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Start the Presses: Moving on from climate change

December 28, 2013|By Dan Evans, dan.evans@latimes.com
  • Dan Evans, Editor, Times Community News. Photographed on Tuesday , August 13, 2013.
Dan Evans, Editor, Times Community News. Photographed… (Roger Wilson / Staff…)

For the past week or so, I’ve been receiving emails from MoveOn.org requesting that we refuse to run letters to the editor that deny climate change.

When I first saw this request — in the form of an online petition started by a Burbank resident — I was, well, confused. I do not remember running a single letter in my five years at the paper that addressed climate change. I might as well have received a request to refuse to run letters regarding the Detroit Lions and their playoff chances. (They don’t have a prayer, by the way.)

The petition asked the Burbank Leader to follow the lead of our parent company, the Los Angeles Times, and decline to give climate change deniers any ink on the letters page. I suspect another reason was to get the paper to write a story about the request, but that’s neither here nor there.

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In terms of their aims, I agree with the spirit. Climate change is real. It was brought about by us, and a failure to reduce human-made emissions will — and has already — created major problems for humankind.

The science behind this is well-established, and the opposition to it has little to back up its shrill claims of denial. At best, the deniers have been duped; at worse they are willfully ignorant, sticking to their nonsensical claims for more venial reasons.

But it also raises an uncomfortable issue in journalism: When do you call B.S.? Journalists often get teased, or worse, due to their almost reflexive tendency to acknowledge the other side in a debate, regardless of how ridiculous. (You say the world is round? We’ll find you seven experts who say it’s flat, and one that claims it’s actually a trapezoid.)

In a word, that’s why The Times decided it would no longer run letters on the subject. Its letters policy, due to its size, is far more closed. They do not run all letters they receive; they don’t even run most of them. In general, if they receive a hundred letters from different people on the same subject, they would probably only run one or two representative missives.

The Leader and News-Press, on the other hand, try to run pretty much everything we receive, with one main caveat. The letters need to be about local issues or written by locals, and preferably both.

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