PBS Gets Gored in Climate Debate

By Keith Kloor | June 23, 2011 8:29 am

Oh, the irony.

Yesterday, Rolling Stone magazine posted Al Gore’s 7,000 word essay, which is critical of the media’s (and President Obama’s) handling of climate change. That same day, the highly respected PBS news show hosted a discussion of Gore’s essay. Instead of inviting non-partisan environmental scholars or political scientists to analyze the essay’s premises, PBS went with three agenda-pushing wonk/pundits that reflected the left wing/right wing spectrum.

One of them was Ken Green, a resident scholar at the conservative/libertarian-oriented American Enterprise Institute.  At one point in the discussion, Gwen Ifill, the PBS host, unintentionally gave him an opening to hijack the discussion.  According to the transcript, here’s the exchange where Green does his best Marc Morano imitation. What follows requires serious unpacking. But first read it through:

GWEN IFILL: Are we having the right argument? Is — are the climate skeptics being given too much, too little attention?

KENNETH GREEN: We’re beginning to actually have the right argument, which is interesting.

You have Andy Revkin at The New York Times, an environmental reporter, seriously upset over the fact that the U.N. IPCC, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, let a report on renewable energy be written by the Sierra Club.

And this is a huge scandal of unprecedented proportions.

GWEN IFILL: Is that true?

KENNETH GREEN: And some in the environmental left reporting community are furious, they are livid over what’s been done, and the discrediting that’s going happen to the entire U.N. environmental movement.

So, I think now we are beginning to have the right debate. It’s no longer, oh, there’s only a few cranks and, oh, there’s a few people with tinfoil hats. There’s a real problem with the politicization of climate science. And now, if we have that debate, I think that’s…

DANIEL WEISS: But, Ken, that politicization has occurred on the right. The National Academy of Sciences just released a report two months ago that found that 96 percent of all the global warming studies that have been peer-reviewed by scientists were all pointed in one direction, increase…

KENNETH GREEN: But, Dan, it takes two to tango. It takes two sides to tango.

Yikes! Let’s start at the top, when Ifill asks, “Are we having the right argument? Is — are the climate skeptics being given too much, too little attention?” Hello, the debate was was supposed to be about Gore’s essay.

Green, of course, thinks its a terrific “argument” to have. And then he uses Andy Revkin in an egregiously misleading fashion to help make his argument: “You have Andy Revkin at The New York Times, an environmental reporter, seriously upset over the fact that the U.N. IPCC, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, let a report on renewable energy be written by the Sierra Club.”

Just about everything about that statement is factually incorrect. Or as Revkin himself puts it:

I’m cited (inaccurately) by Green for my concerns on the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report on renewable energy. (He mashes up the Sierra Club with Greenpeace and misses my main concern about the report, which was over the lack of transparency, not the unsurprisingly involvement of an environmental group.)

In the next breath, Green grossly exaggerates: “And this is a huge scandal of unprecedented proportions.”

At this, Ifill’s BS antenna goes up: “Is that true?”

To which Green conveniently ignores her and moves right along to expand on this “huge scandal” and “why we are beginning to have the right debate. It’s no longer, oh, there’s only a few cranks and, oh, there’s a few people with tinfoil hats. There’s a real problem with the politicization of climate science. And now, if we have that debate, I think that’s…”

At this point, Daniel Weiss, who is director of climate strategy for the Center for American Progress, cuts in and soon the debate lapses into the both sides are guilty narrative.

Game over. Green wins because a discussion that was supposed to be about whether Obama is doing enough on climate change morphs into a discussion of the latest “huge scandal” in the climate concerned community and the politicization of climate science by both sides.

All in all, the exchange is a perfect distillation of not just the impoverished public climate debate (represented by ideological combatants on TV), but also the cynical tactics employed by some partisans.

  • Ben

    Green would obviously be there to push the conversation in that direction. If PBS really wanted to discuss Gore’s essay, why bring a skeptic/conservative on in the first place? What did they expect him to say, that Gore is right and Obama hadn’t done enough?

