Misleading NY Times article provides fodder for conservatives to attack Gore on global warming


Numerous media figures and conservatives have seized on The New York Times' March 13 article on global warming -- which, as Media Matters for America and others have noted, includes misleading characterizations, a false comparison, and misrepresentations of Gore's position -- to attack Gore.

As Media Matters for America repeatedly noted, the Times article relied heavily on global warming skeptics with histories of promoting misinformation on the issue. While most skeptics cited in the article were identified as such, the Times identified geology professor Don J. Easterbrook as a "rank-and-file" scientist, when, in fact, Easterbrook is a global warming skeptic who has predicted global cooling between 2065 and 2100 and denies that human activity has contributed to global warming over the past century.

The article also made misleading claims regarding Gore's statements about the effects of global warming, which have since been advanced by various conservative news outlets and media figures. For instance, many conservatives have repeated the article's suggestion that Gore's assertions about rising sea levels are contradicted by the International Panel on Climate Control's (IPCC) as evidence that Gore is engaging in "wild exaggerations." Most recently, on the March 24 edition of Fox News' The Beltway Boys, co-host and Weekly Standard executive editor Fred Barnes, citing the Times article, asserted that "scientists are increasingly embarrassed by the wild exaggerations of Al Gore, where he says ... the sea level will rise 20 feet, and the U.N. [United Nations] group that's looked into this says it'll be 23 inches."

But as Media Matters for America has repeatedly noted (here, here, here, here, and here), the Times article was engaging in a false comparison. In the documentary An Inconvenient Truth (Paramount Classics, 2006), Gore stated that that if the West Antarctic ice shelf were to either melt entirely or fall into the ocean "sea level worldwide would go up 20 feet. In the book associated with the documentary, An Inconvenient Truth (Rodale Books, May 2006), Gore made the same claim, adding that "the West Antarctic ice shelf is virtually identical in size and mass to the Greenland ice dome, which also would raise sea levels worldwide by 20 feet if it melted or broke up and slipped into the sea." The IPCC estimates, however, did not address how the sudden collapse of the West Antarctic ice shelf or the Greenland ice dome would affect sea levels. Rather, the figures offered by the IPCC pertained to rising sea levels as they are affected by "[c]ontinued greenhouse gas emissions at or above current rates." A chart projecting the rise of sea levels in six different scenarios showed that the "the best estimate for the high scenario," which defined the "likely range" of temperature increases over the next century to be from "2.4°C to 6.4°C," would result in an increase in sea levels between 0.26 meters and 0.59 meters, which converts to a range of 10.24 to 23.23 inches. The IPCC further claimed that "[c]ontraction of the Greenland ice sheet is projected to continue to contribute to sea level rise after 2100" and that "[i]f a negative surface mass balance were sustained for millennia, that would lead to virtually complete elimination of the Greenland ice sheet and a resulting contribution to sea level rise of about 7 m," which is equivalent to approximately 23 feet. Additionally, as blogger Bob Somerby noted in a March 19 Daily Howler posting, global warming expert James Hansen asserted during a July 2006 Discovery Channel special that the timeframe in which the rise in sea level Gore referenced "could be 50 years from now, could be 100 years from now, but it's not 1,000 years from now."

Nonetheless, numerous media figures have used this false comparison and other elements from the March 13 Times article to attack Gore:

  • On the March 24 edition of The Beltway Boys, Barnes also claimed "there is no scientific consensus on global warming." In fact, as Media Matters has documented, the vast majority of climate scientists and organizations agree that human activity contributes to global warming.
  • In his March 26 column, U.S. News & World Report senior writer Michael Barone asserted that "[e]ven The New York Times bridles" at Gore's global warming claims. Barone continued: "After Gore won the Academy Award for his film on climate change, the Times printed an article in which respected scientists -- not Republicans, not on oil company payrolls -- charged that Gore has vastly exaggerated the likelihood of catastrophic effects." In fact, as Media Matters has noted (here and here), at least three of the scientists cited in the Times article have connections to the oil industry.

    Barone also repeated the Times' faulty sea level comparison to claim that the "fine print of even the scientific reports that Gore likes to cite" shows that Gore is "vastly exaggerat[ing]" the threat of global warming.

  • In a March 21National Review op-ed, American Enterprise Institute fellow Steven F. Hayward wrote that "a backlash in the scientific community has begun" against Gore. Hayward continued, "Last week, New York Times veteran science reporter William Broad filed a devastating article about scientists who are 'alarmed' at Gore's alarmism." Hayward went on to cite the faulty sea level comparison and quote heavily from the Times article.
  • In his March 22 syndicated column, Jay Ambrose described as "preposterous" what he said was "Gore's unscientific, alarmist, inane claim in his movie, 'An Inconvenient Truth,' that sea levels will zoom upward by 20 feet over the next century if we don't heed his remedies." He further described Gore as "this king of ballyhoo" who has nothing more "to contribute to the warming debate than fallacies and exaggeration." In fact, contrary to Ambrose's assertion, even the Times article noted that Gore "cit[ed] no particular time frame" while discussing the consequences of potential sea level increases. Ambrose asserted: "The scientific consensus as expressed in the recent U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is that the rise will not be 20 feet by 2101, or 15 or 10 or 5. It likely won't even be 20 inches, which is to say, we clever human beings will be able to adapt." Ambrose further wrote: "If you think maybe that's it -- that the movie's errors end there -- you haven't read a recent New York Times story in which rank-and-file scientists express concern that the movie confuses extreme speculation with certainty or learned how major think tanks, buttressing their criticisms with documentation, have had at the Oscar-winning movie and companion book with a vengeance."
  • While interviewing Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) on the March 22 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, co-host Gretchen Carlson stated that "The New York Times, of all newspapers, the other day said in one of their articles that scientists argued that some of Gore's central points are exaggerated and erroneous," and asked Inhofe, "Why the change of tide?" Inhofe replied: "His best friends are The New York Times, and to have them say that you're exaggerating so much you're hurting your own cause is just incredible. And that's -- I couldn't believe it when I read that in The New York Times." Inhofe also claimed that Gore's "credibility" is "going down," and concluded: "We're going to win this one."
  • A March 21 Washington Times editorial proposed this question of Gore: "Can you explain why the New York Times would devote a front-page story to the problematic factual inconsistencies and exaggerations of 'An Inconvenient Truth'?" The editorial added: "It must be the vast right-wing conspiracy."
  • As Media Matters has noted, on the March 21 edition of Fox News' The Big Story, Cato Institute senior fellow Patrick Michaels used the false sea level comparison as the basis for characterizing Gore's position as "beyond shrill" and "thermonuclear."
  • In his March 19 Philadelphia Inquirer column, Jonathan Last referred to Gore's "promiscuous doomsaying" and stated: "[I]t's no surprise that some scientists have begun to quietly complain about Gore. A number of them went on record with their complaints to the New York Times last week." Last went on to cite the false sea level comparison. He also wrote that Gore is "[e]ver apocalyptic" in his global warming predictions, and, as proof, cited Easterbrook's claim in the Times article "that within the last 15,000 years there have been shifts up to '20 times greater than the warming in the past century.'"
  • In this March 19 column, Sun-Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Florida) TV/radio writer Tom Jicha cited the Times article and revived several other falsehoods to smear Gore. Jicha wrote that "Mr. 'I Invented the Internet' is renowned for his exaggerations. He has been using the microphones provided him by the mainstream media to predict, among other things, that global warming will cause ocean levels to rise 20 feet." Jicha also cited the Times article to claim that Gore "lie[s]": "An article in The New York Times last week reported, 'Part of [Gore's] scientific audience is uneasy. In talks, articles and blog entries that have appeared since his film and accompanying book came out last year, these scientists argue that some of Mr. Gore's central points are exaggerated and erroneous. They are alarmed, some say, at what they call his alarmism.'"

    As Media Matters has repeatedly noted, the claim that Gore said he invented the Internet -- which media figures repeated incessantly during the 2000 presidential race -- is patently false.

  • As Media Matters has previously noted, in his March 19 Wall Street Journal column John Fund replicated misinformation from the Times article -- including the false sea levels comparison -- to accuse Gore of "environmental exaggerations and hypocrisy."
  • A March 18 Boston Herald editorial stated: "Finally, even some scientists well disposed to Al Gore are beginning to call spades spades about his scaremongering documentary that won an Academy Award, 'An Inconvenient Truth.' '' The editorial quoted extensively from the Times article. After noting the faulty sea level claim, the editorial stated: "Anybody interested in following up this discrepancy is likely to note that the panel's forecasts largely have been toned down slightly from the previous report five years ago."
  • Previewing the Times article, a March 14 Investors Business Daily editorial stated that the newspaper "cautiously threw some cold water on Gore's overheated rhetoric" after "seeing a chance the debate could shift in favor of alternative sources for recent warming." The editorial reported that the Times article "opened the possibility that some of his central claims are 'exaggerated and erroneous,' and deigned to recognize scientists who have challenged him."

The Times article has also been cited by several Republican members of Congress in their criticism of Gore:

  • During the March 21 Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing on global warming, Inhofe twice cited the Times article. In his opening statements, Inhofe asserted: "Even The New York Times ... last week had an article, Mr. Vice-President, that said that you've been so extreme in some of your expressions that you're losing some of your own people. Now given that, it's no wonder that you've turned down some of the opportunities people have asked for, for debates."
  • Similarly, during the March 21 joint hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Air Quality and the House Science and Technology Subcommittee on Energy and Environment, Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) accused Gore of being "totally wrong" about global warming and stated to Gore: "You have also asserted that global warming is going to cause sea levels to rise by over 20 feet -- 20 feet. The recent IPCC report indicates a rise of, at most, 23 inches -- inches. Twelve inches equals a foot."
  • Barton also falsely claimed, that the "IPCC report does not support" Gore's claim "that there will be more and stronger hurricanes because of global warming." The March 13 Times article had also falsely suggested Gore had claimed that global warming would lead to a higher frequency of hurricanes. In fact, as Media Matters noted, Gore attributed the idea that global warming will contribute to an increase in hurricane activity to "some scientists" and wrote in his book "[t]here is less agreement among scientists about the relationship between the total number of hurricanes each year and global warming." Gore also noted in the update to his film that "[t]here is no scientific consensus linking the absolute number of hurricanes to global warming." Further, the recent IPCC report appeared to agree with Gore's assessment, concluding that "[b]ased on a range of models, it is likely that future tropical cyclones (typhoons and hurricanes) will become more intense, with larger peak wind speeds and more heavy precipitation associated with ongoing increases of tropical SSTs [sea surface temperatures]." [Emphasis in original.]

From the IPCC report:

Based on a range of models, it is likely that future tropical cyclones (typhoons and hurricanes) will become more intense, with larger peak wind speeds and more heavy precipitation associated with ongoing increases of tropical SSTs. There is less confidence in projections of a global decrease in numbers of tropical cyclones. The apparent increase in the proportion of very intense storms since 1970 in some regions is much larger than simulated by current models for that period.

From the March 24 edition of Fox News' Beltway Boys:

BARNES: All this is all the more reason why Bush should not throw [Attorney General] Alberto Gonzales overboard -- to fire him. I mean, it would only make Democrats foam at the mouth even more -- their bloodlust would be so excited for more kills -- and to reward them for concocting an entirely bogus scandal like this AG scandal and then let them have scalps -- that would be a huge mistake by the White House.

Look, these investigations are almost purely partisan; and they're not really investigations, they're show trials. They're not -- they're not truth-seeking, and -- you know, I like -- and I thank you for putting the quotes around "oversight," because that's exactly what it is.

Look, if they were truth-seeking about global warming, they wouldn't bring in Al Gore to testify, as he did on Wednesday. I mean, that's -- when you bring in Al Gore, that's an adventure in hyperbole, because he indulges in so much of it. Here's a bite from when he testified on Wednesday. Watch.

GORE [video clip]: The planet has a fever. If your baby has a fever, you go to the doctor. If the doctor says you need to intervene here, you don't say, "Well, I read a science fiction novel that tells me it's not a problem." If the crib's on fire, you don't speculate that the baby is flame retardant. You take action. The planet has a fever.

BARNES: There's a man who has a fever, that's for sure. Look, it is clear now to me that there is no scientific consensus on global warming, except for one thing: We know the temperature in the globe increased by 1 degree over the last 100 years. But -- and scientists are increasingly embarrassed by the wild exaggerations of Al Gore, where he says we're going to get a -- the sea level will rise 20 feet, and the U.N. group that's looked into this says it'll be 23 inches. You'll have to admit, there's a significant difference there.

And I think you're going to increasingly see -- well, we have seen, in that New York Times story, scientists increasingly ready to go public to repudiate Al Gore. And yet, you know, you find some Al Gore apologist like yourself, Mort.

MORTON M. KONDRACKE (Roll Call executive editor): Well, I'm not a full Al Gore apologist. But -- but look, there is --

BARNES: Thank goodness for that.

KONDRACKE: Look, you're just dead wrong on whether -- wait a minute. There is a scientific consensus that -- and even the U.N. report indicated it -- that the globe -- the world is warming, and that mankind is very likely responsible for it. In fact, that --

BARNES: There's not a consensus on that.

KONDRACKE: The U.N. -- wait a minute. The U.N. commission said that there's practically no question any more about that point. Now they -- now there is a question about whether Gore is exaggerating the consequences of all this, as you say, whether the sea is going to rise 23 feet, or 12 inches, and it obviously makes a difference.

And there's also -- and I think Gore's remedies for this, namely to shut down the carbon economy in the West, when the -- when countries in the underdeveloped world are not ready to do that, is the right answer or is even a feasible answer. But this is a subject that deserves serious, programmatic attention, instead of this ideological combat that it's getting right now.

BARNES: And it's provoked by Al Gore.

KONDRACKE: Well -- and --

BARNES: I'd still like these global-warming people to explain why -- why if it -- if mankind caused it to increase 1 degree over the last 100 years -- it increased 1 degree over many centuries many earlier -- what was it? Heavy breathing by dinosaurs? Mankind wasn't around.

Mort, I know you can't explain that, and I don't expect you to, but Democrats have become obsessed, as I think you'll agree, with hunting for scalps and passing anti-war resolutions -- I mean, this is all they do -- allowing Republicans, to some extent -- I don't want to over -- I don't want to exaggerate this -- to some extent to step in and take up serious issues.

From the March 22 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends:

CARLSON: You know what I find amazing is that, a couple of weeks ago, we were talking about some people who are on the other side of the fence, like yourself, were receiving death threats, some of these scientists who were scared to continue saying what they thought, and yet The New York Times, of all newspapers, the other day said in one of their articles that scientists argued that some of Gore's central points are exaggerated and erroneous. Why the change of tide?

INHOFE: Gretchen, we talked about that yesterday. His best friends are The New York Times, and to have them say that you're exaggerating so much you're hurting your own cause is just incredible. And that's -- I couldn't believe it when I read that in The New York Times.

And I think that's true. When he started talking about this is worse than World War II and all these extreme things, I think his credibility's going down. I sense this. I see the scientists changing, and you know, this thing -- we're going to win this one.

We've changed our commenting system to Disqus.
Instructions for signing up and claiming your comment history are located here.
Updated rules for commenting are here.