In my post on the decision by Justice Burton to allow the showing of An Inconvenient Truth because it was "broadly accurate" I listed some of the reporters who wrongly claimed that the judge decided that AIT had nine errors. Mary Jordan's story was particularly bad. Most of the reporters eventually got around to telling their readers that the judge found AIT "broadly accurate", but Jordan only mentioned the negative parts of the decision. And Bob Somerby has more:
"Al Gore's Film Has 9 Errors, British Judge Rules in Suit." That's the headline on page one, promoting this news report, filed from London by Mary Jordan. How utterly silly -- how stupid -- is this front-page promotion? Let's put it this way: According to Nexis, even the kooky-con Washington Times has barely bothered with the trivial nonsense the Post promotes on its front page today. Yesterday, Greg Pierce gave it five short paragraphs in his daily "Inside Politics" column --and no, it wasn't even his lead item. But when a possibly daft British judge settled a silly school board complaint, the Post rattled Jordan out of her bed, then pimped her story on page one. By the way, when you read Jordan's report, you will perhaps note two things. She doesn't make the slightest attempt to say of the judge is right or wrong about the nine "errors" he thinks he has found. More specifically, you'll note that she hasn't asked any actual scientist to comment on the things the judge said.
Somerby gives lots more examples of the WaPo's absurdly slanted coverage of Gore, including this:
2) In the increasingly daft Outlook section, the Post published a dotty opinion piece complaining about the book's lack of foot-notes. Unfortunately, the book has 20 pages of end-notes. The citation the Post's writer desperately sought was clearly marked there.
6) In Book World, Alan Ehrenhalt formally reviewed Gore's book --and started with a comic-book complaint: "Al Gore possesses a skill that no other American politician can match --or would want to. He has a consistent ability to express fundamentally reasonable sentiments --often important ones --in ways that annoy the maximum possible number of people." As of this morning, Gore has annoyed so many people that his film has won an Oscar --and he holds the Nobel Peace Prize too.
The next day the WaPo's story about Gore winning the Nobel has this:
The award came two days after a British judge ruled that, while Gore's documentary makes a strong case that human activity has contributed to global warming and that there is a sense of urgency to deal with it, the movie contained nine factual errors not supported by scientific consensus.
And in another story the WaPo says:
The judge in that case ruled this week that while the basic premise of the film was correct, Gore had made nine errors of scientific fact.
And in yet another story we get:
A judge in London this week ruled that British teachers who show the film must alert students that it contains nine "errors" -- such as Gore's claim that residents of low-lying atolls in the Pacific have been evacuated as a result of rising sea levels.
It seems as if there is now a rule at the WaPo that any story that mentions An Inconvenient Truth must repeat the falsehood that a judge found nine errors in the movie.
But don't worry, Michael Dobbs, the Wapo's FactChecker is on the case! Surely he'll correct the fact that his paper keeps getting wrong?
I'm afraid not. Kate Sheppard:
So I've generally been into the idea behind the Fact Checker column over at the Washington Post. Until today, when they decided to take Al Gore's winning the Nobel Prize as an opportunity to do a "fact check" on An Inconvenient Truth, and ... not actually check any facts. Instead, they publish portions of a court decision in the U.K. where a judge decided that there were portions of the movie that exaggerated reality. Note: This is a legal decision, not a comprehensive scientific study; the Post actually does no fact-checking; there is no actual science involved here; and the conclusion they reach is that "There are good arguments on either side."
Then for more information, they point you to the official An Inconvenient Truth site, the website of the widely debunked counter film The Great Global Warming Swindle (which has even been disavowed by one of the main scientists featured in it), a broadly criticized counter article from the New York Times, and a site supporting the guy who brought the lawsuit to court. If you're counting, that's three sites that aim to take down the movie and ... the movie's own site. Which equals zero independent scientific evaluation. Thanks, Washington Post, for this significant contribution to the conversation.
