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Critics Slam Fox News for Distorting Global Warming Debate

Critics Slam Fox News for Distorting Global Warming Debate

A leaked email has revealed a Fox News editor telling his staffers to refrain from asserting that the planet has warmed or cooled in any given period without immediately pointing out that such theories are based upon questionable data. Critics say such a directive mischaracterizes the issue of global warming as an even-sided scientific debate when in fact the concept is accepted by a vast majority of researchers.

By John P. Mello Jr.
12/16/10 8:52 AM PT

Critics of Fox News' coverage of climate change issues were given a rich vein to mine in an email from a top editor to his staffers, which was made public recently .

In the email dated Dec. 8 and made public Wednesday by Media Matters for America, Fox News Washington managing editor Bill Sammon instructed staffers to "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," he continued.

Citing "sources familiar with the situation in Fox's Washington bureau," Media Matters, a non-profit organization dedicated to correcting conservative misinformation in the U.S. media, asserted that those sources "have expressed concern about Sammon using his position to 'slant' Fox's supposedly neutral news coverage to the right."

Fox did not respond to requests by TechNewsWorld for comment on Sammon's email.

Political Propaganda

For critics of Fox's coverage of climate change, the email was evidence of the news outlet's bias in covering the issue. "Fox News has consistently delivered false and misleading information to its viewers about the climate crisis," Al Gore, former vice president and Academy Award winner for his documentary on global warming, "An Inconvenient Truth," wrote in his blog.

"The leaked emails now suggest that this bias comes directly from the executives responsible for their news coverage," he continued.

Disclosure of the climate email comes less than a week after Media Matters revealed another Sammon memo instructing staffers to use the phrase "government option" instead of "public option" in their coverage of the health care debate.

"At least with his memo ordering staff members to use the phrase 'government option' instead of 'public option' to describe the Democrats' healthcare reform proposal, Sammon could argue that he was trying to be more descriptive and thus more accurate," 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," he continued. "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."

'Unequivocal' Evidence

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.

The panel's conclusions are based on a large number or lines of evidence, he explained. "If you compare one year to the next, there are wiggles," he acknowledged.

"Temperature does not just go up every year," he continued. "Global warming doesn't mean that that today is always warmer than yesterday. But if you average over the noise of the climate system -- the El Ninos and what have you -- the trend is upward."

Penchant for Fantasy

While almost all of the scientific community accepts that the planet is warming, there are a few members who don't, and Fox uses that to warp the issue in the name of fairness, according to Eileen Claussen, president of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change.

In the name of being fair and balanced, she told TechNewsWorld, Fox "implies that there is an equal number of scientists on all sides of this issue, which is not the case. It's really distorting the facts."

"Fox seems unwilling to accept the facts," she maintained.

"Most media outlets try to have some factual basis," she added. "I think Fox prefers fantasy to facts."


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