“Environmental journalism” is an oxymoron, and if that wasn’t obvious already, it is after the Society of Environmental Journalists last week shielded a politician from one of its own members. The politician in question was none other than former Vice President Al Gore.
Phelim McAleer, a co-producer of the forthcoming movie “Not Evil Just Wrong” and a current editorial client of mine, attended the annual SEJ conference in Wisconsin, and for the first time in years, Gore took questions in a public forum. McAleer asked Gore whether he intended to correct the factual errors in his global warming movie An Inconvenient Truth.
Gore bobbed and weaved rhetorically, and when McAleer pressed for answers (as all good journalists should), Gore’s SEJ allies intervened. Two members of the group physically tried to remove McAleer from the microphone, and the organizers eventually cut the sound.
The journalists who ran interference for Gore, including Baltimore Sun environment reporter Tim Wheeler, defended their actions. Wheeler wrote on the SEJ blog that he was just enforcing the rules for the question-and-answer session by refusing to let McAleer monopolize the mic.
But the reality is that Wheeler and his colleagues violated at least two principles of the ethics code drafted by the Society of Professional Journalists:
- Support the open exchange of views, even views they find repugnant.
- Be vigilant and courageous about holding those with power accountable.
It’s clear from their coverage that environmental journalists find the views of skeptics like McAleer repugnant, but that’s precisely why they should have let him press Gore for answers in a public forum. McAleer showed himself to be vigilant and courageous in holding Gore accountable for spreading propaganda in public schools, and he deserved the SEJ’s support.