KCOL's "Keith and Gail" distorted news reports, federal findings on global warming

››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

In two separate broadcasts, KCOL radio co-hosts Keith Weinman and Gail Fallen made dubious statements and distorted news accounts to discount the effect of global warming on the United States' record-setting heat of 2006.

On their January 17 broadcast, Fox News Radio 600 KCOL co-hosts Keith Weinman and Gail Fallen distorted news media reports to misleadingly assert that government statistics showing 2006 was the nation's warmest year on record attributed the trend to the El Niño weather phenomenon, but not to long-term global warming related to human activity. The distortion mirrored assertions the pair made during their January 10 broadcast, in which they criticized news reports for citing global warming as a contributor to the record. In fact, the National Oceanographic & Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) National Climatic Data Center report that 2006 was the warmest year on record in the United States specifically cited long-term, greenhouse-gas induced climate change as a contributing factor to both short-term and long-term warming trends.

Weinman and Fallen host their Mornings with Keith and Gail! show from Fort Collins. Following a discussion in which Weinman praised a dubious Fort Collins Coloradoan op-ed piece on global warming and touted the views of local global warming skeptic Mack Hunt, Fallen referenced a January 10 USA Today article about NOAA's January 9 report that 2006 was "the warmest year ever recorded in the USA." Yet, while the article noted the report was "believed to be the first time the annual report mentions climate change as a cause" of warmer temperatures, Fallen and Weinman contended the piece emphasized that "the current El Niño ... the periodic warming of Pacific waters, is the biggest factor for climate change in 2006":

FALLEN: So there, January 10, 2007, there's an article that appears in USA Today; the headline reads, "El Niño gives USA its hottest year in '06."

WEINMAN: "El Niño gives USA its hottest year in '06." Not global warming, El Niño.

FALLEN: El Niño.

WEINMAN: In USA Today.

FALLEN: Exactly.

In fact, the headline and sub-headline of the USA Today article read:

El Niño gives USA its hottest year in '06

Climate change enters as a factor

From the January 10 USA Today article by Patrick O'Driscoll:

Last summer's deadly heat wave and a balmy December helped make 2006 the warmest year ever recorded in the USA, federal climate officials announced Tuesday.

The National Climatic Data Center says factors include the El Niño climate pattern and "the long-term warming trend" of climate change, due in part to "greenhouse gases." The center says the warmth made drought more severe in the Plains and parts of the West. Wildfire agencies say it helped make it the worst wildfire season ever, with 9.8 million acres burned.

"There's no denying that climate change is occurring, and warmer winters and warmer years are more common for that reason," says Jay Lawrimore, monitoring chief for the center, which keeps the nation's weather records. "What we're seeing (in 2006) is just becoming so much more common."

USA Today's article was similar to those of other news outlets, including the Rocky Mountain News, which reported on January 10:

The buildup of heat-trapping gases from tailpipes and smokestacks contributed to the 2006 warming, according to NOAA, an agency recently criticized for allegedly trying to prevent its researchers from freely discussing global climate change.

"It's refreshing to see them actually be able to say that. I applaud it," Boulder climate researcher Kevin Trenberth said of the NOAA greenhouse-gas acknowledgement, included in a Tuesday news release.

"I think it's an encouraging sign," said Trenberth, who works at the National Center for Atmospheric Research.

Last January, NOAA issued a news release announcing that 2005 had tied 1998 as the planet's warmest year on record. It made no mention of greenhouse warming.

However, on their January 10 broadcast, Fallen and Weinman sharply criticized news accounts of the NOAA report, with Weinman blasting a January 9 Associated Press article on the NOAA report as "the most blatantly biased thing I have ever seen in the media." As the AP reported:

The center said it is not clear how much of the warming is a result of greenhouse-gas induced climate change and how much resulted from the current El Nino warming of the tropical Pacific Ocean.

Referring to the article, Weinman said:

WEINMAN: Let me read it two ways. Let me let two key words out and see if you pick up a bias in it without the two key words. Here it is without the two key words. And then I'll read it with the two key words. The center said it's not clear how much the warming is the result of climate change and how much resulted from the current El Niño warming of the tropical Pacific Ocean. That's A. Here's B, with the words in that they included. The center said it's not clear how much of the warming is the result of greenhouse-gas induced climate change and how much resulted from the current El Niño warming of the tropical Pacific Ocean.

The pair then engaged in a lengthy dialogue criticizing the alleged bias in the AP article, with Fallen stating, "[T]he word 'induced' carries all sorts of baggage with it." But they omitted any mention that both the article and the report underscored the role greenhouse gas emissions played in contributing to the record heat of 2006 and to the long-term warming trend noted by NOAA scientists.

In fact, as Colorado Media Matters has noted, the summary of the NOAA report, posted on the agency's website, stated: "The 2006 average annual temperature for the contiguous U.S. was the warmest on record and nearly identical to the record set in 1998, according to scientists at the NOAA National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, N.C." The report also stated that "[t]he past nine years have all been among the 25 warmest years on record for the contiguous U.S., a streak which is unprecedented in the historical record." Moreover, according to NOAA's summary, "A contributing factor to the unusually warm temperatures throughout 2006 also is the long-term warming trend, which has been linked to increases in greenhouse gases. This has made warmer-than-average conditions more common in the U.S. and other parts of the world."

The agency did note that it was "unclear" how much of 2006's "anomalous warmth" was due to the "greenhouse-gas-induced warming" and stated that El Niño "is playing a major role in this winter's short-term warm period."

Reading from the USA Today article on the January 17 broadcast, Fallen stated that "in the interest of giving you all the information so that you can decide, this from the National Climatic Data Center. The center says that the current El Niño, this is the periodic warming of Pacific waters, is the biggest factor for climate change in 2006, but that global warming is, quote, a contributing factor. "

From the January 17 broadcast of Fox News Radio 600 KCOL's Mornings with Keith and Gail!:

WEINMAN: An op-ed piece in the Fort Collins Coloradoan this morning, in response to this continuing debate, by a guy named Louis Phillippe, who lives in Fort Collins, who was apparently -- who's got -- his attention was grabbed by a column that had appeared in the paper before that that cited " 'indisputable facts' presented in the Al Gore film, An Inconvenient Truth," suggesting that "those who dismiss global warming is a hoax are relegated to 'the same dark corner as flat Earth theorists and Holocaust-deniers.' " Louis wrote in his op-ed piece in the Coloradoan, "Hundreds of the world's foremost scientists and climatologists [] strongly disagree."

[...]

FALLEN: Found it fascinating, just in doing some research about global warming and, again, reflecting on our conversations. We've talked to Mack Hunt on Mornings with Keith and Gail! several times in the past several months, and I remember just the most recent one. We need to follow up with him, by the way, on this whole polar bear thing fiasco -- polar bears, 20 to 25 thousand of them, stranded [facetiously] -- and they're going to wind up, possibly, on the endangered species list, possibly, due to the horrors of global warming induced by man [facetiously]. But what I found absolutely fascinating in our discussions with Mack Hunt is his ability to cut through all of the rhetoric and really just kind of give us the bottom-line approach, something that's just very understandable to global warming and man's role or lack thereof, therein.

There was a great article in USA Today that ran on the 10th -- January 10th -- and if you remember, when we talked to Mack Hunt last go-round, he very clearly attributed some of the climatological changes that we've been seeing, some of the extremes in temperature or the lows in temperature, very clearly to El Niño, something that has been echoed repeatedly by 600 KCOL meteorologist Don Day. So there, January 10, 2007, there's an article that appears in USA Today; the headline reads, "El Niño gives USA its hottest year in '06."

WEINMAN: "El Niño gives USA its hottest year in '06." Not global warming, El Niño.

FALLEN: El Niño.

WEINMAN: In USA Today.

FALLEN: Exactly.

WEINMAN: How big was this article; do you have a copy of it?

FALLEN: I have it right in front of me.

WEINMAN: Oh, no; that's printed off the Internet. I'm talking about, what -- when -- how did USA Today position the thing? Was it a little box --

FALLEN: No, it was actually --

WEINMAN: -- the size of four postage stamps?

FALLEN: No; I actually remember seeing it -- I don't remember specifically which section it was in, but it was below the fold, and it ran the width of the newspaper.

