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Free Market Project

3/6/2006 2:55:36 PM

Updated 02/24/06

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CNN’s Global Warming Special Typifies Liberal Bias of Climate Coverage

By Dan Gainor and Amy Menefee
March 28, 2005

     It’s the end of the world as we know it – at least that’s what “CNN Presents” and reporter Miles O’Brien would have us believe. CNN unveiled an hour-long, one-sided report detailing the global warming terror that could mean “a ruined world.”

     On Sunday night, March 27, O’Brien’s “Melting Point: Tracking the Global Warming Threat” cited almost every one of the left-wing environmental movement’s hot buttons about climate change: claiming it’s already a fact; preaching an apocalyptic threat; blaming mankind for temperature fluctuations; bemoaning the danger to polar bears and even visiting the island of Tuvalu that is, according to O’Brien, “flooding from the inside out.”

     He continued: “But now the scientific debate is largely over. There is overwhelming consensus that the threat is real, that humans are at least part of the cause, and that something must be done.” He repeated this declaration throughout the program in different ways. One of those was by choosing an overwhelming number of experts who agreed with him. Out of at least 25 people quoted on the show, only four expressed any skepticism about global warming even though the science is far from settled. That’s a ratio of nearly 6-to-1.

     At one point, he addded: “Where there is fossil fuel smoke there is heat, if not fire. Here's the verdict from a United Nations report signed by more than 2,000 scientists from around the world. Most of the warming observed over the past 50 years is attributable to human activity.”

     While O’Brien dwelled on the numbers of the supporters for global warming theory, he didn’t mention that there are thousands of opponents. Frederick Seitz, the past president of the National Academy of Sciences and president emeritus of Rockefeller University, circulated a document in 1998, the “Oregon Petition,” which gathered more than 17,000 names from scientists in various fields. According to Seitz, “This [Kyoto] treaty is, in our opinion, based upon flawed ideas.”

     Even though Russia recently signed on to Kyoto, a treaty designed to cut emissions that allegedly contribute to global warming, it did so over the objections of its own academy of sciences.

     But O’Brien didn’t stop at claiming he had numbers on his side. He worked to undermine anyone who disagreed. One of the people he interviewed was former journalist Ross Gelbspan, an author of two books on climate change. O’Brien elaborated: “His latest, ‘Boiling Point,’ documents coal and oil companies bankrolling some scientists he calls greenhouse skeptics.” At least Gelbspan was honest about his own agenda: “I sort of moved from being a journalist to an advocate to an activist.”

     O’Brien quoted Gelbspan claiming that “the fossil fuel lobby spent huge amounts of money on a very pervasive campaign of deception and disinformation, which was designed to persuade the public and policy makers that this issue was stuck on uncertainty.”

     The story didn’t include any background on Gelbspan. But a Web site devoted to one of his books describes him as follows: “As special projects editor of The Boston Globe, he conceived, directed, and edited a series of articles that won a Pulitzer Prize in 1984.” That sounds great, but apparently the Globe didn’t think so. The Pulitzer award for that year lists seven names from the Globe all for that one story, but Gelbspan isn’t one of them.

     O’Brien followed up that interview with a few quotes from Pat Michaels, a senior fellow in environmental studies at the Cato Institute, professor of environmental sciences at the University of Virginia, and author of a recent book on global warming called Meltdown. Rather than let Michaels make his points, O’Brien undermined him with an introduction as “one of the researchers who has received funding from the fossil fuel industry, more than $150,000 worth.” He added the half statement/half question: “That has to taint everything you say, doesn't it?”

     None of the roughly two dozen other people on the program had the sources of their funding questioned, including journalist-turned-activist Gelbspan. O’Brien didn’t even mention Michaels’ recent book, though he did so for Gelbspan.

