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Revkin wanting attention: Science Reporter’s “Faux and Balanced” deception

February 25th, 2009 · 8 Comments

The New York Times Andy Revkin evidently was feeling a bit jealous of the attention that George Will and John Tierney were receiving for their deceptive disinformation when it comes to Global Warming issues. Other than that its a bit hard to explain his convoluted and, well, deceptive article in today’s New York Times on ‘hype’ on global warming, throwing Al Gore and into George Will into the same pot in a ‘on the one hand, on the other hand’ discussion. Nowhere, however, does Revkin deal with an absolute core point:

  • When challenged/questioned, Gore listened and absorbed the comments. He withdrew the slide, stopping basing his argument on scientists who said he (if accidently) misrpresented their work.
  • When challenged/questioned/providing evidence against what he writes, George Will (Tierney / Lomborg / Samuelson / etc ) simply ignores it and keeps saying the same falsehoods.

One is actively engaged with the science community, seeking to find paths to communicate scientific results to broader communities, and ready to listen to those people who he cites in his presentations.

The others actively misrepresent people’s statements, misquote, and show utter disdain for scientists and the scientific process.

But, for Andrew Revkin, they’re the same because … Well, this is unclear. Perhaps they’re the same for Andy because, for whatever reason, “Faux and Balanced” is more important than true and truthful.

Maybe he’s emphasizing “Faux and Balanced” on the rumors that Robert Murdoch might be seeking to acquire The New York Times?

How did Andy start his “news analysis” In Climate Debate, Exaggeration Is a Pitfall?

In the effort to shape the public’s views on global climate change, hyperbole is an ever-present temptation on all sides of the debate.

Earlier this month, former Vice President Al Gore and the Washington Post columnist George Will made strong public statements about global warning — from starkly divergent viewpoints.

Certainly seems to be that both of them committing the same “hyperbole”, no?

What’s behind this?

Mr. Gore, addressing a hall filled with scientists in Chicago, showed a slide that illustrated a sharp spike in fires, floods and other calamities around the world and warned the audience that global warming “is creating weather-related disasters that are completely unprecedented.”

Mr. Will, in a column attacking what he said were exaggerated claims about global warming’s risks, chided climate scientists for predicting an ice age three decades ago and asserted that a pause in warming in recent years and the recent expansion of polar sea ice undermined visions of calamity ahead.

Both men, experts said afterward, were guilty of inaccuracies and overstatements.

Hmmm … again, this looks like they’re one and the same, no?

Mr. Gore removed the slide from his presentation after the Belgian research group that assembled the disaster data said he had misrepresented what was driving the upward trend. The group said a host of factors contributed to the trend, with climate change possibly being one of them. A spokeswoman for Mr. Gore said he planned to switch to using data on disasters compiled by insurance companies.

Okay. Gore might have overstated the implications of a research group’s work. Not necessarily great. When they communicated to him their concern, Gore “removed the slide”. Okay. A responsible reaction, no?

By the way, was Gore’s misrepresentation based on how The New York Times reported on this graphic last year? As Al Gore’s spokesperson, Kalee Kreider, wrote

First and foremost, it conflates and misrepresents Mr. Gore’s tweaking of a particular slide in his 400+ slide presentation with someone who ignores wholesale the vast consensus that the climate crisis is real, it is caused by humans, and it will get worse unless we solve it.

There are a number of additional problems with the reporting:

The piece fails to indicate that one of the original sources of the the item that was revised in Mr. Gore’s slideshow was… The New York Times (Charles Blow op ed of 5/31/08). If Mr. Revkin felt that this data was such a problem, why did he not write about this in June 2008?

In other words, Andy, unlike what is suggested in your article, there was good reason for Al Gore to read the data the way he did … reason provided by your employer!

Mr. Will, peppered with complaints from scientists and environmental groups who claimed the column was riddled with errors, has yet to respond. The Post’s ombudsman said Mr. Will’s column had been carefully fact-checked. But the scientists whose research on ice formed the basis for Mr. Will’s statements said their data showed the area of the ice shrinking, not expanding.

