You wouldn’t expect a science controversy at the PBS station in a place like Boston – never mind at the national science-producing hotspot behind shows like NOVA. But yet again, here we are asking what WGBH is thinking.
As the Boston Globe reports, WGBH initially hired science-denying activist Mish Michaels as its newest science reporter. The former local TV meteorologist denies the scientific consensus on both vaccine safety and global warming, saying she trusts her personal feelings more than the long-established scientific consensus. WGBH only backed away after pushback from newsroom staff:
Among those who wondered whether Michaels was right for the job was Jim Braude, host of WGBH News’s “Greater Boston,” for which Michaels was supposed to report stories. We’re told that Braude this week raised his concerns with station bosses, including WGBH News GM Phil Redo and “Greater Boston” executive producer Bob Dumas, and they have since changed their minds.
We’re told Redo and Dumas were aware of Michaels’s views on vaccines but hired her anyway.
They’re not just Michaels’ privately-held, personal beliefs. She’s actively lobbied to repeal laws that protect all of us by mandating vaccines for children entering public school, and she’s blogged on her website that she knows better than the 97 percent of climate scientists who say global warming is happening and manmade.
It may come as a shock to longtime viewers that the charming Michaels could be a fringe science denier. Many TV meteorologists, like Boston legend Harvey Leonard, take strong stands for climate science, and acceptance of the climate consensus is rapidly growing. But a minority, whether politically-motivated or through misguided personal feelings, do reject climate science.
There’s a reason WGBH doesn’t deserve the benefit of the doubt here. David Koch has long been a major WGBH funder, has sat on its board, and continues to be on its “Science Visiting Council” today. Despite ClimateTruth.org collecting 250,000 signatures asking WGBH to remove him from its board, WGBH stood by its donor – while Koch cycled off the board after three terms, he could potentially return in 2017.
Finally, the whole debacle is a black eye for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which funds PBS and National Public Radio and has struggled to define & defend its vision of “objectivity” in the face of anti-fact politics. In practice, it’s led to a culture of timidity in the Trump era, and dumbs down controversial issues to he said/she said, as journalism professor Jay Rosen has written.
And at a time when American Public Media’s Marketplace fired reporter Lewis Wallace for daring to suggest that giving voice to the voiceless should be a higher priority than cold objectivity, what in the world is WGBH doing hiring an anti-science activist as an “objective” reporter?
WGBH and its parent companies still have a lot more questions to answer.