According to a leaked e-mail, a Fox News official instructed network reporters in December 2009 to slant news reporting about climate change.
“[W]e 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,” wrote Fox News Washington managing editor Bill Sammon.
Sammon’s e-mail came at a time when Fox News was ginning up a fabricated controversy over e-mail exchanges among respected climate scientists at the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit.
Media Matters, a watchdog group, which obtained Sammon’s e-mail, pointedout that Sammon issued his directive “less than 15 minutes after Fox correspondent Wendell Goler accurately reported on-air that the United Nations’ World Meteorological Organization announced that 2000-2009 was ‘on track to be the warmest [decade] on record.'”
Noting the fact that 2000-09 was warmer than the 1990s and that the 1990s were warmer than the 1980s, Goler said, “Americans are among the most skeptical about global warming.”
When Fox show host Jon Scott asked Goler about the “Climategate” e-mails, Goler said the data came from sources in addition to the British university connected with the e-mails. He referenced NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Goler said the data “across all three sources is pretty consistent.”
Media Matters documented how Fox News changed its language after Sammon’s e-mail.
Media Matters also documented how the “Climategate” e-mails had no “bearing on the validity of scientific theories about climate change,” citing a letter to Congress from prominent scientists, an article in Nature, a statement from the American Meteorological Society and a statement from the director of science and policy at the Union of Concerned Scientists.
The fact that Sammon would tell Fox News staff to treat the opinion of “critics” on par with scientists and other experts shows Sammon’s bias in favor of ideology over science.
Validating “critics” is akin to what Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) did when he listed a weatherman without a college degree in Bowling Green, Ky., as one of the distinguishedscientists who dissented from the science of climate change.
When one sees Sammon’s need to question the “veracity of climate data,” one gets a sinking feeling about how slanted Fox News is, how harmful it is to the quest for truth, and why so many conservatives parrot the denial-talking points about global warming.
Writing on his blog, Al Gore said, “[T]here’s no legitimate debate: the planet is warming. Moreover, man-made global warming pollution is the principal cause.”
He added, “It is unsurprising, yet still disturbing, that Fox would allow its political bias to infiltrate its news reporting about the conference. Overall, the media’s coverage of climate issues has been atrocious. However, Fox seems determined to set the bar even lower.”
In a press release, the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) said the leaked e-mail “was not surprising…but it is nonetheless revealing.”
Noting that it “tracks climate misinformation on Fox News and other media outlets,” the press release said, “While UCS has had productive interactions with a number of Fox News staff members, the network’s coverage regularly gives unwarranted weight to anti-scientific claims regarding climate change.”
A Los Angeles Times editorial titled “Fox’s Unbalancing Act” said: “Instructing reporters to treat such facts as controversial is like telling them to question the laws of gravity when discussing plane crashes. The only reason for doing it is to further a partisan agenda, in this case an attempt to cast doubt on climate science in order to fend off government efforts to limit greenhouse gases.”
The editorial concluded, “Fox should either come clean about this and crack down on such partisanship in its news ranks, or it should stop pretending to be an objective news source.”
Robert M. Parham (1953 – 2017) was the founder and executive director of Baptist Center for Ethics from 1991 to 2017. He served as executive editor of EthicsDaily.com, BCE’s website, from its launch in 2002 until 2017.