Lots of Lessons to be Learned

On Leaked Heartland Documents: Relax, Breathe Deeply, Take Your Time …

Fast-breaking developments surrounding leaks of what were portrayed to be original documents from the ‘skeptical’ Heartland Institute carry lessons for all. But only if we step back and cogitate … things not in the DNA of the 24/7 blog news cycle.

Some of the best journalism never reaches the light of day.

It involves stories that don’t make it, stories a reporter decides not to pursue, stories that get spiked between the reporter’s pen and the editor’s knife. Stories that end up on the cutting room floor. In some cases, the best stories are those that are “late” by traditional newsroom standards, let alone by the standards of the 24/7 news cycle.

Most reporters most of the time run across far more potential stories than they could possibly file. The volume of material that daily crosses their desks, their laptops, tablets, and cell phones, dwarfs what eventually makes its way to being “news.” What they consciously decide not to follow is a critical measure of their journalistic expertise.

A cliché among many in the news media is that if told their mother loves them, reporters will believe it. But only after getting it confirmed by two independent sources.

News Analysis

Verification, attribution, and authentication are critical steps in a competent reporter’s news-making process.

In the recent experience involving the leaked documents purportedly from one of the nation’s most recognizable climate “contrarian” groups, the Chicago-based Heartland Institute, that term — authentication — came up often and early among serious journalists reviewing their would-be windfall.

That windfall, it’s important to remember, arrived without a single reporter raising a finger or breaking into the faintest of sweats in unearthing it: a set of 15 journalists and activists needed do no more than open an e-mail from a self-described but otherwise unidentifiable “Heartland Insider.” (Not.)

No enterprise or “deep throat” reporting. Just click and open.

Another thing to keep in mind. Some news stories are just made for TV — lots of visuals, lots of emotions. Think car chases for instance. Some are made for newspapers or magazines. In the case of the Heartland would-be “exposé,” this one was neither. It was Heaven-sent for blogs and for the 24/7 Web.

No sooner had it hit those 15 in-boxes, of course, than it ricocheted across cyberspace, echoed widely hither and fro. Serious news outlets immediately wondered about its authenticity, while at the same time experiencing the unique buzz that accompanies a seeming “scoop.” Many bloggers didn’t. It’s just not the way they work, not in their DNA, not a part of their news culture.

If true and authentic and obtained in a fair and ethical way, mind you, these documents — at least a few of them — could have provided behind-the-veil insights into one of the most prominent climate “skeptic” groups. The real nugget, it appeared to many, was that entitled “2012 Climate Strategy.” That’s the one most likely to get the headlines, most likely to include the news gems, to spill the beans, so to speak.

Only one problem here, and it’s a big one. It’s precisely that document that those inclined to value “authenticity” and best journalistic practices found most wanting.

Lessons, Painful and Otherwise, to be Learned

With that background, what can one learn from the recent Heartland experience?

Some activist blogs of course rushed quickly to post and quote. (It would be undeserved flattery to say that they rushed to “report.”) Many journalists, as one would hope but perhaps not enough, took a more studied approach, seeking to report and independently “authenticate” before giving the light of day. That did not mean that major outlets like Britain’s Guardian and The New York Times and The Washington Post didn’t proceed soon with the story, but they did so, by and large, in a way distinctly different from the approach of the instant bloggers. A.P. waited an uncharacteristically long several days before deciding, rightly or wrongly, that its independent reporting justified its story.

There’s a universal desire on the part of many journalists: Get it first. But first get it right. Some strived to do so, and their patience will pay off. Others, regrettably, put “first” ahead of “right,” inevitably compromising the latter for the former.

Their situation was not helped — who ever might have expected it would be? — by Heartland, the nonprofit group at the heart of the issue in the first place. Heartland waited hours, a century by Web standards, after the initial release before posting on its own website an awkwardly worded statement that did more to cloud than clarify the legitimacy, or lack thereof, of the leaked files. It maintained in that announcement that the group’s president, Joseph L. Bast, the presumed author of the purloined documents, “was traveling at the time this story broke yesterday afternoon and still has not had the opportunity to read them all to see if they were altered.” Huh? It did, however, say that the purported climate strategy two-pager “is a total fake,” not written by anyone associated with the group.

There followed a series of “independent” (you decide) looks into the so-called 2012 climate strategy two-pager, easily the most meaty and most “revealing” of the various documents distributed. Without that document — and without its being authentic — there was still legitimate news value in the leaked material, notwithstanding how it was made public. But that document, now dismissed as invalid, should have been declared DOA in any legitimate newsroom.

