Inhofe Aid vs. SEJ: "It's Not About Science"

Fri, 2006-10-27 15:50Richard Littlemore
Richard Littlemore's picture

Inhofe Aid vs. SEJ: "It's Not About Science"

Marc Morano, the outspoken aid to Oklahoma Senator and Environment Committee Chair Jim Inhofe took on the assembled mob at the Society of Environmental Journalists conference moments ago, and the only point of agreement was on Morano's opening promise: “I'm not here to debate the science.”

Rather, he was here (on behalf of his boss, who declined the invitation) to slag the media for its coverage of climate change and particularly for abandoning the position of “balance” that Inhofe and company would prefer.

Morano began by denying that his boss had ever dismissed climate change as a hoax, although neither he nor his boss have ever challenged the accuracy of this Inhofe quote, “With all of the hysteria, all of the fear, all of the phony science,” Inhofe said, “could it be that man-made global warming is the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people? It sure sounds like it.”

Morano's most impassioned complaints were aimed at the media's “labelling” and its “failure” to label fairly. He complained of the “denier” tag, which he said raises Holocaust images and he specifically addressed a few comments in which journalists had said that that denying climate change is tantamount to denying the Holocaust.

He made no references to his boss's comparison of environmentalists to Nazis: “It kind of reminds … I could use the Third Reich, the big lie.”), nor to his dismissal of the Environmental Protection Agency as a “Gestapo Bureaucracy.”

Morano crowed about the rcent “retraction” by Newsweek of a 1970s story warning of a coming ice age and said he hoped that he would hear more such retractions in the future.

Then slammed the “hit pieces” and “spin cycle” that he says characterize current news coverage of climate change.

Oregon Public Broadcasting producer Christy George, the moderator of this session, agreed that coverage of climate change has shifted away from the “balanced” view, a recognition, she said, of the consensus of serious scientists.

And New York University journalism professor Drew Fagin dared bring science back into the conversation. He said, “Can we agree that the greenhouse effect is real? Can we agree that CO2 plays a significant role in greenhouse forcing. Can we agree that the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere has never been this high in the last 25 million years? …. ” He went through the list and concluded, again, that science is not the issue.

“Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. But everyone is not entitled to his own facts.”

Yet Inhofe has denied the import of these facts in the past and, “if he did so knowingly, that is a lie and should be called a lie,” Fagin said.

Fagin also called Morano on his boss's tendency to suggest that the topic is still under much debate. He accused both Morano and Inhofe of weighting the “evidence” of economists who speak out about climate change with the same strength as climatologist - “a different kind of lie, but a lie nonetheless.”

Finally, Fagin said, Morano is being “fundamentally misleading” when he suggests that, because a few scientists can still be found who will dispute the global scientific consensus, that means the science is not yet settled (to whatever degree science can ever be settled).

ABC's Bill Blakemore, whose recent climate change coverage Morano had criticized at some length, told the story of his realization, two years ago, of the veracity and importance of the climate change story. He stood by the lack of “balance” in his recent reporting as entirely appropriate: “When Mount St. Helens blew up, we did't give the 'other side' equal time.”

As Fagin had said, journalists have a couple of weaknesses that the climate change spinners have used to their advantage: reporters like “balance” and they like conflict. They tend always to promote the contrarian voice.

That's part of the reason, Blakemore said, “that we have let ourselves be spun by the same tactics that we let ourselves be spun on by big tobacco.”

Andy Revkin, Environment and Science reporter for the New York Times, gave Morano a few moments of pleasure when he pointed out that the media, and especially the British media, have “handed a lot of red meat to Inhofe” by overstating the immediacy of the climate change threat and by treating too many aspect of climate science as if they are entirely settled.

But he ridiculed one of Morano's favourite “experts,” Dr. Patrick Michaels, for maintaining a consulting firm that promises “advocacy science.”

Science is constantly being questioned and tested and as such, Revkin said, it “will take care of itself.” But Revkin urged the reporters in the room to bring a great deal more skepticism when people start arguing the policy (a comment that generated one of several spontaneous bursts of applause). (And, need it be said, none for Morano.)

The question period generated some back and forth, but no movement. NASA Scientist James Hansen, whom Morano had painted as a partisan supporter of the Democrats and therefore a a source whose credibility should be questioned more aggressively, took to the microphone to challenge that assumption. Hansen admitted having won a large award from the Heinz Foundation, a legacy of the late Republican Senator John Heinz, of whom Hansen had a very high opinion.

He also acknowledged that he had “endorsed” John Kerry (who is now married to Heinz widow, Teresa) in the last presidential election. But the endorsement was “luke warm,” Hansen said - a passing comment only that he thought that a Kerry administration might do more on the climate change file than the Bush administration had done.

The session overall was remarkably civil: no catcalling or jeers. And Morano loitered about after as if in a room full of friends. It is, perhaps, another issue on which he is entirely delusional.
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