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Jocelyn Fong

Author ››› Jocelyn Fong
  • The Wall Street Journal: Dismissing Environmental Threats Since 1976

    ››› ››› JOCELYN FONG & JILL FITZSIMMONS

    To forestall policy on climate change, the Wall Street Journal editorial board routinely downplays scientific consensus, overstates the cost of taking action, and claims that politics, not science, motivate those concerned about the climate. But an analysis of more than 100 editorials from 1976 to present shows that the Wall Street Journal used these same rhetorical tactics in previous decades on acid rain and ozone depletion and they did not stand the test of time.

  • Conservative Media Freak Out Over Improvement To Welfare Reform

    ››› ››› JOCELYN FONG, TODD GREGORY & CHELSEA RUDMAN

    In response to requests from Republican-led states, the Department of Health and Human Services announced it will consider allowing states to create more efficient ways to report on the work requirement for recipients of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). The conservative media have responded by falsely claiming that this is the "end of welfare reform" and that it "guts" the work requirement.

  • Surprise: Fox News Fails Paleoclimatology

    Blog ››› ››› JOCELYN FONG

    Demonstrating how easy it is for reckless media outlets to foster confusion about climate change, Fox News again misrepresented a scientific paper last night, claiming it provides "more evidence for global cooling." Over the past several years, Fox has repeatedly pushed the claim that "the Earth is actually cooling."

    From last night's edition of Special Report:

    Here's what Special Report anchor Bret Baier neglected to mention:

    1. The study, published Sunday in Nature Climate Change, wasn't about "global" anything. It estimated temperatures going back 2,000 years by analyzing the density of tree rings taken only from northern Finland and Sweden.  Moreover, the record they produced only reflects temperatures between June and August. This is important because, as the paper states, the impact of orbital forcing, a key driver of temperature, "varies considerably over time, space and with season." For instance, the influence should "diminish towards lower Northern Hemisphere latitudes" and show "substantial weakening ... towards the tropics," the authors wrote. According to scientists at RealClimate.org, "long-term cooling trends" are not seen in tropical records. The paper also noted that "Twentieth-century Scandinavian warming is relatively small compared with most other Northern Hemisphere high-latitude regions," further underscoring that records for this region do not establish global trends. One of the scientists involved in the study told HuffPo blogger Bob Ward: "Our paper is for northern Scandinavian summer temperatures so extrapolating to large scale annual temperatures is not really correct."
    2. The "cooling trend" Fox reported does not reflect what is happening now, but what took place prior to the industrial age. The study found "a long-term cooling trend" in northern Scandinavian summer temperatures "of -0.31 °C per 1,000years (±0.03 °C) over the 138BC-AD1900 period." Scientists estimate historic temperatures from tree rings (and other "proxies") because humans didn't start directly measuring temperature until the mid-1800s. Since then, our thermometers, averaged globally, have shown substantial warming, particularly in the past few decades. The paper does not call this recent warming into question but rather tries to paint a picture of what happened before it.  Cooling over this region and timescale is "theoretically expected," said RealClimate, though the magnitude of the change in the latest study is greater than previous estimates.

    Prior to Fox News' report, the right-wing website Newsbusters published a post on the study and asked if "America's global warming-obsessed media will pay any attention to this new information." Newsbusters laughably declared that the study "thoroughly debunks global warming."

  • Five Terrible Examples Of Outsourcing

    Blog ››› ››› JOCELYN FONG & SHAUNA THEEL

    News outlets are uncritically reporting Republicans' efforts to label President Obama the "Outsourcer-in-chief," an attack outlined in a Huffington Post column by RNC chairman Reince Priebus, who says the administration outsourced jobs to "Indonesia, India, Mexico, Germany, Australia, Switzerland, Denmark" and more, "mostly in the form of stimulus funds." But a look at the fine print on the RNC's website ObamanomicsOutsourced.com reveals a pretty flexible definition of the term "outsourcing" -- so flexible, in fact, that it encompasses its opposite: foreign-owned firms coming to the U.S. to employ American workers. We've grabbed five examples of the flimsy support underlying this attack:

