When Lisa Friedman started reporting for Climatewire in 2008, she thought that — like her previous stints reporting on Congress, taxation and immigration — the job would last only a few years. Instead, she has reported on the topic ever since.
Friedman, who is now a reporter on the climate desk of The New York Times, opened a Berkeley College Tea on Thursday by speaking about that twist of fate.
Reflecting on her recent coverage of climate and environmental policy in Washington, she noted the many new challenges the Trump administration poses for today’s journalists.
“Covering the EPA is like covering the CIA,” she said, quoting one of her colleagues. “It is so secretive. It is so difficult even to get basic information.”
As an example, Friedman cited her experiences covering the Environmental Protection Agency’s decision last week to roll back the Obama-era Clean Power Plan. She said a spokesman for the EPA disputed the claim that EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt planned to announce the decision in Kentucky with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
The spokesman told her that “it was not accurate” to say that Pruitt was going to make such an announcement, she said.
“Except for it was absolutely accurate, and Fox News was invited,” she said. “This is a really new world in terms of transparency, and by that I mean there is none.”
Another major challenge reporters face is maintaining balanced reporting on an administration skeptical about the science of climate change, Friedman said. For a long time, she said, most journalists have treated the authenticity of climate change as beyond dispute, which has complicated covering the Trump administration.
“These folks … are extremists, but they are also now the establishment,” she said.
Friedman also reflected on her earlier years investigating climate change around the world, including traveling to a coal mine in China and hiking the snow-capped Himalayas to see the effect of climate change on local lakes. These experiences helped her understand climate change as a universal human issue with regional differences, she said.
Around two dozen people attended the talk, including Jane Zhang ’19, a student in the Energy Studies program who came to the talk because she was interested in the way environmental issues and politics interact.
“It’s a great opportunity to hear someone who has investigated the administration during this very confusing and interesting time period,” she said.
The talk was sponsored by the Poynter Fellowship in Journalism, which aims to bring distinguished reporters, editors and other professionals in the journalism world to campus. Last year, around 70 journalists were invited to campus by the Poynter Fellowship, according to Eileen O’Connor, the chair of the fellowship program and Yale’s vice president for communications.
Friedman was invited by Michael Fotos ’78, a Berkeley resident fellow and a lecturer in political science and ethics, politics and economics. In addition to the talk, Friedman also led Fotos’ seminar “Democracy and Sustainability.”
Berkeley held a similar talk in April with New York Times climate reporter Coral Davenport.
Malcolm Tang | firstname.lastname@example.org