CNN Still Gives Equal Time To Anti-Science Disinformation

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"CNN Still Gives Equal Time To Anti-Science Disinformation"


The bad news: CNN continues to treat basic climate science as a he-said/she-said debate. On Piers Morgan Tuesday night, CNN presented a false balance between well-established climate science and long-debunked disinformation.

The good news: The disinformer CNN ran with last night was Marc Morano aka the Swift-boat Smearer, who has emerged as one of the least effective advocates for unrestricted carbon pollution. Indeed, Morano was so bad last night that even the normally tame Piers Morgan felt obliged to basically call him a liar.

Here’s the video — head vise required:

Yes, Morano’s Gish Gallup was so transparently nonsensical that Morgan broke out of the moderator roll to put his finger on the scale:

I respect that you have views. I don’t think they’re facts. And there are many scientists who would take issue with you about the use of the word ‘facts’.

Given that even Morgan understood that Morano isn’t pushing facts but rather anti-scientific blather, this raises the serious question “Why did CNN put Morano on the air in the first place?”

On CNN’s website, where they give Morano’s BS more equal time, CNN said they invited “a pair of experts whose respective opinions place them on polar opposite ends of the spectrum” and then they write, “Marc Morano presented an alternate theory regarding the impact, and concern, associated with carbon dioxide.” Uhh, no and no.

Morano didn’t present an “alternate theory.” That would have actually required him to not merely rattle off a string of factors many of which were irrelevant to the recent accelerated warming (“tilt of the Earth’s axis” — seriously!) but also to explain what precisely is negating the well-known warming effect of CO2.

And Morano is no “expert,” except at getting paid big bucks to spread disinformation: As SourceWatch explains:

Morano was “previously known as Rush Limbaugh’s ‘Man in Washington,’ as reporter and producer for the Rush Limbaugh Television Show.”

He later joined the right-wing news service CNS:

CNS and Morano were the first source in May 2004 of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth claims against John Kerry in the 2004 presidential election and in January 2006 of similar smears against Vietnam war veteran John Murtha.

Expertise in smearing distinguished Americans was apparently just what Sen. James Inhofe (R-OIL) was looking for, so he hired Morano as his denier-in-chief (see “Inhofe and Morano keep making stuff up“).

Finally, Morano launched a website notable both for having little original content and for promoting the harassment of scientists (see “UK Guardian slams Morano for cyber-bullying and for urging violence against climate scientists“). As Media Matters explains:

His website is sponsored by the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow, an organization that has received funding from oil companies…. His website often publishes the email addresses of scientists, leading to a barrage of hate mail, and he defended a billboard campaign comparing those who accept climate science to the Unabomber, saying it was “edgy.”

Nye was obviously unaware Morano was no expert but a paid disinformer, as evidenced from his attempt to reason with Morano: “Let’s see if we can agree about a couple of things.” As if.

Fortunately Morano was mostly incoherent to CNN’s audience, so the “debate” merely turned into 10 lost minutes of primetime where science and anti-science were given equal billing.

In case you think this was just an off night for Morano, just listen to him on the BBC, appearing on the same show with climatologist Michael Mann. He continues to defend his cyber-bullying.

Bottom Line: The media really needs to stop the false balance, but if they insist on airing the falsehoods of the pro-pollution disinformers, at least we can hope they continue to use their most ineffective ones.

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31 Responses to CNN Still Gives Equal Time To Anti-Science Disinformation

  1. Lore says:

    You know, Nye is really a nice guy, I like him, but he is often brought on the news show circuit to explain the real scientific climate change position and time after time I see him kind of stumble along with explanations.

    We need a better representative against the typical denier flack from rude motor mouths like Morano.

    Get in there Joe!

    • You beat me to it, and put things more clearly and succinctly than I likely would have. Thank you!

    • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

      Having a bumbler would be no accident. CNN is Big Business and its owners would also have investments in fossil fuels, the biggest business in capitalism.

  2. Pennsylvania Bob says:

    Can someone provide the correct link or email for CNN or Piers Morgan directly so we can (politely, but firmly) register our displeasure with this “debate.”

    • kpg says:

      You could tweet him… (I’m going to)

    • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

      Don’t bother. Pachydermatous hide.

