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The Science of Hot Air

Alteration of Reuters headline to convey the opposite message is the latest in Fox News' propaganda war on climate change

By Shawn Lawrence Otto | Jul 06, 2011 | Comments (0)

On July 4, 2011, Reuters ran the following headline:  “Asia pollution blamed for halt in warming: study.

The FOX NationThe following day, Fox News picked up the Reuters story, but changed the headline to “Reuters Bombshell: Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reduce Global Warming.

Just one problem: the sulfur dioxide emissions from Chinese coal plants, the subject of the article, are not greenhouse gas emissions.  In fact, they are the opposite.  Sulfure dioxide is the chemical most talked about among scientists and economists who propose taking control of the earth's thermostat to force the temperature down - a radical, desperate response to congressional inaction on climate change, known as geoengineering.   

Called sulfur aerosol injection, the plan comes from observations of the Philippines’ Mount Pinatubo eruption in June of 1991. The volcano blasted nearly twenty million tons of sulfur dioxide into the upper atmosphere. It spread into a haze that reflected enough light back into space to decrease the amount hitting the planet’s surface by about 10 percent. Over the next eighteen months, global temperatures fell by about 1°F. The sulfur stayed in the stratosphere for about three years, creating spectacular sunsets, but also slowly destroying parts of the ozone layer, before gradually falling back to Earth as acid rain.

The same end result—a high-atmosphere sulfur dioxide haze—can be achieved technologically and various methods have been proposed, from adding sulfur dioxide to commercial jet fuel to pumping it up through sixty-five-thousand-foot-long fire hoses running from the ground to enormous zeppelins that would spray it into the stratosphere - and by the rapid build-out of Chinese coal-fired power plants, as the paper indicated.

The problem with geoengineering is that it turns the entire planet into a sulfur addict.  If the world ever lost the will or ability to keep geoengineering, the greenhouse gases that accumulated while we were could drive the temperature up at a rate that would be unmanageable.

This sort of propaganda-based injection of not sulfur but political ideology into the news stream around climate change is becoming de regeur for Fox News.  Consider this example:

On December 8, 2009, Fox News’s White House correspondent Wendell Goler delivered a live report from Copenhagen on the daytime news show Happening Now, as MediaMatters reported. Goler was asked by host Jon Scott about “UN scientists issuing a new report today saying this decade is on track to be the warmest on record.”  Check it out:


Goler said yes, 2000 to 2009 was “expected to turn out to be the warmest decade on record.” He said it was a “trend that has scientists concerned because 2000 to 2009 [was] warmer than the 1990s, which were warmer than the 1980s.” He then said, “Ironically, 2009 was a cooler than average year in the US and Canada,” which, he said, was “politically troubling because Americans are among the most skeptical about global warming.”

This unbiased reporting must have caused an irate phone call from someone to chew out Fox News’s Washington managing editor Bill Sammon, because within fifteen minutes, Sammon had fired off a strident e-mail to the staffs of Special Report, the Fox White House Unit, Fox News Sunday, FoxNews.com, and several other reporters, producers, and executives:

 From: Sammon, Bill

 To: 169 -SPECIAL REPORT; 036 -FOX.WHU ; 054 -FNSunday; 030 -Root (FoxNews.Com); 050 -Senior Producers; 051 -Producers; 069 -Politics; 005 -Washington

 Cc: Clemente, Michael; Stack, John; Wallace, Jay; Smith, Sean

 Sent: Tue Dec 08 12:49:51 2009

 Subject: Given the controversy over the veracity of climate change data…

…we should refrain from asserting that the planet has warmed (or cooled) in any given period without IMMEDIATELY pointing out that such theories are based upon data that critics have called into question. It is not our place as journalists to assert such notions as facts, especially as this debate intensifies.

The directive ignored the fact that the data Goler mentioned had accumulated over fifty years of research, and was supported by a wide variety of the nation’s leading scientists and academies.  Sammon’s statement was an ideological directive that placed knowledge on an equal footing with the political opinion of critics, and thus it was not in keeping with the standards of good journalism. It would set the tone of junk science skepticism for all Fox News reportage and GOP messaging on climate change that was to follow - message points that virtually every GOP candidate for congress then picked up and repeated, as I detail here.

"Whenever the people are well informed,” Thomas Jefferson wrote, “they can be trusted with their own government.”  Jefferson thought that a free press and public education were the answers.  But when the press becomes captured by an ideological agenda, we've got a problem. 


Tags: Antiscience, Climate Change, Politics, Media, Environment

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