Fox News managing editor Bill Sammon was widely condemned yesterday for an email telling the network’s staff not to report on even the most widely accepted scientific facts without immediately challenging them, as I reported here.
The only ones defending Fox News are, predictably, the originators and repeaters of the very disinformation that FoxNews reporters are being ordered to repeat. The leading online disinformer, discredited former TV weatherman Anthony Watts of WattsUpWithThat, actually went so far as to fabricate phony claims about the email in order to defend Fox News
Yesterday, he wrote (falsely) that it was a “stolen email” and “illegally obtained” — on the basis of no facts whatsoever. In fact, as MediaMatters explained to CP, “
It was provided to us by a recipient.” I think that was pretty obvious from the story and from the email itself, which was clearly sent to a great many people in FoxNews. It would be hard to imagine that no one on the distribution list thought the email was journalistically inappropriate.
So why would Watts make up such a libelous claim, one that is so transparently false and easily checked (notwithstanding the fact that it is his modus operandi)?
He was trying to make a bizarre and torturous equivalence between the massive hack of Climategate emails and Foxgate in order to try to smear Al Gore (and me). #FAIL
Let’s move on to the more interesting, but still erroneous, critique from disinformers like Watts. They claim that Fox News is only following standard “journalistic” practices. First off, anyone who actually believes that FoxNews is following journalistic practices should read Howell Raines: “Why has our profession “¦ helped Fox legitimize a style of journalism that is dishonest in its intellectual process, untrustworthy in its conclusions and biased in its gestalt?”. Raines, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and former NY Times executive editor, explains
For the first time since the yellow journalism of a century ago, the United States has a major news organization devoted to the promotion of one political party”¦. In a bygone era of fact-based commentary typified, left to right, by my late colleagues Scotty Reston and Bill Safire, these deceptions would have been given their proper label: disinformation”¦.
[Ailes] and his video ferrets have intimidated center-right and center-left journalists into suppressing conclusions “” whether on health-care reform or other issues “” they once would have stated as demonstrably proven by their reporting.
As for Fox News, lots of people who know better are keeping quiet about what to call it. Its news operation can, in fact, be called many things, but reporters of my generation, with memories and keyboards, dare not call it journalism.
The Foxgate email sent to Media Matters did little more then confirm what everybody already knew about FoxNews.
But what of the claim that FoxNews in this particular case was just trying to bring fair and balanced coverage to the climate story? Recall that, as MediaMatters explained, the Foxgate e-mail was “sent by Fox News Washington managing editor Bill Sammon “¦ less than 15 minutes after Fox correspondent Wendell Goler accurately reported on-air that the United Nations’ World Meteorological Organization announced that 2000–2009 was ‘on track to be the warmest [decade] on record.’ “
Sammon wrote “we should refrain from asserting that the planet has warmed (or cooled) in any given period without IMMEDIATELY pointing out that such theories are based upon data that critics have called into question. It is not our place as journalists to assert such notions as facts, especially as this debate intensifies.”
As Dan Kennedy, an assistant professor of journalism at Northeastern University in Boston, told TechNewsWorld:
His memo on climate change, by contrast, underscores what Fox has become: not a news organization, not even an honest opinion outlet, but a source of political propaganda. The real obligation of journalists is to help their audience understand that the scientific community is almost unanimous that the climate is changing, that human activity is a major cause and that voluminous amounts of data support that view.
For the record, the 2007 Fourth Assessment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded its review of scientific literature and relevant observations:
Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice, and rising global average sea level.
The key word is “unequivocal,” which is to say, “leaving no doubt.” Remember, every word in this sentence was signed off on by every single member government, including the Bush Administration — twice, since it appears in the Summary for Policymakers of Working Group 1, “The Physical Science Basis” and the final Synthesis report.
For a summary of the underlying data and studies, with charts, see “The complete guide to modern day climate change: All the data you need to show that the world is warming.”
The scientific evidence has become even stronger in recent years — see, for instance, Met Office finds “evidence for man-made warming has grown even stronger in the last year.” And so the traditionally conservative and staid U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the equivalent of our scientific Supreme Court, concluded its recent review of climate science:
A strong, credible body of scientific evidence shows that climate change is occurring, is caused largely by human activities, and poses significant risks for a broad range of human and natural systems”¦.
Some scientific conclusions or theories have been so thoroughly examined and tested, and supported by so many independent observations and results, that their likelihood of subsequently being found to be wrong is vanishingly small. Such conclusions and theories are then regarded as settled facts. This is the case for the conclusions that the Earth system is warming and that much of this warming is very likely due to human activities.
And so it is a scientific “settled fact” that the Earth is warming.
As TechNewsWorld reports in their story, “Critics Slam Fox News for Distorting Global Warming Debate”:
Sammon’s assertion in his email that there is some question that the planet is warming was challenged by experts interviewed by TechNewsWorld. “I don’t know of any scientist who would say that the planet is not warming,” declared John Abraham, an associate professor of engineering at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn.
Abraham, who authored in May a widely disseminated rebuttal of the arguments by skeptics of global warming, added: “Everyone knows the planet is warming. There’s very, very clear evidence of that.”
Richard Alley, an Evan Pugh professor of Geosciences at Penn State University, agreed. “The most recent [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] assessment said warming of the climate system is unequivocal,” he said. The panel is a scientific body, established by the United Nations, to review and assess the most current information on climate change.
So no, it is not journalism in any way shape or form for FoxNews managing editor Bill Sammon to insist that any time an assertion is made that the planet has warmed it must IMMEDIATELY be “called into question.”
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