Think climate change isn’t a breaking story? Think it’s not a local story?

One reporter who seems not to have gotten that message is Salt Lake Tribune environment reporter Judy Fahys. With an active body of state legislators and policymakers keen on destroying any notion of a strong “consensus” on warming and its human-related causes, and with a body of university academics sticking to their scientific principles, the Tribune and its website have been giving the whole climate science issue plenty of play (see Yale Forum article).

Fahys’s coverage generally does not sit well with those wanting to emphasize the excesses and fault lines exposed recently via hacked e-mails from the University of East Anglia and via, for instance, the disappearing Himalayan glaciers forecast in the 2007 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC (see Yale Forum article). But earth scientists under attack from climate skeptics and their sympathetic state legislators find her coverage pretty much on target and true to the large body of climate science.

Fahys’s reporting recently came under attack from a Washington, D.C. “think tank” named the Science and Public Policy Institute, and headed by a former Utah resident and political staffer. His group had funded a visit to state lawmakers by a prominent Alabama climate skeptic, raising howls of concern from 18 Brigham Young University scientists for, in their view, misrepresenting the thrust of climate science.

In e-mail exchanges between Fahys and the group’s president, Robert Ferguson, she had inquired about his organization’s questioning of the BYU scientists about their concerns. She asked also about Ferguson’s having sought a representative of the BYU group to publicly debate a skeptic that his group would provide (but whom he did not identify in his e-mail to the BYU scientists). It’s an invitation the scientists were loathe to accept, and none did.

In an aggressive e-mail to Fahys, Ferguson had objected to her approach to her work, accusing her at one point of “sneakiness and melodrama” and at another point of “behavior rather malodorous and alarming.”

“People with even minimal personal character do not engage such mean pursuits,” he wrote, in reference to Fahys’s asking him to “characterize the responses you’ve received so far” from the BYU scientists concerning his challenge that they debate. “I further suggest you apply your God-given talents toward improving the lives and liberties of your readers and fellow citizens,” he wrote, concluding with “Warmest Regards.”

In addition to posting some of the e-mail exchanges online, Fahys has since followed up with reporting on what had become not a debate over climate science but rather what her headline called “a one-man show” involving British skeptic Lord Christopher Monckton, the Third Viscount of Benchley and a former advisor to then-British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

For a set-up piece advancing Monckton’s March visit and presentation, she had interviewed Monckton by phone and reported that “he acknowledged his lack of formal training in the hard sciences” but defended his qualifications to critique the climate science of IPCC and others. “Plus, he said, he has scientific training in architectural studies that made it possible for him to build his own home, which is still standing.” She relied heavily in that article on climate change activist Richard Littlemore, editor of DeSmogBlog website, who characterized Monckton as a “shameless prevaricator” who would engage in “great performance art.”

Covering Monckton’s March 23 talk in Utah claiming that scientists and news media have falsified and exaggerated risks of humans’ role in climate change, Fahys reported Monckton’s presentation to “around 100 people who came to watch him speak at the 8,000-seat McKay Events Center at Utah Valley University.”

“They are trying to impose the same kind of tyranny as Hitler,” Monckton reportedly told the audience, not the first time he has drawn analogies between climate scientists to Germany’s Nazi party. Fahys reported Monckton’s telling the audience that “liberty is most directly threatened by the na├»ve and too-readily believed belief that global warming is a global problem when it is not.”

She reported in that article that Monckton’s “jabs” at Al Gore, the IPCC, and her own newspaper “prompted clapping from the audience.” So too, she reported, did Monckton’s praise of state legislators’ resolutions saying “exactly what rubbish global warming is” and his forecasting of Republican victories in this fall’s U.S. elections that could, among other things, “prompt the abolishment” of U.S. EPA.

Fahys and her newspaper, the largest circulation daily in Utah, likely give as much space to coverage of climate change science, impacts, policy, and politics as any regional daily in the country, while the competing daily in Salt Lake City, the Deseret News, seldom addresses the issue. That is a formula unlikely to please the loud chorus of interests committed to undermining any strong consensus on climate change science.

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