CNN's O'Brien Defends Gore Movie, Global Warming Debate Over

CNN viewers on Friday saw a relatively rare acknowledgement of those who are skeptical of Al Gore's film "An Inconvenient Truth," including a British judge who recently ruled that there are nine inaccuracies in the movie. But CNN's Miles O'Brien dismissed the views of dissenters, and downplayed the importance of the errors cited by the judge.

As he made several appearances on various CNN shows on Friday, O'Brien tagged dissenters with such labels as "dead-enders," a "tiny fraction of a minority," and a "very small fringe," as he linked skeptics to fossil fuel companies. He also repeatedly declared that the scientific debate on global warming is over. Notably, on the July 20 "The Situation Room," O'Brien had curtly lectured former Republican Congressman J.C. Watts with similar comments on the subject. O'Brien: "You're not paying attention to the science, J.C. You're definitely not paying attention. ... The scientific debate is over, J.C., we're done." (Transcript follows)

During Friday's "American Morning, "anchor Kiran Chetry relayed some of the concerns of Gore's critics. Chetry: "There have been some critics who say that the movie "An Inconvenient Truth" is filled with mistakes. A judge in Britain, in fact, just ruled that Al Gore's climate change film has nine errors. And you have the author of "The Skeptical Environmentalist" who said today that awarding this prize to Al Gore cannot be seen as anything other than a political statement."

Later in the show, Chetry brought aboard O'Brien, who is CNN's chief technology and environment correspondent, and asked him about the film's "inaccuracies." O'Brien list a few of the judge's findings of errors, but still endorsed the movie: "If you go through all of those statements, they, in sum, do not actually go after the central thesis of the film itself, which is that global warming is real and there is a human connection there. ... the judge said in that same ruling when he said, you know, there are these nine mistakes, 'it is clear that it is based substantially on scientific research and opinion,' but it is a 'political film,' and, of course, as he put it, not party political. So, clearly what we're talking about here is, there isn't much debate in the science. The judge didn't even say that. But the point is the response has become politicized. And, as a result, people have gone after some of these small points, which, when you look at them, at specific instances, don't add up to really going after the whole thesis."

O'Brien made his next appearance during the 9:00 hour of "CNN Newsroom," during which he contended that the "very few scientists" who dispute the link between fossil fuel emissions and global warming were "in many cases, they're funded by the fossil fuel industry." O'Brien, speaking to anchor Heidi Collins: "You just said a few moments ago that some scientists say that there is a dispute over the link between manmade emissions of fossil fuels ... and the link to climate change. But the fact is that there are very few scientists that are saying them. And if you look at the small handful that are still saying this, in many cases, they're funded by the fossil fuel industry." He soon continued: "So there really isn't a scientific debate anymore on this."

He appeared again during the 10:00 hour of "CNN Newsroom," and this time labeled skeptics as "dead-enders" who are "few and far between." O'Brien: "I guess you could call them 'dead-enders' out there. There are a few that are still holding true to the notion that maybe this is some sort of natural cycle. They really are few and far between, Tony." The CNN correspondent also dismissed the significance of the judge's list of nine inaccuracies, contending that "they really boil down to exaggerations," and reassured viewers that the film "is based on substantive science." O'Brien: "The one thing the judge does say, though, which kind of got lost in the shuffle through all this because of the nine inaccuracies, is that it is his firm belief that the Gore film is based on substantive science."

At his next appearance during the 11:00 hour, O'Brien called dissenters "a tiny fraction of a minority," and connected their funding to the fossil fuel industry as he again proclaimed that "it's not a scientific debate anymore." O'Brien: "And when you say some scientists disagree with that, it is a tiny fraction of a minority of scientists out there. And when you look at those scientists and trace their funding, frequently you are led to the fossil fuel industry. So, really, it's not a scientific debate anymore."

When O'Brien appeared on "Your World Today" during the 12:00 hour, he portrayed skeptics as "fewer and further between," charged that "the turf that they're standing on is narrower and narrower," and again claimed that "it's really no longer a scientific debate."

