June 20, 2003
BACKGROUND: "The Environmental Protection Agency
is preparing to publish a draft report next week on the state
of the environment, but after editing by the White House, a long
section describing risks from rising global temperatures has
been whittled to a few noncommittal paragraphs...." so began
a June 19 New York Times story
by Andrew C. Revkin and Katharine Q. Seelye that has received
national attention, including a story by the AP and commentaries
by FNC's Bill O'Reilly and the editorial page of the Boston
Globe, among others.
A brief synopsis: The Times piece
essentially carries water for unidentified EPA staffers who are
upset that an upcoming EPA report on the environment will not
assert there is a scientific consensus on global warming.
According to available information, the
staffers hoped the report would assert there is a scientific
consensus that global warming is occurring and humankind is partly
responsible. Others in the Bush Administration, specifically,
within the Council on Environmental Quality, do not believe a
scientific consensus exists, and preferred to say so. A compromise
was decided upon under which the report will neither assert a
consensus nor deny one.
The Times also reported the complaint
that at one point the White House wished to include in the report
a reference to a climate change study identified by the Times only as a "new study, partly financed by the American Petroleum
Michael Catanzaro of the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works
Committee staff, is a reference to a study by the Harvard-Smithsonian
Center for Astrophysics. The Harvard-Smithsonian study is based
on a review of 240 independently peer-reviewed studies conducted
over 40 years and its funders included NASA, the National Oceanic
and Atmospheric Administration and the Air Force Office of Scientific
The Times reports that EPA Chief
Christie Whitman told them she is "perfectly comfortable"
with the compromise and the report.
TEN SECOND RESPONSE: The Times story contains its own rebuttal.
Unidentified EPA staffers are upset that an upcoming report will
not claim there is a consensus on global warming -- because Administration
employees could not reach a consensus on global warming.
THIRTY SECOND RESPONSE: The EPA report apparently was
never expected to contain new research on climate change. Had
it asserted opinions at odds with President Bush's views, however,
it would have been used as a tool against the President by the
environmental left. Activists on the environmental left thus
are disappointed at their inability to use the EPA report as
a political tool, but they can console themselves that they have
successfully used the New York Times and others in the
news media as one.
On its merits, this story is about nothing more than a disagreement
about the phrasing of a government report few Americans will
read -- a report that apparently was to contain no new global
warming studies, merely references to other well-known studies
long in the public domain.
However, some media commentators -- Fox's
Bill O'Reilly and the Boston Globe's Derrick Jackson are
standouts -- have misreported the story, making it worthwhile
to set the record straight.
This is particularly true in the case
of O'Reilly, whose comments are less obviously silly than Jackson's
and who has a reputation as a quasi-conservative, although his
views on global warming are closer to Al Gore's than to those
of George Bush.
O'Reilly began his June 19 broadcast
with a "talking points" editorial saying, in part: "...Today we find out that the White House
tried to sanitize a government study on global warming. Instead
of including both points of view on the issue, the Bush people
have shaded the report to the side that sees warming as bogus...
censoring global warming studies is wrong. And no amount of spinning
can make it right."
It has been evident for some time that
O'Reilly's understanding of the global warming issue is superficial.
This passage confirms his confusion. Even using the slanted New
York Times article as a source, it is clear that the White
House was attempting take an apparently one-sided draft on global
warming (aka, stating or implying that the theory is true
and that human beings are in part responsible for warming) and
adding to it a statement that climate change is a complex issue
and that fully understanding climate change is a challenge for
The Times reports the sentence
"Climate change has global consequences for human health
and the environment" was replaced by the White House with
a paragraph beginning: "The complexity of the Earth system
and the interconnections among its components make it a scientific
challenge to document change, diagnose its causes, and develop
useful projections of how natural variability and human actions
may affect the global environment in the future."
This, apparently, is what O'Reilly considers
"sanitizing," but the deleted sentence is unremarkable,
6th grade stuff, and the White House-drafted sentence is more
informative and clearly true. Even global warming theory proponents
agree with it.
