MSNBC will air “The Politics of Power” on Aug. 16, a documentary devoted to the subject of climate change. Yet the editorial approach of this Chris Hayes-hosted hour continues an all-too-common trend of cable news preaching to the choir, where not a single dissenting voice is incorporated in any serious way.
Now, one can argue there is no such thing, scientifically speaking, as a credible “dissenting voice” on the subject of climate change — an assertion, just to set my cards on the table, on which I would agree.
Nevertheless, the whole point of the documentary is to identify how political pushback and a well-funded fossil-fuel industry are thwarting efforts to accomplish anything productive in addressing the issue. And while the program does feature clips of the usual suspects saying goofy-sounding things — like Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe reiterating that climate science is a “hoax,” or a Republican congressman citing the biblical flood — none of them are interviewed specifically for “The Politics of Power.”
Did MSNBC ask such officials, and nobody would participate? That’s certainly possible, given the way politicians now gravitate toward friendly media venues where they know they’ll be served up softball questions. But there’s no mention of anybody declining such a request, so the clear inference is the producers confined their contacts to those sharing Hayes’ view — people who believe “The clock is ticking,” as he says, and that it’s difficult to motivate voters around such a hard-to-grasp threat when they’re being buffeted by misinformation. (Hayes draws a direct comparison to the days when the tobacco lobby insisted nicotine is not addictive.)
Again, the points registered here are legitimate ones. But “Politics of Power” would be more provocative — and potentially more persuasive — if it included people who insist global warming is all a myth concocted by tree-huggers. It’s worth noting, too, that conservatives are not monolithic on the subject, even if they generally still dislike Al Gore.
Besides, speaking of ticking clocks, “60 Minutes” didn’t make a name for itself simply by doing happy-talk pieces, but rather by confronting subjects with hard evidence and tough questions, then watching them squirm in the hot seat.
Granted, MSNBC is hardly alone in producing one-sided documentaries. But when you’re specifically dealing with the politics surrounding a hot-button issue, shying away from genuine debate doesn’t do much to strengthen the argument.
There should be a lesson here for others determined to sound the alarm regarding climate change as well, including an upcoming Showtime project, “Years of Living Dangerously,” which will enlist celebrities to help press its case. Although Hollywood stars are always seen as helpful in drawing casual viewers into a topic, the deep-seated conservative antipathy toward the messenger is certain to antagonize the right just as “An Inconvenient Truth” did.
For those willing to hear it, “The Politics of Power” does deliver a sobering warning that the clock is ticking regarding the danger of a warming planet. Still, as outfitted to suit the insulated environs of MSNBC, there are no hot seats anywhere to be found.