The New York Times devoted a front-page story Monday to casting doubt on a theoretical nuclear threat publicized (among his many, many other ideas) by Newt Gingrich - what scientists call electromagnetic pulse (EMP), a burst of electromagnetic radiation released by a nuclear explosion that could damage or destroy electrical service. Science reporter William Broad filed 'Among Gingrich's Passions, a Doomsday Vision .'
Newt Gingrich, the Republican presidential hopeful, wants you to know that as commander in chief he is ready to confront one of the most nightmarish of doomsday scenarios: a nuclear blast high above the United States that would instantly throw the nation into a dark age.
In debates and speeches, interviews and a popular book, he is ringing alarm bells over what experts call the electromagnetic pulse, or EMP - a poorly understood phenomenon of the nuclear age.
The idea is that if a nuclear weapon, lofted by a missile, were detonated in outer space high above the American heartland, it would set off a huge and crippling shockwave of electricity. Mr. Gingrich warns that it would fry electrical circuits from coast to coast, knocking out computers, electrical power and cellphones. Everything from cars to hospitals would be knocked out.
'Millions would die in the first week alone,' he wrote in the foreword to a science-fiction thriller published in 2009 that describes an imaginary EMP attack on the United States. A number of scientists say they consider Mr. Gingrich's alarms far-fetched.
Broad had his skeptic's hat on.
To even begin to attempt to do what Mr. Gingrich fears, these rogue states would have to perfect big rockets, powerful bombs and surreptitious ways to loft them high above America, military experts say. And if they did - and there are much easier ways to deliver a nuclear bomb than by missile, these experts argue - United States defenses would spring into action.
An EMP attack may be an unlikely scenario. But speaking of 'far-fetched' alarms, the Times never questions the most apocalyptic "doomsday" scenarios put forth by left-wing environmental activists seemingly every week. Instead, it treats them as credible threats in front-page stories. Environmental reporter Elisabeth Rosenthal reported from Bolivia December 14, 2009  that 'a World Bank report concluded last year that climate change would eliminate many glaciers in the Andes within 20 years,threatening the existence of nearly 100 million people.'
- Clay Waters is Editor of the MRC's TimesWatch  site.