public opinion in favor of their corporate backers is of course not disclosed in this piece about how journalists should have disclosed a non-financial relationship to a temporary, ad hoc group of other journalists.
The other not-already-public information includes a quote from the Society of Professional Journalists saying that they “encourage journalists to be transparent,” which White interprets as a criticism and justification for this laughably empty hit piece. And a couple of the news outlets responded, with a BuzzFeed spokesperson saying that their “coverage of climate change is year-round and unaffected by outside partnerships.” Reuters sent a similar response reiterating that participation by one of their contributors is not “in conflict with the Trust Principles” they follow.
Interestingly, White notes that the Reuters quote was “responding to an Aug. 13 email complaint from a former reporter.” White does not disclose the identity of that reporter, with whom he clearly worked with on this story about media’s supposed failure to disclose information (that was already public.)
Though we will note that when Mike Bastasch tweeted the story, he added the word “Collusion?”
Top Climate and Clean Energy Stories: