Climategate was a scandal of corrupt, deceitful, and shoddy reporting. In 2009, as all of the world’s leaders prepared to meet in Copenhagen to tackle global warming, thousands of emails from the University of East Anglia Climatic Research Unit webmail server — a top climate research center in the United Kingdom — were hacked and dumped on a Russian web server. Polluter-funded climate skeptics, along with their allies in conservative media and the Republican Party, sifted through the e-mails, and quickly cherry picked quotes to falsely accuse climate scientists of concocting climate change science out of whole cloth.
The results weren’t pretty — for the credibility and reputation of the news media. As several progressive and environmental organizations wrote in a letter in July 2010:
News outlets across the globe hastily published hundreds of stories — based on rumors, unsubstantiated claims, and the shoddy reporting of their competitors — questioning the overwhelming scientific consensus that human activities are causing climate change. One by one, the pillars of evidence supporting the alleged “scandals” have shattered, causing the entire storyline to come crashing down.
There have been nine independent investigations of the allegations made based on the stolen emails of scientific fraud and wrongdoing, and all of them cleared the scientists. In addition, a Koch-funded project independently confirmed the validity of the data at the heart of the claims of manipulation.
Pollution from burning fossil fuels continues to destroy our climate. There is now a record-breaking Category 4 storm, Hurricane Kenneth, in the eastern Pacific. The real scandal continues to be the failure to report and to act on the incontrovertible threat. Hopefully, journalists have learned their lesson.
Climate scientist John Abraham tells Climate Crocks: “While Texas experiences record droughts that cost $9 billion and while the evidence of climate change becomes more clear, the denialists quit discussing the science. Instead, billionaire oil tycoons continue their personal attacks against scientists.”
Shawn Lawrence Otto responds: “The illegally hacked personal emails go on like this for reams and reams of mind-numbing back and forth that even the climate deniers that are happily hosting them say they haven’t had time to read – they just do text searches for any damning-sounding words they can think of, pull up those highlights, take the ones that seem to confirm their position out of context, and direct attention to them.”
Media Matters‘ Jocelyn Fong agrees with me: “The question is: will mainstream media outlets allow themselves to be made part of a campaign to distract the public from the big picture on climate change? Or will they fulfill their responsibilities as journalists? Looks like we’ll find out if they’ve learned their lesson to research first, then report.”
At Climate Progress, Joe Romm responds: “So again, much ado about not bloody much.”
The Guardian reports: “Norfolk police have said the new set of emails is ‘of interest’ to their investigation to find the perpetrator of the initial email release who has not yet been identified.”
Blue Marble‘s Kate Sheppard: “I’d hesitate to call attention to a bunch of stolen, out-of-context emails at all, except for the fact that part of the reason that Climategate 1.0 was blown so far out of proportion is that most people ignored it for so long and let the denial crowd frame the conversation.”
Journalists have not learned their lesson, it seems. Associated Press reporter Raphael Satter (@razhael) smears the climate scientists with the same charges debunked last year: “Although their context couldn’t be determined, the excerpts appeared to show climate scientists talking in conspiratorial tones about ways to promote their agenda and freeze out those they disagree with.” The Washington Post‘s Juliet Eilperin irresponsibly posits the stolen emails “may ignite a renewed debate, at least among some bloggers and climate-change skeptics, over whether scientists have exaggerated the link between human activity and global warming.”
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