Interviewing Environmental Protection Agency administrator Gina McCarthy late last year about the Obama administration's historic climate change agreement with China, MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell asked how the administration would handle Republican critics of the deal. Mitchell wondered what the White House plan was to deal with GOP "climate deniers" firmly entrenched against the carbon emissions agreement.
On the eve of the 2016 presidential season, Mitchell and the rest of the Beltway press face a similar query: How will journalists deal with Republican climate deniers on the campaign trail? The question goes to the heart of informative political reporting and the importance of holding candidates accountable.
Political jockeying over climate change was elevated last week when the U.S. Senate, for the first time in eight years, cast votes on the topic. On January 21, the Senate voted 98-1 to approve a resolution stating, "climate change is real and not a hoax." Then the Senate rejected a second amendment that stated climate change is real and is significantly caused by humans.
"Man can't change the climate," Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK), announced. "The hoax is there are some people so arrogant to think they are so powerful they can change the climate." Republicans, including possible White House candidates Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), voted overwhelmingly against the second resolution, even though the scientific evidence is nearly unanimous that human activity is the dominant cause of climate change.
Meanwhile, the flood of scientific warnings continue and the issue gains urgency. (Tuesday's New England blizzard was the latest example of severe weather that may have been exacerbated by warming seas.) In 2012, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney did not address climate change one time during their three televised debates. But just two years later during the midterm cycle the topic came up "in at least 10 debates in Senate and governor's races" across the country, according to the New York Times. If that trend continues, climate change could well be a cornerstone topic of the next general election campaign season.
For years though, the political press' handling of Republican and conservative climate deniers has been troubling, as journalists politely make room in the debate for fact-free claims about the lack of human involvement. The pending campaign season raises the stakes in terms of holding politicians accountable. But is the press up to the challenge?
New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen Tweeted last week, "This train -- climate change denialism -- is coming directly at the campaign press and they have no clue how to deal."
From the January 28 edition of MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show:
Conservative media outlets hyped a misleading Breitbart report on an "Islamic Tribunal using Sharia law" in Texas to fear monger that the tribunals could supersede federal law. But the tribunals are completely voluntary and do not override federal law.Right-Wing Media Report On Voluntary Sharia Court In Texas
Breitbart Reports On Existence Of Sharia Court In Texas. In a January 27 post, Breitbart Texas reported that they confirmed the existence of an "Islamic Tribunal using Sharia law in Texas." A Breitbart representative claimed to have spoken to one of the judges employed at the court, who said that the court "follows Sharia law to resolve civil disputes in family and business matters," and arbitrates workplace disputes. The post noted that the judge "restated several times that participation in the tribunal is voluntary. However, he would not discuss what happens to someone who did not follow their rulings." [Breitbart.com, 1/27/15]Right-Wing Media Personalities Hype Sharia Hysteria
Fox Hypes Myth That Sharia Law Could Override American Law. Fox legal analyst Andrew Napolitano appeared on the January 29 edition of Fox & Friends to discuss the reported existence of a Sharia court in Texas. Co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck asked Napolitano if a sharia court decision "would override American law?" Napolitano answered "yes," if "both parties consent to abide by the decision of the court." [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 1/29/15]
Pamela Geller On Breitbart Texas Report: "This Is How It Starts." A post at Breitbart by Pamela Geller raised fears that the Texas Sharia court would allow parts of Sharia law to be practiced unchecked in Texas:
Will the Texas Sharia court also turns [sic] a blind eye to spousal abuse, like the British Sharia court that heard Jameela's case, in accord with this Qur'anic directive? "Men are the managers of the affairs of women for that Allah has preferred in bounty one of them over another, and for that they have expended of their property. Righteous women are therefore obedient, guarding the secret for Allah's guarding. And those you fear may be rebellious admonish; banish them to their couches, and beat them." (Qur'an 4:34)
You think that couldn't happen in Texas? When asked what he would do when Islamic law conflicted with American law, El-badawi said: "We follow Sharia law." [Breitbart.com, 1/28/15]Sharia Courts Are Voluntary, Similar To Other Religious Arbitration
Decisions By Sharia Courts Do Not Override American Law. A 2012 The Nation article by a lawyer who worked on more than 100 cases involving Sharia explained that, "what the anti-Sharia movement ignores is that [...] the extent of its applicability is always dictated by American law." [The Nation, 6/13/15]
ACLU: US Courts Reserve The Right To "Determine Whether The Arbitration Provision Is Valid And Enforceable." An ACLU report entitled "Debunking the Mythical 'Sharia Threat' to our Judicial System," explained that US courts can vacate arbitration done in religious courts like Sharia:
It is well established that, if a party contracts to arbitrate its claims but later refuses to do
so in accordance with the terms of the arbitration provision, a court may determine whether the arbitration provision is valid and enforceable. A court may also confirm or enforce a binding arbitration award if one side refuses to comply with the decision, or vacate an arbitration award if it violates public policy. Accordingly, these decisions follow basic, neutral principles of law and no more advance Sharia than arbitration cases involving rabbinical arbitration tribunals or Christian arbitrators. [ACLU, Nothing to Fear: Debunking the Mythical "Sharia Threat" to Our Judicial System, 2011]
Pew: Similar Arbitration Courts Exist In Other Religions. A 2013 Pew Forum analysis noted that other religious courts are "routine" and operate on an "everyday basis":
Across the United States, religious courts operate on a routine, everyday basis. The Roman Catholic Church alone has nearly 200 diocesan tribunals that handle a variety of cases, including an estimated 15,000 to 20,000 marriage annulments each year.1 In addition, many Orthodox Jews use rabbinical courts to obtain religious divorces, resolve business conflicts and settle other disputes with fellow Jews. Similarly, many Muslims appeal to Islamic clerics to resolve marital disputes and other disagreements with fellow Muslims. For the most part, religious courts and tribunals operate without much public notice or controversy. [Pew, Applying God's Law: Religious Courts and Mediation in the U.S., 4/8/13]
US Court Ruled Ban On Sharia An Unconstitutional Breach Of Religious Freedom. In 2013, a federal judge ruled that an Oklahoma law preventing state courts from considering Sharia was unconstitutional, saying it unfairly discriminated between religions to prohibit considering Islamic law and not other religious law. The judge's decision noted that "state attorneys admitted at the preliminary injunction hearing that they did not know of any instance where an Oklahoma court had applied Sharia law or used the legal precepts of other nations or cultures." [Wall Street Journal, 8/16/13]
From the January 29 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Bret Baier: