ABC Offers Serious Look at Global Warming Skeptics, But Downplays ClimateGate

ABC's Nightline on Thursday provided a welcome look at the significant number of meteorologists in America who are skeptical of man-made global warming. Instead of simply dismissing their views, reporter David Wright interviewed Accuweather's Joe Bastardi and allowed him to assert, "I think that the warming that we're having is cyclical in nature."

Such sentiments are not often seen on Nightline or other mainstream media programs. However, the program did put a more positive spin the agenda of climate scientists. Talking to Michael Mann, one of those involved in the ClimateGate scandal, Wright asserted, "Penn State's Michael Mann is one of the scientists who last year had his E-mails hacked and quoted worldwide by climate change skeptics as proof that scientists were cooking the books."

The journalist didn't explain what was in the hacked E-mails or even what the controversy was. (Mann and others discussed climate "tricks" and how to fudge and delete unfavorable data.) Instead, Wright sympathized, "You see this as a smear campaign?"

When Mann piously proclaimed, "I see my job a scientist to make sure that the public discourse is informed by an accurate understanding of the science," the ABC correspondent had no follow-ups or skeptical questions about how CliamteGate fit into that world view.

Pivoting off the above comment, Wright opined on the power of local weathermen: "And that may be one reason that doubting meteorologists have had such a huge opening to convince the public otherwise."

Despite this, ABC should be commended for at least acknowledging another side in the global warming debate. At one point during Wright's conversation with Bastardi, the meteorologist derided Al Gore's famous documentary: "It was a great movie, but so was The Wizard of Oz. I think Inconvenient Truth has a lot of things in it that I don't believe."

Nightline has come a long way from this insulting comment by former anchor Ted Koppel in 1997:

Karen Kerrigan, Small Business Survival Committee: "To say that the science is conclusive...is actually bunk."

Host Ted Koppel: "I was just going to make the observation that there are still some people who believe in the Flat Earth Society, too, but that doesn’t mean they’re right."

— Exchange on the December 9, 1997 Nightline. 

For more examples of journalistic advocacy on global warming, see a new report by the Business and Media Institute.

A transcript of the April 22 segment, which aired at 11:45pm EDT, follows:

CYNTHIA MCFADDEN: We turn now to Mother Nature on this 40th anniversary of Earth Day. President Obama today called on Congress to pass a comprehensive energy and climate bill to, as he put it, safeguard our planet from such threats as global warming and climate change. But, not everyone is a believer. And one group of skeptics may come as a surprise, as David Wright reports.

DAVID WRIGHT: When it comes to throwing cold water on the biggest forecast of them all-

BILL O'REILLY: Tonight another global warming study debunked in the journal Nature Geo-Science.

WRIGHT: -it isn't just the usual suspects.

RUSH LIMBAUGH: It's just another nail in the coffin of the whole global warming thing.

WRIGHT: In fact, you may be surprised who's chiming in.

JOHN COLEMAN: Hello, I'm John Coleman. Founder of the Weather Channel, original weatherman on Good Morning America.

WRIGHT: Some of the most trusted names in weather business dispute that global warming exists

COLEMAN: There isn't any climate crisis. It was totally manufactured.

WRIGHT: Or they tend to doubt that Mother Nature has anything to do with it.

CHAD MYERS (CNN): Mother nature is so big. The world is so big. The oceans are so big. I think we're going to die from a lack of fresh water or we're going to die from ocean acidification before we die from global warming.

WRIGHT: It turns out that view is very common among TV meteorologists.

DOUG HILL: In the next few hours-

WRIGHT: Folks you trust every night with that five-day forecast. A recent study from George Mason University and the University of Texas found that only one out of three forecasters surveyed believe climate change is caused mostly by human activities. One out of four agreed with thee statement, "Global warming is a scam. To find out why, we turn to one of the most prominent of the doubters.

JOE BASTARDI: What are we worried about now?

WRIGHT: Accuweather's Joe Bastardi, who has become a frequent guest on Bill O'Reilly.