And, as well as not actually bothering to do any fact checking, Dobbs repeats the false claim that the judge said that there were nine significant errors.
Now, unlike the other stories, the Dobbs piece allowed comments, and annoyed readers eviscerated him for his obvious bias and failure to do any fact checking at all, prompting him to add this pathetic update:
The Fact Checker has not taken sides in this debate.
Hence the links to criticism of AIT, but not to any rebuttal.
We also made clear above that Judge Burton agreed that Gore's movie is "broadly accurate."
But the original WaPo story did not mention that. Will Dobbs concede that it was biased?
We welcome an informed discussion on the specific points raised by the judge, most of which have gone unaddressed in the hundreds of comments we have so far received.
Here is what Martin Parry, co-chair of IPCC, which shared the Nobel prize with Gore, had to say in an online discussion today hosted by the Post:
Purcellville, Va.: How do you respond to accusations that Mr. Gore's book is inaccurate and overblown?
Martin Parry: I have just been watch Gore's film again; It is broadly correct. There are some factual errors but these are few and do not affect the main argument.
"Some factual errors [that] do not affect the main argument." Pretty much the same conclusion the judge reached.
But not what the WaPo reported as his conclusion again and again. And Dobbs still hasn't bothered to fact check the judge's points. What the hell kind of fact checker is he?
It's no secret that the Washington Post has become a mouthpiece for the Bush administration.
They never get anything right any more -- and it's no accident.
Anyone who doubts this need look no further than their pre-war BS reports on WMD in Iraq.
The Washington Post peaked as a legitimate investigative journalism source in the Watergate years and it's been downhill ever since.
At least the wapo believes in hiring the handicapped. It's opinion pages are filled with writing by the morally and ethically challenged.
Washington Post editorial and op-ed pages read like the Wall Street Journal editorial page. They have gone completely neocon. Their editorials read like they were written by Bill Kristol. Their op-ed pages are wall to wall neocons.
"The Washington Post peaked as a legitimate investigative journalism source in the Watergate years and it's been downhill ever since."
They have been living off their Watergate glory for decades now.
Washington Post slide into neocon wingnuttia is not new. They have been drifting right since the Reagan years. People are just now noticing how far right they have moved. Their slide started during the Carter years. With Reagan in the WH they moved further right. During the Clinton years they cheered on Kenneth Starr's inquisition. Now they are just another neocon mouthpiece.
JB wrote, Anyone who doubts this need look no further than their pre-war BS reports on WMD in Iraq.
That's not entirely fair. On the news side, the Post did better than the average US paper, and in particular much better than the New York Times (cf Judy Miller and Michael Gordon's execrable coverage of the WMD issue). (Of course, the Post's pre-war coverage wasn't as good as Knight-Ridder (now McClatchy).)
On the opinion pages, it was completely reversed: the Post favored the invasion, and the Times opposed it. (The Post is unrepentent to this day, even after their pro-invasion position turned out to be pro-disaster.) And they still regularly publish lots of neocon nutjobs on the op-ed pages.
Nan wrote, Their slide started during the Carter years. With Reagan in the WH they moved further right.
What I remember particularly strongly was the Post's support of the "Contra" terrorist attacks on Nicaragua.
"On the news side, the Post did better than the average US paper, and in particular much better than the New York Times (cf Judy Miller and Michael Gordon's execrable coverage of the WMD issue).
The first part is debatable and the second part is not saying much, particularly the part comparing the Post to the NY Times.
Everyone knows how wrong the NY Times was -- and for the same reason as the Post. Their editors had a pro-Bush agenda.
The fact is, The Post got the biggest story in 30 years -- Iraqi WMD -- DEAD WRONG.
That's not just my opinion.
In fact, the Post itself admits as much:
"The paper was not front-paging stuff," said Pentagon correspondent Thomas Ricks. "Administration assertions were on the front page. Things that challenged the administration were on A18 on Sunday or A24 on Monday. There was an attitude among editors: Look, we're going to war, why do we even worry about all this contrary stuff?"
