NPR Paints Conservative Virginia Attorney General as Persecutor of Science in Climategate Suit

Ken Cuccinelli, the conservative Attorney General of Virginia, came under attack on Friday night's All Things Considered on National Public Radio. This is one angle of Climategate the national media have noticed. But they pitch the battle as Cuccinelli vs. Science or Cuccinelli vs. Academic Freedom.

What's most infuriating is the notion that it's Cuccinelli who's "politicizing" science, and not Michael Mann's openly politicized e-mails explaining his data manipulations and plotting to censor his political opponents. Somehow, the Union of Concerned Scientists is painted as non-political. 

Host Michele Norris began: "The University of Virginia says it will fight a demand from the state's attorney general. He wants the school to turn over private e-mails and documents related to a former professor's climate research. The case has sparked a national debate over academic freedom."

Sandy Hausman, a reporter at the Charlottesville NPR station WVTF, ran a quote of Cuccinelli, but he did not grant an interview, and neither did Michael Mann, the scientist-slash-political activist at the center of this controversy. But the academic-freedom template was well-established, as Hausman explained that while Cuccinelli and Mann weren't talking, "other scientists were anxious to talk."

ANN HAMRIC: We believe this is a very chilling message from our state government.

HAUSMAN: That's Ann Hamric, a professor of nursing and chair of UVA's faculty senate, which sent a letter to Cuccinelli urging him to reconsider.

HAMRIC: Scientific debate is very well established and very important but it's not done through this kind of process. The way science has grown, it's very specialized and complicated. And we rely on peer review of people who understand what these things mean.

HAUSMAN: The case has sparked protest from scientists nationwide. And the Union of Concerned Scientists weighed in with a letter signed by more than 800 academics from Virginia. Francesca Grifo is the group's Director of Scientific Integrity.

Dr. FRANCESCA GRIFO: It seemed clear to us right away that this was an attempt to harass a good scientist for political reasons.

HAUSMAN: Grifo says the public may have doubted Mann but the scientific community has since expressed confidence in his work.

Dr. GRIFO: He's been cleared by the National Academy of Sciences, by Penn State, by the British House of Commons. How many times do we need to clear him before we can move on?

HAUSMAN: At least once more, says Chris Horner, a critic of global warming science and senior fellow at the libertarian Competitive Enterprise Institute.

While most climate-change stories completely exclude the viewpoint of global-warming skeptics, at least Hausman grants the floor to Chris Horner. But notice that not only is Horner painted as forcing Mann into Cuccinelli's pointless exercise, his group is described as "libertarian."

That's not inaccurate, but why on Earth is there no label for the Union of Concerned Scientists, which is fiercely and ideologically devoted to global-warming panic, just as it used to fiercely and ideologically devoted to nuclear-war panic and pressing disarmament on the United States? In forcing America to accept energy restrictions that booming Third World economies would not observe, they're still for a form of unilateral disarmament of the United States.

Horner's point was more political than scientific, or about how science should be publicly funded:

CHRIS HORNER: I just don't know how we can selectively say, well, the attorney general doesn't have my training, he probably ought not look into this, but that other fellow over there, well, he's subject to the law. If Dr. Mann's field is so complex that civil enforcement and compliance mechanisms simply don't apply or can't be applied credibly, then he's in the wrong field in choosing to rely on the taxpayer for revenue.

HAUSMAN: The university has gone to court asking that the attorney general's order be set aside to protect academic freedom.UVA law Professor Richard Shragger is pleased that his employer plans to fight.

RICHARD SHRAGGER: We don't want government politicizing the production of knowledge in the university or at any level of education. Once they start to do that, through threats of prosecution or threats of civil liability, they can start to dictate what goes on in the university.

HAUSMAN: He believes the university will prevail since a Supreme Court ruling from the '50s, Sweezy versus New Hampshire, extends special protection to academia. For NPR News, I'm Sandy Hausman in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Hausman did not explain that the "Sweezy" in that decision was Paul Sweezy, a co-founder of the Marxist journal Monthly Review. That 1957 case was about whether Sweezy was teaching Marxism, so it's not an exact match for the scientific manipulations in this case.

Sweezy strangely felt that freedom of expression was necessary to advocate the dictatorship of the proletariat, a "necessary tool for their analysis of the worldwide struggle against imperialism, exploitation, and the other ills of capitalism, and for their advocacy of social justice."

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