     

  • Matt B

    Hey Keith,

    Thanks for pointing this out. I understand and agree with your point that this guy Green is not at all helping to advance the dialogue, & doesn’t come across as the sharpest knife in the drawer to boot. A fair question is, who is Ken Green? and who picked that guy? Is he the best denier that PBS can find?

  • Marlowe Johnson

    if they were set on having someone from AEI, one wonders why they didn’t pick Ken’s colleague Steve Hayward, one of the co-authors of ‘Post Partisan Power’…

  • http://collide-a-scape.com Keith Kloor

    Good point, Marlowe. Maybe they asked and he wasn’t available. Regardless, given his role in authoring a bipartisan paper on energy policy and climate change, he would have been perfectly suited for the discussion.

  • Dean

    So they proved Gore’s point without even discussing it.

  • klem

    “Game over. Green wins…”

    You’re correct, Green wins. Who cares ‘what Gore said’ in his boring 7000 word gripe. Climate is entirely political now, its Dems against Repubs, left against right. What I care about now is trying to minimize the damage that Gore and his climate fear mongering have done over the pst 10 years to the environmental movement (of which I have been an active member since 1970).

  • Brandon Shollenberger

    I’m at a bit of a loss here.  Green’s primary point seems to be:

    It’s no longer, oh, there’s only a few cranks and, oh, there’s a few people with tinfoil hats. There’s a real problem with the politicization of climate science.

    He was asked if skeptics are given too much/too little attention.  He gave an example of a skeptic argument getting more attention and said it was a good thing.  His inaccuracies are obviously embarrassing and unacceptable, but I don’t see any “cynical tactics.”

  • Marlowe Johnson

    pretty much.

  • Jeff Norris

    Keith
    The discussion was not about whether Obama is doing enough on climate change.
    Gwen Ifill opening statement was.

    GWEN IFILL: Now to the politics of climate change. Former Vice President Al Gore, writing in an upcoming edition of “Rolling Stone” magazine, takes President Obama to task in an article titled “Climate of Denial.”

    It was going to be a political ideological centered discussion right from the start, with all the misrepresentations, mudslinging, and outright lies that are allowed and even encouraged to happen in those types of discussions.  Gwen Ifill or her producers invited political gladiators to come   into the Arena and you are surprised a bloody cheap shot fight broke out.

    Keith how many of the participants including Ifill do you think actual read Gore’s 7,000 word essay.  Generally speaking it would take  a half hour to a full hour to critically read an essay like that.  Truthfully you should read it once and then go back and read it again  making any evaluations and notes as you go.  Do you think anybody on that show did that?     Hot news, got make a splash, don’t have time to do it right, call around and see who is available.    Don Henley’s “Dirty Laundry” sound familiar.

  • http://bigcitylib.blogspot.com bigcitylib

    After having read you and Lynas, who would NOT think it was a scandal of overwhelming proportions?  Hell, I think Lynas is up to four posts on the topic.  Look in the mirror, buddy.

  • Marlowe Johnson

    Keith do you have any comment on Gore’s primary critique; namely that the MSM is failing the public on this issue? I thought media bashing and climate change was your bete noire….

  • http://rankexploits.com/musings lucia

    Does your link go to the honest to goodness essay? What’s to discuss? Our views on pro-wrestling? Whether we are surprised to learn lobbyists are more numerous than Congressmen?  Our answers to Gore’s question “Would Michael Jordan have been a star if he was covered by four defensive players every step he took on the basketball court?” Whether the tired allusion to tobacco will become convincing the 11 billionth and first time it is used?

    I’m not surprised the content of Gore’s essay wasn’t discussed; there’s very little there to discuss.
     

  • Jeff Norris

    Lucia
     Anthony has a link to the whole article at WUWT.  I copied it below.  I will now take the time to read it.  Before opening my big mouth.
    Lucia and Marlowe not really a shot but have either of you actually read the article completely?  I just feel that often people, myself included don’t take time to investigate for ourselves and rely on what others say.
    Do any of you think the commenters on NPR actually read the article or did they rely on assitants or worse the press release on what the article was going to say?

    http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/climate-of-denial-20110622

  • Brandon Shollenberger

    Jeff Norris, I read Gore’s essay first.  It is terrible.  As an indication, this is near the beginning:

    This script, of course, is not entirely new: A half-century ago, when Science and Reason established the linkage between cigarettes and lung diseases, the tobacco industry hired actors, dressed them up as doctors, and paid them to look into television cameras and tell people that the linkage revealed in the Surgeon General’s Report was not real at all. The show went on for decades, with more Americans killed each year by cigarettes than all of the U.S. soldiers killed in all of World War II.
    This time, the scientific consensus is even stronger.

