Baby, It's Warm Outside

     From a 72-degree January day in Manhattan to “polar bears in peril,” the media have done anything but chill about the weather lately.

     “Never has good weather felt so bad. Never have flowers inspired so much fear. Never has the warm caress of a sunbeam seemed so ominous. The weather is sublime, it’s glorious, it’s the end of the world,” wrote Joel Achenbach on the January 7 Washington Post Style section front.

     The article said D.C. temperatures had reached 73 degrees a day earlier, but reported that both Washington, D.C., and New York City reached a high of 70 degrees on January 6. The predominantly East Coast-based media were in a frenzy.

     NBC’s Meredith Vieira wondered, “are we all gonna die?” The New York Times said people couldn’t enjoy wearing short sleeves because of “anxiety of environmental disaster.”

     The three broadcast networks have covered global warming 39 times since December 1, while newspapers have covered it even more.

     NBC’s Brian Williams asked a scientist from the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration to answer, “once and for all,” whether global warming was behind unseasonable temperatures. The meteorologist answered with a resounding no – saying it was El Nino’s weather pattern. But his “once and for all” answer didn’t satisfy the “Nightly News,” which featured a professor again blaming mankind for warming just a few days later.

     Abnormally warm weather provoked the media fever, but apparently the mercury would have risen even if Manhattan was being pounded by snowstorms like Denver. “Indeed, even the heavy snow in the Rockies this year might be partly caused by global warming,” said NBC’s Robert Bazell on the January 8 “Nightly News.”

     In fact, the “CBS Evening News” thought nothing of running back-to-back stories about snow in Denver and then global warming on Dec. 29, 2006. And NBC’s “Today” and ABC’s “World News” mentioned both topics in the very same stories on January 5.


Good Weather Makes Bad News

     Instead of positive stories about plummeting heating costs and happy people enjoying the sunshine, reports on the balmy weather were clouded by climate change paranoia.

     The “Today Show’s” Meredith Vieira was nearly as hysterical as The Washington Post. “So I’m running in the park on Saturday, in shorts thinking this is great but are we all gonna die?” Vieira whined on January 8.

     A New York Times article on Dec. 27, 2006, was almost as melodramatic: “People worried that the cause of such a mild December was global warming, and yesterday the joys of wearing short sleeves were tempered with the anxiety of environmental disaster,” wrote Manny Fernandez of the Times.

      Sounds like some people need to chill out.

      On January 5, ABC, CBS and NBC evening newscasts all asked whether global warming was to blame.

     The “CBS Evening News” report on the spring-like temperatures excluded scientists who say global warming is not responsible for them, and instead featured only one expert: Jeffrey Schultz, a climatologist from Weather 2000. He said, “When we get more and more of these winters, now, in the 90s, 2000s and ahead, at some point we will have to all agree and say absolutely this is global warming.” 

     Meanwhile, some reporters saw only negative consequences for businesses. ABC’s Barbara Pinto spent a full minute and 40 seconds of “World News” talking about closed ski resorts, less demand for rock salt and snow shovels, winter coats and other problems caused by the warm weather before admitting “there is a silver lining.”

     Pinto’s good news that there was “less demand for heating oil” and “prices are at their lowest in more than a year and half” took a mere six seconds of the segment.

     Neither of those Manhattan-centric reports asked how global warming could be to blame for warmer northeast temperatures while Denver was about to see a third snowstorm in a few weeks that same day. But the January 9 “NBC Nightly News” actually suggested global warming was responsible for both.

     The Robert Bazell report that made that claim came only three days after “Nightly News” asked a National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration scientist to say “once and for all” what is causing the warm weather.

      “I don’t think a day goes by I don’t hear someone say ‘What are we doing to our planet?’ blaming this on some global warming trend. So once and for all, what is it?” anchor Brian Williams asked NOAA meteorologist Dennis Feltgen on January 5.

      Feltgen’s reponse: “It is not global warming at all, Brian. It is El Nino, El Nino, El Nino.”

Ice, Ice Baby

     In addition to abnormally warm weather, throughout this period news media also blamed global warming for melting sea ice.

     On Dec. 29, 2006, the three networks each reported on an ice shelf that broke free in Canada and in each instance blamed global warming.

·         “And in Canada, another shocking example of global warming,” said “CBS Evening News” anchor Katie Couric.

·         “It was one of only six ice shelves left in Canada. All melting, say scientists, due to global warming,” said reporter Bill Blakemore of ABC “World News.”

·         “…with global warming getting the blame. Ten of the warmest years on record have come since 1995, this year no exception. Remember the droughts, forest fires and the heat waves that killed 140 people last summer?” asked “NBC Nightly News” reporter Tom Costello.

     None of the three reports included a single expert who disagreed that global warming was melting away the Arctic, or mentioned relevant data from Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

     “Overall the possible impact of global warming appears to play a minor role in changes to Arctic sea ice: The Department found rather that changes in wind patterns lead to large-scale redistributions of ice rather than finding an overall decline,” said a study by the department quoted in Dr. Patrick J. Michaels’ book “Meltdown.” The book by Michaels, a University of Virginia climatologist, challenges many assumptions about man-induced global climate change, including Arctic ice and glacier disappearance.

Polarizing Politics

     “Polar bears in peril” made headlines on Dec. 27, 2006, as the Bush administration announced a proposal to list the animal as a threatened species. The announcement was heralded as an admission that global warming is occurring and is endangering the Arctic animal.

     “Today, the Bush administration admitted that all this, disappearing in the heat of global warming, could take one of Earth’s most powerful creatures with it,” said ABC’s Blakemore as footage of ice floes rolled during “World News.”

     NBC’s Ann Curry even suggested extinction on the “Today Show” on Dec. 28, 2006. “Could polar bears be going the way of dinosaurs, and could it be happening sooner than we think?” Curry asked as she tossed to reporter Tom Costello’s story.

     Costello kept up the hype saying, “[W]ith the receding ice, the number of polar bears in Canada has dropped by 22 percent. Many have drowned or run out of food. Alaskan polar bears are also thought to be at risk.”

     But the January 3 Wall Street Journal featured an editorial with facts that were excluded from the broadcasts.

     “[T]here are in fact more polar bears in the world now than there were 40 years ago,” said the editorial. “It also turns out that most of the alarm over the polar bear’s future stems from a single, peer-reviewed study, which found that the bear population had declined by some 250, or 25% in Western Hudson Bay in the last decade.” The Journal also stated that the range for polar bears in much more extensive than the Hudson Bay.

     The networks ignored that data in favor of three experts who said polar bears are threatened by loss of Arctic ice, including two from liberal activist organizations: Kert Davies of Greenpeace and Dale Bryk of the National Resources Defense Council.

     CBS’s “Early Show” report on Dec. 28, 2006 was similarly one-sided.    

     Overall, coverage of global warming through December 2006 and into January 2007 is just more of the same for the news media, which have warned of climate catastrophes for the past 100 years, alternating between global warming and global cooling. The Business & Media Institute has documented this bias in a Special Report, Fire and Ice.