RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:
Conservative talk show host, Rush Limbaugh, has stirred up another controversy with some of his latest comments. He lashed out, this week, at a New York Times reporter, calling him part of, quote, "a radical environmental movement." That reporter is Andrew Revkin. As NPR's David Folkenflik explains, Revkin could be considered fairly revolutionary, but perhaps not in the way Limbaugh thinks.
DAVID FOLKENFLIK: This is what listeners heard Tuesday on Rush Limbaugh's show:
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RUSH LIMBAUGH: This guy from the New York Times; if he really thinks that humanity is destroying the planet, humanity is destroying the climate, that human beings in their natural existence are going to cause the extinction of life on earth - Andrew Revkin. Mr. Revkin, why don't you just go kill yourself and help the planet by dying?
FOLKENFLIK: For the record, Andrew Revkin has no such plans. His first long article on climate change appeared in Discover magazine 21 years ago, and his coverage now focuses on the question of how the world can grow to its projected population of nine billion people over the next 40 years, with as little damage as possible.
ANDREW REVKIN: My way is to say what do we know, what don't we know, what can we learn, what's essentially unknowable, and then what does society do with that body of information that's left?
FOLKENFLIK: It's a new role for someone who had been a conventional, though distinguish, print reporter.
REVKIN: It's more like being a mountain guide after an avalanche than being, you know, the old style here's the news, take it or leave it, thank you very much, good night.
FOLKENFLIK: Bud Ward is editor of the Yale Forum on Climate Change and the Media. Ward says Revkin is one of the leading reporters in the field.
BUD WARD: If Andy's reporting attributes a reliability confidence through a particular set of scientific findings, that certainly has carried a lot of weight within the journalism community generally.
FOLKENFLIK: And, as Ward points out, that community is shrinking all the time.
WARD: Fewer reporters covering fewer stories for a smaller audience in a smaller news hole. It's a tough, tough issue. It's not the kind of issue any general assignment reporter can pick up on day one.
FOLKENFLIK: Andrew Revkin says editors have prodded him to write more for the print edition. After all, it has a larger audience and still pays the bills, despite all the growth and promise of the Web.
REVKIN: That's been said to me about a year ago, and I've been I print more. But I haven't slowed down on the blog.
FOLKENFLIK: Revkin says that productivity comes at a cost.
REVKIN: I've made missteps; I've made probably more mistakes this year, in my print stories, than I had before, and that's kind of frustrating.
FOLKENFLIK: But New York University journalism Professor, Jay Rosen, says Revkin's reporting is greatly enhanced by the feedback he gets from readers and sources online and on plain view.
JAY ROSEN: Those are the kinds of pressures - the pressure to be in the paper regularly, to be on the front page - that have kept traditional reporters from really exploring what the Web, the two-way Web, the read, write, back and forth nature of the Web - can do for their reporting. One day, all beat reporting will be done this way, but for now we have to make progress in small steps. And I think Revkin is doing that.
FOLKENFLIK: His tone is less formal online, and the sensitive nature of the climate change debate can lead him into controversial areas. Such was the case a few weeks ago, at a public forum in Washington, D.C. Revkin spoke long distance by Internet video phone, so the audio doesn't reproduce very well. But as he puts it now, he encouraged those in the audience to take part in what he called a thought experiment.
REVKIN: And in this case, I was asking a question about population and carbon, and it got conflated with those who were making, you know, strong statements about depopulating the world and that kind of thing.
FOLKENFLIK: Which leads us back to Rush Limbaugh.
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LIMBAUGH: An environmental writer mainstreams an idea floating around the green fringe.
FOLKENFLIK: David Folkenflik, NPR News.
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MONTAGNE: This is NPR News.
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