     After Michaels was done, O’Brien decided to undermine him one more time: “Michaels’ position is in the minority. The consensus is the scientific debate is all but over.” He then turned to Gus Speth, dean of the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, who continued the criticism. According to Speth, “In many cases, the same personalities have been the critics for this almost 30 years now.” What Speth left out is that roughly 30 years ago, many in the scientific community were arguing the earth was in the midst of an ice age.

     That was just one of many things omitted from the story, Michaels told the Free Market Project. He said O’Brien ignored an entire body of scientific evidence.

     “When human warming starts, it continues at a constant rate, and that rate is very modest,” Michaels said. “That argument has never been defeated.” Michaels’ book, Meltdown, is subtitled The Predictable Distortion of Global Warming by Scientists, Politicians, and the Media.

     “Had I still been writing the book, this show would have been a chapter,” Michaels said.

     O’Brien also included some discussion of how environmentalists claim to predict the weather for the next 100 years. After describing predictive climate modeling in a highly positive fashion, he spoke with MIT climatologist Richard Lindzen, who reminded him that people “understand that forecasting weather is inaccurate beyond two or three days.”

     The story found little time to go into the criticisms of the analysis of temperature readings that have appeared in The Wall Street Journal recently. One graph, nicknamed the “hockey stick” because of its shape, has been used for years to claim that temperatures rose suddenly in the 20th century. However, some of that data was analyzed and found faulty. The statistical technique was biased and tended to draw hockey-stick forms. Even its creator, Dr. Michael Mann from the University of Virginia, admitted this according to the Journal. He’s also corrected the other problems, but claims they didn’t impact the overall result and won’t release all of the data so his work can be checked.

     CNN’s “Melting Point” repeated several other ongoing flaws in media coverage of this environmental debate that were detailed in a November 2004 Free Market Project (FMP) study. That analysis, “Destroying America to Save the World,” explained how the media skew the debate by claiming the “science” of Kyoto is settled when it isn’t.

     O’Brien’s story relied overwhelmingly on “experts” who believe in global warming and didn’t include an opposing view until nearly a half-hour into the program. This followed the media trend. According to the study, “Broadcast news programs presented the claims of liberal environmentalists that global warming is a given, that mankind is to blame for it, or both, 55 percent of the time (77 stories).” O’Brien only had one program, so he said it as often as he could.

     In addition, he made several other typical errors covered in the FMP study, including:

  • Blaming President Bush – O’Brien said: “President Bush opposes Kyoto” and implied Bush is to blame for the U.S. not being part of the treaty. He never mentioned that the Senate voted 95-0 against Kyoto. While O’Brien interviewed Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), he didn’t mention McCain voted for the resolution that opposed Kyoto along with liberal Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.).
  • The Cost of Kyoto: The story gave the projected U.S. cost of signing Kyoto as more than $400 billion each year with a possible loss of 4.9 million jobs. However, it relied on a quote from President Bush that gave the impression it was his opinion. It’s actually the result of a U.S. Energy Information Administration analysis. O’Brien did fail to compare the numbers he cited for costs of Kyoto with the costs from a global warming scenario. His numbers for warming over the next 100 years: “UN estimates somewhere between $20 and $150 billion in property damage in the U.S. alone.” Using his highest estimate and comparing it to the lowest figure from the Energy Department, the cost of signing the treaty would still be about 133 times more.
  • Polar Bears Threatened: “But the bears are in trouble, big trouble,” said O’Brien, claiming they could be wiped out. “For them, it’s a matter of survival.” The networks trot out polar bears any time they want to tug at the heartstrings for global warming and Sunday night’s broadcast was no different. In Pat Michaels’ book “Meltdown,” he explained how the left-wing environmental movement takes advantage of “cute and furry” creatures to win the warming debate. “NGOs [Non-governmental organizations] know the value of a marquee species. Algae won’t do. Polar bears will,” he stated.

At the end of the program, the voiceover described “CNN Presents” as “separating fact from fiction.” It didn’t.

For additional information on how the media skew the global warming debate, go to the Free Market Project study: “Destroying America To Save The World.”


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