Will, when challenged, doesn’t say a word. By the way, much of what he wrote has been disproved previously, with that information directly communicated to him. When provided proof that what he was saying was factually wrong, Will continued to write the same lies.

No retraction, no apology from the Post. In fact, The Post defends Will’s mendacity.

But, for Andy Revkin these are simply two sides of the same coin?

Sigh …

Well, not surprisingly after such a misguided misrepresentation posted in The Gray Lady’s science pages, many sent Andy comments regretting his piece. And, Andy blogged on this, basically stating that everyone knows who Will and Gore are, so that he didn’t have to provide serious discussion of their background. And, that the specifics of Will and Gore are besides the point because the article was really about something bigger.

the differences in the mens’ backgrounds, expertise and reputations were not at the heart of this piece. It was about the realities of climate science and long-term risk assessments and how they are a bad fit for the policy arena, no matter what your worldview or level of knowledge.

Sigh …

The first post in response was an email from Richard Somerville, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, dismayed over this article.

I fault you for seemingly equating the articles by Gore and Will. Your piece has them appearing comparable and comparably mistaken. That just doesn’t square with the facts. It’s a false dichotomy, and I doubt you could find well-regarded climate scientists who would agree with your framing. Gore is imperfect here and there. Will is just 100% plain dead wrong throughout. There’s a huge qualitative difference between them, and your readers deserve to hear that from you.

There are many other good comments throughout. For example, Dylan Otto Krider put it well:

It seems to me you glossed over the main difference: Gore made a mistake that was quickly corrected, in a presentation that actually represented scientific consensus. George F. Will has repeatedly made the same errors over and over again, which the sources he cites disavow, and Will, and his editors, don’t want to stop him from misleading his readers on clear issues of fact.

Corrections demonstrate a paper’s desire to be right and inform their readers. Gore, by correcting the lone error in his presentation, showed a commitment to fairly representing the science. Will and his editors, by refusing to correcting things that all of Will’s original sources say is misrepresented and dishonest, shows he doesn’t care about the accuracy of what he says, so much as the efficacy of the argument.

If Will and the Post cared about being accurate, they would issue a correction. They won’t, and Will will distort the science again and again and again, and is assisted in this effort by you equating the two as making earnest mistakes with a complex issue.

There is much of value in the 99 comments (at the time of this writing). Arthur Smith has a long, and powerful, comment that begins

Face it, anybody claiming to be moderate or neutral on the climate issue is, whatever their experience or motivation, playing chicken with our planet. The recent MIT report you posted just the other day that has end-of-century temperature global average increase likely 5 degrees C or more, and that’s just the *average* - that’s simply catastrophic, if we continue “business as usual”.

These comments make interesting reading in part because the only people truly praising of Revkin are climate skeptcs and deniers. Hmmm … does that suggest anything to you?

Within the comments section, whether purposefully or not, Andy continued his misrepresentations

I’ll just keep doing my job, Laurie. Lots more coverage coming. Actually, more people will see the online version (separate from my blog post), which has links to far more context on both men. In the meantime, send a short letter to letters@nytimes.com and there’s a good shot it will get into print.

1. Does anyone seriously think that more people reead “Dot Earth”, a blog, than see the published science section of The New York Times and then the electronic version of that section’s articles?

2. Anyone want to hazard a guess as to how many 1000s of letters the NY Times editors receive each day for, perhaps, 10 to be published?

Get serious Andy …

In the end, Michael Tobis captures it at In for the Gold,

Revkin falls into his old habit of splitting the difference between lies and truth, and then offers some lame justification on his blog.

NOTE: Three top-notch blog commentaries on Revkin’s article:

1. Joe Romm, Climate Progress, NYT’s Revkin embraces false balance, equates Will’s active disinformation with Gore’s effort to understand and communicate climate realism is an impassioned, fact-filled, skewering of the article.