A better word than "sanitizing"
might be "improving."
Finally, referring to a partly U.S. government-funded
Harvard-Smithsonian review of 240 peer-reviewed studies merely
as a "new study, partly financed by the American Petroleum
Institute," as the New York Times did, certainly
qualifies for first prize in the spinning category.
The Times's harsh description
could lead readers to suppose -- and probably was designed to
lead readers to suppose -- that a study affiliated with two of
America's most prestigious academic institutions was scarcely
more significant than half-baked crayon scribblings by greedy
O'Reilly's second charge, that the White
House was "censoring global warming studies," is silly.
There's no indication that any draft of the EPA report contained
new climate change studies, merely references to well-known studies
already in the public domain.
Furthermore, the EPA is part of the Bush
Administration. When Administration officials involve themselves
in the preparation of an Administration document, the process
is called "writing," not "censoring."
Somewhat in O'Reilly's defense -- as
the second part of his June 19 editorial criticized John Kerry
-- he was probably seeking to be fair and balanced by criticizing
both a Republican and a Democrat in his editorial. But climate
change science is a serious business, to which many people have
devoted their entire professional lives. It deserves to be treated
more seriously than as a throwaway line in a hopeless attempt
to mute left-wing criticism of the Fox News Channel.
Writing in the
New York Times-owned Boston Globe, editorialist
Derrick Jackson took the environmental left's approach and then
some, claiming that the Administration's participation in an
Administration report (Jackson called this "fry[ing] climate
change") raises suspicions that "Bush cooked the books
for war [against Iraq]." Jackson has a taste for over-the-top
rhetoric. On September 19, 2001, just after the terrorist attacks,
he claimed God shares his global warming views: "God cannot
be all that happy with a nation that is 5 percent of the world's
population, produces a quarter of Earth's carbon dioxide emissions,
yet walks out of global warming talks."
In his June 20 piece, at least, Jackson made no claims about
the Divine's opinion of the EPA report.
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
Andrew C. Revkin and Katharine Q. Seelye,
"Report by the E.P.A. Leaves Out Data on Climate Change,"
New York Times, June 19, 2003 at http://www.nytimes.com/2003/06/19/politics/19CLIM.html
Michael Catanzaro, U.S. Senate Committee
on the Environment and Public Works, "Climate-Gate: What
Is the President Being Accused Of, Exactly?," e-mail posted
online with permission at http://www.nationalcenter.org/Climate-Gate.html
"20th Century Climate Not So Hot,"
Press Release of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics,
March 31, 2003, at http://cfa-www.harvard.edu/press/pr0310.html
H. Josef Hebert, "Documents Reveal that EPA Downplayed Climate
Change in a Report on Environmental Challenges," Associated
Press, June 20, 2003, as posted by the Environmental News Network
Text of Bill O'Reilly "Talking Points
Memo" from his June 19, 2003 broadcast at http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,89964,00.html
Derrick Z. Jackson, "Bush Fries
Climate Change," Boston Globe, June 20, 2003 at http://www.boston.com/dailyglobe2/171/oped/Bush_fries_climate_change+.shtml
A Sticky Wicket for the Boston Globe
[Excerpts of Derrick Jackson's editorial of September 19, 2001],
The National Center for Public Policy Research, September 2001
Tom Randall, "New York Times Sounds
False Climate Alarm Once Again: Bush, Not Times, Has It Right
On Global Warming," Ten Second Response #82002, National
Center for Public Policy Research, August 20, 2002 at http://www.nationalcenter.org/TSR82002.html
Gerald Marsh, "Climate Change Science?:
National Academy of Sciences Global Warming Report Fails to Live
Up to Its Billing," National Policy Analysis #349, National
Center for Public Policy Research at http://www.nationalcenter.org/NPA349.html
by Amy Ridenour
The National Center for Public Policy Research
Contact the author at: 202-507-6398 or [email protected]
The National Center for Public
20 F Street NW, Suite 700 Washington, D.C. 20001