    • Belgrave says:

      It would be good to compliment Piers Morgan for politely calling out Morano. The latter is basically a paid thug & bully for the fossil fuel industries. I suspect he’s perfectly aware of the reality of climate change but only interested in the big money he gets for being a paid denialist.

  3. David Goldstein says:

    Thanks for the piece but- for goodness sake, the last time I watched CNN they ran a 1)Natural gas commercial 2) a coal commercial 3) a petroleum commercial all in one segment. Bill Mckibben – a modest, ‘yankee’, gentle man realizes by now that this is a pitched battle. I am not advocating violence but power will not respond to anything other than power. Enough people have to wake up quickly enough to simply demand and end to the reign of fossil fuels. I don’t believe it will happen- from all accounts 4-6 C rise is now very much on the table- but we can try.

    • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

      David I understand your angst, but the gangster plutocrats and their hideous political underlings are gagging for the excuse to crack down hard on environmentalists and other Thought Criminals. Even if no decent person is driven to a rash act, I’m just waiting for a ‘false flag”eco-terrorist outrage’ to give them the excuse. We have to withdraw from the system, follow the path of non-co-operation in autogenocide and hit them in the wallet, the only place they feel pain.

      • Superman1 says:

        Mulga,

        At some point, we need to accept the reality that the game is over. The actions we are taking collectively to address climate change are like those of an American football team that has not gained more than one yard on any play in the game. It is now the fourth quarter, they are behind 95-0, ten seconds to go, and they are huddling about the best way to win.

        Nobody is interested in doing what it takes to have even an outside chance of minimizing the damage. We have become collectively the Jihadist suicide bombers we derided during the Iraq war, but instead of using explosives, our weapon of choice is fossil fuel. Our model is Jonestown 1979, and I see absolutely no evidence of deviation from this model.

        • David Goldstein says:

          The most sobering of all to me is the number of coal fire plants being built in India and China. Really, it is mind numbing. When you see those figures- and these are more than 2 billion people living in nations that have had the stigma of being impoverished and ‘backward’ in many ways…how in the world are they ever going to take those plans off the drawing board?- well, the US and Western Europe can make all the piece-meal efforts they want to reduce emissions but the Math is really, really, really bad for the world. This may be macabre, but I am seeing maybe a total population of 3 billion or so sometime in the not too distant (a hundred years?, 150?) future.

        • Tribe of DAN says:

          Your metaphors are not correct. You should have used “One side is claiming to have won 10,000 to Zero. ‘That’s right, that guy got ZERO votes, here, where WE live’” That would be a more apt metaphor.

    • Superman1 says:

      David Goldstein #3,

      “I am not advocating violence but power will not respond to anything other than power.”

      At some point, sooner rather than later, a number of people are going to have to put their bodies on the line, if there is even to be an outside chance of saving civilization as we know it. But, it has to be targeted surgically if it is to have impact. Jonestown 1979 had many people giving up their lives for no purpose; we don’t need a repeat of that.

      The types of demonstrations you have proposed in the past have little chance of success, because I believe you are aiming at the wrong target. The main culprits are the energy consumers, you and me. We are the ones against whom the main efforts have to be directed. The approaches tend to break down into three categories: incentives, mandates, and the outright use of force. The latter involves physically ‘laying your body on the line’: destroy the energy producing/refining plants; lay down in front of the gas station entrances; block the delivery of jet fuel to the airports. Are you willing to do that, because that is where the real problem lies?

      You’ll never get the mandates necessary to force us to live like the Amish in Pennsylvania for two to four decades as required by the increasingly dire climate model results; there will not be the public support for such extreme measures in a democratic society. If we try to apply economic disincentives, through higher effective taxes, the levels needed for drastic reductions would again not receive the necessary public support.

      While my language about blocking or removing production and distribution facilities may sound extreme, it crystallizes what needs to be done physically or metaphorically. Unless we accept the necessity of this, forget about any hope of solving the climate change problem.

      Thirty years ago, making the necessary transitions to a non-fossil fuel self-sustaining economy could have been done relatively smoothly, although not without some sacrifice. Now, according to the models, we have run out of room. There is no slack remaining, if we incorporate the effects of positive feedbacks in the models. In fact, the reality is probably negative slack.