Reporting on a “myth” or a “hoax,” one might say, does society no good in coming to grips with an issue of the importance and complexity of climate change, regardless of one’s own views on the subject scientifically, economically, politically, or otherwise.

A Smorgasbord of Relevant Links

For those wanting to follow up — or is it “wallow” in — the whole tawdry affair, a series of reports and posts on the whole murky situation, some of course raising as many questions as they do providing answers:

The End in Sight? Not Hardly

Lots of clichés abound.

The beginning of the end, or the end of the beginning.

Friendly fire, or shooting oneself in the foot.

With friends like this, no need for enemies.

And, of course, the always-annoying “gate” suffix … First it was “Heartlandgate,” “Denialgate,” and then came “Fakegate.” (Anyone for no more “…gates”?) And who knows how much longer that will continue?

More important issues will arise too:

  • The proper role of the traditional news media in reporting on climate and such — hopefully rare — episodes as this one.
  • The relationship between the establishment science community convinced by the evidence of the seriousness of the climate change issue and “activist” interests who support them, but who may carry their own brand of baggage.
  • The wisdom — or lack of — in Heartland’s full-throated legal threats to bloggers and media that posted and wrote on the original leaked documents. And whether those threats, real or imagined, while no doubt helping keep the story alive, have the “chilling” effect no doubt hoped for in issuing them, in particular on small news and information outlets and freelancers.
  • The question of whether any such legal proceeding initiated by Heartland, either against an individual or against an organization, could lead to “discovery” proceedings that could unmask and perhaps discomfort funders and backers.
  • And, perhaps most importantly, the impacts on public attitudes toward climate science, toward climate “skeptics,” and the ongoing dialogue on climate change science, mitigation, and adaptation.

Like it or hate it, it’s unlikely this chapter of the climate change science/policy/politics dialogue is going away any time soon. You can expect to hear lots more about it in coming weeks and months.

Just remember: Verification. Attribution. And Authentication.

Bud Ward

Bud Ward is editor of Yale Climate Connections. (E-mail: bud@yaleclimateconnections.org).
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32 Responses to On Leaked Heartland Documents: Relax, Breathe Deeply, Take Your Time …

  1. John Atkeison says:

    The overall history of the media on global warming is that it has usually elevated the opinions of the deniers unjustifiably.
    The deniers as a whole have shown no meaningful hesitation to exhibit unscrupulous behavior.
    It has been a dirty and unfair fight.
    In this context, I can only praise this attempt to make the denier’s agenda clear, assuming that the documents are real. They were not going to be made public otherwise, and it is very good that they are public.

  2. Asteroid Miner says:

    The Heartland Foundation is putting all of our descendants at risk because GW is already causing the price of food to rise in poor countries. It will only be 40 years before food is priced out of the reach of most Americans. What the Heartland Foundation is doing is a threat to humanity in general and can already be classified as genocide.

    GW causes droughts and floods. GW causes the rains to be unpredictable and chaotic. GW allows insects that were previously held in check by freezing weather to kill trees.

    GW also causes the extra snow like Europe has had this winter by shifting the cold places by 45 degrees of longitude. Something called Rossby waves create 4 pairs of low and high pressure at the latitude of Canada. Shifting the lows and highs make places that are supposed to get snow get less snow and the alternating places get too much snow. Winter wheat needs snow to germinate. Inadequate snow can cause a bad harvest.

    How do you defend your descendants from genocide by GW when action must be taken now to prevent a future population crash? If I am on Peter H. Gleick’s jury, he will be innocent. Juries have the power to nullify laws. Most don’t realize it.

    • RickA says:

      GW has been occurring for the last 12,000 years.

      In the sense that since 12,000 years ago, it has steadily been getting warmer (positive trend).

      The ocean has risen 50 meters during the last 12,000 years.

      Even climate scientists don’t blame humans for 49 of those meters.

      It is only the last meter which is allegedly caused by humans.

      How to you know that all the people who are allegedly going to die, wouldn’t have died anyway.

      That is the crux of the matter – it was going to get warmer anyway – so how much of that additional warming since 1850 is attributable to human activities?

      The science is not clear because the error bars are larger than the additional warming.

