NBC Nightly News Joins Newsweek in Smearing Global Warming 'Deniers'

Only days after Newsweek was embarrassed when its own columnist, Robert Samuelson, excoriated the magazine for a “fundamentally misleading” and “highly contrived” cover story meant to defame the global warming “denial machine,” Wednesday's NBC Nightly News aired an equally distorted story which smeared “deniers,” a term no doubt meant to conjure a similarity to dishonorable Holocaust deniers. Reporter Anne Thompson began her crusading piece with “In Denial” on screen over video of the Cato Institute's Patrick Michaels. She fretted about “interest groups fueled by powerful companies, including oil giant ExxonMobil.” Citing the far-left Union of Concerned Scientists, she highlighted their claim that “ExxonMobil gave almost $16 million over seven years to denier groups, including the Competitive Enterprise Institute.” But as Marc Morano, of the minority staff of the Senate's Committee on Environment and Public Works, disclosed in a posting, “proponents of man-made global warming have been funded to the tune of $50 BILLION in the last decade or so,” not even counting the impact of one-sided media reporting, “while skeptics have received a paltry $19 MILLION.”

Nonetheless, touting Michael Oppenheimer as an expert, whom NBC identified only as an “atmospheric scientist” with Princeton University, Thompson asserted that “climate experts say whether hired guns or honest dissenters, deniers are confusing the issue and delaying solutions.” Oppenheimer, who NBC failed to note is “science adviser” to the left-wing Environmental Defense organization, ominously warned: “This is a problem that needs to be attended to very soon, immediately, or else it threatens to get out of control.” Thompson's conclusion echoed: “The scientific debate is no longer over society's role in global warming. It is now a matter of degrees.”

NBC's story aired just days after NASA had to revise its temperature records to reflect how 1998 was not, as the media have often hyped, the warmest year on record. In “Best of the Web Today” last Friday, James Taranto quoted Michael Asher of DailyTech.com:
“NASA has now silently released corrected figures, and the changes are truly astounding. The warmest year on record is now 1934. 1998 (long trumpeted by the media as record-breaking) moves to second place. 1921 takes third. In fact, 5 of the 10 warmest years on record now all occur before World War II.”
(Brief earlier NB posting which referenced NBC's story. Noel Sheppard's August 5 posting on the Newsweek story. Sheppard's August 12 item on Samuelson's denunciation of Newsweek.)

An excerpt from my August 8 MRC CyberAlert article about the Newsweek screed:
Using the term "deniers" for those who haven't bought into the media-fueled panic over global warming, a term which harkens to dishonorable Holocaust deniers, this week's Newsweek delivered a one-sided cover story broadside ("THE TRUTH ABOUT THE DENIAL") against those who dare to examine the science and fresh evidence. "Global Warming is a Hoax*" read the headline on the cover of the August 13 issue, with this explanation in the corner for the asterisk: "*Or so claim well-funded naysayers who still reject the overwhelming evidence of climate change. Inside the denial machine." Newsweek's thought police, Sharon Begley with Eve Conant, Sam Stein, Eleanor Clift and Matthew Philips, who employed the belittling term "denial machine" 14 times in their screed in the guise of a news story, fretted: "Since the late 1980s, this well-coordinated, well-funded campaign by contrarian scientists, free-market think tanks and industry has created a paralyzing fog of doubt around climate change."

But as Marc Morano, of the minority staff of the Senate's Committee on Environment and Public Works, noted in a Sunday night [August 5] posting: "The only problem is Newsweek knew better. Reporter Eve Conant, who interviewed Senator James Inhofe (R-Okla.), the Ranking Member of the Environment & Public Works Committee, was given all the latest data proving conclusively that it is the proponents of man-made global warming fears that enjoy a monumental funding advantage over the skeptics. (A whopping $50 BILLION to a paltry $19 MILLION for skeptics -- Yes, that is BILLION to MILLION.)"

And that's not counting the impact and value of the media's one-sided campaign as illustrated by Newsweek.

Morano also pointed out: "Newsweek's editorial rant attempts to make it appear as though the science is getting stronger in somehow proving mankind is driving a climate catastrophe. There are, however, major problems with that assertion. Scientists are speaking up around the globe to denounce Gore, the UN and the media driven "consensus" on global warming. Just recently, an EPW report detailed a sampling of scientists who were once believers in man-made global warming and who now are skeptical. [See May 15, 2007 report: Climate Momentum Shifting: Prominent Scientists Reverse Belief in Man-made Global Warming -- Now Skeptics: Growing Number of Scientists Convert to Skeptics After Reviewing New Research]

Morano's August 5 posting, "Newsweek's Climate Editorial Screed Violates Basic Standards of Journalism."
An excerpt from Robert J. Samuelson's column in the August 20 Newsweek, “A Different View of Global Warming,” which carried the headline of “Global Warming Simplicities” on the op-ed page of the August 15 Washington Post:
We in the news business often enlist in moral crusades. Global warming is among the latest. Unfortunately, self-righteous indignation can undermine good journalism. Last week's NEWSWEEK cover story on global warming is a sobering reminder. It's an object lesson of how viewing the world as "good guys vs. bad guys" can lead to a vast oversimplification of a messy story. Global warming has clearly occurred; the hard question is what to do about it.

