While world leaders were meeting in Copenhagen last for one of the most important international climate meetings in recent years, Fox News Vice President Bill Sammon sent an email to his reporters instructing them to portray climate change as questionable speculation rather than scientifically based fact. This is despite the fact that an overwhelming majority of climate scientists have concluded beyond reasonable doubt that climate change caused by human activity is occurring.
In an email to Fox reporters which was recently made public by Media Matters, Sammon said, “we should refrain from asserting that the planet has warmed (or cooled) in any given period without IMMEDIATELY pointing out that such theories are based upon data that critics have called into question.” Sammon was apparently making a reference to last fall’s “Climategate” incident, when email hackers broke into climate research labs at the University of East Anglia, and published emails they claimed cast doubt on the scientific veracity of climate change.
Hackers claimed they had found evidence in emails of an international conspiracy of scientists manufacturing the evidence for global warming. However independent investigations after the emails were released showed none of the stolen messages cast doubt on the existence of climate change, and that the hackers had misinterpreted the words of some of the world’s most respected climate scientists. “At the time of Sammon’s directive [to Fox News reporters],” writes Ben Dimiero of Media Matters, “it was clear the ‘scandal’ [Climategate] did not undermine the scientific basis for global warming and that the emails were being grossly distorted by conservative media and politicians.”
Media Matters reports that Sammon’s email was sent shortly after a Fox News reporter covering the Copenhagen meetings pointed out that climate scientists predicted the decade from 2000 to 2009 would be the warmest since record keeping began in the late nineteenth century. This prediction has since been confirmed by NASA studies, and cited by scientists like Dr. James Hansen of NASA as evidence of the reality of climate change.
Yet Sammon apparently did not want reporters on his network to mention that the planet is getting warmer. “It is not our place as journalists,” says the email from Sammon made public by Media Matters, “to assert such notions as facts.” Media Matters says this is the latest in a series of incidents where Sammon has apparently tried to influence reporters to bias news coverage toward views of the political right. Sammon also told reporters not to use the term “public option” during their coverage of the national health care debate.
This is also not the first time US media sources have discounted the evidence for climate in order to present a “balanced” or unbiased view of the climate debate. A 2004 paper by Jules and Maxwell Boykoff, published in the journal Global Environmental Change, argued that by attempting to portray the views of both climate scientists and global warming deniers, mainstream media sources have failed to make it clear that the vast majority of professional climate researchers consider that the planet is warming due to human activity. In other words by giving the impression that the reality of global warming is still up for debate, media sources fail to acknowledge the widespread scientific consensus.
Some of the media’s failure to convey the reality of climate change may be unintentional, but Bill Sammon’s email to reporters seems to be part of a more conscious effort to suppress the facts about a warming a planet. Like the release of the “Climategate” emails, Sammon’s directive was apparently meant to cast doubt on the work of climate scientists at a very important time for climate politics, and to discourage world leaders from taking action to the pollution responsible for global warming.
Photo credit: Thomas Kriese