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MediaWatch: April 20, 1998

Vol. Twelve No. 5

Peter Jennings: Al Gore is Our Savior

The year 2000 may seem distant, but ABC News logged its first infomercial on behalf of Al Gore’s presidential campaign on April 11. "The Apocalypse and Al Gore," a one-hour Saturday Night program hosted by Peter Jennings, declared Al Gore is trying to save us from a disaster we’re all too short-sighted or selfish to realize. The plug on the abcnews.com Web site reflected what aired:

"The ferocity of this year’s El Nino, which spawned deadly tornadoes in Florida, devastating storms in California, and brought the fury of Hurricane Pauline to Acapulco, may be an omen of a more permanent climatic disaster — global warming. In a new ABC News special, Peter Jennings reports on one man’s 30-year crusade to put global warming on the national agenda."

The show assumed Gore’s fears are correct and disparaged contrary views when they were mentioned. The program had four parts. First, the evidence for how man causes global warming and how Gore has been out front on the issue, including the TV weathermen’s seminar last year. ABC gave extensive time to Miami meteorologist Brian Norcross, who warned of higher seas and deadlier hurricanes. Second, how self-interested industry corrupts science, just like the tobacco industry. Third, how recent weather in the Midwest proves global warming has a disastrous impact. Fourth, how union members have joined with industry to fight environmentalists because they are scared more by the loss of jobs than by climatic change, a very short-sighted view.

More Disasters? Explaining that what Gore "fears most is how unstable" the Earth is becoming, Jennings cited the 1995 Chicago heat wave, the 1996 fires in the Southwest and floods in Eastern Europe and the 1997 typhoon in China. Jennings asserted: "Many scientists fear that global warming will cause these record-breaking disasters to become more frequent and even more extreme. However, scientists cannot say yet with any certainty that any single weather disaster is in fact caused by global warming....Vice President Gore’s critics exploit this scientific uncertainty."

MediaWatch asked Candace Crandall of the Science and Environmental Policy Project to provide the response ABC didn’t broadcast. On natural disasters, she replied:

"1) A research paper presented in December 1997 by U.S. Geological Survey researchers Harry Lins and James Slack looked at flood patterns in the U.S. since 1914 and saw no unusual patterns or increasing trends. It seems that floods just happen. And they happen with some frequency. 2) The intensity and frequency of hurricanes, however, have gone down over the last 50 years, according to the most recent report of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change."

Prophet Motives. Jennings didn’t bother presenting the case from critics. Instead he discredited them by portraying them as self-interested, a concern never raised with global warming believers. Jennings intoned: "Bill O’Keefe is a lobbyist for a coalition of oil, coal, and car companies. They call themselves the Global Climate Coalition, but they are some of the largest producers of greenhouse gases."

Jennings asked O’Keefe: "Why do you think it is that the industries most responsible for global warming are the most skeptical about the science?" O’Keefe said most CO2 comes from natural sources, to which Jennings shot back while smirking: "Are you suggesting that the climate change is affected by the plants rotting and us breathing?"

Jennings proceeded to ridicule the scientists cited by the coalition: "University of Arizona climatologist Robert Balling is the kind of scientist the fossil fuel industry likes to fund and Balling concedes that some of his financial backers have an agenda."

After a soundbite of Balling saying a coal company can’t control his science, Jennings insisted: "But the work of some industry-funded scientists is sometimes used to create what amounts to propaganda. Listen to this coal industry video which claimed that a doubling of carbon dioxide is a good thing."

The video claimed: "Crop plants will continue to grow more productively, forests will extend their ranges, grasses will grow where none grow now and great tracks of barren land will be reclaimed." Jennings countered: "Al Gore calls this junk science, reminiscent of the tobacco industry’s efforts to persuade Americans that cigarette smoking didn’t cause lung cancer."

Refusing to Believe. To illustrate the impact of global warming and how the public just isn’t smart enough to realize how Gore is trying to save them, Jennings looked at Smith Island in Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay: "On Smith Island we find two of the most certain effects of global warming. One, the sea level is rising, in this case causing Smith Island to drown. And two, the residents here, like most Americans, refuse to believe that global warming is the problem."

After clips of two locals saying they don’t believe global warming is shrinking the island, Jennings scolded: "This kind of indifference drives Gore crazy and is why many people think the United States will never solve the problem of global warming. Influenced by industry, or perhaps just resistant to change, Americans are reluctant to confront an environmental problem where no one can tell them precisely how or when disaster will strike."

Concluding a segment that included some rare criticism of Gore (from the left for compromising too much at the UN climate summit in Kyoto), Jennings declared: "Which is not bad news for the fossil fuel industry. More debate, more opportunity to delay action. 1997 was the hottest year on record."

Jennings concluded the show with this dire warning: "We leave you with one additional thought. More greenhouse gases are being spewed into the atmosphere than ever before, particularly from the developing world and it takes the Earth more than 100 years to recycle every pound of carbon dioxide that man puts up there. So if the world puts off doing something until all the scientists agree, it may be too late to fix the problem."

More Malaria? With every individual report highlighted with an Al Gore quote, the abcnews.com Web site continued the hype: "There is mounting evidence that we have begun changing Earth’s climate," including "the spread of tropical diseases like malaria." Crandall told MediaWatch: "The spread of malaria, dengue fever, and other tropical diseases has more to do with poor sanitation and breakdowns in public health measures than with increases in temperature. In 1995, for example, dengue fever rolled up through Mexico and stopped dead at the U.S. border. The reason for that should be obvious."

Crandall noted that network staffers called, not for their arguments — just for their funding sources. "Peter Jennings Reporting producer Sara Silver contacted us (and the Competitive Enterprise Institute and other groups) last summer about our funding sources. I sent her a ton of documentation about Gore’s efforts to smear Fred Singer and this Project [including a 1994 edition of ABC’s Nightline]...and said we’d be happy to show her our Form 990 funding statements, as we are required by law as a non-profit, and that we would welcome her and her camera crew into our offices. Come on down, I said! I never heard from her again."