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Why Is Mainstream Media Faking a Climate Scandal When There's Real Reporting to Be Done?

There is plenty of reporting to be done in Copenhagen, but instead the media is playing into deniers' conspiracy theories.
 
 
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This story was written by Faiz Shakir, Amanda Terkel, Matt Corley, Benjamin Armbruster, Zaid Jilani, and Alex Seitz-Wald.

As delegates from countries across the globe gather at the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, the world is waiting to see if international leaders will commit to the bold reductions in carbon emissions needed to curb the effects of global warming. One group of individuals who is doing everything it can to prevent progress is the climate change deniers -- a coalition of dirty energy-funded groups and their political allies on the far right. The newest ammunition employed by these deniers is " Climategate" -- a smear campaign claiming that there is a "coordinated campaign to hide scientific information" about the supposed hoax of global warming. The conservative swiftboating attack in "Climategate" involves illegally hacked e-mails from the University of East Anglia's Climactic Research Unit (CRU) in the U.K., which skeptics are using to claim that leading climate researchers are suppressing scientific data that shows that climate change is not occurring. The truth is that the hacked e-mails offer no proof of the suppression of scientific data, the mainstream media has given undue credibility to the story, and the science behind global warming is as undeniable as ever.

THE SWIFTBOATING OF SCIENCE BEGINS: The coordinated attack began last month when more than a thousand stolen internal e-mails from the CRU were dumped on a Russian web server. Hackers then used a computer in Saudi Arabia to post the e-mails on the climate skeptic website Air Vent. Skeptic blog "Watts Up With That" then picked up the story, and it wasn't long before the National Review and the rest of the right-wing blogosphere leaped on the hacked e-mails. Within a few days of the leak, Sen. David Vitter's (R-LA) staff began distributing a letter claiming that the stolen e-mails revealed that global warming "could well be the greatest act of scientific fraud in history." Soon after, right wingers of all stripes took up the cause of using the e-mails to debunk climate science, including former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, oil empire tycoon David Koch, and radical Fox News host Glenn Beck. Despite all this hysteria, the truth is that the content of the e-mails proved no such thing. Right wingers point to exchanges between climate scientists disparaging global warming deniers, which by itself does nothing to disprove the case of a warming planet. The most prominent e-mail deniers are touting is one from Pennsylvania State University climatologist Michael Mann sent to CRU chief Phil Jones, where Mann wrote, "I've just completed Mike's Nature trick of adding in the real temps to each series for the last 20 years and from 1961 for Keith's to hide the decline." While conspiracy theorists were quick to declare that this was evidence of Mann and Jones conspiring to hide data skeptical of global warming, as Time explains, Jones's "'trick'...simply referred to the replacing of proxy temperature data from tree rings in recent years with more accurate data from air temperatures. It's an analytical technique that has been openly discussed in scientific journals for over a decade -- hardly the stuff of conspiracy." Even conservative writer Megan McArdle has admitted, "I have so far seen no evidence of the kind of grand conspiracy that some critics have charged."

THE MEDIA BOOSTS THE CONSPIRACY: Despite the fact that the e-mails in no way disprove the science of climate change, the mainstream media almost instantly took up the right wing's spin and used it to undermine the case for the existence climate change. NBC's Nightly News with Brian Williams quickly adopted the conservative Climategate smear, asking, "Have the books been cooked on climate change?" Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal accused climate scientists of being Stalinists. A variety of Fox News hosts and guests promoted the e-mails over and over again as refuting the science of climate change. One of the worst media reports on the non-scandal appeared on CBS News. The network reported that the "e-mails seem to show that some of the top experts decided to exclude or manipulate some research that didn't help prove global warming exists," and said that the e-mails could cause the Copenhagen conference to "only produce the framework for an agreement that then will be passed on to next year." The mainstream media's willingness to grant legitimacy to the conspiracy theories has had unfortunate consequences. Two of the scientists whose e-mails were leaked have received death threats, prompting the FBI to launch an investigation. The Saudi negotiator in Copenhagen told the press that his government's "confidence" in the science of climate change " has been shaken" by the hacked e-mails.

THE SCIENCE HASN'T CHANGED: While global warming deniers are trying to use the hacked emails to prove that the science of global warming has been debunked, the truth is that the scientific consensus remains as strong as ever. More than 1,700 British scientists have released a statement affirming their "utmost confidence in the observational evidence for global warming." Meanwhile, a statement from the U.K.'s National Weather Service, the National Environment Research Council, and the Royal Society noted that the 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Assessment, "the most comprehensive and respected analysis of climate change to date, states clearly that without substantial global reductions of greenhouse gas emissions we can likely expect a world of increasing droughts, floods and species loss, of rising seas and displaced human populations." "The content of the stolen e-mails has no impact whatsoever on our overall understanding that human activity is driving dangerous levels of global warming," wrote 25 leading U.S. scientists in a letter to Congress on Dec. 4. After a careful review of the leaked e-mails, the Union of Concerned Scientists concluded that while "they do raise some valid concerns about scientific integrity, they do not indicate that climate data and research have been compromised." Just this week, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) released new data that it had compiled that concluded that 2009 will likely be the fifth-warmest year ever recorded. WMO's data " does not show a slowdown or reversal of the global warming trend." Michel Jarraud, the secretary-general of the WMO, said that if nothing is done to reverse climate change, "cold periods will become less frequent, and heat waves and typhoons will become more frequent and more intense." As Time concludes, "The truth is that e-mails, while unseemly, do little to change the overwhelming scientific consensus on the reality of man-made climate change."
 

 
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