UPDATE: Yes, the false accusation that Gore was exaggerating came from none other than Roger Pielke, Jr. And yes, I just re-confirmed with Gore’s office that Pielke is as wrong today in his false claims as he was 2 years ago (here). Pielke has enlisted Anthony “shout them down in the comments section” Watts in his effort smear Al Gore and me and anyone who tries to explain the science of how global warming is driving more extreme weather.
In 2009, the Washington Post printed a remarkable number of dreadful pieces on global warming — including one by Bjorn Lomborg, two by Sarah Palin (!) and, most infamously, three by George Will that shockingly repeated global warming lies the Post knew were lies (see short list here).
Gawker weighed in with, “The Washington Post Has the Worst Opinion Section in America,” explaining they “openly allow George Will to lie, to straight-up lie, without fact-checking or corrections.” The Columbia Journalism Review called it The Will Affair.
So who could possibly do a media analysis that concluded the Washington Post covered climate well in 2009? Hint: It’s the same person who utterly misanalyzed the spending data to conclude climate bill opponents were outspent by proponents. The answer is after the jump, as if you didn’t already know….
In the umpteenth evisceration of Matthew Nisbet’s widely debunked “false narrative” — the Climate Shift report — Tim Lambert (Deltoid) redoes Nisbet’s media analysis and, surprise, surprise finds it as thoroughly lacking as everything else in the report.
Lambert takes as his entry point the piece Time‘s Bryan Walsh did on the report:
Look at Walsh’s summary of one of Nisbet’s key findings:
Mainstream news coverage–New York Times, Washington Post, CNN.com, Politico and Wall Street Journal–of climate change in 2009 and 2010 actually represented the general scientific consensus on the issue: that global warming is real and that manmade greenhouse gas emissions are a main driver. The idea that the media has engaged in “false balance” in reporting on climate change is, in Nisbet’s view, false.
Compare with Nisbet’s own statement of that finding:
In 2009 and 2010, at The New York Times, The Washington Post and CNN.com, nine out of 10 news and opinion articles reflected the consensus view on the reality and causes of climate change. At Politico, at least seven out of 10 articles portrayed the consensus view.
Did you notice which news source wasn’t mentioned? Nisbet’s analysis found that the Wall Street Journal did engage in “false balance”, but he did not mention this in his key finding. He also downplayed the substantial presence of false balance at Politico.
I was intrigued by some of the other numbers in Nisbet’s paper. He found that in the Washington Post in the 11 months before Copenhagen, 93% of the articles reflected the scientific consensus, 5% were falsely balanced and just 2% dismissive of the consensus.
This suggests that “false balance” was all but absent from the Washington Post during that period, when in fact the Washington Post was indulging in a pathological version of false balance, deciding that George Will was entitled to his own facts. In the Washington Post a statement from the Polar Research Group can be balanced by a falsehood from George Will about what the Polar Research Group said.
I decided to look at the those articles myself. I selected the sample in the same way as Nisbet, except that I used Factiva rather than LexisNexis, and used all the articles rather than 1 in 4. I found that 110 (76%) reflected the consensus view, 28 (19%) were falsely balanced, and 7 (5%) were dismissive. Falsely balanced articles reporting on the science (like this one) were very rare. Instead, the falsely balanced articles were about politics, with the science being balanced by a statement from Inhofe that it was all a big hoax.
That means the Washington Post coverage (news and opinion) before Cophenhagen was comparable to the Wall Street Journal‘s!
NISBET AND WILL
Oh, but there Lambert and I and all fact-based people go criticizing Will’s repeated lies again — falling into the very trap that Nisbet warned about at the end of a 2009 Revkin story in the NYT that falsely equated George Will with Al Gore:
But Dr. Nisbet said that for Mr. Will, there was little downside in stretching the bounds of science to sow doubt.
Criticism of Mr. Will’s columns, Dr. Nisbet said, “only serves to draw attention to his claims while reinforcing a larger false narrative that liberals and the mainstream press are seeking to censor rival scientific evidence and views.”
Will wasn’t “stretching the bounds of science.” He was lying. Making stuff up. Repeating long-debunked myths….
George Will writes a column published in hundreds of newspapers and read by millions and millions of people “” and [Nisbet says] the proper strategy to deal with this broad-based disinformation effort is “¦ to say nothing? Gosh, I really hope Will doesn’t start writing about how cigarette smoking is actually good for you….
It boggles the mind that any serious reporter for the New York Times would quote such an inane point of view, let alone present it with no response whatsoever.
As a fascinating aside, Revkin’s false accusation that Gore was exaggerating came from none other than Roger Pielke, Jr. — a charge completely debunked here. Now Pielke, purely coincidentally no doubt, just so happens to be 1) a paid independent “reviewer” of Nisbet’s report, 1) a big champion of Nisbet’s report on his blog, and 3) a senior fellow at the Breakthrough Institute whose primary foundation funder — Peter Teague of The Nathan Cummings Foundation — is the sole funder of Nisbet’s report. And purely coincidentally no doubt, the Nisbet report pushes Breakthrough’s false narrative. It’s like a false narrative industrial complex. But I digress.
MORE DEBUNKING OF NISBET’S FALSE MEDIA NARRATIVE
Nisbet’s media analysis has been widely debunked. MediaMatters eviscerated it here: “Report Glosses Over Media Failures In Climate Coverage.”