During the 1:00 hour of "CNN Newsroom," O'Brien called dissenters "a very small fringe," and characterized the inaccuracies cited by the British judge as "exaggerations, but not complete falsehoods." When anchor Don Lemon tagged the inaccuracies as "a little poetic license," O'Brien agreed that it was "a little bit of Hollywood there perhaps."

O'Brien appeared again during the 5:00 hour of "The Situation Room" where he commented that since Gore's film came soon after Hurricane Katrina, it turned out to be a convenient time for Gore to "turn up the heat on those who doubt global warming." O'Brien: "It may be little more than a glorified PowerPoint presentation, but it couldn't have been more convenient for Al Gore and for those who agree with him it is time to turn up the heat on those who doubt global warming."

After conceding that Gore "didn't let the facts get in the way of a good story, O'Brien listed some of the inaccuracies cited by the British judge, and commented that "the judge also said it is clear that ["An Inconvenient Truth"] is based substantially on scientific research and opinion" before again portraying dissenters as "fewer and farther between."

Below is a transcript of relevant portions of CNN coverage from Friday October 12:

From "American Morning":

7:02 a.m.

KIRAN CHETRY, speaking to John Dickerson of Slate.com: Of course, this decision is not without its critics, as often is the case when the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded. But there have been some critics who say that the movie An Inconvenient Truth is filled with mistakes. A judge in Britain, in fact, just ruled that Al Gore's climate change film has nine errors. And you have the author of The Skeptical Environmentalist who said today that awarding this prize to Al Gore cannot be seen as anything other than a political statement. Is it a political statement?
...

8:05 a.m.

CHETRY: You know, so, of course, people can't wait to jump out and pounce and, in fact, in Britain, we have a judge who actually made some sort of ruling regarding Al Gore's movie, if it's going to be shown in schools, it has to list off some of the inaccuracies in it as well. Are there a lot of inaccuracies in An Inconvenient Truth?

O'BRIEN: Well, the judge found nine cases where he felt there were inaccuracies with the science. And if you go through those nine inaccuracies, among them: polar bears have drowned because of a lack of an ice pack; Al Gore's statements about how quickly the ice packs in Greenland and Antarctica might in fact be melting; making a link or at least inferring a link between things like increased tornadoes and global warming where there is no scientific proof. If you go through all of those statements, they, in sum, do not actually go after the central thesis of the film itself, which is that global warming is real and there is a human connection there. As a matter of fact, the judge said in that same ruling when he said, you know, there are these nine mistakes, "it is clear that it is based substantially on scientific research and opinion," but it is a "political film," and of course as he put it not party political. So, clearly what we're talking about here is, there isn't much debate in the science. The judge didn't even say that. but the point is the response has become politicized. And, as a result, people have gone after some of these small points, which, when you look at them, at specific instances, don't add up to really going after the whole thesis.

CHETRY: But the prize is not because of the film, it's because of the body of work on bringing attention to global warming, correct?

O'BRIEN: Well, there's no question he's been talking about this for a long time, and he served as the de facto spokesman for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. This is a group of the world's leading scientists who frankly are not great communicators. Scientists themselves don't do a very good job communicating to the general public. And when you get a group of several hundred smart people in a room, the end result, the statement they make, tends to get watered down. Now, Gore, not encumbered by that, served as their spokesman in this case. And on the wake of that tough hurricane season of 2005 with Hurricane Katrina, had the benefit of some good timing. People were focused in on this subject.