In retrospect, said Executive Editor Leonard Downie Jr., "we were so focused on trying to figure out what the administration was doing that we were not giving the same play to people who said it wouldn't be a good idea to go to war and were questioning the administration's rationale. Not enough of those stories were put on the front page. That was a mistake on my part."
"Michael Massing, a New York Review of Books contributor and author of the forthcoming book "Now They Tell Us," on the press and Iraq, said: "In covering the run-up to the war, The Post did better than most other news organizations, featuring a number of solid articles about the Bush administration's policies. But on the key issue of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, the paper was generally napping along with everyone else. It gave readers little hint of the doubts that a number of intelligence analysts had about the administration's claims regarding Iraq's arsenal."
There are many papers/news sources that did a better job. Boston Globe for one. And Knight-Ridder did FAR better.
To say that "Of course, the Post's pre-war coverage wasn't as good as Knight-Ridder" has got to be the understatement of the millennium. Knight-Ridder got it right on WMD and the Post got it wrong.
I don't even read the Post any more. They made their bed and now they have to lie in it (and, no, I did not misspell the last word)
One more thing, Liberal (#5)
Your distinction between the Post's "news" and the Post's "editorials" is essentially a distinction without a difference in this case because it is precisely the Post's editors who were deciding what to put on the front page.
By the way, "Liberal" (#5), do you work for the Post or have any affiliation with anyone who does?
And the problem
Tim Lambert, thanks for this piece and your earlier piece, both of which we found via Memeorandum. It clarifies a number of points which puzzled us extremely when we read the BBC's report (i.e., that despite the headline, the judge didn't cite '9 errors' or conclude that the central thesis was incorrect in consequence of nine errors). When we looked at the website for 'the New Party' (to which the school governor who issued the challenge belonged), we did see a list of nine errors or 'errors', but the language cited from the opinion clearly didn't list all nine of them.
We were pretty sure that either we weren't reading the quoted language correctly or the reporters weren't. Thanks for filling in the gap.
We updated our own blog's notes on AIT to reflect your insights and quoted from you fairly extensively. It was extremely helpful to have the disjunct between what this Mr Justice Burton said (and what the media said he said) explained.
It was also useful to see someone challenge his conclusions. He's a judge after all---not the supreme arbiter of climate change science. Presumably it works the same way in the UK as it does here and he can only go by the evidence presented to him.
Liberal (#5) said I was not being "entirely fair" to the Post.
You know what I think is "not entirely fair"?
That untold thousands of innocent people are DEAD in Iraq because people at newspapers like the Washington Post and NY Times put their own political leanings, ideology and interests ahead of printing the truth.
The idea that the press is not being treated "fairly" when they print BS and are called on it is simply a joke.
JB wrote, Your distinction between the Post's "news" and the Post's "editorials" is essentially a distinction without a difference in this case because it is precisely the Post's editors who were deciding what to put on the front page.
Wrong. Editorial page editors control the editorial page. News editors control the news page. The publisher controls the entire paper.
This is so often pointed out about another paper (the Wall Street Journal---well, pre-Murdoch anyway) that it's not exactly a new notion.
By the way, "Liberal" (#5), do you work for the Post or have any affiliation with anyone who does?
LOL! Of course not. (If I did, why would I proclaim the Post's editorial pages are execrable and despicable?)
What I do have is a brain in my head, which says that the overall atrocious response of the American mainstream media to Bush's Iraq adventure doesn't excuse getting things wrong, like you did. (To wit, insinuating that the Post got things wrong on WMD in their news section, which they did in an absolute sense but not in a relative sense (viz, compared to the NYT or indeed most other papers, with the exception of Knight-Ridder who by far had the best coverage).
Moreover, (a) I despise the Iraq War, Bush, and the MSM coverage of the Iraq war, (b) the blog I read the most often is antiwar.com (which I give money to every quarter).
