Robert Novak's column today focuses on NASA scientist James Hansen, and how the New York Times and CBS's "60 Minutes" have played up his charges of being "muzzled" -- as many political figures would love to be limited to speaking only in The New York Times and on "60 Minutes." For our purposes, the most interesting paragraph may be Novak's last one:
In concluding the Hansen segment on "60 Minutes," CBS correspondent Scott Pelley said: "For months, we've been trying to talk to the president's science adviser, but we were finally told he would never be available." White House communications director Nicolle Wallace told me: " '60 Minutes' never contacted the press office." Assuming that the network attempted to contact the science adviser and not the press office and that both statements are accurate, they resulted in a one-sided political presentation that ignored the real scientific debate.
It's very plausible that CBS went directly to the science adviser and pestered his office repeatedly, without calling the press office, until someone claimed he would "never be available" so they'd stop the pestering. If they wanted the interview rather than the "issue" of being able to say the science adviser would not talk, they would have called the press office and pestered them for assistance, at least for the sake of appearances.
But Novak also reports that Hansen is not simply a sober public servant without ideology, as CBS would have it.
As the fiercely contested presidential election of 2004 neared its end, an obviously unmuzzled Hansen declared publicly that he was muzzled. Speaking at the University of Iowa on Oct. 26 of that year, he declared: "In my more than three decades in government, I have never seen anything approaching the degree to which information flow from scientists to the public has been screened and controlled as it is now." At that same event, Hansen said he was voting for Kerry. In short, if you want the truth about environmental peril, you'd better get rid of Bush.
Hansen stepped up his rhetoric in December with a lecture calling for an immediate reduction in emissions. In a New York Times interview in January, he said the Bush administration was trying to silence him. In February he told an enthusiastic audience at the New School in New York: "It seems more like Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union than the United States." I have been a political reporter long enough to recognize political rhetoric.