From the 9:00 hour of "CNN Newsroom":

O'BRIEN: You just said a few moments ago that some scientists say that there is a dispute over the link between manmade emissions of fossil fuels, of global warming fuels, global warming gases, and the link to climate change. But the fact is that there are very few scientists that are saying them. And if you look at the small handful that are still saying this, in many cases, they're funded by the fossil fuel industry. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which shared the prize with Al Gore, came out with a report in March of this year. This is 2,500 of the world's leading scientists, several hundred reviewers who synthesized all the known science out there. And here's what they said. Temperature rise predicted between 3.25 and 7 degrees Fahrenheit, sea level rise between 7 inches and 2 feet, just about. And now 90 percent certainty that global warming is caused by human beings. So there really isn't a scientific debate anymore on this, Heidi. This is about what to do about it. And that's where politics enters into this.

From the 10:00 hour of "CNN Newsroom":

TONY HARRIS: You know what, Miles, but let's talk about those doubters a little bit more here for a second. You know, we're talking about a UK judge, NASA administrator Michael Griffin, some climatologists, some meteorologists. Are they winning the argument in any significant way? Are they making us look at the issue differently? And are they proposing that we not take steps to cut back on these emissions?

O'BRIEN: Well, there are a few, I guess you could call them dead-enders out there. There are a few that are still holding true to the notion that maybe this is some sort of natural cycle. They really are few and far between, Tony. Even the NASA administrator, Mike Griffin, backed off those comments where he lent some doubt as to whether human beings could do anything about it or was it appropriate for NASA to get in the middle of it. Sort of modified those comments after he made them to National Public Radio. You know, you mention in that list, the judge, for example, who found nine inaccuracies in Al Gore's movie, portions of which you're seeing right here before you. Really, if you look at those inaccuracies and go through them point by point, they really boil down to exaggerations. For example, Al Gore says in the movie that the South Pacific islanders have evacuated to New Zealand. Well, that is a prediction which is very likely as sea level rises, but those evacuations haven't happened yet. The one thing the judge does say, though, which kind of got lost in the shuffle through all this because of the nine inaccuracies, is that it is his firm belief that the Gore film is based on substantive science. In other words, he doesn't question the larger thesis here. He does say that in some cases Al Gore may have connected some dots that scientists are not ready to connect.

From the 11:00 hour of "CNN Newsroom":

MILES O'BRIEN: And when you say some scientists disagree with that, it is a tiny fraction of a minority of scientists out there. And when you look at those scientists and trace their funding, frequently you are led to the fossil fuel industry. So, really, it's not a scientific debate anymore.

From "Your World Today":

MICHAEL HOLMES: What about the doubters, Miles, the skeptics, those who say it's either phony science or it's been blowing out of proportion?

O'BRIEN: Well, they're fewer and further between, Michael.
...

O'BRIEN: And the people who are really in the doubting realm, first of all, the turf that they're standing on is narrower and narrower. They're even at this point admitting that human beings are hastening this whole process. When you look at their funding sources and you consider what is motivating them, frequently you will find yourself right into the hands of the fossil fuel industry. So the doubters are still there, but they are a fraction of a minority now. It's really no longer a scientific debate.

From the 1:00 hour of "CNN Newsroom":

O'BRIEN: This is scientific, peer-reviewed studies. These are not political statements. These are matter-of-fact statements that express the conservative nature of scientists who always have some sort of doubt built into their thesis and their conclusions. And yet it is very clear-cut out there. And really, there's only a very small fringe out there that would doubt what the IPCC and what this body of scientists has to say.

DON LEMON: And what are they saying? I think there's some doubters -- a British judge; NASA, as a matter of fact, administrator Michael Griffin; and certain climatologists and meteorologists, as well, are doubting this?

O'BRIEN: Yeah. Well, let's start with this British judge. It's interesting because it goes right to the heart of "Inconvenient Truth." "Inconvenient Truth" was sent out to high schools all throughout Great Britain, and there was a lawsuit which came out of it, saying, "Hey, this is not an accurate movie." A judge ruled that the movie should be shown to high school students but that it should be pointed out that there are nine inaccuracies that the judge determined inside the Gore film. You're looking at polar bears right now. For example, Al Gore in the movie says polar bears have drowned because of a lack of sea ice. Well, that hasn't been conclusively proved. He also says at one point that South Pacific islanders and low-lying atolls have actually evacuated to New Zealand. Well, that is a prediction that may come in the coming years as sea level rises, as you see there in the graphic, but has not happened yet. Basically, there's a series of these which amount to exaggerations but not complete falsehoods. And the one other thing to point out is that what this judge said was the substance of the science was accurate in the piece. So, that's just one example. You talk about Mike Griffin and NASA. He doesn't doubt global warming, doesn't doubt that human beings are a part of it. His issue was what should NASA, what should human beings be doing about it?