BILL O'REILLY: You have a meteorological explanation for what happened.

BASTARDI: Oh,yes.

WRIGHT: So, you actually don't believe in global warming?

BASTARDI: Oh, I believe there may be some linkage to it. I think that the warming that we're having is cyclical in nature.

WRIGHT: Bastardi is a charming guy who seemed reticent at first to take issue with the scientific establishment. An Inconvenient Truth? What do you think of Al Gore?

BASTARDI: Which is a wonderful movie. By that- By that I mean by this: It's very well made.

[Clip from An Inconvenient Truth]

BASTARDI: It was a great movie, but so was The Wizard of Oz. I think Inconvenient Truth has a lot of things in it that I don't believe.

WRIGHT: But, once he's warmed up, stand back.

BASTARDI: Here's the Pacific Decadal Oscillation. PDO.

WRIGHT: Bastardi can quote a blizzard of statistics and point to charts that he says indicate that the Earth was in a cyclical waming stage but is now starting to cool.

BASTARDI: Watch what happens. There are things turning around now. We have the way to actually measure this. The Earth is going the cool back to where it was in the late '70s by 2030. That's my forecast.

HEIDI CULLEN (Climate Central): I think it is one big forecast. I think you have got to be careful separating weather with climate.

WRIGHT: Heidi Cullen is a climatologist who used to work at the Weather Channel. Now, Cullen works for a non-profit at Princeton that tries to explain the science of climate change to the general public. She says Bastardi is right about one thing, that the instruments are far more accurate for measuring nuances in temperature data. Is this the kind of thing that Joe Bastardi is saying, "Hey, let's watch this for 30 years and see what happens?"

CULLEN: I think to a certain extent, he's- yeah. That's kind of what he's saying.

WRIGHT: Can we afford to wait 30 years?

CULLEN: If you ask a climate scientist, they will tell you we cannot afford to wait that long. In many respects, you can think of it as the mother of all forecasts. But this is a forecast that we can ultimately change. Right? So, your standard five-day forecast is take an umbrella. With climate change, we say if we continue to do the things we're doing, this is the future that we will inherit.

WRIGHT: And yet, a large section of the public clearly remains skeptical.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN IN YOU TUBE-STYLE VIDEO: Attention Al Gore. It's global warming up all over the east coast. Check it out. The icecaps are melting! The polar bears are dying!

WRIGHT: A recent study by Yale and George Mason Universities found that 56 percent of Americans don't trust public figures like Al Gore and Sarah Palin on climate change as much as much as they do the local weather forecaster.

UNIDENTIFIED WEATHERMAN: And your seven day forecast will show those showers-

WRIGHT: And the climate change scientists are scientists, they are scientists. They freely admit they have not always been effective spokes people.

MICHAEL MANN: I plead guilty. I don't think we've always done the best job that we could have done.

WRIGHT: Penn State's Michael Mann is one of the scientists who last year had his E-mails hacked and quoted worldwide by climate change skeptics as proof that scientists were cooking the books. You see this as a smear campaign?

MANN: I think every inquiry that's been done, that's looked at it, has said the statements are being taken out of context and used to misrepresent what scientists are actually saying. I believe it is a smear campaign.

WRIGHT: But, Mann insists the science is sound.

MANN: There's no serious debate within the scientific community about the reality of human-caused climate change.

WRIGHT: And yet, part of your job is to convince all of us, isn't it?

MANN: I don't see my job as convincing anybody of anything. I see my job a scientist to make sure that the public discourse is informed by an accurate understanding of the science.

WRIGHT: And that may be one reason that doubting meteorologists have had such a huge opening to convince the public otherwise.

BASTARDI: But, then again, you know, I'm just a ditch-digging meteorologist with just a bachelors of science.

WRIGHT: [Onscreen video of polar bears.] This is the biggest forecast of them all and the stakes are much higher than whether to bring an umbrella.

Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock is the senior news analyst for the Media Research Center and a contributing editor for NewsBusters.org