Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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December 4, 2008

CNN DOWNGRADES SCIENCE, SPACE, AND TECHNOLOGY.... When I first heard yesterday that Miles O'Brien, CNN's chief technology and environment correspondent for years, was leaving the network, and CNN was scrapping its science, space, and technology unit, I was deeply disappointed. Now would be the ideal time to bolster the unit, not get rid of it.

CNN, however, said there's nothing to worry about. A spokesperson for the network said it will incorporate science/environment/tech reporting into the general editorial structure. "Now that the bulk of our environmental coverage is offered through the Planet in Peril franchise, which is part of the AC360 program, there is no need for a separate unit," a spokesperson said.

The reassurances aren't reassuring.

[T]he big question, of course, is whether or not the reorganization will decrease the overall amount of CNN's science, technology, and environment coverage. CNN says no, but it's hard to imagine that it won't -- Anderson Cooper or not, fewer people is fewer people.

What's more, the decision to eliminate the positions seems particularly misguided at a time when world events would seem to warrant expanding science and environmental staff.

"It's disheartening," said Christy George, who is president of the Society of Environmental Journalists and has worked closely there with Peter Dykstra, CNN's outgoing executive producer for science and technology. "For the last year or two, television has, in general, been making a commitment to beefing up its environmental coverage." In particular, clean energy has moved to center stage in our global political and economic discourse, and President-elect Barack Obama recently reaffirmed his commitment to tackling climate change. "There is going to be a lot to cover in science, technology, and environment," George pointed out, "and it's not going to be enough to just cover the politics of it to keep people informed."

Indeed, others who know the CNN science staff agree that the network is making a bad decision. "I'm baffled," said Keith Cowing, who runs NASAWatch.com and has been a friend of CNN's Miles O'Brien for years.

Just a few days ago, CNN talked about its plans to challenge the Associated Press as a wire service. And yet, now it's planning to do this without science/tech reporters? Odd.

Everything about this move seems to be a mistake. As Kevin noted, "Environmental reporting, whether produced by Anderson Cooper or not, could use more reporters, not fewer, and science reporting in general is likely to become more important now that we have a president waiting in the wings who doesn't think of it as just another obstacle to be overcome on his way to dismantling the regulation of the moment."

Steve Benen 3:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (18)

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Now that Miles O'Brien has given up his corny jokes, he's the best thing CNN has. I'd far rather see them dump Sanje Gupta. But I think the real clue here is the number of commercials for oil companies. It must be frustrating for BP to have their "we-care about the environment" campaign undermined by science reporting.

Posted by: Danp on December 4, 2008 at 3:59 PM | PERMALINK

That's disturbing.

Posted by: Science, Schmience--we've got Sarah Palin to tell it like it is on December 4, 2008 at 3:59 PM | PERMALINK

What CNN should really scrap are its sickening, disgusting, and utterly false boasts about being "the best political team on television" and "the most respected name in news." Neither claim is valid.

Posted by: HaroldinBuffalo on December 4, 2008 at 4:06 PM | PERMALINK

Danp beat me to it, I also was hoping we might be spared Sanjay Gupta's urgent reports ....lol.

Posted by: leftymn on December 4, 2008 at 4:15 PM | PERMALINK

"Professional" science journalists generally have a hard time properly writing descriptions of science news, never mind relating it to other work, or interpreting its meaning and importance. All to often science reporting comes across as "boffins baffled", "discovery that is going to revolutionize the world", "eight year old invents startling theory",or old news just being republished.

When these areas are handled by run of the mill journalists, we can only assume that science and technology reporting will become nothing more than corporate and academic PR handouts.

Posted by: m on December 4, 2008 at 4:17 PM | PERMALINK

Leave the science reporting to the real scientists. Science blogs will be a better source of information anyway and won't be forced to dumb down the issues to accomodate space limits and modern soundbites.