  • http://rankexploits.com/musings lucia

    Jeff Norris

    Lucia and Marlowe not really a shot but have either of you actually read the article completely?
    I read the article at this link completely before I posted my comment:

    http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/climate-of-denial-20110622

    I did not read anything about it at WUWT. So whatever was written there did not color my views on the article.

    I have no idea if people at NPR read the article.  I haven’t read what people at NPR said about it; I have not read the press release for the article. (I’m mystified why that rather short article would have a press release.  ) I read the article itself, I read Keith’s blog post and I read some comments here.
     

  • harrywr2

    @Jeff Norris,
    I just read Gore’s piece…read like the Pot calling the Kettle black to me.

    Just bad mouthing ‘Polluters and Idealogue’s’.

    If PBS was going to talk about Polluters and Idealogues then Al Gores travel habits and ostentatious lifestyle would have been the discussion.


     

  • Bill

     Impressed with the dedication of people who can read a 7000 word essay by Al Gore. Or do you just have an unhealthy fascination with the psychopathology of aging white males? Al sure loves Capital Letters, dont he?

  • Brandon Shollenberger

    lucia, are you sure you read the entire article?  It is about 7,000 words, so it’s strange to hear you say it is a “rather short article.”  Also, everything you referenced was on the first page, but there are seven more you never cite from.

    Did you perhaps miss part of the article?

  • Jeff Norris

    Brandon

    I cannot say that the Essay is terrible because it is a classic information and interpretation Op Ed piece.

    Al lays out only the information that supports his position and surprisingly it supports his interpretation of what needs to be done.   Shocking.  He hit most of the ideological buttons big business, rich people, Bush lied, and labor unions need help.

    I liked the fact that he mentioned pollution over and over but only wrote CO2 once.

    His criticism of the media is a little perplexing.

    Al probably is no history major otherwise he would know that half if not more of those early papers were ads for ship’s cargo and businesses.  It was that revenue that paid for all those pamphlets that he waxes nostalgically for.  Publishers rarely went out of their way to publish unpopular items; in fact quit a few papers were put out of business, editors physically attacked for going against popular opinion sometimes even a minor opinion.  Is that what Mr. Gore longs for?  I being sarcastic but his suggestion of activism against the media can easily be pushed to intimidation by those who feel the system is “rigged by special interests” as he put it. 

  • Jeff Norris

    Lucia

    Thanks for not pointing out in retrospect a stupid and insulting question to you and Marlowe.

    Keith might be able to answer the Press Release question, based on how quickly articles came out on the net I feel there was either an advance copy or some sort of notification prior to 7:45 am the 22nd.

    Brandon she was referring to Keith’s link that only went to that page.  Her definition of short is probably based on reading long Technical papers.

    Mess with her at your own peril.  :)

  • http://rankexploits.com/musings lucia

    Brandon–

    Yes. I read the article. It’s pretty short to actually have a press release. This isn’t exactly an thick IPCC report. It’s something someone can read in less than 30 minutes.   In other words: Short.  Yes, the stuff I mentioned is from the front page.  But the organization is rather diffuse.  I don’t see how hunting for examples on other pages would have made my point any different.

    So, now that I said I read it two times what substance is one supposed to discuss about the thing?

  • EdG

    Pinnochio-o-rama:

    “DANIEL WEISS: But, Ken, that politicization has occurred on the right. The National Academy of Sciences just released a report two months ago that found that 96 percent of all the global warming studies that have been peer-reviewed by scientists were all pointed in one direction, increase”¦”

    I’d have to award Weiss the Pinnochio Award.