JB wrote, That untold thousands of innocent people are DEAD in Iraq because people at newspapers like the Washington Post and NY Times put their own political leanings, ideology and interests ahead of printing the truth.
But I'm asking: which people?
Fred Hiatt, WP ed page editor?
Barton Gelman, WP reporter?
Walter Pincus, WP reporter?
Not that I think one can't condemn the MSM as a whole, of course. My basic point is that it's odd to see someone acting as if the WP's coverage of WMD was especially atrocious, when in fact it was the NYT's.
So, "Liberal" do you work for th Post or do you now or have you ever had an affiliation with it?
You certainly seem like an apologist for them.
And PS. I too believe the Times was wrong as hell, as well (and never claimed they were not)
Liberal "...Post got things wrong on WMD in their news section, which they did in an absolute sense but not in a relative sense..."
I must admit, your "absolutely wrong but relatively right" stuff is something new to me.
If they got things wrong "in an absolute sense", as you just admitted above, then they got it wrong -- period.
What else matters when we are talking about news?
My very first post above was about the Post's "pre-war BS reports on WMD in Iraq" (ie, absolute BS (not "relative BS")
But then again, perhaps it was just absolute BS, but relative BS just the same.
"Liberal" -- Disregard question 12. I noticed afterward you had answered that.
"What the hell kind of fact checker is he?"
The kind who attracts advertising by the millions.
My review: I laughed, I cried, It was better than Cats.
What the hell kind of fact checker is he?
One who gets paid not to check facts but rather to gather evidence, real or imagined that supports the corporate bosses' own positions?
People are seriously suggesting that the WaPo has "has become a mouthpiece for the Bush administration"??
You can't actually read the thing!
Perhaps you're comparing its editorials to those of the New York Times or The Guardian, which would then lead you to think that the WaPo is run by Attila the Hun.
Quite apart from its support or no for Bush, the WaPo has consistently been against any effort to do anything at all against global warming. I don't know why but it struck me as far back as 1999, when WaPo extensively editorialized against the "unfair" Kyoto Protocol (which was indeed unfair inasmuch as it allowed the US to continue to pollute far more than anyone else - but apparently that wasn't enough). WaPo's animosity to Gore should be seen in the light of its consistently irresponsible position on global warming.
You have to understand that the MSM went hook, line, and sinker for what Bush and Cheny were peddling, and when it came out that they were all WRONG they couldn't do the honorable thing and own up to it. So they try to split the difference (still leaning with Bush) and they come out looking like idiots. Even the military is questioning what the hell's going on. That is huge. Personally, I don't read any newspapers anymore (I used to read 2-3 a day). I don't believe what they say, I question their motivation, I dislike their advertising, and I think their in bed with the neoconnuts. And they don't like it when ordinary citizens call them on it - they get all offended because they think/know that they know better. They are (other than Olbermann) beneath contempt. Hopefully they'll go the way of the Bushies.
And I love Al Gore. It drives them crazy that he is so well regarded and respected. He won in 2000 - we all know this. I hope he runs, though I will vote for whichever Dem wins the primary.
Unfortunately, as Martin Perry's comment reveals, the notion that AIT contains factual errors is now well entrenched, even though the British judge never said that in his ruling. At all points, he deliberately put the term "errors" in scare quotes. "Errors," in other words, is the plaintiff's term, not his.
Of course, if you actually read the decision, the judge's criticisms are either wholly wrong or simply take issue with Gore's presentation of certain extreme scenarios, like a possible shutdown of the North Atlantic conveyor.
In any case, since when is a senilte old laywer wearing a wig the generally accepted arbiter of scientific fact?
To be honest, this whole episode -- from the crank propaganda outfit that brought the original suit, to the pettyfogging judge ruling on issues he is absolutely unqualified to judge, to the way the moronic U.S. media has reported the case -- is a pretty good example of the progressive failure of what we jokingly refer to as "democracy."
You claimed my comment that "it is precisely the Post's editors who were deciding what to put on the front page" was "wrong" , but it is you who are wrong in this case.
