Networks Ignore, Newspapers Mock N.Y. Climate Change Conference

     All three networks’ evening news broadcasts utterly ignored a gathering of hundreds of people – scientists, economists, other experts and interested lay people – aimed at dispelling the media myth that there is “consensus” on climate change’s causes, potential effects, and suggested solutions.

     ABC’s “World News,” CBS’s “Evening News” and NBC’s “Nightly News” couldn’t find time in the half-hour broadcasts March 3 to mention the International Conference on Climate Change, which runs through March 4 in New York City.

     Two major national newspapers mentioned the Heartland Institute’s conference, but relegated the story to deep within the papers and downplayed the gathering’s credibility and significance.

     In fact, none of the sources quoted in the major newspapers’ stories addressed substantive points made during the first day and a half of the conference – which ranged from the sun’s effects on the Earth to oceanic cooling cycles and the effects of limiting energy use in developing countries. Instead, newspaper reporters addressed – and distorted – the Heartland Institute’s funding, labeled attendees “deniers,” “flat Earthers” and “lost” and compared the meeting to “Custer’s last stand.” But debunking actual claims made at the conference – well, that might have involved a little work.

     The Washington Post’s Juliet Eilperin noted in a story published on page A16 that the Heartland Institute is “funded by energy and health-care corporations.” She didn’t mention Heartland’s disclaimer that “no contributions from any energy corporations are being used to support this conference.”

     Eilperin downplayed a major aspect of the conference – the release of a report from the “Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change” countering claims made by the United Nations’ Intergovermental Panel on Climate Change.

     “While the IPCC enlisted several hundred scientists from more than 100 countries to work over five years to produce its series of reports,” Eilperin wrote, “the NIPCC document is the work of 23 authors from 15 nations, some of them not scientists.”

     The IPCC is made up of representatives selected by governments – hence “Intergovernmental” – who may or may not be scientists. “Most of the authors are scientists designated by member governments,” the IPCC says on its Web site. The reports may be written by scientists but are also subject to review by member governments.

     But Eilperin’s characterization of the conference couldn’t hold a candle to The New York Times’ Andrew Revkin, whose “Reporter’s Notebook” (read: opinion column) piece on the conference appeared on A20 in his paper.

     Revkin wrote that conference speakers were “trying hard to prove that they had unraveled the established science showing that humans are warming the world in potentially disruptive ways.” 

     He said a diversity of views amongst scientists – the conference features voices from across the global warming spectrum, especially on the causes of climate change – was a “challenge” for the conference’s mission. Maybe that explains why the media include so little diversity in their reports: it poses a “challenge”?

     The newest Special Report from the Business & Media Institute, “Global Warming Censored,” showed the network news routinely shuts out debate on climate issues, even from scientists’ perspectives. In fact, no sources departing from the climate alarmist viewpoint were allowed in 80 percent of the stories studied.

     Revkin included a note about Heartland’s funding and said the group’s “antiregulatory philosophy has long been embraced by, and financially supported by, various industries and conservative donors.”

     Revkin concluded his column by coyly noting that “when an organizer made an announcement asking all of the scientists in the large hall to move to the front for a group picture, 19 men did so,” implying that only 19 scientists were at the conference. If Revkin had paid closer attention, or simply asked conference organizers about the speakers and attendees, he would have learned that about 100 scientists participated in the conference, according to a Heartland Institute spokesman. Those included experts on meteorology, climatology, geology, and physics, representing at least 30 universities.

Finally some balance?

     While most media reports about climate change do not include the balance of the views represented at the conference, stories about the conference made sure to include mocking retorts from environmentalists.

     Frank O’Donnell, head of Clean Air Watch, told the Post’s Eilperin the conference “looks like the climate equivalent of Custer’s last stand.” Eilperin also quoted League of Conservation Voters Gene Karpinski, who said he’s “sure that the flat Earth society had a few final meetings before they broke up.”

     Eilperin did acknowledge that “the media and many politicians [are] now ignoring the climate skeptics.” Eilperin’s New York Times counterpart, Revkin, defended the practice of ignoring climate change skeptics.

     In his piece, Revkin included his own sources of mocking retaliation. He quoted Riley Dunlap, a sociologist at Oklahoma State University who bashed Heartland Institute’s funding. Revkin also quoted Kert Davies, a campaigner for Greenpeace protesting the conference, who called it “the largest convergence of the lost tribe of skeptics ever seen on the face of the earth.”

     In a “Dot Earth” blog post about his story, Revkin later acknowledged that “there is plenty of remaining uncertainty” surrounding global warming, but complained about having to cover the conference – he said writing his pieces took away from family time.

     "Last night I would have loved nothing more than to play a bedtime song for my 9-year-old son, Jack, and then relax with my wife, a hard-working middle-school science teacher," he whined, before further dismissing those involved in the conference.

     “When I’m forced to cover the edges of the discourse,” Revkin wrote, “that threatens to obscure the enormous body of established science that is not in dispute, which should be enough to inform smart policy.” He didn’t point to any specific aspects of the “quirky” conference as a threat to science.

Genevieve Ebel also contributed to this report.