Posted by: uber_snotling on December 4, 2008 at 4:18 PM | PERMALINK

At times like this I feel the loss of Carl Sagan all the more. This country is in desperate need of good science. And science is is desperate need of a champion that can bring science to the masses. Every major issue facing the globe today requires at least a basic understanding of science and how it works. Healthcare, farming, the environment, genetic engineering etc etc.

We live in a world built by science. Electricity, cars, medicine and yet most people have only a superficial understanding, at best, of how any of it works. Paper vs plastic; LED bulds vs CFLs vs Incandescant; eletric vs hybrid; nuclear vs solar. These are complex issues that cry out for reasoned debate and yet most of the time we never get beyond plattitudes from either side.

We had an entire 'faith forum' for the canidates during the Presidential election. How many questions were ever asked of either canidate about science and technology issues? And did any of the answers go deeper than 'green power revolution', 'we need inovation', 'clean coal'?

That CNN is slashing is science and technology reporting is no surprise. In a country where a large segment of the population believes the planet is only 6,000 years old it should come as no surprise. I take it as yet one more sign that America is destined for third world status within my lifetime.

Posted by: thorin-1 on December 4, 2008 at 5:13 PM | PERMALINK

It is very important to the handful of giant corporations that own and control virtually all of the mass media in America, that Americans remain as ignorant as possible about the scientific reality of the enormously destructive environmental impact of the "consumer products" that they see advertised on TV.

If you watch, listen to or read the corporate-owned mass media, what you are going to get is corporate propaganda, designed to brainwash you into being a slavish, obedient worker and consumer, a cog in the wheels of the "economic" engine of mass destruction that ravages the Earth to produce mountains of junk for "consumers" -- which soon enough become mountains of garbage and pollution -- while generating enormous wealth and power for a tiny, ultra-wealthy elite.

To expect anything else -- in particular, to expect the corporate media to present disturbing scientific facts that might cause you to question your role in this destructive system and to buy less of the products they advertise -- is silly.

And "Planet In Peril" ?


"After the break: some scientists say that global warming may destroy civilization someday. Skeptics disagree. Who knows what the truth is? Now, for this important message from our sponsor."

Posted by: SecularAnimist on December 4, 2008 at 5:40 PM | PERMALINK

The good news is, at least this will leave Miles O'Brien more time to run the transporters and repair the dilithium crystals.

Posted by: Pete on December 4, 2008 at 5:56 PM | PERMALINK

you seem to be under the mistaken impression that cnn exists to inform its audience of the critical issues of the day.

keep in mind, this outfit just hired stephen hayes, hagiographer to dick cheney and advocate of the saddam/911 link.

Posted by: linda on December 4, 2008 at 5:58 PM | PERMALINK

Hear hear on Mr. Sagan. They should even consider Bill Nye over Anderson freaking Cooper; I mean the guy either pretends to be an ignoramus or is one, either way, why not have someone who someone might believe knew what he was talking about? Probably CNN is araid of alienating the audience they've been so assiduously dumbing down for years.

Posted by: jhm on December 4, 2008 at 6:35 PM | PERMALINK

CNN DOWNGRADES SCIENCE, SPACE, AND TECHNOLOGY.... When I first heard yesterday that Miles O'Brien, CNN's chief technology and environment correspondent for years, was leaving the network, and CNN was scrapping its science, space, and technology unit, I was deeply disappointed. Now would be the ideal time to bolster the unit, not get rid of it.

The other day at a used book store I picked up a copy of Lee Smolin’s book on “The Trouble with Physics” Don’t laugh now because I do read a lot of science stuff, even though many consider me weird. Smolin discusses Quantum Physics an area to study for some. Actually he wants to tie Classical Quantum theory and have a Unified Gravitational Quantum theory, along with a whole lot of others.

For me, it prompts me to support Steven were he is right on target, this deal about technology and shoving it into the back burners for the duration of Bush’s term has put a damper on aggressive advances in technology. Or even with the noise about derivatives in investment drove me to review some basic math not just for kicks but to get a sense of where teaching technology went to. For me, education with the Computer began about 1985 with the black and white screens with the “DOS” operation system. So you see I can appreciate the translation into the new sophistication that we do have but were it is under utilized.