Ever heard of the "Editor in chief" (or Executive editor)?
No, I don't suspect that you have.
The editor in chief is the one who decides what goes on the front page.
You obviously did not read the quote I posted above from the Washington Post's executive editor:
"In retrospect, said Executive Editor Leonard Downie Jr., "we were so focused on trying to figure out what the administration was doing that we were not giving the same play to people who said it wouldn't be a good idea to go to war and were questioning the administration's rationale. Not enough of those stories were put on the front page. That was a mistake on my part."
So, what to do....
EDITORIAL AND NEWS
Editorial and news really are often quite separate, with the WSJ as an extreme case. I get it for the numerous excellent articles and rarely look at the Op-ed section, except that every once in a while, they actually say something rational. I once discussed the separation with a WSJ reporter, who started by saying the Editorial gang were "evil neocon dinosaurs," then moved to less-unrepeatable things.
But, let's think of proactive measures with regard to the mainstream media.
REALITY FOR REPORTERS
Having over the years spent a lot of time talking to reporters worldwide and trying to help them understand complex technologies:
R1. The normal distribution applies as elsewhere: there are terrific reporters, there are (mostly) average ones, and there are awful ones, either for incompetence or malice, or both. I've mostly seen the former, but I've seen several cases of the latter, where people were determined to find dirt, even if they had to use a steam shovel to excavate a square mile to find any, and if they didn't, to declare rocks as dirt. I've been in a couple of interviews like that... and if somebody is really into malice, it's hopeless.
Still Napoleon's advice is appropriate. I once had to explain RISC microprocessor design to someone who had just taken over Technology ... after doing the Cooking section. She tried hard.
R2. Reporters are busy, and they have *deadlines*. They usually cannot devote years of study to some topic, especially a complex one, they are barraged with disinformation, and have a lot of pressure towards "on-the-one-hand, on-the-other-hand", as well as pressure for short-term news.
R3. Even the best ones can screw up.
R4. Even fine ones can get screwed up because sometimes they don't get to write the headlines, and sometimes the headlines really are misleading. I had one like that, where an innocent interview I did with a *terrific* WSJ reporter ... dropped my company's stock 15% in hour or two. If that seems unlikely, see:
PROACTIVE ACTIONS WITH REPORTERS
A1. If your think a reporter screws up (but is not hopeless), write email to *them*, including useful pointers to relevant sources. Be nice. Try to be helpful. Try that first, before bashing them in letters-to-editor, even if they deserve it.
Occasionally you will even get back an email that says "Thanks for reading, and thanks so much for your resource-rich comments." Reporters are human, they like to know someone is reading, even if you disagree with them.
A2. If a reporter writes an insightful story, let them know that also, since most of the time, they get nothing but complaints.
A3. Sometimes, if you establish yourself with a reporter as having useful knowledge, they may even ask you beforehand, or even run story ideas by you. Really good reporters have big Outlook files.
Bloggers: if there's a good story, write something good about it, and then email the reporter: "hey, I liked your story and I featured it in my blog."
A4. Pick a modest handful of reporters with which to build up rapport, even if it takes a couple years, and half a dozen emails. In particular, try to take good care of any reporter who actually replies (non-negatively) to an email.
A5. If you think a story was good, and you guess a reporter had to work hard to get it past an editor, send an email to *both* saying "great story." Put another way, praise should go to the boss as well, negative comments might or might not.
PROACTIVE ACTIONS WITH EDITORS
A6. Letters to Editor are too short to say much, but every once in a while you can get something through. If you find LTEs filled with "global warming is a hoax", try sending a longer letter to the editor explaining the situation. I've done that with several local papers, and the frequency of the silly letters seems to have gone down.
A7. If there is a silly OpEd, try suggesting to the Editor some expert to explain the other side. I don't know if my suggestion had anything to do with it (since others must have surely done so), but the San Jose Mercury News published a really bad OpEd once, by a denialist with a real axe to grind. I wrote them asking why, with Stanford a few miles away, they didn't ask a real world-class expert like Stephen Schneider to write an OpEd... and in another week or two, that's what appeared.
