In a “news analysis” column, New York Times reporter Andrew Revkin lumps together global warming denier George Will, Vice President Al Gore, and President Barack Obama for engaging in “hyperbole,” “inaccuracies,” “overstatements,” and “hype.” Gore and Will are “two leaders of their tribes waving the tribal flag,” said David Ropeik, a “consultant on risk communication who teaches at Harvard University.” Communications professor Matthew Nisbet complained that criticism of George Will “only serves to draw attention to his claims” and “reinforces the false narrative” that “the mainstream press are seeking to censor rival scientific evidence and views.”
Revkin’s article, “In Climate Debate, Exaggeration Is a Pitfall,” fails on several fronts:
Revkin Is Attacking Gore For Trusting The New York Times. In a February appearance before the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Vice President Al Gore included a chart displaying a catastrophic rise in weather-related disasters. Andrew Revkin accused Gore of misrepresenting the data and of “inaccuracies and overstatements.” The chart was constructed in 2008 by New York Times visual op-ed columnist Charles M. Blow, who blamed manmade global warming for the rise. [NYT, 5/31/08] [AAAS, 2/15/09]
David Ropeik Is A Public-Relations Expert For The Bush Administration And Top Corporate Polluters. Revkin quotes David Ropeik, a “consultant on risk communication who teaches at Harvard University,” to paint Al Gore and George Will as equivalently “polarizing figures.” Ropeik is in fact a former television reporter whose public relations company’s website promotes “media training” and “risk communication” for clients like the Bush White House, Dow Chemical, DuPont, Entergy Power Corporation, the Edison Electric Institute,and Foundation Coal Company. Although he used to work at the Exxon-funded Harvard Center for Risk Analysis, Ropeik’s current association with Harvard University is limited to a position at the Harvard Extension School. [Ropeik & Associates: Background, Services, Clients]
Revkin Cites A Paper’s Argument Without Disclosing The Paper Cites Revkin. Revkin writes, “In a paper being published in the March-April edition of the journal Environment, Matthew C. Nisbet, a professor of communications at American University, said Mr. Gore’s approach, focusing on language of crisis and catastrophe, could actually be serving the other side in the fight.” Revkin fails to disclose that Nisbet’s paper relies on Revkin himself to support that argument: “Andrew Revkin, who has covered climate change for nearly 20 years for the New York Times, argues these claims are effectively countered by critics, such as Inhofe, as liberal ‘alarmism,’ since the error bars of uncertainty for each of the climate impacts are much wider than the general link between human activities and global warming.” [Environment, 3/09]
Andrew Revkin genuinely believes that discussion of the real and present danger of climate-related catastrophes is counterproductive to combating global warming. Unfortunately, motivated by that belief, he presented misleading, distorted attacks on political leaders that were backed by commentary from people like David Ropeik, a consultant to the Bush administration and top corporate polluters, and Roger Pielke, Jr., who has testified at the request of Republicans about the politicization of science, written for the Cato Institute, and whose attacks on climate scientists have been repeatedly cited by Marc Morano’s right-wing climate denial machine.
Revkin’s piece on the reality of climate science fails to quote a single climate scientist. Fortunately, he put email correspondence from climate scientist Richard C. J. Somerville in the comment section of his blog. Somerville is scathing, saying that Revkin’s depiction of Gore and Will as equally “guilty” misleaders “doesn’t square with the facts“:
It’s a false dichotomy, and I doubt you could find well-regarded climate scientists who would agree with your framing. Gore is imperfect here and there. Will is just 100% plain dead wrong throughout. There’s a huge qualitative difference between them, and your readers deserve to hear that from you.
Andrew Revkin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, public editor Clark Hoyt at email@example.com, and national editor Suzanne Daley at firstname.lastname@example.org.
At ClimateProgress, Joe Romm writes:
Indeed, if we were to apply his analysis to his own work, then it would be fair to say that there is no difference between Andy Revkin and George Will — especially since Revkin altered a key word in a major report — he exaggerated — to make his case against Gore stronger.
,Meanwhile, the reality of global boiling continues, as found elsewhere in the New York Times: Worst Drought in Half Century Shrivels the Wheat Belt of China — due to overuse and changes in the climate.
Drought Adds To Hardships In California — due to “the snowpack in the Sierra” being “at 61 percent of normal” and “no meaningful precipitation since last March.”
,Kalee Kreider, Gore’s spokesperson, responds on Revkin’s blog:
I am deeply troubled by this article, which contains a number of problems.
First and foremost, it conflates and misrepresents Mr. Gore’s tweaking of a particular slide in his 400+ slide presentation with someone who ignores wholesale the vast consensus that the climate crisis is real, it is caused by humans, and it will get worse unless we solve it. . . Finally, Mr. Revkin fails to quote a climate scientist—such as the chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or Dr. Robert Corell, who chaired the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment, or the scientists at Realclimate.org who reviewed the film, or any number of other experts such as the chair of the American Association for the Advancement of Science–all of whom could have put this entire issue into context. It is unfortunate that he did not.
,At the request of Mr. Ropeik and Mr. Pielke, we’ve modified a line in the post describing their activities.