Fox News Boss Ordered Staff to Make Climate Change Seem Doubtful

Who would’ve thunk it?

Yesterday, MediaMatters revealed that Fox News journalists got a clear directive on how to talk about climate change last December in the middle of the international climate negotiations in Copenhagen. Of course, the directive was to avoid making any statements regarding climate change without “IMMEDIATELY” questioning climate science data… because a hacker illegally broke into someone’s personal email account, cherry-picked quotes out of context from years of communications, and tried to frame climate scientists? Here are some details from Ben Dimiero of MediaMatters:

In the midst of global climate change talks last December, a top Fox News official sent an email questioning the “veracity of climate change data” and ordering the network’s journalists to “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.”

The directive, sent by Fox News Washington managing editor Bill Sammon, was issued less than 15 minutes after Fox correspondent Wendell Goler accurately reported on-air that the United Nations’ World Meteorological Organization announced that 2000-2009 was “on track to be the warmest [decade] on record.”

Yes, as soon as Sammon saw valid reporting on climate change, he sent this urgent memo to make sure that didn’t happen again. Who are these critics? Well, as far as anyone can see, they are members of the fossil fuel industry, the politicians and media personalities they buy, and the hackers they hire. They certainly aren’t the leading climate scientists in the world or even leading scientists from any field.

As Dimiero very adequately summarizes, there was no basis for questioning the findings of world-renowned climate scientists in the media:

Sammon’s orders for Fox journalists to cast doubt on climate science came amid the network’s relentless promotion of the fabricated “Climategate” scandal, which revolved around misrepresentations of emails sent to and from climate scientists at the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit.

At the time of Sammon’s directive, it was clear the “scandal” did not undermine the scientific basis for global warming and that the emails were being grossly distorted by conservative media and politicians. Scientists, independent fact-checkers, and several investigations have since confirmed that the CRU emails do not undermine the overwhelming scientific consensus that human activity is warming the planet.

The scientific proof of global climate change is so complete and undeniable that it is really quite absurd that a “news” agency can make it seem otherwise.

Contrary to Sammon’s email, the increase in global temperatures over the last half-century is an established fact. As the National Climatic Data Center explains, the warming trend “is apparent in all of the independent methods of calculating global temperature change” and “is also confirmed by other independent observations.”

But that’s what Fox News did, with the help of some other notoriously ill-informed media outlets. As Al Gore has noted, this is really nothing new for Fox News. However, what is new is the clear fact that this misrepresentation of climate science is coming from higher-ups at the network. Al Gore writes:

“Fox News has consistently delivered false and misleading information to its viewers about the climate crisis. The leaked emails now suggest that this bias comes directly from the executives responsible for their news coverage.”

I encourage you to check out the whole piece on MediaMatters, FOXLEAKS: Fox boss ordered staff to cast doubt on climate science, because it really puts the story together nicely and does a good jobs explaining concisely but in detail that global warming is happening, is primarily caused by humans, and the science on that is clear. But if you don’t want to read the whole piece, here are a few more key excerpts from their story:

This latest revelation comes after Media Matters uncovered an email sent by Sammon to Fox journalists at the peak of the health care reform debate, ordering them to avoid using the term “public option” and instead use variations of “government option.” That email echoed advice from a prominent Republican pollster on how to help turn public opinion against health care reform.

On the December 8 edition of Happening Now, one of Fox News’ daytime straight news shows, Fox White House correspondent Wendell Goler delivered a live report from Copenhagen and was asked by host Jon Scott about “U.N. scientists issuing a new report today saying this decade is on track to be the warmest on record.”

Goler accurately reported that, indeed, 2000-2009 was “expected to turn out to be the warmest decade on record,” following a “trend that has scientists concerned because 2000-2009 [was] warmer than the 1990s, which were warmer than the 1980s.” Goler went on to explain that “ironically 2009 was a cooler than average year in the U.S. and Canada,” which, he said, was “politically troubling because Americans are among the most skeptical about global warming.”

When Scott brought up the “Climategate” emails, Goler explained that although people had raised questions about the CRU data, “the data also comes from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and from NASA. And scientists say the data of course across all three sources is pretty consistent.” Watch:

Less than 15 minutes after the segment, Sammon sent the following email to the staffs of Special Report, Fox News Sunday, and, as well as to other reporters, producers, and network executives, instructing them to “IMMEDIATELY” include objections of “critics” when reporting on climate data….

That night, on the same Special Report broadcast, correspondent James Rosen advanced the wildly misleading claim that climate scientists “destroyed more than 150 years worth of raw climate data.”

By the time Sammon sent his email on December 8, it was already clear that “Climategate” was not only overblown, but also had no bearing on the validity of scientific theories about climate change.

  • In a letter to Congress sent four days before Sammon’s memo, 29 prominent scientists — including 11 members of the National Academy of Sciences — stated: “The body of evidence that human activity is the dominant cause of global warming is overwhelming. The content of the stolen emails has no impact whatsoever on our overall understanding that human activity is driving dangerous levels of global warming.”
  • On December 2, the prestigious science journal Nature stated: “Nothing in the e-mails undermines the scientific case that global warming is real — or that human activities are almost certainly the cause. That case is supported by multiple, robust lines of evidence, including several that are completely independent of the climate reconstructions debated in the e-mails.”
  • On November 25, the American Meteorological Society released a statement saying: “For climate change research, the body of research in the literature is very large and the dependence on any one set of research results to the comprehensive understanding of the climate system is very, very small. Even if some of the charges of improper behavior in this particular case turn out to be true — which is not yet clearly the case — the impact on the science of climate change would be very limited.”
  • On November 23, Peter Frumhoff, the director of science and policy at the Union of Concerned Scientists and a “lead author of the Fourth Assessment Report” by the IPCC said: “[O]ur understanding of climate science is based not on private correspondence, but on the rigorous accumulation, testing and synthesis of knowledge often represented in the dry and factual prose of peer-reviewed literature.”

Several subsequent inquiries into the climategate emails did not find evidence of scientific malpractice that damages the credibility of CRU’s climate science and also cleared the scientists of deceptively manipulating climate data.

Shortly after Sammon’s memo, numerous media outlets, including the Associated Press,, and also analyzed the emails and concluded that they did not undermine climate science.

Related Stories:
1. 119 One-Liners to Respond to Climate Science Myths
2. Humans Cause Global Warming: 10 Indicators
3. Global Warming Effects and Causes: Top 10 List

Photo Credit: Steve Rhodes via flickr (CC license)

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is the director of CleanTechnica, the most popular cleantech-focused website in the world, and Planetsave, a world-leading green and science news site. He has been covering green news of various sorts since 2008, and he has been especially focused on solar energy, electric vehicles, and wind energy since 2009.

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