LEMON: Right, so it's just sort of, what's the word I'm looking for here? The overall context outweighs what's happening. A little poetic license, maybe, Miles. Is that what they're saying?

O'BRIEN: I think you're right. You know, a little bit of Hollywood there, perhaps.

LEMON: Miles O'Brien, much appreciated. Thank you.

From "The Situation Room":

WOLF BLITZER: A former Vice President, almost a President, an Oscar winner, and now winner of the Nobel Peace Prize for his work to raise awareness about global warming. Al Gore is unquestionably on a roll right now. Let's go right to our chief technology and environment correspondent, Miles O'Brien, watching this story for us. All right, he's doing, obviously, very well, but what about the message that he's pushing forward?

MILES O'BRIEN: Well, Wolf, timing is everything. So while Al Gore has been preaching the global warming message for years now, decades, the movie, which captured one of those lectures, came at just the right moment. It was right on the heels of Hurricane Katrina. And, finally, it seemed, Americans were listening to his warnings. It may be little more than a glorified PowerPoint presentation, but it couldn't have been more convenient for Al Gore and for those who agree with him it is time to turn up the heat on those who doubt global warming.

OLE DANBOLT MJOS, Nobel Committee: He is probably the single individual who has done most to create greater worldwide understanding of the measures that need to be adopted.

O'BRIEN: Al Gore struck the right note at the right time, and now wins the Nobel Peace Prize.

GORE: Tipper and I will go to Oslo, and I will accept this award on behalf of all of those who have been working so long and so hard to try to get the message out about this planetary emergency.

O'BRIEN: Gore shares the honor with the worldwide organization of scientists that has been sending up warning flags for nearly 20 years.

MARTIN PARRY, IPCC: What they've done now is finally establish at the global level, there is an anthropogenic, a man-made climate signal coming through on plants, animals, water and ice.

O'BRIEN: That is the most recent assessment from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The IPCC believes in the next century temperatures on Earth will increase between 3.25 and 7 degrees; sea levels will rise 7 to 23 inches; and they say there is a 90 percent certainty it is a human-caused problem.

JAMES HANSEN, NASA Climatologist: The picture has become clear enough that we should be telling people about it. It's not a time for reticence.

O'BRIEN: And in some cases, Gore didn't let the facts get in the way of a good story. Saying Pacific islanders have evacuated to New Zealand, a prediction that has not happened yet. That polar bears have drowned for lack of firm ice. There's no proof of that. Or implying global warming will generate more tornadoes. No smoking gun there either. A judge in Britain mentioned those exaggerations and six others, Wolf, as he ruled on whether "An Convenient Truth" should be shown to high school students there. But the judge also said it is clear that it is based substantially on scientific research and opinion, but that it is a political film, albeit, of course not a party political film. Of course, the Nobel Laureate now, Al Gore disagrees. He says it's a moral and spiritual issue. Wolf?

BLITZER: There are other global warming doubters, as you well know, out there, Miles. Who's left and what are they saying?

O'BRIEN: Well, they are fewer and further between, Wolf. And it's interesting, there's been a big progression on what they've been saying. Most of them now, even the ones that are absolute hard core doubters, do admit now that human beings have something to do with all of this. It's really boiling down now to what should be done about it. Much of the world is insisting on sort of mandatory caps on emissions of these greenhouse gases. The U.S., the Bush administration, insisting voluntary measures will do the trick.