Memo to White House: The NYT buried the “exclusive” you gave them on the landmark U.S. climate impacts report

The big story featured on the NYT website at 11 am Tuesday ain’t about climate:  “With consumers in revolt, it was almost a relief that Tracey Ullman did not shy away from a bit of a roast at American fashion industry’s annual awards night” (see photo below).  This is the NYT as People magazine, except today they are focusing on the wrong set of “hot” people.  Can you find their “exclusive” climate science story on the front page of  It’s harder than Where’s Waldo?  It only made page A13 of the print edition.

Models greeted guests upon arrival at the American fashion industry's annual awards at Lincoln Center.

The biggest U.S. climate science story in a long time is the US Global Change Research Program releasing its long-awaited analysis of Global Climate Change Impacts in United States.

After all, the Bush administration spent eight years muzzling US climate scientists, stopping them from talking to anybody about U.S. climate impacts, and blocking and burying mandated studies of U.S. impacts (see “The four global warming impact studies Bush tried to bury in his final days“).  No surprise, then, that many Americans don’t worry very much about global warming, particularly those who get the news from right wing media (see the deniers are winning, especially with GOP voters or rather only with GOP voters).

Based on media coverage and my conversations with people, I can safely say that it is news to 99.9% of Americans that if we don’t do anything to restrict greenhouse gas emissions we’ll see scorching 9 to 11°F warming over most of inland U.S. by 2090 with Kansas above 90°F some 120 days a year.

The report is embargoed until 1:30 today, but the paper of record was given an exclusive yesterday.  Well, you can look very hard to try to find that story on their website.  Their piece, “Government Study Warns of Climate Change Effects,” is buried, and the reporter actually managed to find a serious scientist to downplay the report’s importance:

Michael C. MacCracken, a leader of the 2000 study and a principal outside reviewer of the current one, said in an e-mail message that the new report was a useful overview of the state of current climate science in the United States, but “there is not much that is new.”

Mike’s a friend, but that quote is absurd.  You could say the exact same thing about the landmark IPCC reports, since they are primarily literature reviews.

Memo to Mike (and NYT reporter John Broder):  This is the first comprehensive government report on climate impacts in the United States in nearly a decade.  It is the first one that includes our new understanding of sea level rise and likely emissions trajectories absent strong national and international action.

Let’s ignore the NYT article and look at the much better UK Guardian‘s piece:

The Obama administration is poised for its most forceful confrontation with the American public on the sweeping and life-altering consequences of a failure to act on global warming with the release today of a long-awaited scientific report on climate change.

The report, produced by more than 30 scientists at 13 government agencies dealing with climate change, provides the most detailed picture to date of the worst case scenarios of rising sea levels and extreme weather events: floods in lower Manhattan; a quadrupling of heat waves deaths in Chicago; withering on the vineyards of California; the disappearance of wildflowers from the slopes of the Rockies; and the extinction of Alaska’s wild polar bears in the next 75 years….

For many Americans, the report released today, entitled Global climate change impacts in the United States provides the most tangible evidence of the economic costs of climate change – from the need to relocate airports in Alaska built on permafrost, to the increased need for pesticides in agriculture, to an electrical grid straining to meet the increased demand for air conditioning in summer and ageing sewer systems brought to bursting point by heavy run-off in 770 American cities and towns.

Scientists and environmentalists who had seen today’s report praised the breadth of its science as well as its accessible language.

“It’s a clarion call for immediate action,” said Amanda Staudt, a climate scientist at the National Wildlife Federation who has seen advanced drafts of the report but not the version released today. “This report basically describes a state of emergency. It says we need to act quickly and decisively. Every state is going to be affected, and every sector of the economy.”

The final draft of today’s report uses climate models to map out starkly different futures if the current generation of Americans fails to act to reduce the carbon emissions that cause global warming.

If today’s generation acts on climate change, the average US temperature will rise 0.4C-1.83C (4-6.5F) by the end of this century, said the draft, which was finalised in April.

If it does not, average temperatures could rise by about 2.1C-4.3C (7-11F) with catastrophic consequences for human health and the economy.

Americans have already been living with evidence of changing climate, the report said. Over the last 30 years winters have grown shorter and milder, with a 2.1C (7F) rise in winter temperatures in the midwest and northern Great Plains. Hurricanes have become deadlier.

If climate change is left unchecked, the future promises to bring even more ferocious hurricanes to coastal regions – in the Pacific as well as the Atlantic, punishing droughts to the south-west, and increasingly severe winter storms in the north-east and around the Great Lakes.