    At least he didn’t use the ‘97% Consensus’ (75/77) fairy tale too… or did he?

    In the meantime, how many times did Gore use the word ‘denier’ in that piece? This charlatan is hurting his supposed cause.

  • EdG

    Oops. Accidentally bold! Presumably due to pasting that quote. Sorry.

  • EdG

    “In the next breath, Green grossly exaggerates: “And this is a huge scandal of unprecedented proportions.””

    Well, everything is “unprecedented” these days, according to promoters of the ‘climate crisis’ so this word has been rendered meaningless.

  • Ed Forbes

    Green seems pretty solid. At he wants to talk, not just shut down debate.

    http://www.american.com/archive/2011/june/with-climate-change-life-imitates-art

    “..For some time now, the green climatists have had a fairly straightforward litmus test: it was basically “you’re with us, or against us.” Anyone who differed in any way from the green-climate orthodoxy, in which “unequivocal” planetary peril mandates an immediate, hard-left restructuring of the global economy, was tagged as a “climate denier,” a not-at-all veiled implication that one has the moral fiber of those who deny the holocaust.*..”

    “”¦The Right has refined their tolerance equation to match that of the Left: “you’re either with us or against us.””¦”.
    “..I suppose (though I’m not sure how) this might be good politics, but I don’t think this development is any healthier for the climate-policy discussion than the “denier” motif that went before”¦”

  • Ed Forbes

    Keith: “..Rolling Stone magazine posted Al Gore’s 7,000 word essay, which is critical of the media’s (and President Obama’s) handling of climate change…”
    .

    Steve Hayward also touches on this.
    http://www.american.com/archive/2010/june-2010/environmentalists-as-battered-spouses

    For a long while now, I’ve thought the environmental establishment was the political equivalent of a cheap date for Democrats.
    .

    Now I’m starting to think “cheap date” isn’t a strong enough simile. Environmentalists are much more like battered spouses, returning again and again to their abuser based on another promise to do good
    .
    Greens keep returning to their abuser after another promise to do good, but nothing in President Obama’s oil spill speech should offer them any hope that the administration is really going to change.

  • Brandon Shollenberger

    lucia, I just wanted to check since I wasn’t sure.  I’ve seen press releases for papers far shorter than that article.

    Personally, I don’t think the article contributes anything of value, so I have no idea what “should” be discussed.

  • Jeff Norris

    Here are Gore’s main points IMO.

    1.       Recent global weather events prove or are at least in line with AGW Theory
    2.      The media is being unduly influenced or is controlled by special interests
    3.      The media is wrong not to present AGW is fact and should not focus or report on any mistakes perceived or actual of the science and or policy.
    4.      President Obama has not focused enough attention or effort in supporting AGW Theory and implementing proposed solutions.

    Marlowe suggested Media bashing and that has been my hobby horse as of late.  I think point 4 could be fun.  Essentially Gore is asking Obama to commit political suicide. 

  • Brandon Shollenberger

    Jeff Norris, you reminded me of something.  I had never heard anyone say mudslides are caused by global warming prior to that article.

    Has anyone heard that one before?

  • EdG

    Jeff Norris Says:

    “Here are Gore’s main points IMO. 

    2.      The media is being unduly influenced or is controlled by special interests”

    This seems to be a perfect example of how deluded Gore is. Look at the MSM. Not just in the US but UK, Australia, or Canada. With rare exceptions, it is basically the propaganda arm of the AGW industry. Never cover anything inconvenient but relentless coverage of anything that fits the story.

    It was much worse before Climategate – which the MSM was almost totally silent about, only to pop up to promote the results of the whitewashes – but their latest trick is their more subtle support of the ‘climate disruption’ or ‘wierding’ story by having an almost daily feature on some unusual weather event. Even on a slow day they can come up with footage of some minor mudslide in Bolivia which is irrelevant and never would have been seen on any media without the ubiquitous presence of video cameras everywhere.

    The results are like those for the perception of crime – statistically down nut brainwashed perception thinks it is up.

    Like most of what Gore says, this media critique is nonsense. Where is his ‘evidence’ of this bias? It does NOT exist. Like the rest of his ‘evidence,’ it is in his failed imagination.

