Hey Hot Cakes!
Welcome to Hot Take! Your weekly (at least) newsletter surveying the state of the climate crisis and all the ways we’re talking—and not talking about it! We give you a round up of the latest climate stories and articles of the week, plus exclusive original reporting and commentary from us. Oh, and who are we? Amy Westervelt, long-time climate journalist with more seasoning than an everything bagel, and Mary Annaise Heglar, a literary writer known for her essays on climate, race, and emotion—and her enthusiasm for dad jokes!
It’s time to talk about climate!
One Thing John Kerry Is Sure to Fight Against: Disinformation
By Amy Westervelt
Back in January, on my first and last reporting trip of the year, I interviewed media whiz Jay Rosen about disinformation, fake news, and propaganda. When I asked him what he thought patient zero was for today’s fake news explosion, I expected him to hesitate a bit, weigh the many options. But he answered immediately: The John Kerry Swift Boat Veterans for Truth thing.
I, of course, asked what about climate, which I believe has been a trial balloon for all the disinformation chaos of the modern century, and he said “Yes, definitely, but that Kerry swift boat thing was the first time that political reporters pointing out that something was false seemed to have no effect whatsoever.”
If you’re younger than 35 you may not remember this moment in U.S. politics. Back in 2004, before he was Obama’s secretary of state or Biden’s climate czar, John Kerry was a Democratic senator running for president. He was campaigning against George W. Bush who was a couple years into the U.S. response to 9/11, so it was important to highlight his military career. At the end of July, Kerry was ahead of Bush in the polls. And then a group called the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth unleashed their media campaign. In various op-eds, a best-selling book, and a now-famous ad, this shadowy group of men who claimed to have served with Kerry in Vietnam said he was lying about his military service and was unfit to lead the country.
“In previous election cycles, that would be the kind of thing where early reporters to the campaign would check it out because they'd want to know if it was going to be an issue,” Rosen said. “And then when they discovered that there wasn't much to it, they would just say, well, that's not a factor. Because the campaign discourse was limited enough at that time where if the reporter said it's not an issue, then it’s not an issue.”
That didn’t happen this time, and it opened the floodgates for more of the same, changing campaign coverage forever. “The Swift Boat Veterans for Truth proved that they could smuggle their charge into a campaign. And it could start to wound him. And it would spread on its own, even if the press was saying there's nothing there.”
It was at that point that Rosen thinks people who were aiming to misinform suddenly gained more power. “It changed the calculus for journalists. So it's not a matter now of just vetting information. That's part of your job. But then you have this other job of ‘wait a minute, misinformation is taking over. Propaganda is taking over.’ Are you just covering that or are you opposing that? And how do you correct it and how should you stand toward it now? Those are really hard questions.”
I’m telling you this story because while it is true that John Kerry is probably not the radical future liberals want, there is almost no one in the country more passionately opposed to disinformation. And having someone who wants to tear down the disinformation apparatus in a position to actually do so could be a real asset in the fight for climate action. In 2020, we finally regained all the ground lost to disinformation in the 90s, in terms of the number of people who get that climate change is a problem and that we need to do something about it. We can’t afford another backslide.
More Memes, Please
By Mary Annaïse Heglar
Nothing has made me happier this week than to see so many people getting in on the #greentrolling train. In particular, Exxon found itself on the wrong side of a magnificent Twitter ratio, trolled by the likes of the great Ilhan Omar. I hope you’re all finding it as useful and as cathartic as we do.
Subscribe to keep reading! And if you have meme-making skills, I implore you to take this on. Tweet them at us. We can’t wait to see what you come up with.
On “Advocacy Journalism”
By Amy Westervelt
Last week, one of the Axios newsletters described me as an “advocacy journalist” and frankly, it ticked me off. The term “advocacy journalist” is mostly used to discredit the journalist in question. It implies bias, an agenda, perhaps some sort of formal attachment to a campaign, cause, or organization.
…It’s annoying to me that the label gets thrown at journalists who write about some topics—climate, race, the justice system—and not, say, business reporters who advocate various theories about capitalism and markets. It plays out in who gets quoted in the media too, with most reporters seeing CEOs as, somehow, neutral, while advocates are biased.
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Close, but No Cigar
By Mary Annaïse Heglar
Back in October, when the world was completely different, we cautiously celebrated the uptick in climate coverage. We’d seen a steady rise in coverage since August and September when the West Coast fires demanded the country’s attention, even as we turned away from the most active and devastating hurricane season in history. But October seemed to bring forth a renewal of commitment on behalf of media outlets to finally, no-for-real-this-time cover the climate crisis as the story of our era.
We’re a little more than a month out from those commitments and, I gotta tell ya, I’m disappointed. For example, The Atlantic made quite a big deal out of their new Atlantic Planet section. I was so crunk about it, I bought a subscription, especially since in lieu of COVID, climate coverage at The Atlantic had come to a screeching halt. I thought they were about to fix that, but since the day of the announcement—when the magazine had a big splash of climate stories—the section has puttered out and become little more than a hub for a weekly newsletter. Clearly, I’ve got nothing against a weekly newsletter, but that’s not what I thought I was paying for. I thought I was subscribing to a magazine with an expansive, well-crafted climate content strategy. So far, that’s not what I’ve gotten.
The Guardian is even more perplexing. They dusted off their commitment from last year, without even acknowledging that they’d allowed their climate coverage to slip in the COVID era. Instead, they just brought it front and center again and slightly updated their Environment page, which includes a section called “This Land is Your Land” and “Keystone XL.” If you’ve been paying attention to the climate conversation since 2019, you’d recognize those two headings as pretty archaic by now.
Although the overall stats for climate coverage have gone up in November 2020, there’s clearly a lot of work left to be done, especially as we gear up for what has no choice but to become the Climate Presidency.
Rising Temperatures, Rising Seas
The Climate Presidency
Glimmers of Hope
Justice Is Justice Is Justice
Climate in Culture
What did the bear say when his friends asked to hang out?
“Not today, I need to spend some koalaty time with my family!”