LOCAL VS NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL
A8. LOCAL papers: small local papers print lots of junk letters, but the best you can usually do is encourage editors NOT to bother printing any letters about global warming, reasoning that arguing that out in the LTE column of a local paper makes no sense, and they should concentrate on what they do well. Offer to take them out to lunch and talk about this.
Of course, how much luck you have with this depends on where you are. I'm in one of the easiest places on the planet for this (Silicon Valley), and even here, it still takes attention.
A9. NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL - if you regularly read some widespread newspaper, like the WSJ, the NYT, the FT, IHT, or (maybe) the Washington Post, see if you can find a few reasonable reporters, encourage them as above. At least, in the Web era, they're easier to watch. Are there any reasonable reporters at the Post? If so, find them, cultivate them. There is of course, little chance of getting into LTE.
The main international one for me would be "The Economist", which actually responds more often than I'd expect.
Reporters are human and are normally-distributed by abilities. Find average-or-better ones and help them, and don't expect goodness to happen overnight.
Once again, Somerby is quoted on a Gore issue without the revelation that he was Al Gore's college roommate and maintains a personal friendship. I usually agree with his points , but this lack of disclosure taints everything he writes about Gore with unnecessary suspicion. If done by a neocon we would be screaming from the highest mountains of the bias.
dhooters, I'm concerned about your lack of disclosure. Shouldn't you have informed us that you are a concern troll?
The editor in chief is the one who decides what goes on the front page.
In practice, no, this isn't true.
And in answer to your obvious next question, I don't work for the Washington Post, haven't read it in years, and am not an apologist. Just someone with a bit of knowledge as to how newspapers work, knowing a couple of editors over the years and having done a bit of freelance writing for one at times.
It gets better:
"The school governor who challenged the screening of Al Gore's climate change documentary in secondary schools was funded by a Scottish quarrying magnate who established a controversial lobbying group to attack environmentalists' claims about global warming."
re: news vs editorial in newspapers: the WSJ comes through again, although not quite as schizophrenically as I've sometimes seen.
1) On the first page is an article by Douglas Belkin, "Northern Vintage: Canada's Wines Rise with the Mercury", which straightforwardly describes how global warming is enabling British Columbian wines to have gone being a joke, to being OK, to being competitive. They've gone from 17 wineries in 1990 to 136 - a lot of this is around or near Lake Okanagan, and as weird as Canadian wine sounds, we're ski nearby at Big White 2-3 weeks/year, and we always try the local wines.
"As the winters moderated, warming an average of five degrees over that 60-year span, the growing season increased by 11 days... At the same time, average summer temperatures rose nearly four degrees, increasing the speed at which grapes ripen."
2) On the Opinion Page is article by Fred Ikle and Lowell Wood, "Thinking Big on Global Warming".
At least it starts:
"What is to be blamed for global warming? Since the 1980s, man-made emissions of greenhouse gases have been designated as the principal culprit..."
Gasp! In the WSJ Opinion page!
However, they note that emissions controls may not be enough, and propose albedo-raising geo-engineering.
"But beware. Do not try to sell climate geo-engineering to committed enemies of fossil fuels."
(ahh, back to normal, but then:)
"Moreover, accumulating CO2 in the atmosphere would make the oceans harmfully acidic over the next few centuries.
Clearly we need both: adequately explored geo-engineering options for contingent climate stabilization, and truly effective, practical measures to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases."
Actually, I'm all for albedo-raising, although it seems hard. I once back-of-the-enveloped that it would take about 3 years' world production of aluminum to cover an area the size of Greenland :-)
The Free Market has spoken. An Inconvenient Truth was a success, and made a lot of money. Therefore, it must be true, and those who deny it are simply communists who wish to tear down our way of life.
The Post finally ran Gore's Right of Reply