  • http://rankexploits.com/musings lucia

    I’ve seen press releases for papers far shorter than that article.

    Sure, but journal articles are of a different nature than this diffuse opinion piece by Gore.  What Gore wrote seems to me  mish-mash of blog posts spouting his opinion about lots of things, arguing by making analogies ( wrestling), advancing claims with little or no evidence– often he doesn’t even bother with anecdotal evidence.

    So we learn: He thinks Obama should be leading more on climate change. He thinks the press is somehow biased by presumably the wrong special interests. He insinuates some unnamed congressmen are taking bribes from some unnamed people. He seems to think we should interpret  every weather event to scaremonger.  On the one hand: there are lots thought-blobs to discuss. On the other hand: Which? Is anything the main point? Or is the main point just: “I, Al Gore, former vice president, wrote 7,000 words hoping it will get the media discussing climate change for the next few weeks”? (As if they don’t discuss it anyway.)

  • http://collide-a-scape.com Keith Kloor

    Jeff Norris (28),

    Given the slow economic recovery, the emergence of the Tea Party, various other political developments, not to mention the onset of another Presidential election, I’d think you are right when you say this:

    “Essentially Gore is asking Obama to commit political suicide.”

    Now, post 2012 and a presumed Obama reelection, I’d say Gore and other green critics would have a solid case to make if Obama stays silent on climate change and doesn’t attempt to move the ball.

  • Susan Anderson

    I came over here expecting to find something to complain about but think this is an excellent factual article and thank you for a very clear exposition of what happened.  In addition to the likelihood of professional fake skeptics to succeed in implanting their barbs, experts being 97.4 to 2.6 percent, then 2 to 1 is weighting 67:33. When form can be used to diss content, it will be.  I hate to use the untruth word, but there it was large as life.

  • Jeff Norris

    Keith (32)
    I agree he will have the opportunity to attack GW  and he will if elected to his second term providing also  that the congress shifts in a more balanced or left direction.  Like it or not his election and the Dems in general depends on the economy.
     

  • Brandon Shollenberger

    lucia, I think you nailed it:

    “I, Al Gore, former vice president, wrote 7,000 words hoping it will get the media discussing climate change for the next few weeks”?

  • BBD

    Keith

    While not disputing anything you say, I am a bit concerned that the naughty bit about the SRREN report is being forgotten.

    Press release, not study, made sure that ‘80% renewables by 2050′ hit the headlines.

  • GregS

    GWEN IFILL: Are we having the right argument? Is “” are the climate skeptics being given too much, too little attention?”
    What an odd question for PBS to ask.  Isn’t this the same PBS that plays to leftist political dissidents on almost every issue from WTO to corporate shareholder meetings?
    C;mon, I remember watching  PBS coverage of the Republican convention in Saint Paul and wondering, “Why didn’t the republicans show up?”
    According to public broadcasting “dissent” is good, “dissent” is healthy, “dissent” is dialogue, “dissent” is democracy in action – provided of course that the dissent has a decidedly lefish tilt.

  • Craig Goodrich

    Aaah, yes, “the cynical tactics employed by some partisans.”

    Do the phrase  “redefine what the peer reviewed literature is” ring a bell?  This is just silly, Keith.   Gore’s essay argues, inter alia, that skeptics are being given far too much play in the media.  Gwen and Green are discussing that very point — what is the appropriate stance for a supposedly objective media?

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Collide-a-Scape

Collide-a-Scape is a wide-ranging blog forum that explores issues at the nexus of science, culture and society.

About Keith Kloor

Keith Kloor is a NYC-based journalist, and an adjunct professor of journalism at New York University. His work has appeared in Slate, Science, Discover, and the Washington Post magazine, among other outlets. From 2000 to 2008, he was a senior editor at Audubon Magazine. In 2008-2009, he was a Fellow at the University of Colorado’s Center for Environmental Journalism, in Boulder, where he studied how a changing environment (including climate change) influenced prehistoric societies in the U.S. Southwest. He covers a wide range of topics, from conservation biology and biotechnology to urban planning and archaeology.

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