WEINMAN. Oh, it did?

FALLEN: Mm-hmm.

WEINMAN: So they actually floated the thing out there?

FALLEN: Mm-hmm.

WEINMAN: OK. Again, if you want -- if you want a copy of Mack Hunt's piece, "Is Global Warming Real, or is it Another Mass Media Event?", which -- he sent out hundreds of these --

FALLEN: Ah. Yeah, without a doubt.

WEINMAN: Um --

FALLEN: Although, in the interests --

WEINMAN: Email us -- your snail mail address.

FALLEN: Mm-hmm.

WEINMAN: And we'll pass it on to Mack.

FALLEN: And you can do that; just send us an instant message at 600KCOL.com -- click on that instant message link. Now, in the interest of being fair and balanced, this USA Today article, which you can find online by the way, it's "El Niño gives USA its hottest year in '06" -- in the interest of giving you all the information so that you can decide, this from the National Climatic Data Center. The center says that the current El Niño, this is the periodic warming of Pacific waters, is the biggest factor for climate change in 2006, but that global warming is, quote, a contributing factor.

From the January 10 broadcast of Fox News Radio 600 KCOL's Mornings with Keith and Gail!:

WEINMAN: "The Center said it's not clear how much of the warming is the result of greenhouse-gas induced climate change and how much resulted from the current El Niño warming of the tropical Pacific Ocean." OK.

FALLEN: OK, now -- it sounds as though now we are beginning that insidious slide into conjecture.

WEINMAN: It does? Why?

FALLEN: Well, it's just, we -- we've gone from the inverted pyramid -- we've gone from the lead, in which they are stating, the writer of this article, stating facts. Now, we're getting into the conjecture piece of the article, which opens the door for editorial commentary.

WEINMAN: Let me read it two ways. Let me let two key words out and see if you pick up a bias in it without the two key words. Here it is without the two key words. And then I'll read it with the two key words. "The center said it's not clear how much the warming is the result of climate change and how much resulted from the current El Niño warming of the tropical Pacific Ocean." That's A. Here's B, with the words in that they included. "The center said it's not clear how much of the warming is the result of greenhouse-gas induced climate change and how much resulted from the current El Niño warming of the tropical Pacific Ocean."

FALLEN: Now isn't that interesting, how the inclusion of the word "induced" carries all sorts of baggage with it?

WEINMAN: Greenhouse-gas induced climate change. Let's work it backwards from the word "induced" that Gail picks up on. Induced climate change. Definition of "induced." Cause.

FALLEN: Cause.

WEINMAN: OK. Caused climate change. Caused? Caused by what? Caused by nature, caused by random, caused by wobbles in the Earth's rotation, caused by things that have happened since the beginning of time?

FALLEN: No, no, no. Caused by those dreaded U.S. -- U.S. -- SUV's and the people that use them.

WEINMAN: Let's go back and read it again. "The Center said it's not clear how much of the warming is the result of greenhouse-gas induced climate change and how much resulted from the current El Niño warming of the Pacific Ocean." Does that sentence presume that greenhouse-gas induced -- that greenhouse gases can induce climate change? Does that --

FALLEN: Of course it does.

WEINMAN: Not can it? Does that sentence presume that greenhouse gases are inducing climate change? I think it does. But it gets better But wait, there's more. I gotta mo for you. The at -- let's go back to the AP article that starts out impartial, saying that it was the warmest year on average for the 48 contiguous states, 2.2 degrees warmer than average and 7/100ths warmer than the previous high in 1998. Next paragraph: "The average U.S. and global temperature are both about 1 degree warmer than at the start of the 20th century, a change many scientists attribute to gases released into the atmosphere by the industrial process."

FALLEN: There you go.

WEINMAN: Now, what's the definition of "many scientists"? Do many scientists believe that? If -- OK --

FALLEN: Give us some attribution; that's what I always look for, when I'm reading anything and using it as a basis in order to form some sort of informed opinion. If there's no attribution -- some scientists? Please -- that's weak.

WEINMAN: There is no attribution with regard to the scientists in this story. It's not hard for the media to go out and find scientists, though, that firmly attribute human activity as a cause to global warming.

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