MediaWatch: November 1997

Vol. Eleven No. 11

A Day in the Media's Warming Crusade

President Clinton must have found the coverage of his October 22 speech on global warming’s dangers to be very heartwarming. With grim unanimity, the Big Three networks and CNN dutifully ran stories that conjured a chilling future of environmental degradation due to global warming. While each network took the most frightening premises of liberal environmental activists as truth, they gave more skeptical views the cold shoulder.

MediaWatch analyzed the six full stories on global warming that aired on the October 22 evening news shows and discovered a fourfold advantage (12-3) for soundbites from talking heads that supported Clinton’s global warming hypothesis. Of the 12, five featured Clinton himself, and another four were spokesmen from left-wing environmental groups, two of whom claimed Clinton’s plan did not go far enough.

All three opposing soundbites came from business sources, whose profit motives are easily questioned. Not a single skeptical scientist appeared, and while reporters relayed environmentalist claims about melting glaciers and rising sea levels as fact, they ignored alternative data on those claims, as well as polls which show that climatologists don’t believe mankind has fueled warming.

ABC’s World News Tonight. Anchor Peter Jennings introduced John Donvan’s report with the most distorted view of scientific opinion, insisting that the "overwhelming majority of scientists" agree that global warming was caused by man. Donvan’s soundbites tilted to the left 3-0, featuring Clinton, Les Brown of the left-wing Worldwatch Institute, and Clinton aide Gene Sperling.

Leading into ABC’s next segment, Jennings put the blame on greedy Western ways: "To do something about global warming, we will have to come to grips with the fact that North Americans are increasingly driving the kinds of cars and trucks that do the most damage." Reporter Barry Serafin concluded his story by relaying how "environmentalists say along with technology there has to be some pain." For consumers, Serafin suggested, "fees imposed on the purchase of gas guzzlers. And for manufacturers, mandatory higher annual fuel economy standards to try to break the bigger-is-better vehicle habit." Serafin included comments from Clinton, an industry representative and an official from the leftist Natural Resources Defense Council. ABC’s soundbites tilted 5-1 toward warming advocates over two stories.

CBS Evening News. Anchor Dan Rather cast the debate as a battle not between scientific formulations but between dueling agendas: "Reactions tonight from environmentalists and industry are equally heated over whether the real threat is catastrophic climate change or catastrophic change for the economy."

Reporter Scott Pelley then retraced Clinton’s recent South American tour route. Standing on a mountain in Argentina, Pelley proclaimed, "It’s up here, near the roof of Patagonia, that you can see some of the best evidence that the world is warming. The glacier on the peak behind me and all the other glaciers of the Andes have been is happening all around the world — the Earth’s glaciers have been receding at an increasing pace over the last 100 years."

Pelley’s two soundbites both came from the left: Clinton and Tom Karl of the National Climactic Data Center. Although Pelley did point out "some scientists believe the warming is natural, part of a centuries-old cycle," he quickly added, "it is clear that pollution at least hastens the trend. Fumes from this morning’s rush hour will linger for 100 years."

NBC Nightly News. Anchor Tom Brokaw’s summary left science behind: "President Clinton today joined that debate and managed not to satisfy the environmentalists or the industrialists." David Bloom put his wading boots on to deliver this warning from the deep waters of environmental hysteria: "The goal is to stop global warming, which some scientists predict could flood American cities such as Washington, D.C., and south Florida, if the oceans rise just three feet." Bloom’s soundbites went 2-1 for global warming, with Clinton, a Sierra Club leader and a coal mine operator.

CNN’s The World Today. Reporter Carl Rochelle opened: "With cars, trucks, and smokestacks belching greenhouse gases into the atmosphere at every increasing rates, President Clinton used the National Geographic Society as a forum to reveal his proposal to curb what some scientists say is a cause of global warming."

Although both Rochelle and Bloom declared "some" scientists believe in warming, neither cited what the majority of scientists thought. Rochelle quoted Michael Oppenheimer of the liberal Environmental Defense Fund: "If we don’t act we’re going to have record heat, record drought..."

Anchor Leon Harris subsequently noted European criticism that the proposal wasn’t drastic enough and then, over satellite photos, presented "proof that pollution is gnawing away at the Earth’s ozone layer is becoming even more pronounced." Next, Sharon Collins reported on businesses selling cleaner technology. In the two full stories, CNN soundbites favored global warming advocates by 3-1.

Reality Check. Nearly 100 climate scientists signed the Leipzig Declaration in 1996, expressing doubts about the forecasting accuracy of computer models. No network cited that fact nor a poll highlighted in a May 23 report from the National Center for Policy Analysis which sank Jennings’ assertion of what the "overwhelming majority" of scientists think: "A Gallup poll found that only 17 percent of the members of the Meteorological Society and the American Geophysical Society think that the warming of the 20th century has been a result of greenhouse gas emissions."

Networks also failed to consider arguments suggesting warming fears are misplaced: While David Bloom foresaw a D.C. underwater, the May 23 NCPA analysis noted sea levels have risen more than 300 feet over the last 18,000 years, a trend far predating mankind’s Industrial Revolution (and industrial pollution).

While CBS’s Scott Pelley relayed scary anecdotes about melting glaciers, Fred Singer of the Science and Environmental Policy Project added context in a September 2 analysis: "Glaciers have been retreating for more than 10,000 years, a phenomenon generally regarded as a good thing."

Singer added, "There was a strong warming trend between 1850 and 1940, as the world recovered from the Little Ice Age. But there has been no significant global warming since 1940 and, according to weather satellite data, none at all in the last two decades." Singer’s focus on long term temperatures would have provided a valuable point of view from a scientist with long work in the field of climatology.