From The Washington Post -- December 15, 2010:
Fox News on Climate: Ignorant, Manipulative -- or Both?
By Stephen Stromberg
Media Matters says it has uncovered a directive that Bill Sammon, Fox News's Washington bureau chief, sent to the network's reporters, commanding them to "refrain from asserting that the planet has warmed (or cooled) in any given period without IMMEDIATELY pointing out that such theories are based upon data that critics have called into question. It is not our place as journalists to assert such notions as facts, especially as this debate intensifies."
This reflects ignorance, ideological manipulation -- or both.
It would have been about as fair if Sammon had instructed Fox's reporters to "refrain from asserting that President Obama was born in America without IMMEDIATELY pointing out that such theories are based upon data that critics have called into question."
Such notions? I'm an opinions journalist, so even at Fox, I might be allowed to say this: The world is currently warming. The 2000s were warmer than the 1990s, the 1990s were warmer than the 1980s, etc. Thermometers say so. Plant characteristics and animal behaviors say so. The energy content of the oceans says so. Sinking islands say so. "The warming of the climate system is unequivocal," the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported over the summer. "If the land surface records were systematically flawed and the globe had not really warmed, then it would be almost impossible to explain the concurrent changes in this wide range of indicators produced by many independent groups."
Serious climate-science skeptics, and there are a few, don't really contest the idea that global warming is happening. More coherent criticisms of the commonly accepted temperature record focus on scientists' estimates of much earlier periods and how they compare to the climate change we're seeing now. Sammon, though, makes even the most obvious climate science seem like it might be the sort of superstition that would compel your grandmother to keep a ball of cat fur in a leather glove under her holiday crèche. You know, just in case.
And what's the intensifying "debate" to which Sammon was referring? He wrote his directive last December, during the worst of the so-called Climategate e-mail scandal, which showed that a few climate scientists took some criticism a little too seriously in their private correspondence. But, ultimately, multiple independent review panels found that it didn't demonstrate any real wrongdoing -- and it certainly said little about the actual science.
I also wonder if Sammon would insist his reporters take such care in reporting on climate skeptics' claims about the Medieval Warm Period that they care so much about.
Whether by design or not, Sammon's directive implies a strategy to sneak some of the most improbable climate know-nothingism into supposedly objective newscasts. It used to be that opinions writers constructed their own straw men. Now Fox News is saving everyone else the trouble.