The human consequences, as envisaged by the draft, are similarily catastrophic: potential food shortages because of declining wheat and corn yields in the breadbasket of the mid-west, increased outbreaks of food poisoning and epidemic diseases.

US cities will be choking because of deteriorating air quality; leisure pursuits will disappear. The report predicts that the ski season in the north-east will be 20% shorter. As for summer holidays, 14 of 17 North Carolina beaches will be permanently underwater by 2080, the draft forecasts….

The release appeared timed to help Democratic leaders in Congress meet an ambitious target of passing a climate change bill through the house of representatives by 26 June. The Democratic speaker, Nancy Pelosi, wants to hold a vote before the house breaks up for the 4 July Independence Day holiday….

The report represents the combined expertise of more than 30 scientists working at 13 government agencies dealing with climate change. Although Congress had mandated annual updates on the science of climate change, the Bush administration failed to produce a comprehensive report on climate change impacts. Today’s document is the first such exercise of this magnitude in eight years.

To the Guardian, kudos.  To the New York Times, not so much.

And to the White House, well, next time give your exclusive to somebody who gets its importance….  Have you considered blogs?

31 Responses to Memo to White House: The NYT buried the “exclusive” you gave them on the landmark U.S. climate impacts report

  1. dhogaza says:

    It was totally buried in the print version of the paper, too.

    My edition is published in Tacoma Washington and trucked to Portland, and goes to bed sometime in the evening (they never have late-game scores and stories, for instance, other than at times something like “Yankees scored first run in the second”).

    If I hadn’t been looking for it, I’m not sure I would’ve noticed. I should’ve made note of the page … somewhere in the middle of the A section.

    And, yes, I thought that the quote from MacCracken was a bit odd. My guess is that the snippet didn’t quite come across the way he intended – I wonder what else he said?

  2. max says:

    The NYT reliably disappoints.

  3. Joe says:

    I have emailed Mike. We’ll see what he says.

  4. Rick Covert says:

    No wonder the Times is in such a sorry financial state. Who are they taking the lessons from on managing a paper? Is it AIG or GM?

  5. Just move around the old grey lady and check out the live press conference at 1:30 on the Internet

    News Conference will be Webcast live:

    And a new web site

    Media Advisory


    A comprehensive scientific report on current and pending impacts of global climate change in the United States, and why it is important to act now, rather than later, to minimize those impacts.

    Dr. John Holdren, Assistant to the President for Science and Technology and Director of the White House
    Office of Science & Technology Policy
    Dr. Jane Lubchenco, Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans & Atmosphere and NOAA Administrator
    Dr. Thomas Karl, Director of the National Climatic Data Center, lead for NOAA’s climate services, and a
    lead author of the report
    Dr. Jerry Melillo, Director of the Ecosystems Center at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole,
    Mass., and a lead author of the report
    WHAT: Release of the final report: “Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States” by the interagency Global Climate Research Program
    WHEN: Tuesday, June 16, 2009, 1:30 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time
    WHERE: Eisenhower Executive Office Building ‐‐ Room 350

    News Conference will be Webcast live:

  6. paulm says:

    Climate fatigue maybe?

  7. Tim R. says:

    The temperature numbers in the Guardian story are screwy. Either the Fahrenheit or Celsius numbers need to be fixed. 0.4 C does not equal 4 F.

  8. Modesty says:

    Remember how one year ago Gore gave his July 17 exclusive to AP’s Ron “Keep up the fight, Karl” Fournier?

    Fournier botched the piece and even managed to suggest that Gore referred to coal plants as “ozone-killing.”

    Imagine if the White House had instead wrapped the report release in a celebration of the U.S. taking on Gore’s challenge to Repower America?

    Why is it that our leaders repeatedly shoot themselves in the foot in this way, when it comes to the media?

  9. Rick Covert says:

    “Have you considered blogs?”

    Perhaps the White House should Twitter too. Robert Gibbs is a savy press secretary though so I’m sure he’ll get on it.

  10. paulm says:

    The US public are not going to get excited about climate change unless they are motivated directly …

    a) affected by extreme weather events
    b) some thing like an imposed carbon tax (this is one big benefit of the tax over the cap)

    The urgency is not conveyed by media speak. Words have to be backed up by action.

    A start at phasing out coal plants now unless they become CO2 neutral would be a good start.

  11. Anna Haynes says:

    The author of the NYTimes piece, John M. Broder, isn’t from the Times’s “environmental swat team” ( )

    He also wrote the “Document Is Critical Of E.P.A. On Clean Air” piece last month ( ) – which I think was exposed as misleading, but a quick google didn’t tell me where.

  12. Anna Haynes says:

    I wonder if this piece bypassed the “Environmental SWAT Team” altogether? Did SWAT team editor Erica Goode edit it?

