NBC VP Claims Live Earth Doesn't Promote a 'Political Issue'
At the end of his Monday "Media Notes" column -- which mostly focused on the Huffington Post, in which former WashPost reporter/new HuffPost hire Tom Edsall acknowledges its audience is "very liberal" -- Howard Kurtz asked NBC about the perception of imbalance created by their massive promotion of the Live Earth concerts:
[UPDATED BELOW with Kurtz's discussion on Sunday's Reliable Sources on CNN in which the BBC's Katty Kay marveled at “how critical the coverage was” of the Live Earth concerts and Ryan Lizza of The New Republic conceded “the environment is one of those issues where the media tends to skew a little bit to the left. There's no doubt about that.”]
Doesn't this strike a discordant note? Wasn't NBC, whose news division covers the debate over climate change, providing a huge platform for advocates on one side of a contentious issue? And isn't the network helping a prominent Democrat -- who granted "Today" an interview last week in which he was asked again about his presidential ambitions -- raise money?
Dan Harrison, an NBC senior vice president, does not back away from the message. He calls the Gore effort "an initiative we believe in," including parent company General Electric. "I really don't think climate change is a political issue," Harrison says.
"Everyone agrees it's happening. If it's a political issue, it's whether the political will exists to address that change. We know we need to do something, and this is a way to heighten awareness."
This is like saying everyone agrees that terrorism is happening. But there are many people who are incredibly casual about that threat. Would NBC air 75 hours of an anti-al-Qaeda concert (okay, as if pretentious liberal rock stars would ever submit to such an idea)? Or would they see it as a big Bush-Cheney commercial? Then they ought to see how it looks like an Al Gore commercial they just plastered all over their airwaves for free.
Kudos to Kurtz for pressing forward against the lame pretense that everyone somehow agrees on the Al Gore seven-point plan for energy reduction and it's not contentious to impose draconian environmental mandates.
UPDATE, 10:30pm EDT July 9: On Sunday's Reliable Sources on CNN, Kurtz raised the same concern as he did in Monday's Washington Post. From the July 8 discussion with San Francisco Chronicle columnist Debra Saunders, Katty Kay of the BBC and Ryan Lizza of The New Republic:
HOWARD KURTZ: All right. Let me pick up another issue with you, Debra Saunders, and that is the Live Earth concerts, which took place around the globe yesterday. NBC and its cable networks carrying more than 30 hours of the musical proceedings, which were not only designed to heighten awareness of global warming, but to raise money for Al Gore's nonprofit group on climate change. Debra, does this amount to NBC taking sides on this issue?
DEBRA SAUNDERS, San Francisco Chronicle: I don't think there's any question that NBC takes sides on this issue. But then again, so do most of the networks. They seem to have decided that global warming is a fait accompli, that there isn't much controversy about it, what causes it, how bad it could be. You know, what really bothered me about the coverage was they were talking about if you buy a couple of different light bulbs or maybe if you turn off your computer and don't have, so that you're not using as much electricity, that's how you're going to fight global warming. That's how fluffy the coverage has been. You know, the people who believe that this is the threat, the real alarmists here say that we're going to have to cut emissions 50 to 90 percent. So this isn't about making a few little lifestyle changes and using your iPod less. And that's what bothers me about the coverage. It's just, it's so superficial.
KATTY KAY, BBC News: Actually, I thought a lot of the coverage was quite critical of the concerts. I was surprised how much coverage there was of the carbon footprint that these concerts themselves were leaving, about the fact that some of the stars were flying in by private jet, about the amount of power that was being generated during these concerts. And they've tried to be carbon neutral, but they couldn't be carbon neutral. Just the amount of electricity consumed in putting those concerts up. So I thought there was actually quite a lot of critical, I was surprised at how critical the coverage was.
RYAN LIZZA, The New Republic: There was criticism. And the fact of the matter is that on some issues, there isn't much of a debate anymore. And on global warming, that's one of them.
KURTZ: Let me jump in here. There's an overwhelming scientific consensus that global warming exists and is a problem. But there is certainly a very vigorous debate over how serious a problem and what to do about it.
KURTZ: Now, but let me come back to NBC's journalists, because they were sort of the unofficial emcees of this thing. So you had Ann Curry on the Today Show talking about how these concerts sent a powerful environmental message. NBC's Carson Daly saying, arguably, no cause is bigger than that of saving planet Earth.
LIZZA: Look, I think it's a testament to how far Gore has gone in making his case and making it, basically, no longer debatable about the global warming issue is not that, is not that debatable. And we, everyone agrees that this is a problem. And I don't understand what the, what the issue is here. Why-
KAY: Certainly, a couple of years ago you wouldn't have had this level of coverage or the consensus that global warming is a problem and that it is caused by human activity here in the United States. I was always shocked when I came back from Europe over the last few years about how much further along the debate was in Europe than it was here in the U.S. The U.S. has taken a while to catch up with the rest of the West on accepting global warming and accepting the causes for it. And now it really has done, and it's embraced it almost, in such a way that you do have this sort of reaction that you're talking about.
KURTZ: But people who are more skeptical, at least, of the need for some sort of dramatic public action, look at this and say there's the left-leaning media again getting in bed with Al Gore and trying to trump up this issue. Is that not a problem?
LIZZA: Nobody has ever accused the, the media of being a friend of Al Gore.
KURTZ: Until lately. He won the Oscar and so forth. He gets great press now.
LIZZA: But that was never the case. Look, to be perfectly honest, the environment is one of those issues where the media tends to skew a little bit to the left. There's no doubt about that.