      Maybe in 100 or 500 years we will have enough data so the signal to noise ratio is low enough to statistically tease out exactly how much warming is natural and how much man-made – but we don’t have that data now.

      So I find your blaming Heartland for “putting all of our descendants at risk” to be your opinion, and not scientifically verifiable based on the data we have to-date.

      • Linzel says:

        lastest estimate I have seen is 75%. Search the journal science. The report is less than a year old.

        • klem says:

          And just wait until next year, some new study will show that once again the numbers will be ‘even worse than previously thought’. And worse again the year after that….

        • RickA says:

          Yes – I subscribe to Science and read it every week.

          There are lots of estimates, all over the board. Nothing definitive yet because we just don’t have good enough data over a long enough period of time to lower the error bars enough for statistical certainty.

          So it may turn out that humans have caused all of the warming since 1850 or it may turn out that 75% of it is from the 1500 year climate cycle, which alternates between cooling and warming.

          Maybe the 60 year ocean warming and cooling cycle also played a part in the warming over the last 60 years.

          Maybe the sun’s low magnetic level has influenced the heliosphere, allowing more cosmic rays to impact the Earth’s atmosphere, which have created more low level clouds, which help retain more warmth.

          Maybe natural warming (you know – the warming over the last 12,000 years) is releasing a significant amount of C02 and/or methane from the permafrost (maybe we hit a threshold?) – which is in turn adding to human caused warming.

          I don’t know and neither does anybody else.

          That is why climate science is still not settled – the error range exceeds the amount of warming.

          Physics doesn’t even get interested until they have a 3 sigma significance and really want 5 sigma. Climate science is still working at the level of 1 sigma.

          The climate models are being tweaked several times per year, incorporating new knowledge – and we learn new things all the time. And yet the models continue to incorrectly model the climate, even over the short term – let alone over 100 years.

          The bottom line – nobody can state with certainty (even at the 95% confidence level) that 75% of the warming since 1850 has been caused by human activity.

          Whenever we hit 560 ppm for CO2, we will be able to directly measure climate sensitivity by merely comparing the current average global temperature with what it was in 1850.

          In 2100, we will be able to directly measure sea level rise and see whether it was less than 59 cm (the largest IPCC estimate).

  3. RickA says:

    I don’t think the New York Times did it right.

    They lead with a quote from the forged document:

    “Leaked documents suggest that an organization known for attacking climate science is planning a new push to undermine the teaching of global warming in public schools, the latest indication that climate change is becoming a part of the nation’s culture wars.”

    Only saying down further in the article that one two page article is declared by Heartland to be a forgery. They neglect to indicate that the lead quote came from the alleged forged document.

    The documents which were not alleged to be forged certainly didn’t indicate an attempt to “undermine the teaching of global warming” – which is a value judgment by the author.

    so partial credit for waiting until Heartland declared one document forged – but marked down for not indicating which content came from the forged document and which from the unforged.

  4. There is something to framing global warming as an ethical issue. And by doing so, Heartland is morally bankrupt.

    We should not suffer fools gladly. Heartland promotes anti-science confusion about global warming as part of a PR/lobbying campaign funded by carbon fuel interests.

    This high risk language disrespects science, harms the future, promotes a carbon monopoly, and discourages discovery.

    Not only do most Americans disagree with their message, but also their tactics. They are extreme and should be scolded as errant children who do not know better.

