Old, New Media Cultures Illustrated In Coverage of NASA’s Hansen in Houston

As the nation’s oil capital and home to the first President Bush, Houston might seem to outsiders an unlikely place for Hansen to receive such a positive media reception. He is, after all, an outspoken critic of the current Bush administration’s response to climate change science and an advocate of urgent action to address global warming.

The state’s politics, however, provided a more ambiguous context for his Houston speech than someone focusing only on Texas’s energy-industry, red-state reputation might assume.

The Houston Chronicle editorial on his visit, for example, was consistent with its other recent pronouncements on environmental issues. The newspaper’s editorial positions have moved in a decidedly liberal and environmentalist direction since its parent, the Hearst Corporation, installed new management in 2002.

Houston Mayor Bill White, a favorite of the Chronicle‘s editorial board, is a Democrat who has launched a number of environmental initiatives including climate-related efforts to boost energy conservation. Other Texas mayors, including those in Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth and San Antonio, are also taking actions aimed at reducing greenhouse emissions.

White, who praised Hansen when he introduced him to his Oct. 24 Progressive Forum audience, was at that moment days away from an easy third-term re-election victory on Nov. 6, which he won with 86 percent of the vote. He is frequently mentioned as a possible candidate for statewide office.

By contrast, Texas’ Republican Gov. Rick Perry drew national attention – and the ridicule of an Austin American-Statesman columnist, who said he was being “goobernatorial” – for comments on global warming that he delivered to California Republicans in September.

“Virtually every day another scientist leaves the global warming bandwagon,” Perry said at the time, adding that “you won’t read about that in the press because they have already invested in one side of the story.”

Those sentiments notwithstanding, Perry in October also announced a $10-billion, public-private initiative to expand wind power in Texas. The press release issued by his office cited the plan’s ability to help cut emissions of carbon dioxide, the most significant greenhouse gas, as one of its key benefits.

That was at least a part of the climate-related political backdrop in Texas when the Chronicle, Houston’s sole surviving daily and the producer of one of American newspapering’s most blog-heavy web sites, responded to Hansen’s message with an article, editorial, blog and podcast.



‘Hansen Happy in Houston? Go Figure’

As the nation’s oil capital and home to the first President Bush, Houston might seem to outsiders an unlikely place for Hansen to receive such a positive media reception. He is, after all, an outspoken critic of the current Bush administration’s response to climate change science and an advocate of urgent action to address global warming.

The state’s politics, however, provided a more ambiguous context for his Houston speech than someone focusing only on Texas’s energy-industry, red-state reputation might assume.

The Houston Chronicle editorial on his visit, for example, was consistent with its other recent pronouncements on environmental issues. The newspaper’s editorial positions have moved in a decidedly liberal and environmentalist direction since its parent, the Hearst Corporation, installed new management in 2002.

Houston Mayor Bill White, a favorite of the Chronicle‘s editorial board, is a Democrat who has launched a number of environmental initiatives including climate-related efforts to boost energy conservation. Other Texas mayors, including those in Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth and San Antonio, are also taking actions aimed at reducing greenhouse emissions.

White, who praised Hansen when he introduced him to his Oct. 24 Progressive Forum audience, was at that moment days away from an easy third-term re-election victory on Nov. 6, which he won with 86 percent of the vote. He is frequently mentioned as a possible candidate for statewide office.

By contrast, Texas’ Republican Gov. Rick Perry drew national attention – and the ridicule of an Austin American-Statesman columnist, who said he was being “goobernatorial” – for comments on global warming that he delivered to California Republicans in September.

“Virtually every day another scientist leaves the global warming bandwagon,” Perry said at the time, adding that “you won’t read about that in the press because they have already invested in one side of the story.”

Those sentiments notwithstanding, Perry in October also announced a $10-billion, public-private initiative to expand wind power in Texas. The press release issued by his office cited the plan’s ability to help cut emissions of carbon dioxide, the most significant greenhouse gas, as one of its key benefits.

That was at least a part of the climate-related political backdrop in Texas when the Chronicle, Houston’s sole surviving daily and the producer of one of American newspapering’s most blog-heavy web sites, responded to Hansen’s message with an article, editorial, blog and podcast.

December 3, 2007


Bill Dawson

Bill Dawson is an independent journalist who edits Texas Climate News, an online magazine published by the nonprofit, nonpartisan Houston Advanced Research Center. He was previously environment writer for the Houston Chronicle. (E-mail: bill@yaleclimatemediaforum.org)
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