    Oh, to be a fly on the wall at the Times…

  13. Ben Lieberman says:

    John Broder has been a consistently mediocre reporter on this issue.
    When it comes to the environment he seems to specialize in phone-it-in on one hand on the other hand pieces. His reporting displays both a lack of effort and energy and a lack of interest in the subject. I am a New York Times subscriber, and I believe I should be able to expect a lot more, especially given the steep price increases at the paper.

  14. Modesty says:

    Just do it. Then tell a friend or ten or twenty.

    All that’s missing is political will, but political will is–as we know and have been told–a renewable resource.

    Moreover, political will is generated by individuals.

  15. @ Tim R.
    Apologies for the screwy figures in our article – corrected now.
    And thanks to all for the kudos – we like that.
    (I’m head of environment at the Guardian, and we have our own enviro SWAT team)

  16. Rick Covert says:


    I think the Times has itself confused with a cable company. ;)

  17. ken levenson says:

    All the article was missing was a quote from Roger Pielke Jr.!!!!!!

  18. Anna Haynes says:

    > at the Guardian…we have our own enviro SWAT team

    Hmmm – I wonder how much it costs, to get a (paper) subscription to the Guardian in the U.S…

  19. Jim Beacon says:

    Hey, it’s a “New York State of Mind”, waddaya expect?

    As for screwy temperature numbers… why, oh why, do journalists continue to refuse to go to a simple conversion website and translate the science-speak degrees Celsius into American-speak degrees Fahrenheit for their articles and TV broadcasts? For that matter, why do reports put out by American government agencies refuse to publish *both* C and F temperatures side-by-side?

    Does the weather page of USA Today use degrees Celsius? No.

    Does the weather person on the nightly news talk into the camera about degrees Celsius? No.

    How about the morning drive-in radio forecast? Does the weather channel girl with her perfect weather curls natter on about degrees C? No. No.

    Average Americans DO NOT GET degrees Celsius. It’s like if all the prices in the store shelves were printed in British Pounds instead of U.S. dollars figures. Yet all journalists keep on doing it, totally short-circuiting the impact of temperature rise warning in their opening paragraph.

    This is as smart as we can work?

  20. Brett Jason says:

    I suppose there are some journalists who do need a website to convert from C to F, but if they can remember how to spell Britney Spears correctly, sure most can remember that all you have to do is multiple the degrees C of temperature rise by 1.8 to get the degrees F?

  21. Tom Harrison says:

    Wow — that is indeed truly bland reporting. Did I read correctly that the last sentence of the report that “there is not much that is new”? Good lord!

    From the Key Findings section of the report I would summarize: “Fossil fuel use has created a quickly accelerating problem in the US and world. It has already and will continue to affect our water and food supplies, our safety and health, our security. It’s impacts also compound each other, are unpredictable, not fully understood, are not reversible, and which we need to act now to mitigate or adapt to; every day we delay makes the problem less solvable.”

    You know, nothing new. Another day, another global catastrophe. Sure we can mitigate it. But only if we really think it’s important.

    Are we simply incapable of accepting that this message is an urgent one?

    I don’t want to bash the New York Times, or Mr. Broder — they are far from the only culpable party and are actually doing a reasonable, if not stellar job of reporting the larger issue. I have observed this trend, however, to soften or undermine the message of their reporting in ways such as Broder did in the article..

    It may never be right (or helpful) to shout “Fire” in a crowded theater. But it is just as wrong to whisper that it might be cooler in the lobby.

  22. lizardo says:

    Er, I think Bret Jaxon was in too much of a hurry.
    To convert from Celsius to Fahrenheit (and vice versa) is I believe:

    C X 1.8 + 32 = F
    F – 32 X 0.5555 = C

    Also sea level rise is often given in meters which tends to make it not so outstandingly scary under worst case.

    I cruise the guardian website fairly often, not enough,
    Also the Independent

    If you see reporting from Britain from The Times, The Mail, the Telegraph, bring your salt shaker…

  23. lizardo says:

    Oh, and I just noticed buried at the foot of my earthlink welcome page which seems to only have AP feed this raspberry nomination headline:
    “Drier south, warmer north and more bugs.”

    pretty short and benign you’d think and no reference to the real report. And no reporter byline.

  24. Leland Palmer says:

    So, the probable end of the world is not news.

    Anybody think that the New York Times burial of this story was accidental?

    The New York Times is the flagship paper of the Eastern financial establishment, and has been for many decades. The NYT prints what the financial establishment wants printed.

    Our financial establishment in the U.S. was made rich by fossil fuels, “defense”, and banking.