If you missed NEWSWEEK's story, here's the gist. A "well-coordinated, well-funded campaign by contrarian scientists, free-market think tanks and industry has created a paralyzing fog of doubt around climate change." This "denial machine" has obstructed action against global warming and is still "running at full throttle." The story's thrust: discredit the "denial machine," and the country can start the serious business of fighting global warming. The story was a wonderful read, marred only by its being fundamentally misleading.

The global-warming debate's great un-mentionable is this: we lack the technology to get from here to there. Just because Arnold Schwarzenegger wants to cut emissions 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050 doesn't mean it can happen. At best, we might curb emissions growth.

Consider a 2006 study from the International Energy Agency. With present policies, it projected that carbon-dioxide emissions (a main greenhouse gas) would more than double by 2050; developing countries would account for almost 70 percent of the increase. The IEA then simulated an aggressive, global program to cut emissions based on the best available technologies: more solar, wind and biomass; more-efficient cars, appliances and buildings; more nuclear. Under this admitted fantasy, global emissions in 2050 would still slightly exceed 2003 levels....

One way or another, our assaults against global warming are likely to be symbolic, ineffective or both. But if we succeed in cutting emissions substantially, savings would probably be offset by gains in China and elsewhere....

Against these real-world pressures, NEWSWEEK's "denial machine" is a peripheral and highly contrived story. NEWSWEEK implied, for example, that ExxonMobil used a think tank to pay academics to criticize global-warming science. Actually, this accusation was long ago discredited, and NEWSWEEK shouldn't have lent it respectability. (The company says it knew nothing of the global-warming grant, which involved issues of climate modeling. And its 2006 contribution to the think tank, the American Enterprise Institute, was small: $240,000 out of a $28 million budget.)

The alleged cabal's influence does not seem impressive. The mainstream media have generally been unsympathetic; they've treated global warming ominously. The first NEWSWEEK cover story in 1988 warned THE GREENHOUSE EFFECT. DANGER: MORE HOT SUMMERS AHEAD. A Time cover in 2006 was more alarmist: BE WORRIED, BE VERY WORRIED....

What to do about global warming is a quandary....

But the overriding reality seems almost un-American: we simply don't have a solution for this problem. As we debate it, journalists should resist the temptation to portray global warming as a morality tale -- as NEWSWEEK did -- in which anyone who questions its gravity or proposed solutions may be ridiculed as a fool, a crank or an industry stooge. Dissent is, or should be, the lifeblood of a free society.
The August 15 NBC Nightly News story, for which the MRC's Brad Wilmouth corrected the closed-captioning against the video to provide this transcript:
BRIAN WILLIAMS: We are back with NBC News "In Depth." Here tonight, the heated debate over global warming. Some who used to deny there was any problem at all are now admitting that man is playing a role in climate change, but that is often where the agreement ends. Our chief environmental affairs correspondent Anne Thompson reports tonight on the shifting debate over global warming.

ANNE THOMPSON, WITH “IN DENIAL” ON SCREEN: Patrick Michaels drives a hybrid and lights his home with compact fluorescent bulbs, but the climatologist is no global warming advocate. He is proudly a denier.

PATRICK MICHAELS, CATO INSTITUTE SENIOR FELLOW: We have taken the word "denier" and broadened it from people who don't believe [in] global warming instead to people who don't believe in the global warming apocalypse.

THOMPSON: He agrees man-made pollution warms the Earth but says it won't melt Greenland or raise sea levels to wash away one-third of Florida.

MICHAEL OPPENHEIMER, PRINCETON UNIVERSITY: They seem impervious to reason.

THOMPSON: Atmospheric scientist Michael Oppenheimer has a more aggressive view.

OPPENHEIMER: We don't know all the facts. It could be this bad, it could be this bad. And, you know, honest scientists will tell you there's a range. Trouble with the contrarians is they say there's no range, it's going to be small.

THOMPSON: William Reilly was the Environmental Protection Agency administrator for the first President Bush when deniers initially argued man had no role in global warming. But today's science shows otherwise.

WILLIAM REILLY, FORMER EPA ADMINISTRATOR: The jury is in to the extent it ever is with respect to a scientific question. There is a consensus on it, and we need to move now to construct policy on the basis of the science.

THOMPSON: Getting to that point involved fighting interest groups fueled by powerful companies, including oil giant ExxonMobil. The Union of Concerned Scientists says ExxonMobil gave almost $16 million [$15,837,873] over seven years to denier groups, including the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

MARLO LEWIS, COMPETITIVE ENTERPRISE INSTITUTE: We don't take that position because they invest. It's the other way around. And any environmental group that is honest and has any familiarity with us knows that to be the case.

THOMPSON: ExxonMobil says it gives to a broad array of groups, and in a statement says, "It is ridiculous to conclude that we or any one of these groups' many supporters control their policy recommendations." Climate experts say whether hired guns or honest dissenters, deniers are confusing the issue and delaying solutions.

OPPENHEIMER: This is a problem that needs to be attended to very soon, immediately, or else it threatens to get out of control.

THOMPSON: The scientific debate is no longer over society's role in global warming. It is now a matter of degrees. Anne Thompson, NBC News, New York.
MSNBC.com's video of the story is listed on this page, but good luck getting the disfunctional “MSN Video Beta” system to work.
Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center