For completeness’s sake, I’ll update my earlier debunking. I interviewed a number of media experts about Nisbet’s report, including Max Boykoff, one of the country’s leading authorities on the media coverage of climate. Boykoff was also a paid expert reviewer, and, like Brulle, he also didn’t see the finished report or Executive Summary until it was also distributed to the press.
- Nisbet in Exec Sum: “The era of false balance in news coverage of climate science has come to an end. In comparison to other factors, the impact of conservative media and commentators on wider public opinion remains limited.”
- Max Boykoff: “This particular conclusion reaches beyond the findings in the study.”
- Brulle: “I think this conclusion is bogus.”
So, like the financial analysis, the second, shaky pillar of Nisbet’s analysis is built on quicksand.
Boykoff explained to me that he stands behind his 2010 analysis that “exaggeration of outlier voices ["denialism"] continues within the U.S. media” (see Boykoff on “Exaggerating Denialism). Both he and Brulle believe the impact of the disinformation campaign and media miscoverage can’t be dismissed. Many other experts ignored by Nisbet agree.
Amazingly, Nisbet, who doesn’t do any analysis of his own on the impact of Fox News, repeatedly asserts that watching Fox News has no net impact on viewers since but merely reinforces the views of those who choose to watch it (p. 66):
“¦ the use of conservative media outlets such as Fox News and focusing events such as Climategate tend to reinforce existing views about climate change rather than altering them.
The problem for Nisbet is that both of the major papers he cites on the subject come to a different conclusion. In particular, he cites a study led by Jon Krosnick of Stanford, “Frequent Viewers of Fox News Are Less Likely to Accept Scientists’ Views of Global Warming.” Nisbet claims this is an accurate reading of the paper (p. 67):
Krosnick attributes the findings to motivated reasoning. Conservative-leaning individuals who already hold stronger doubts about climate change are more likely to view Fox News, and this viewing reinforces these doubts.
But that isn’t what Krosnick’s paper concludes, as anyone can see. Krosnick notes that his “Figure 1 shows how more exposure to Fox News was associated with less endorsement of the views of mainstream scientists about global warming,” and says while he can’t know for sure whether people were persuaded by Fox or selectively chose Fox:
We therefore suspect that the relations documented in Figure 1 are likely to result from a combination of persuasion by Fox News coverage and of selective exposure by Republicans and conservative viewers to Fox News.
I called Krosnick up and checked this with him. He confirmed my reading. Nisbet mis-cited him.
Nisbet himself correctly notes that the second study he cites, “Climate on Cable: The Effects of Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC on Global Warming Beliefs and Perceptions,” led by Feldman found that “the views of Republicans on climate change may be less solidified than Democrats, thereby making them more easily influenced by the content of cable news,” specifically Fox News. In fact, Feldman’s study itself explicitly says its findings are “suggestive of direct persuasion, whereby the views of conservative-Republicans are reflective of the cable news outlet they watch.”
So the two key papers Nisbet cites find that the viewers of Fox News’ biased climate coverage are less likely to accept scientists’ views of global warming “” and that direct persuasion appears to have played a role in shifting their views. So much for his Exec Sum assertion “The era of false balance in news coverage of climate science has come to an end.” For more background on why Nisbet’s claim is absurd, see “Foxgate: Leaked email reveals Fox News boss Bill Sammon ordered staff to cast doubt on climate science.”
Nisbet’s entire media analysis — like his entire financial analysis — is inaccurate and untenable, just as his comments on Will and Gore were 2 years ago. Nisbet has been pushing this false narrative on the media for years now. The only thing that has changed is that Nisbet backs up his false narrative with an analysis of a few print and online news sources — which has now been completely debunked.
The Nieman journalism ‘watchdog’ at Harvard reposted my initial critique of Matthew Nisbet’s Climate Shift report with the headline, “Killing a false narrative before it takes hold.” Sadly, the false narrative lives on.
I’ll end this post the way Lambert ends his post, with an extended excerpt from an amazing David Roberts post at Grist:
The most puzzling part of Walsh’s post, though, is his umbrage that Joe Romm is trying deliberately to “kill a false narrative.” Walsh says, “as a journalist I’m not a huge fan of being told what I should and shouldn’t think.”
But, but [splutter] … what is Nisbet’s report if not a carefully constructed and packaged narrative designed to tell Walsh and others what they should think? In fact, the entire Breakthrough assault on environmental groups, begun in 2005, has been one of the most adept and skillful constructions of a media narrative I’ve ever witnessed. They and their acolytes are brilliant at manipulating the professional mores and self-images of journalists. By contrast, love him or hate him (and I’m a lover), Joe Romm is not exactly a slick media spin artist. He doesn’t seem to know any way of communicating other than by stating, in the strongest possible terms, what he believes to be correct. He doesn’t couch his criticism in the sort of soothing, this-side, that-side, we’re-all-reasonable-people throat clearing that attracts the admiration of Serious People. He just blasts away, all guns blazing; he can’t help it. Whatever you call that, it’s hardly a devious strategy to control Bryan Walsh’s mind. It’s pretty above board! The guy who really wants to manipulate your narratives, the guy who’s good at it, doesn’t tell you he’s doing it. After all, here’s Walsh scolding greens for not meditating on the conclusions of a report based on numbers he admits are dubious. Looks like someone succeeded in capturing the narrative, and it wasn’t Romm.