Times Public Editor Says ClimateGate Emails 'Not a Three-Alarm Story'

Clark Hoyt defends Andrew Revkin's incomplete coverage of ClimateGate and the Times for not posting the emails on its web site.

In the Sunday Week in Review, Times Public Editor Clark Hoyt took on the controversy over the "ClimateGate" emails leaked from the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia in Britain: "Stolen E-Mail, Stoking the Climate Debate." The text box: "Some say The Times has played down an important story."

Predictably, Hoyt did not agree. Though he gave critics room to make points, the paper's public editor readily signed on to the possibly corrupted conventional wisdom that the science of global warming is settled and that the emails showing sciences behaving badly, while "a story," are not a "three-alarm story."

Never mind that the United Nations relied heavily on CRU's dubious, discredited data, most infamously the famous "hockey stick" graph showing drastically rising modern-day temperatures, to back up its alarmist claims about the dangers of human-caused climate change. Hoyt also ignored evidence that the scientists destroyed their raw data and were actively working to block Freedom of Information requests.

As world leaders prepare to meet tomorrow in Copenhagen to address global warming, skeptics are pointing to e-mail hacked from a computer server at a British university as evidence that the conference may be much ado about nothing. They say the e-mail messages show a conspiracy among scientists to overstate human influence on the climate - and some accuse The Times of mishandling the story.

Although The Times was among the first to report on the e-mail, in a front-page article late last month, and has continued to write about the issue almost daily in the paper or on its Web site, readers have raised a variety of complaints:

Some say Andrew Revkin, the veteran environmental reporter who is covering what skeptics have dubbed "Climategate," has a conflict of interest because he wrote or is mentioned in some of the e-mail messages that the University of East Anglia says were stolen. Others wondered why The Times did not make the e-mail available on its Web site, and scoffed at an explanation by Revkin in a blog post that they contain "private information and statements that were never intended for the public eye." What about the Pentagon Papers? they asked.

Hoyt asked some of the right questions, but had weak answers:

Does Revkin have a conflict of interest, as Steven Milloy, the publisher of JunkScience.com, and others contended? Why didn't The Times put the e-mail on its Web site? And, most important, is The Times being cavalier about a story that could change our understanding of global warming? Or, as The Times's John Broder, who covers environmental issues in Washington, put it, "When does a story rise to three-alarm coverage?"


The biggest question is what the messages amount to - an embarrassing revelation that scientists can be petty and defensive and even cheat around the edges, or a major scandal that undercuts the scientific premise for global warming. The former is a story. The latter is a huge story....So far, I think The Times has handled Climategate appropriately - a story, not a three-alarm story.

Ed Morrissey at Hot Air rolled his eyes:

Hoyt argues that this qualified as a normal story, not the "three-alarm" variety. He reached that conclusion even though (a) the University of East Anglia CRU destroyed its raw data, discuss at length how to destroy evidence for a Freedom of Information request, and dishonestly hid numbers that contradicted their insistence that temperatures were constantly rising. Even Hoyt acknowledges the latter in his missive, even though the New York Times didn't bother to report on the first two aspects of the story....The entire Hoyt article is nothing more than a series of rationalizations in this vein....Rather than report that the UEA-CRU had destroyed its own data sets and conspired to block [Freedom of Information] requests, the Times chose to run stories about how the AGW debate was mainly "settled."