  5. Curtis A. Moore says:

    I’ll confess this all blew right by me, probably because my wife and I were in the middle of an attempt (failed) to buy a new house.
    In review Bud’s comments and those of others, what strikes me most is the complete irrelevance of reporting on not just Heartland, but the many, many other front groups–the last time I counted there were more than 400–that have skillfully manipulated public opinion on a wide range of issues. There can be no doubt whatsoever that these groups are in the pay of the pay of Charles and David Koch and a bunch of foundations that were brought together into a cohesive unit by the late Bill Simon.
    I stopped attending meetings of the Society of Environmental Journalists many years ago when one of the speakers at a panel on vehicle fuel economy was from the Competitive Enterprise Institute, but the sources of CEI’s funding–oil and car companies–were not disclosed. I objected, and the panel moderator basically told me to sit down and shut up because “everybody knows that.” In fact, one member of the audience didn’t “know that” and said so, but this seemed irrelevant.
    So, too, it is with Heartland and its fellow members of the echo chamber, whether the subject is “Obamacare,” fuel economy standards or global warming (no, it’s not “climate change,” despite what Frank Luntz’s largely successful attempts to alter the English language to suit his clients might want).
    The truth is that enterprise reporting these days is reaching across the table to pick up a copy of the press release.
    Admittedly, IRS regulations do not make exposing these groups easy. They are not obliged to report how much they receive or from whom. (I did enjoy a stroke of luck several years ago, however, when a Federalist Society secretary, apparently unaware that the list and amounts of contributors could be kept secret, supplied them. Surprise, surprise: 100 percent of the Society’s income that year came from just 11 foundations like those of the Kochs and not a penny from membership dues.)
    The point of this rant is that these foundations and their funders, including the Kochs, are engaged in thinly disguised warfare against the facts.
    In a sense the panel moderator many years ago was right–”everybody knows that.” But, as the member of the audience attested, there are people–lots and lots of them–who do not “know that.” These are the people that reporters are supposed to serve.
    It is bad enough to work for a wire service, as I once did, and try to be both right and first. It’s much worse these days, with almost instant deadlines and a huge number of bloggers who are not professionals and do not respect the traditions of reporting hard news and spending weeks or months on an enterprise piece.
    Snoopy said many years ago, while his creator Charles Schultz was still alive, that “Good writing is hard work!” Very true, but good reporting is even harder.
    Had some reporters with resources, from the Times or the Post or Mother Jones or whatever, devoted their attentiosn to teasing out the funding streams of Heartland and the hundreds of other front groups, had they torn apart the “junkman” Steve Milloy–paid by bad guys, but on the masthead, so to speak, of Fox; or exposed the likes of Patrick Michaels, Fred Singer, et. al., a hoax like that with Heartland could never have occurred because the facts would have already been in the public domain.
    I hated the U.S. Marine Corps, but learned a lot. One of those lessons was that when something goes wrong, the first place to look is in the mirror. That’s good advice for those who cover, or purport to cover, global warming.

  6. Gail Zawacki says:

    Accusing bloggers of rushing without authentification is a red herring. They simply reported that they had received some documents. None that I know of claimed to have verified their authenticity. I posted them myself

    (http://witsendnj.blogspot.com/2012/02/peter-gleick-lost-in-heartless.html)

    – I’m hopeful I’ll get a cease and desist order tomorrow!

    It’s no different than reporting that Santorum said something implying that the President has a less than Christian faith. Is it necessary to report that in fact the President is not Christian in order to report what Santorum said?

    It’s news that the documents were released, period.

    In the age of Anonymous and the internet, whining about leaked documents is just, quaint.

    • Bud Ward says:

      Thanks, Gail. Indeed, it is news when the documents were released, “period,” as you say. But it’s reporting and journalism when the documents themselves are subjected to sound newswriting practices. In too many cases, at least the singularly most important one was not. A pity if “quaint” applies to what we for so long considered to be good journalism, and now so badly miss.

  7. Thanks, Bud. There’s a lot out there on the blogosphere regarding these events…but yours is the best take I’ve run across so far.

  8. Bud,

    The validity of the strategy memo is a smokescreen. The information in that memo is supported by information in the other documents that Heartland has not claimed to be fake. You are falling into their trap. They want you to focus on that document so you ignore the real problems for them which are in the other docs.

    Heartland has been subverting climate science education for years. The leaked docs just made that much clearer to those who either did not already know or who had forgotten because there was other news to report.

    How quickly we forget how those on Heartland’s payroll mock climate science and smear climate scientists.

    You are fiddling with a memo while the earth burns…..

    • Bud Ward says:

      Thanks, Scott. I believe the climate strategy document itself does not appear to be valid. But I also believe that some of the approaches it outlines are representative of what Heartland Institute has been doing and saying in the climate field all along. Subverting climate science education? Yup. Mocking widely accepted and evidence-based scientific findings? Yup. Smearing climate scientists? Ditto on that one too.

      • w.w.wygart says:

        Bud,

        Is this another way of saying, “Fake but accurate?” I thought journalists learned not to do that after Dan Rather’s experience with the Killian Documents.

        As a journalist can you actually produce any evidence of the Heartland Institute actually engaged in any of the three behaviors you just enumerated: subverting, mocking, smearing… other than in that phony memo?

        What makes you believe that your line of reasoning, that since a known fabrication matches your paranoid intuitions about the Heartland Institute [I'm not particularly fond of Liberterians either] allows you as a journalist to legitimately draw that conclusion?

