PBS Ombudsman Agrees NewsHour Slighted 'Fascinating' Climategate E-Mails

PBS Ombudsman Michael Getler agreed with conservative letter-writers that the NewsHour covered Climategate "lightly and well after the fact," even though he expressed the standard liberal belief that the "overwhelming" evidence is on the man-made dramatic warming side, and there's a "danger of establishing false equivalence" -- in other words, the liberals have more truth on their side.

But in a letter solicited from Getler, NewsHour senior producer Murrey Jacobson refused to admit any imbalance, even as he suggested their coverage has properly centered on "this fact: The majority of leading scientists here and abroad say that evidence is pointing to a warming planet; that the problem is getting worse; and that human activity contributes to that problem."

In his letter, Russell Cook of Phoenix, Arizona took issue with Jim Lehrer citing his "rules" for reporting, including his pledge to avoid one-sidedness:

Regarding guidelines for MacNeil/Lehrer journalism that Jim Lehrer recited on 12/4, one in particular — "Assume there is at least one other side or version to every story" — appears to have been contradicted for years, considering the NewsHour’s consistent lack of skeptic scientists as guests to rebut IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] scientists.

Lehrer also said of his NewsHour staff, "They will be doing what they do best, reporting and analyzing the top stories of the day." Contrast that with the NewsHour not mentioning the CRU [the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit, one of the world’s leading climate science centers] Scientist Email Scandal until a week after the news broke, nor offering more than one other cursory mention of it since then, despite the firestorm of the issue elsewhere.

Jacobson's letter was defensive and avoided the entire question of Climategate:

Throughout our years of covering climate change, we have always worked to strike the right balance of covering the news surrounding this story and the long debate on different views about global warming. I think we have largely succeeded at doing that, but I realize there are views on both sides that will take issue with our coverage. There is a reason many of our stories in the last couple of years have been more focused on developments about what to do about climate change — instead of the debate about the science behind it. The story of what should — or should not — be done is the primary concern of many lawmakers, global leaders, scientists and CEOs now....

We have taken note of these ideas and will continue to do so. But we have also tried to make sure that our coverage reflects this fact: The majority of leading scientists here and abroad say that evidence is pointing to a warming planet; that the problem is getting worse; and that human activity contributes to that problem."

Getler acknowledged that Jacobson didn't really attempt to respond to conservatives:

I’m going to come to the aid of both the viewer and the NewsHour in a more specific attempt to respond to Mr. Cook. I agree that the NewsHour has not done a good job on this latest development concerning the unauthorized but fascinating release by computer hackers on Nov. 17 of more than 1,000 internal e-mails from the CRU. The NewsHour has touched on it briefly four times, as far as I can tell, on the Nov. 26, Dec. 3, 7 and 9 broadcasts, but very lightly and well after the fact.

This is not what you’d call a made-for-television story and the major networks have not done much with it either, but it does seem more newsworthy than the NewsHour treatment suggests. How much more it is worth is another question.

Getler doesn't notice the irony that Lehrer, the one who sneered that talk-radio never discusses substance, seems to have skipped the substance on this story. Right after this passage is where Getler stated his belief in dramatic global warming, and added "It is worth covering the other side, but there is also the danger of establishing a false equivalence."

Earlier in his Mailbag column, Getler strongly responded to a conservative who suggested it wasn’t very restrained or objective for the Ombudsman to dismiss the Bush administration’s case for WMD in Iraq as "bogus." Getler slams Team Bush for a "false sense of certainty." Isn’t it possible the global warming scaremongers might have a false sense of certainty, and might be exaggerating or even  manufacturing a threat? That seems to be what emerges from the hacked e-mails. Getler wrote:

But the administration did not present its case as we "think" Saddam has WMD, or we "believe" he has them. Rather, it made its case repeatedly with what turned out to be a false sense of certainty. "Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction. There is no doubt he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies, and against us," Vice President Cheney told the Veterans of Foreign Wars on Aug. 26, 2002.

Every sentence from Al Gore seems to begin with "There is no doubt" about global warming.

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis