Tuesday, May 23, 2006
FAUX NEWS: We Distort, You Decide. Studies have shown that Fox News Viewers are often Misinformed about current events. Here's Why.
In the days leading up to Fox News' special May 21 presentation, Global Warming: The Debate Continues, Fox News host Neil Cavuto referred to it as the "definitive piece" on the issue of climate change, while his Fox News colleague John Gibson informed viewers that David Asman "gets to the bottom of this debate" as host of the program. In the broadcast's introduction, Asman left viewers with the impression that there is a significant divide among scientists regarding the cause of global warming. "Today, almost all scientists agree that there is global warming," he said, "but there is no scientific consensus about what causes global warming or how it will affect our lives." But, while Asman went on to interview numerous experts skeptical of the threat posed by global warming or whether human activity causes it, he never informed viewers that those skeptics represent a small minority within the scientific community.
Moreover, as Media Matters for America noted, the program's roster of contributors included numerous climate change skeptics tied to organizations with a financial stake in combating global warming theory and, in some cases, whose works on the issue have been discredited by the scientific community. These skeptics included John Christy, Roy Spencer, Bjørn Lomborg, and Patrick J. Michaels -- as well as Sen. James M. Inhofe (R-OK), a fervent opponent of global warming who has received more than $1 million in campaign contributions from the energy industry. But during the hour-long broadcast, Asman failed to challenge their misleading arguments and omitted mention of their ties to energy interests.
Sen. James Inhofe
The program devoted a significant amount of airtime to Inhofe, who is notorious for his 2003 statement that global warming is "the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people" -- a sentiment he repeated in his interview with Asman. "A total hoax. It's an outrageous lie ... and they knew it,' he said after Asman showed him the headline of an article on global warming in a March 2006 issue of Time magazine -- "Be worried, be very worried." Inhofe noted that Time had, 30 years earlier, warned of an impending ice age, which he described as a "hoax" on par with global warming. But as Media Matters has previously documented, this is a misleading comparison often advanced by skeptics of global warming theory.
Asman identified Inhofe as "chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee" and "a critic of the predictions of future catastrophe from global warming." But he failed to inform viewers that Inhofe has received nearly $550,000 in campaign contributions from oil and gas interests, electrical utility companies, and the mining industry since 2001 -- totaling more than $1 million over the course of his congressional career.
Inhofe did face a question about his recent inquiry into a proposed agreement between the National Science Foundation and the National Center for Atmospheric Research, an exponent of global warming theory. Inhofe responded, "[A]ll we want is to use real science. ... They're complaining because they just want to use the funds and any kinds of grants they can get to promote their concept of global warming." But Asman failed to note that this is not the first time Inhofe has targeted research operations that reinforce the threat of climate change. Indeed, in 2000, Inhofe joined an effort to discredit the peer-reviewed National Assessment on Climate Change, a government report on the potential regional impact of global warming. Further, Inhofe appeared as a co-plaintiff in a lawsuit filed by the industry-funded Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) alleging that procedural rules had been violated during the development of the report.
John Christy and Roy Spencer
Among the contributors highlighted by Media Matters prior to the broadcast of Global Warming: The Debate Continues, Christy and Spencer enjoyed the most airtime on the program. Both are professors at the University of Alabama-Hunstville and both have ties to industry-friendly organizations such as CEI and the George Marshall Institute (GMI). Together, they published a 1992 report that analyzed extensive data from weather satellites and purported to show minimal warming in the troposphere. Skeptics of global warming theory frequently cited their findings to cast doubt over data showing significant warming on the earth's surface. But a series of subsequent reports identified flaws in Christy and Spencer's calculations, as Media Matters noted. One such study, published in 2003, reanalyzed the data using the corrected methodology and found more pronounced warming in the troposphere.
On the broadcast, Asman introduced Christy and Spencer as "atmospheric scientists whose temperature measurements from satellites have made them skeptical of both the catastrophic predictions" and aired clips of them saying that these measurements "don't show a very dramatic warming" and are "relatively modest." But Asman failed to inform viewers that the conclusion of their satellite study has been discredited.
The program featured an appearance by Lomborg, associate professor of statistics in the Department of Political Science at the University of Aarhus in Denmark, who said that while he used to "think that everything was coming to an end," he believes that "the data, the facts tell you that many, many things are moving in the right direction." Speaking specifically about climate change, he argued that there are many more urgent problems and that the Kyoto treaty "is going to cost $150 billion a year and do very little good." Asman introduced Lomborg as the author of The Skeptical Environmentalist (Cambridge University Press, 2001), in which Lomborg purported to reanalyze the data behind numerous environmental problems -- including global warming -- and show that these threats have been exaggerated. But Asman failed to disclose that the book has been widely discredited by the scientific community. Media Matters noted that, in the January 2002 issue of Scientific American, a group of well-known environmental specialists derided The Skeptical Environmentalist for its "egregious distortions," "elementary blunders of quantitative manipulation and presentation that no self-respecting statistician ought to commit," and sections "poorly researched and ... rife with careless mistakes."
Patrick J. Michaels
Asman also interviewed Michaels for the program, who said of the threat posed by climate change, "If you're going to tell me that altering the temperature two or three degrees will extinct homo sapiens, I'm not going to believe you. I might just laugh." As Media Matters noted, Michaels is employed by the Cato Institute and has ties to GMI -- both institutions that receive significant financial support from energy interests. Further, he is chief editor of the World Climate Report, a biweekly newsletter on climate studies, for which he has received "more than $165,000 in fuel-industry funding, including money from the coal industry," according to an October 11, 2005, Seattle Times article. Notwithstanding his strong ties to the fossil fuel industry, Asman simply introduced Michaels as the "Virginia state climatologist."