        History also judges the paranoid harshly, it will bury you as well.

        Regards,

        W^3

    • RickA says:

      Scott:

      It is my opinion that climate scientists engaging in a conspiracy to prevent papers from getting published, trying to blackball journals; gaming the system to influence which articles get considered by AR4, pulling articles from past the deadline in to allow for “spin” purposes, is mocking climate science.

      Oh – and there was plenty of smearing climate scientists in the climategate emails also.

      So pot calling kettle black.

  9. John Atkeison says:

    If there really are fakes in the documents, that stinks, no matter how crazy the faker has been driven by the activities of the deniers (and the consequences).

    However, in a way, a real way, it is awful to insist that someone who is responding to the evil that Heartland represents would be required to bring a manual for ethics to a fight where dirty knives are already in action.

  10. Well said Bud.

    I firmly believe that many of those who publicly profess skepticism of the science are reasonable people. They understand (at least sub-consciously) that it’s very unlikely that every major scientific body on Earth has gotten it all wrong.

    How much damage to the scientific truth has been done by Heartland (and how much Dr. Gleick actions might delay its acceptance) are still unanswered questions. Call me crazy, but I still believe the scientific truth will win out sooner rather than later.

    Responsible journalism is the key.

  11. Gail Zawacki says:

    The links in this comment are posted on my blog (don’t know how to use them here!)

    Grrr. I was hoping to get away from the Heartland nonsense but then this mornging I read an article in the Atlantic – which ironically is completely speculative about the authenticity of one of the documents and the veracity of Peter Gleick…while simultaneously criticizing his journalistic ethics (!) – and then, I read that Gavin Schmidt was piling on too and, well, it is just pathetic. This was attributed to Schmidt in comments (2/21@11:28pm) at the NYTimes:

    “Schadenfreude is a cheap thrill: fun but ephemeral. Gleick’s actions were completely irresponsible and while the information uncovered was interesting (if unsurprising), it in no way justified his actions. There is an integrity required to do science (and talk about it credibly), and he has unfortunately failed this test. The public discusion on this issue will be much the poorer for this – both directly because this event is (yet) another reason not to have a serious discussion, but also indirectly because his voice as an advocate of science, once powerful, has now been diminished”.

    Was there any evidence that Gleick was feeling schadenfreude? Never mind. The more important point is that even prominent climate scientists and activists continue to act as if they are in denial of how serious the problem is…that can be the only explanation for Schmidt and Joe Romm, for instance, to criticize Peter Gleick. The headlines should be proclaiming the following, even though only the Guardian so far that I’ve seen has even mentioned it:

    Civilisation faces ‘perfect storm of ecological and social problems’
    Abuse of the environment has created an ‘absolutely unprecedented’ emergency, say Blue Planet prizewinners

    Their report is a warning that the world is dangerously in overshoot. We have overpopulated, overexploited resources, and overpolluted the one earth we have to the point where it is going to take drastic action to pull back from the abyss of total collapse. Peter Gleick understands that we are in an unprecedented emergency – of which climate change is only one aspect – and he acted accordingly.

    Anybody who doesn’t realize that we are fouling our own nest just as fast as we can – is stupid. Not only are we headed for more ever-intensifying extreme weather catastrophes, including floods, droughts and famine – but the oceans are grotesquely overfished, polluted and acidifying; we have stripped the soils, destroying their productivity by overfertilization; and the air is so filthy from noxious fumes derived from combustion of fuel and industrial processes that trees (and people, and animals and insects) are dying all over the world.

    The “experts” and pundits should stop whining about Gleick and wake the hell up.

    A comment over at Col. Wamsley’s post is perfectly illustrative of the point. The writer is a denier, and yet he pinpoints precisely how in fact he possesses a deeper understanding of reality than the vast majority of climate change activists and scientists.

    He quotes a line from the Colonel’s letter to Heartland, and then explains with crystal clarity exactly why there will never be the “dramatic action to avert a collapse of civilization” that the Blue Planet recipients advise!

    “You are a traitor to your own country. I did not spend 30 years in the military to protect the likes of you.”

    “Why? Because foreign developing nations are licking their chops at the thought of the US signing onto a global climate treaty because they’ll get enriched from the vast transfer of our wealth to their countries (via schemes like REDD, cap-and-trade, CDM, etc.), and our economy will then be controlled by natural resource management via the UN or some other global supra-national agency.”