2. Brad Johnson, Wonk Room, The New York Times Attacks Gore For Trusting The New York Times, provides three notable substantive issues with Revkin’s article.

3. Media Matters builds on Romm and Johnson with NY Times drew false equivalence between Will and Gore.

NOTE 2: Revkin’s piece is getting a lot of attention and George F Will’s mendacious attack on it will mean it gets even more. I like Stowe Boyd’s discussion.

In fine journalistic equipoise, Andrew Revkin has failed to clarify some recent events involving Al Gore and George Will on climate change. The NY Times author does the totally wrong thing, setting this up as two sides of an scientific argument, completely blundering the chance to do some real investigative journalism and come down on the side of the proven science involved.

Tags: Energy · journalism

8 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Will’s whining … defending the indefensible … // Feb 26, 2009 at 3:50 pm

    [...] thin-skinned Will couldn’t take the mild rebuke he received in Andy Revkin’s indefensible equating of Al Gore’s pulling one slide, of 400, from his presentation due to disagreements [...]

  • 2 Allen Bender // Feb 26, 2009 at 9:03 pm

    Good post, but you forget one thing. Andy Revkin is a journalist, a reporter, and his blog is a continuation of his print reporting. He is not an activist blogger, as most bloggers are, playing one side or the other. As a reporter, a print reporter, for a major NEWSpaper, he must continue to be a reporter, even on his blog. He is not a climate activist, like you or Joe Romm are. He is not a climate disinformation pro like Bjorn and Will are. He is a reporter. I think you still don’t understand this. Revkin is not a science writer writing science books. He is a journalist, and journalism is a very different game than writing a book or being an activist. Give him a break and try to understand his job better.

    If he was a mere climate activist blogger than yes, criticize him. But he is not a climate activist or a climate denialist. He is the man who reports the news. You sir do not understand what a newspaper reporter’s job is. I do. I am also a reporter.

  • 3 Allen Bender // Feb 26, 2009 at 9:44 pm

    And now go look what you have done Adam Siegal, sir. George Will is doing an entire column on Friday built around all this. Satisfied? How I do I know this in advance? I am George Will’s doppelganger who is not afraid of hugging other men. Jeez, Mr Will, get a life!

  • 4 A Siegel // Feb 26, 2009 at 10:08 pm

    Allan

    I really appreciate your comments but I am trying to wrap my head around them.

    I am well aware that Revkin is a journalist and that is a situation differing from activist.

    The question here is not advocacy but that Revkin created a false strawman, an equivalency of two clearly not equivalent situation, to promote his own argument and perspective. I don’t discuss (although others do) how Nisbet is a traditional person being quoted and, by the way, in the referenced article by Nisbet: the relevant section supporting the argument for which Revkin cites it for is built around quoting Andy Revkin.

    Now, as to Will and Gore, I would suggest (as does my blog post) that Revkin did not “report the NEWS”, but misreported and misrepresented it.

  • 5 NYTimes’ Revkin names some names // Feb 27, 2009 at 11:42 am

    [...] it also lays down a direct challenge to NY Times science writer Andy Revkin to name names from Revkin’s recent “news analysis” complimenting George Will by falsely balancing his…. Rather than complimented, Will is outraged. On Wednesday, the Times carried a “news [...]

  • 6 The Will Affair … struggling to keep up // Mar 5, 2009 at 11:12 am

    [...] Revkin wanting attention: Science Reporter’s “Faux and Balanced” deception, 25 Feb 09, [...]

  • 7 George F. Will goes platinum « Greenfyre’s // Mar 5, 2009 at 2:55 pm

    [...] Revkin wanting attention: Science Reporter’s “Faux and Balanced” deception [...]

  • 8 The Rotting Away of a Hero: Andrew Revkin on Peter Gleick // Mar 21, 2012 at 9:16 pm

    [...] more dutifully interested in balanced above truthful reporting.  His piece asserting falsely an equivalency between dutiful climate denier George Will and Vice President Al Gore provides a texbook example of the [...]

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