      • John McCormick says:

        Superman, I take your football score analogy but that is fantasy football because the rethugs did not win the Senate.

        Laying down bodies on the line to do civil and not civil disobedience is rhetoric. Too late. Too little. Too misdirected by too few. Public reaction will not be on the side of those bodies. Street demonstrations are difference from damaging property and creating roadblocks and trying to shut down airports.

        Talking about lifestyle changes among individuals is a feel good. Too small. Too late. Too splintered. Also.

        What I am going to say next might sound like beltway talk but it is undeniable that anything America does to tell the world it is on the path to REAL mitigation begins in the US Congress. There is no disagreement about the value of public sacrifice but individual and unilateral sacrifice by Americans will not get the world to join a global effort to save our children from the chaos.

        So, I would direct the bodies to their precinct captains and Democratic party leaders to demand that candidates for the US Senate and House in 2014 sign a climate change pledge. 20 Senate Dems and 13 rethugs are up for reelection in 2014. We have less than 2 years to turn the Congress around and into action.

        2014 is the line in the sand for me and for civilization. We win the House and keep the Senate and give President Obama the votes he needs, then we have a chance to move the ball. Failing that, we loose 95-0 and should quit the team in disgrace.

        I believe young Americans can be brought into the political fight because they know what is happening but have no channel in which to invest their energy and youthful optimism for change. I know skilled young graduates begging for work in big green organizations only to be turned away…no budget and some of the green geezers in Doha don’t want to give up their paycheck or take a serious salary deduction.

        I know; more of the same crap about politics replacing action. Well, that’s reality. Action starts when McConnell and Bohner are retired and replaced by climate science believers.

        • David Goldstein says:

          All your points are good ones about Congress. Let me just fantasize for a moment here: Obama wakes up one morning, looks at his daughters and thinks, ‘Holy ____, I love them dearly. We are on an imminent path to leaving them and their children and their children a world that is, possibly, fundementally inlivable.” He then thinks to himself, ‘F*#$ the Congress. I don’t care what is politically feasible, I’ve got to at least stand up and speak the unvarnished truth.” Obama proceeds give an ‘extraordinary speech’ on all major networks plainly stating the nature of the emergency and makes his case to the American people. He uses all the leverage of his office to keep making the case. He actually acts like a leader- one who sees where we have to go and starts leading even before ‘conditions are right’. I know this will not happen. But it could- and I believe with all my heart and mind that it is, in fact, the ONLY truly sane course to follow. Anything else is numbed out conformity and evasion of what is evident. A hard pill to swallow for all of us on these sites, I know.

  4. M Tucker says:

    I think this sort of thing, putting on a denier and claiming he or she represents a reasoned skeptical response to the actual science, is typical for most media today. My feeling is CNN looks at the number of denier / anti-science emails, tweets and responses to climate change news posted online and they figure there is still a large number of folks who need to be appeased. So they will put up a denier like Morano or PBS will put up Watts. In the absence of regularly appearing discussion in the media by actual experts those organizations figure that is where the debate is. We do not see regular commercials about the importance of climate change action.

    Right now Obama needs House Republicans to do something they have sworn not to do and taken oaths and pledged not to do: raise taxes on the wealthy and raise the debt limit without cutting entitlements. That is a big deal. He is negotiating with Boehner but Boehner doesn’t even have control over most of the Republicans in the House. He might even get Boehner to agree on something only to find out that the House Republicans will not go along, it has happened before. BUT Obama is out their speechifying. He is giving interviews. He will not stop the messaging.

    My feeling is when Obama decides to do the same with climate change we might see better reporting in the media. When that happens we might see a real debate between experts (Mann and John Christy for instance) instead of a debate between a climate activists (Nye) and an abject denier (Morano).

    Maybe one day the environmental groups will run endless ads about the importance for action like the animal rights or the children’s hunger groups do. Maybe one day…

  5. Nye did an admirable job in staying calm when seated next to a lunatic.

    The fault must be shared CNN and the structure of the media on this one. It seems to me that Morano did so well precisely because he was constrained to the few minutes for his message.