    The fossil fuel industries want to continue to sell fossil fuels, for as long as possible no matter what the consequences. A case can easily be made, looking at the output of such groups as the Heritage Foundation and the Council on Foreign Relations that our fossil fuel industries and our financial elites look forward to the Arctic melting, so that they can go after the fossil fuel resources under our current polar icecap. Check out the Heritage foundation website and the CFR website to confirm this. Especially, look for a series of articles by Scott Borgerson on the CFR website, in which he touts Arctic riches.

    The “defense” industries look forward to a new cold war for Russia over Arctic resources, and may look forward to the chaos caused by global warming, as requiring a lot of weapons. These “defense” companies don’t make any money off of peace and tranquility- chaos is what they prefer. Check out the Heritage Foundation’s website, on which they call for a new cold war with Russia over Arctic resources.

    The banks made out so well on the bailouts, the ones left standing, that they don’t need much of anything, either, IMO. They have made so much more money by feeding on created crises that they probably don’t have much interest in traditional banking. To the extent they do, they likely support the fossil fuel and “defense” industries in their desires for chaos and climate denial.

    The NYT is the flagship newspaper of a financial elite that wants to profit off of denial and chaos, IMO.

    That is why this story was buried, IMO. It’s not just an accident, or incompetence, or “bad” reporting.

  25. Anna Haynes says:

    re “Michael C. MacCracken …[said] “there is not much that is new.”” – I was curious to hear Dr. MacCracken weigh in, unmediated, so I sent an email to the best address I could find for him – “info”, at The Climate Institute – asking what he thought of the article and its use of his words. I didn’t get a response though – so I don’t know if my email reached him.

  26. Anna Haynes says:

    Online today, the NYT has what appears to be a better story (link)- but it’s not in today’s paper paper, that I noticed with a cursory check.

  27. TJeff says:

    Nothing more than a computer generated fairy tale to entertain eco-fanatics and scare everyone else into supporting markey/waxman bill or some version of it. I’ll make a computer generated scenario for you–in 2020 we’ll be using as much coal, oil, nat.gas as we do now and with more nukes.

  28. David R says:

    The only way to get people’s attention is to hype up the numbers to the public and the president. With the NYT pooh-poohing the report, it is best to exagerate the effects of AGW. Another 50% higher should do it. I wonder how much, if any of the report actually got to the president?

  29. Anna Haynes says:

    Response from Dr. MacCracken.

    dhogaza above had said
    > yes, I thought that the quote from MacCracken was a bit odd. My guess is that the snippet didn’t quite come across the way he intended – I wonder what else he said?

    I’d emailed Dr. MacCracken to ask, and tonight* he sent a detailed response:

    No, the New York Times quote did not represent my views, and it did not even represent the reporter’s attempt to portray my comments –I am told the article was edited down a lot from his submission.

    As for me, they quoted 7 words out of a 34 word sentence that was part of a 900 plus word set of comments on the background of this report that also said it was an impressive synthesis. The point I had tried to make was that since the Bush Administration had not supported new regional studies (and had limited the resources the authors could draw on to already published and approved assessment reports) and that there were no regional workshops or studies to draw out new issues and questions from stakeholders, there was not much coverage of new issues. And this is actually true. But the report is overall a new synthesis with updated data, and done very impressively. Having been on the review panel for the report, I had put in a lot of comments and suggestions–and in that way worked to contribute to the synthesis–and I very much support its publication.

    I do, however, believe that it has to be viewed as only a beginning that is focused on issues we have known a lot about for many years. A once every 4 report, as legally required (and this one took 8 years), is not how the American public needs to be served–they need an ongoing assessment process that they can go to to ask questions, get specialized data needed to address their questions, etc. We started that effort over the period 1997-2000, and then it essentially wilted with no attention given to it. This whole effort needs to get restarted and strengthened as climate change is affecting the US now, and preparing and planning now can help to reduce future costs and impacts.

    The NYT ended up ignoring all such talk and pulled the quote out of context. Very poorly done by them–and by me as I should have given them only the 7 words that I would wanted to have them use. I am hoping to meet with the reporter in a couple of weeks when we are both in town and try to work to build better understanding on all of this.

    * He would have answered sooner but didn’t get my (indirectly addressed) email until just recently.

  30. Anna Haynes says:

    re MacCracken’s statement “I am told the [U.S. climate impacts report] article was edited down a lot from his submission” – it does seem ironic that the same day this article was drastically shortened and relegated to page A12, the deceptive Exxon ad showed up on A1.

  31. Anna Haynes says:

    (oops Joe, I’d overlooked the comment where you said you’d emailed him)