    “The end goal here is to lower the standard of living of the US and to force us (and other developed Western style nations) to use less natural resources so that the rest of the world can use those resources to build up their economies so that at some point in the future, all nations have roughly the same standard of living and per-capita GDP. Unfortunately, in this future scenario should it occur, the US isn’t going to have anywhere as near high as GDP as we do today because it would take the natural resources of over 5 Earth’s to provide everybody on the Earth today with the resources needed to have the same standard of living as we have in the US. Our future US economy will be one of very little resource use and hence, a very basic and simple lifestyle.”

    Quite right too, a very basic and simple lifestyle, one which could still be worth living…except the author misses another little problem which is that, there aren’t enough natural resources remaining on this Earth to support just the U.S. even in a very basic and simple lifestyle – never mind everyone else in the world at our current level of consumption – and pollution. The jig is up, already – and Mother Nature is coming at us with her pitchfork, mad as hell.

    The kitchen table comic says it all:
    http://witsendnj.blogspot.com/2011/01/kitchen-table-comic.html

    • John Russell says:

      Well said, Gail.

      It’s difficult to remain calm and controlled when science tells us there’s a high probability that we’re fast approaching an environmental tipping point. Time to join up the dots.

  12. That was quite a disappointing weak article

    It’s as though Bud Ward cribbed off the Heartland Institute news releases
    and didn’t look any further.

    Seemingly not at all interested in all that was authentic?
    Or the strategy of Heartland Institute to attack science rather than
    engage in a learning process?
    Or their million dollar Public Relations expertise… now shifted into high gear?

    When will you report on that part of the story Mr. Ward?

  13. w.w.wygart says:

    What horrifies me the most in this whole sordid affair is the degree to which people who you might think ought to be rational, well educated, well informed – sane – and who purport to espouse liberal ideals are willing to rationalize and even lionize Peter Gleick’s actions.
    The author of this post, many of the commenters and many adherents of the Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming meme at large are suffering from a serious moral blindness, in that they seem incapable of looking honestly at the fraud and deception that Peter Gleick has already confessed to, and it is highly likely that he will shortly be forced to confess to be the author of the forged memorandum in question. The best you can hope for at this moment is that he is not the author of the forgery, but it turns out to be some intern or student a safe distance away from him.
    You can continue to turn the whole issue around and blame me or your [imagined] ideological foes for all that is transpiring, you can continue to dissemble, and blame, but it will not change the central fact that today we are talking about YOU, and what your compatriots have done, your lapses.
    Those who have descended into such self-serving rationalization and self-delusion would be recommended to remember that History is unkind to such personalities.
    HISTORY WILL BURY YOU
    We are all acting in this moment of history in-process, but what we do and say and the character with which we act them out will be remembered and judged by posterity [even me].
    So, I will close by offering you this mirror…
    “Ideas should be neutral, but man animates them with his passions and follies.
    Impure and turned into beliefs, they take on the appearance of reality.
    The passage from logic is consummated.
    Thus are born ideologies, doctrines and bloody farce.”

    and in the original French:

    En elle-même toute idea est neutre, ou devrait l’etre:
    mais l’homme l’anime y projette ses flammes et ses démences;
    impure, transformée en croyane, elle s’insére dans le temps.
    prende figure d’événement:
    Le passage de la logique à l’épilepsie est consommé…
    Ainsi naissent les idéologies, les doctrines, et les farces sanglantes.

    ~E.M. Coiran
    Precis de décomposition

    [M'excuser s'il y a une erreur, la mémoire est cruelle, et je n'ai pas l'original sous la main.]

  14. John Fleck says:

    Back in 2009, when the CRU emails were leaked, I spent a good deal of time doing due diligence with them, reading extensively the emails involving scientists I had quoted in my work and issues I had covered, to see if the emails gave cause to change anything in my coverage. When I wrote my piece for the newspaper, it was still early in the development of the story, but already a narrative was taking hold – that the emails were evidence of duplicitous climate scientists willing to deceive and dissemble in order to achieve their political ends.

    I concluded that narrative was wrong, not supported by the evidence in the emails, and laid out that argument in print with as much care as I could. As a storytelling device, I built the piece around what we know about climate change and the Colorado River, which provides water to my community. In doing that, I drew on work done in 1993 by a much younger Peter Gleick in a remarkably prescient paper that really nailed the core problem climate change poses here in the southwestern United States.