    I have always thought that in an open ended discussion with Morano, et al. that very quickly they would run out of steam. In this spew there was not nearly enough time to meet all of his points of disinformation.

    Morano is a flash debater who will wilt in a longer discussion.

  6. Jack Burton says:

    Sadly Nye is brought on these shows because corporate media know he is a push over for the bully boys who are paid by Fossil Fuel companies to lie and deny and to present deliberate falsehoods. So Nye will be nice and try and present some evidence while being shouted down and laughed at by the paid thugs of the Clean Coal companies.
    Sometimes I despair when the science community refuses to play hard ball with the paid thugs. Nye quite simply isn’t up to the job, I have seen him on lots of corporate media and the deniers and the denial sympathetic corporate hosts easily push him around. It really is time to stop being nice and start being REAL. Or does the science community really want to cave in to big coal and bog oil and let the earth go to blazes just as it is? One wonders when we see the passive defense of climate science when confronted with bald faced liars and highly paid thugs with big mouths and small brains!

  7. Anderlan says:

    Why does Nye mention population? Why confuse people? Population does not necessarily equal higher emissions. That kind of talk is dangerous. Why didn’t he immediately talk about the fact that fossil fuel burning is up 600% since the 1950s, and mention population *after* that *in passing*??

    Bottom line, transitioning energy will ALLOW the population to stabilize and go up, instead of crashing after civilizational collapse. It is not necessarily so that declining population is THE answer to decreasing carbon output. It’s not life, it’s a single technology that we use! Being pro-new energy is being PRO-civilization and technological and scientific process, INCLUDING allowing the population to grow or stabilize.

  8. Ozonator says:

    marc morano still appears to lack a spot on wikipedia. Can he be found with a pentagram on the floor?

  9. Chris says:

    CNN said they invited “a pair of experts whose respective opinions place them on polar opposite ends of the spectrum”

    OK, so next time they have a child abuse story should we expect them to invite someone who is pro-pedophile? That’ll get the ratings up!

    • Tribe of DAN says:

      Sandusky’s view should be included in such a discussion. Why there’s even an established group of those fellows, seeking the acceptance of those not so inclined.

  10. Superman1 says:

    But, CNN is not the only media problem. Consider two supposedly ‘progressive’ sites: Salon and Huffington Post. True, both have ‘Green’ sections, and those are reasonably straight. But, go to the main pages of each newspaper, which is what the average reader will see. It is rare to find even one ‘Green’ article on the main page. ‘Wardrobe malfunctions’: all you could ever want.

    I suspect that, in WWII, most of Pravda was preoccupied with war news after 22 June 1941, when the Soviet Union was attacked by Germany. And, I suspect that, after 7 December 1941, most of the New York Times and Washington Post were preoccupied with war news. Given the potential destructive power of climate change, I would expect in a rational world that most of the front section of any newspaper’s coverage would be preoccupied with climate change. The fact that essentially nothing is being presented in the front sections reflects, in my opinion, the lack of readership interest.

    This comports with what I see in my own community. On our electronic bulletin board, there is zero discussion on climate change, and any attempts to raise discussion are met with absolute silence. And, there are thousands of people who access this bulletin board, and it contains much lively discussion. Except, about climate change.

    I was going to say ‘accept the fact that we’re fighting a losing battle’, but use of the term ‘fighting’ is misleading. We’re doing about as much ‘fighting’ as the residents of Jonestown did in 1979.

    • John McCormick says:

      Superman, you are becoming a favorite. Those dates launched nations to action because the truth was told.

      Our truth needs some of that ‘green’ from some those 2 percenters. We have people of influence on our side who have connections and means to get into deep pockets. We can/must compete with the fossil ad agencies to produce low budget ads; both print and media. What the heck are we waiting for…rain to cancel the game.

      Where are the big thinkers…Wait!! we are the big thinkers. Too removed from the decision makers to implement our ideas. So, start kicking up a fuss among our crowd.

  11. Son of Krypton says:

    It would be nice to see the real balance displayed on the media for once. Maybe add another 32 scientists to Nye’s side vs Morano’s one

    • Tribe of DAN says:

      Amen, brother. Nye was so over-matched and outwitted that he’d need another dozen of his cohort just to reply to facts (yes they were, peers) forwarded by Morano. While the science guy seemed to shake his head as if to say ‘I don’t even understand what that guy just said’.

