He’s been the face of hurricane forecasting for decades to TV viewers at home and storm-obsessed broadcast journalists, so it’s not surprising that NBC and CNN honored NOAA’s Max Mayfield with positive stories on his retirement. Yet in doing so, neither network mentioned that Mayfield didn’t buy the theory that global warming caused the strong hurricane season that produced Katrina.
On the January 3 “Nightly News,” NBC anchor Brian Williams praised Mayfield as “the person we all watch very closely when the big storms approach.”
“When it comes to hurricanes, he’s been the voice of authority for more than 30 years,” who “leaves quite a legacy” with his retirement, gushed “CNN Newsroom” anchor Heidi Collins on the January 3 program.
“When that storm was named Katrina, it meant going above and beyond the call of duty to spread the word,” Williams noted as he introduced the story by correspondent Kerry Sanders, who described Mayfield as “reliable, unassuming, unflappable, and always there” during hurricane season updates.
Later in his story, Sanders congratulated Mayfield for his “public service” that has saved an “incalculable” number of lives.
Yet for all the praise of Mayfield as a public servant and "reliable" scientist, neither CNN nor NBC touched on the veteran meteorologist’s skepticism about linking global warming to active hurricane seasons such as the 2005 one that produced Hurricane Katrina.
Shortly after Katrina’s landfall in the Gulf of Mexico that year, Mayfield was quoted disputing the notion that global warming caused the devastating storm.
Noting that “the Asian Pacific is way down” in the number of storms in “the past few years,” the Associated Press quoted Mayfield in a Sept. 1, 2005, article saying he hadn’t “bought into” the theory that global warming was at the root of an intense hurricane season in the Atlantic.
Mayfield expressed similar sentiments weeks later in a congressional hearing, as CNN’s Ann O’Neill wrote on her network’s Web page.
“The increased activity since 1995 is due to natural fluctuations (and) cycles of hurricane activity driven by the Atlantic Ocean itself along with the atmosphere above it and not enhanced substantially by global warming,” O’Neill quoted Mayfield in her Sept. 23, 2005, article. The National Hurricane Center director made those remarks three days earlier in testimony before a Senate subcommittee.
Mayfield was hardly alone in his views at the government’s weather service.
“Mayfield's colleague at the National Hurricane Center, meteorologist Chris Landsea, said two recent studies about global warming and hurricanes raise more questions than they answer. He added that the impact of global warming is ‘minimal for the forseeable future,’” added O’Neill.
A link between global warming and intensifying hurricanes is often an assertion that goes unchallenged in the media, as the Business & Media Institute has previously reported.
“What made you so sure a disaster like that was on the horizon?” Storm began her softball interview with Mike Tidwell, author of "The Ravaging Tide."
At no point during the interview did Storm challenge the bluster of Tidwell – a journalist and author, not a scientist – with scientists who question his assertions, such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Christopher Landsea or University of Virginia’s Pat Michaels.