Now we have flat panel screens dual core microprocessors giga main memory and best of all a better search generator like Google. Heck for those who want to study and review it is more than wonderful to review math. Just get book and ask Google questions, the hard part is sifting through the stuff to get what you want. But its there and it is a wealth of information. More over to study math in what I call a math systems approach is even more fun today because of the automated math programming now available.

With Hope Obama will capture this resource and maybe just maybe those young minds will help develop the new sciences that America will need for the future.

There is a huge opportunity now with the big three to create internship trainees, and have apprentices not just for the young persons but also for the older mature population. Being paid while being trained is not new. Heck in Chicago during the eighties while Harold Washington was mayor of Chicago he had programs that trained young Black hardcore unemployed to get advance computer repair training and computer programming. All the while getting what was called stipends or an allowance. This might be a way to go again.

Wouldn't it be a hoot to solve and manipulate gravity? Now that would be Gravitas, or a quantum leap.

Posted by: Megalomania on December 4, 2008 at 7:46 PM | PERMALINK

CNN needs the desk space to cover missing white women.

Posted by: dr. bloor on December 4, 2008 at 7:55 PM | PERMALINK

If we are going to boost science and engineering education in this country (and the host of fields that relate broadly to scientific research), then these issues must receive more widespread attention. I'm surprised that CNN didn't can science, space, and technology during the anti-science Bush Era, though. Maybe one of the suits argued (as a desperate justification) that science will be in the news more without a separate reporting division because Obama will cultivate scientific and technological development. Or maybe one exec is mad at another exec and is using this as a power play (I'm still convinced that shows like "Homicide: Life on the Streets," "My So-Called Life," and "Freaks and Geeks" were victims of this type of maneuvering--surely the same thing could happen in cable news).

But I suspect that, more than anything, this is money decision, coupled with the sheer laziness of most of the mainstream media. On my way home, I heard a CNN ad (um, sponsorship announcement) on NPR. Something is amiss in cable land...

Posted by: Cindy McCant on December 4, 2008 at 7:59 PM | PERMALINK

It's a bit late for this, but what the heck...

Q: How much Brien does CNN have?

A: It's got *Miles* O'Brien!

Thank you, thank you, I'll be here all week.

Please tip your waiter or waitress,

Posted by: Zorro on December 4, 2008 at 8:48 PM | PERMALINK

There's a reason why they're called the Cretin's News Network. Their audience are cretins, their reporters are cretins, their anchors are cretins (particularly that halfwitted Campbell Brown, the Yuppie Moron's Yuppie Moron), their producers are cretins.

They still think competing with Faux means being just as ignorant.

Why anyone pays any attention to these turd-brains is beyond me. Once I can get cable I want and not cable they force on me, I intend to drop CNN/Faux likwe the rotten cow-pies they are.

Hopefully MSNBC will hire the CNN reporters just dropped.

Posted by: TCinLA on December 5, 2008 at 12:58 AM | PERMALINK

Another sad example of selective "downsizing." There was some good environmental news today from Environmental Defense. See their announcement at http://www.edf.org/pressrelease.cfm?contentID=8884, or my blog about it at http://bravegnuwhirled.blogspot.com/2008/12/more-corporations-board-climate-train.html.

Posted by: Steve Natoli on December 5, 2008 at 1:40 AM | PERMALINK

CNN is going downhill quickly. They seem hellbent on turning themselves in to the new Fox News. I don't much care for it anymore. MSNBC is so much better. It is a shame really. I used to watch CNN all day, but they have all these conservatives on now, including the completely unwatchable Lou Dobbs. The CNN of old is dead. RIP CNN.

Posted by: Patrick on December 5, 2008 at 8:46 AM | PERMALINK



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