When we last left the New York Times, they were burying the exclusive they got on climate science impacts report that NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco called a “game changer” (see Memo to White House: The NYT buried the “exclusive” you gave them on the landmark U.S. climate impacts report).
[It was, of course, purely a coincidence that, the very same day, they ran a deceptive front-page ad by the company most responsible for pushing disinformation on climate science (see The New York Times sells its integrity to ExxonMobil with front-page ad that falsely asserts "Today's car has 95% fewer emissions than a car from 1970"³).]
One of the ways that the NYT intellectualized burying this landmark report is that they found a serious scientist who appeared 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.”
I said I would email Mike, a friend, to explain this absurd quote. I’ve certainly been misquoted by reporters and bloggers many times, so it’s only fair to allow Mike his full response.
Also, I think this episode provides a very good lesson to anyone who talks to the media on how NOT to get your message out. One of my readers, Anna Haynes, got an even more thorough reply than I did, which she posted here and I’m reprinting below:
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.
I confess I often have the same problem with the media, since I have a great desire to explain things at length, but the longer you talk with them, the more likely they will find a few words that taken out of context will allow them to push the spin they want rather than accurately portray what you are saying.
So this is an important lesson to anyone who talks to the media. Keep it short and when they keep asking you the same version of one question over and over again, they are trying to get you to answer it differently. Don’t do it!