  12. M Tucker says:

    All those polls that show 60% or 70% of Americans think we should do something about climate change do not reflect urgency. You cannot compare this fight with a real war. WWII disrupted trade and collapsed nations. It killed civilians and made refugees of the rest. If you actually look at the news from the time, beginning in the early thirties, you will see quite a bit of coverage. Sure, most Americans did not pay much attention to what was happening in China but by ’39 they were very aware of what was happening in Europe. We have nothing like that today. No comparison except among those very few who are alarmed by the rate of climate change and the total lack of action to address this crisis.

    We must recognize that there is no poll that tries to measure the level of alarm folks in the industrialized world feel. That is why Bill Mckibben is going on the road: to try to drum up some concern. Even on college campuses the kids might talk about it but they are not alarmed enough to demonstrate. We must also admit the lessons of history. Even with the alarm among college students during the Viet Nam War, even with all the demonstrations, even with the killings at Kent State, even with the constant demonstrations around the White House, nothing was really achieved. America still overwhelmingly elected Nixon to two terms, even after he failed to end the war. He even escalated the bombing, at that time carpet bombing by fleets of B52’s. America rejected the peace candidate and trusted Tricky Dick to a second term. The only reason the war finally ended was because Congress refused to support S Viet Nam when the North broke the cease fire agreement. Congress walked away from all the Vietnamese who had supported America’s war in SE Asia. If Congress had authorized funds the B52’s would have pounded the NVA swarming south to take Saigon.

    Our current situation is nothing like total world war and we have nothing like the response the Viet Nam war generated. If we are finally able to get the kind of passionate opposition to anthropogenic global climate disruption that we saw during the Viet Nam War do not expect immediate action but it might just force the science deniers in congress to change their tune. That is what the Viet Nam demonstrators did to the war hawk, massively anti-communist, domino believing, “bomb them back to the Stone Age” Republicans. Sure, we also had the evening TV news broadcasting scenes of American kids getting torn up in battle and the daily body count, but that is what you get when we have a truly free press and the journalistic guts to report the truth. Right now climate disruption does not get enough reporters with that level of journalistic talent and most Americans who think we should do something have no passion to insist on action.

  13. Tim in CA says:

    I wanted to punch my tv screen when I saw this. I agree that Morano came off looking like a lunatic (what a surprise), but also agree that Nye came off looking unprepared, which is a major problem for climate communication. As Joe points out, any coherent theory that denies anthropogenic climate change must first come along with a coherent theory that dispenses with CO2′s well-known warming effect. The warming effect of CO2 is a direct outcome of quantum physics (absorption and emission spectra of CO2 and earth’s thermal blackbody radiation). The mathematics of quantum theory is the most accurate quantitative theory in the history of physics. Scientists make use of emission/absorption sprecta for different elements for all kinds of mundane applications every day. A denial of CO2′s warming effect is an implicit denial of elementary quantum theory. The many threads of evidence that demonstrate the rise in CO2 and temperature (ice core samples, tree ring data, land surface temperature data, satellite data, etc.) all serve to confirm the underlying physics that says CO2 traps heat (absorbs infrared photons from earth’s blackbody spectra). The theory of global warming doesn’t rest on the correlation between documented increase in CO2 and temperature. Rather, elementary quantum physics predicts global warming, and the overwhelming data pointing to temperature and CO2 increase and correlation is a confirmation of the basic physics. Thus, a denier like Morano, in order to make a coherent case, not only has to dismiss the documented increase in co2 and temperature, he also has to explain why the emission/absorption spectra of CO2 doesn’t work the way quantum theory predicts. Climate communicators need to be clearer that deniers are compelled to supply an alternative to quantum theory. Explained in that way, crackpots like Morano seem even more loony. An overview of this basic explanation can be found here: http://physics.ucsd.edu/do-the-math/2011/08/recipe-for-climate-change/

  14. Robert Nagle says:

    What’s so horrible about this piece is that Morano might sound convincing even to the educated viewer who knows little about climate change. CNN owes its viewers a better selection of guests. I wrote them a nastygram informing them because of this episode, that i would never visit their website again.