    Today, that same Peter Gleick has handed opponents of climate science an unambiguous, clear, easy-to-understand example of a duplicitous climate scientist willing to deceive and dissemble in order to achieve his political ends. It’s hard for me to imagine how anyone could have done more damage to my efforts to explain climate science to an unwilling public.

    Maybe that’s hyperbolic. One of the premises of my work is that the broad audience reading my newspaper is generally unaware of all the Climate Wars stuff that gets insiders so excited, so in a less angry moment I might conclude that most Albuquerque Journal readers hadn’t heard of Peter Gleick a week ago, and won’t know who he is a week from now, and that I can therefore soldier on trying to explain the science in a useful and relevant way, untouched by this latest kerfuffle.

    But it’s hard not to be pissed right now.

  15. Steve Oden says:

    Arguments about anthropogenic climate change aside, I just want to make a couple of observations about basic journalism from one who has plied the trade for 30 years and still does.

    What appears to have happened is symptomatic of the herd mentality that has infected 21st Century reportage. As a profession, we have always valued the scoop, being first with the most, but with fairness and accuracy. These last two virtues are where coverage of the Heartland affair dismally failed.

    I would love to see a panel of editors and publishers attempt to explain why their publications and networks were culpable and what measures they believe need to be implemented to avoid such future breaches of basic journalistic ethics.

    Scientists, we always were taught to believe, seek to probe the physical world, the human mind and the universe for truth. Reporters deal in truth, too. In this way, the professions are similar.

    We have to seek truth out, peel back the layers of obfuscation and reveal its beauty or ugliness. Rather than using formulas and computer models, journalists follow human trails overgrown with conflicting stories, anonymous sources, faulty recollections and vociferous denials. The reader, listener or viewer is the skeptic who must be convinced by the facts, the corroboration of details. Only our virtues of fairness and accuracy matter in the end, not how quickly we follow the herd.

    In the 1980s, I covered George C. Wallace’s campaign to be re-elected governor of Alabama. My job was to report what he said and did, fairly and accurately. I hated the man for what he stood for, for the lives he had ruined during a long and divisive political career and how his incendiary words in the 1960s resonated in the secret dark places of man’s heart.

    I didn’t write what I thought or believed, however. I wrote what he said, what others said about him, good or ill. There were opportunities to take a whispered rumor and worry it in print, to be the first whether I could prove it or not… to raise the alarm and have readers believe it because they hated Wallace, too, or disbelieve because they loved him.

    This was one of my greatest personal trials as a journalist, watching while the pack worried the bone I had picked up but discarded because I could not prove where it had originated.

    So, I doff my hat to Mr. Ward for striking to the heart of what is not a climate change issue, pro or con, but a journalistic and ethical standard which all real reporters and editors should have learned and cannot be excused for violating. I pray we see more thoughtful exposition of this matter, rather than the dredging up of old hates and disagreements between believers and skeptics of global warming. This failure is happening every day in the weave of reporting about current events, government, economics and the human condition. It needs to stop.

    • klem says:

      “Reporters deal in truth, too. In this way, the professions are similar. We have to seek truth out, peel back the layers of obfuscation and reveal its beauty or ugliness.”

      In Feb of 2007 the IPCC released it’s AR4 report. The press conference had over 200 journalists speaking in multiple languages, there was TV, print and radio coverage. The IPCC stated that the report proved that anthropogenic climate change was ‘unequivocal’ and we had to stop talking about it, it was time for action. I watched it all on tv and since I was a climate alarmist at the time, I downloaded the report and read it. I was stunned, it was the most hedged, most wishy-washy equivocal report I had ever read. It hardly made a definitive statement about anything.

      I don’t believe a single journalist actually read the AR4 report. They couldn’t have. Or some may have read it but remained silent about it.

      Where were your reporters then? Why weren’t they peeling back the layers of obfuscation and trying to reveal the beauty or ugliness?

      Why did it take Climategate to open their eyes?

      They demonstrated that they were only there to zealously accept the faith of climate alarmism without question. And like zealots, they did.

  16. w.w.wygart says:

    Oh, and if anyone has any doubts about Anthony Watts’ personal integrity with regard to sensitive information that winds up in his hands read this post at his blog http://www.wattsupwiththat.com “An example of a different ethos when you have access to private documents” at the following URL:

    http://wattsupwiththat.com/2012/02/23/an-example-of-a-different-ethos-when-you-have-access-to-private-documents/#more-57393

    Regards

    W^3