    1. As evidence of jobs purportedly outsourced to Indonesia, the RNC cites a $1.5 million grant to reduce air pollution in Jakarta. The RNC may object to this use of federal funds, but it isn't outsourcing; the grant simply provides aid to a city that "has a particularly high incidence of respiratory diseases." The EPA's overseas grant program is nothing new. In fact, many of the foreign grants awarded by the Obama administration were initiated by the Bush EPA.
    2. The RNC claims Obama outsourced jobs to Australia via a $162,000 contract for tumor samples from the Melanoma Institute of Australia. The Recovery Act provided funds for the Cancer Genome Atlas Project of the National Cancer Institute to "collect more than 20,000 tissue samples from more than 20 cancers, complete comprehensive maps of the genomic changes in 10 of those cancers and sequence and characterize at least 100 tumors of up to 15 additional cancers."
    3. As an example of stimulus jobs purportedly outsourced to Russia, the RNC points to Ener1, whose subsidiary EnerDel received a $118 million stimulus grant in 2009 to expand advanced vehicle battery manufacturing operations in Indiana. Although Ener1 underwent bankruptcy and was acquired by Russian businessman Boris Zingarevich, the company said EnerDel would "continue normal operation" and there's no evidence of jobs moved to Russia.
    4. The RNC claims Obama outsourced jobs to Denmark because the Recovery Act provided $25 million to Houston-based Haldor Topsoe, Inc. for a pilot biorefinery project. Although Haldor Topsoe's parent company is headquartered in Denmark, the project is located in Des Plaines, Illinois.
    5. The RNC also points to $51 million for U.S. subsidiaries of the Danish company Vestas through the 48C Advanced Energy Manufacturing Tax Credit. The subsidy supported wind manufacturing plants in Colorado. The RNC highlighted that the company may lay off 1,600 U.S. workers but didn't note that those cuts hinge on the extension of the Production Tax Credit, which Obama has called for.

    The "Outsourcer-in-chief" campaign is the sort of attack that takes time to fact-check. Judging by the examples above, it's pretty clear the RNC is counting on journalists not to bother. 

  • Why George Will Is Wrong About Weather And Climate

    Blog ››› ››› JOCELYN FONG

    In December 2008 the Washington Post reported that AT&T and DuPont planned to lay off a combined 14,500 employees. The lead of the story said: "Need more proof that the recession is real? An onslaught of grim unemployment and layoff reports yesterday should dispel any lingering doubts."

    Was the recession the only force behind these job cuts? No. Other variables would be needed to explain why the layoffs were hitting these specific companies, at this time, and at this scale.  But the recession was the obvious background condition, the broader context that could not go unmentioned in a proper news report on the layoffs, and there was no hand-wringing about drawing the connection. The article didn't caution that "No single bankruptcy or job cut can be definitively blamed on the recession." No one waited for a computer model to precisely sort the causes of these layoffs. No one tracked down a contrarian to point out that layoffs happened long before the recession and that, in fact, such-and-such a company somewhere is hiring.

    Which brings me to the massive heat wave that we're now emerging from. Scientific observation and analysis have established that human-induced climate change makes extreme heat events more common. But when heat waves hit, many reporters hesitate to mention climate change without appending disclaimers of the sort that you don't see on other beats.

    In part, this likely reflects the success of the right wing in politicizing climate science and making journalists weary of touching upon a "controversial" issue.  But there may also be some genuine confusion arising from the argument most recently made by conservative columnist George Will on ABC's This Week. We shouldn't draw connections between the recent heat wave and climate change, Will said, because during winter cold snaps, climate advocates are the ones insisting that "There's a difference between the weather and the climate":

    Will's argument is that it's hypocritical for those concerned about climate change to trumpet weather events in the summer and downplay them in the winter. Foreign Policy writer Joshua Keating said something similar: "The public might be forgiven for wondering if the mantra 'weather is not climate' only applies when the weather is politically inconvenient for the person discussing it." On the surface, there seems to be some logic to their statements. But in fact, there's a false equivalence embedded in this argument.

  • STUDY: Media Avoid Climate Context In Wildfire Coverage

    ››› ››› JOCELYN FONG, SHAUNA THEEL, MELODY JOHNSON & JILL FITZSIMMONS

    While numerous factors determine the frequency, severity and cost of wildfires, scientific research indicates that human-induced climate change increases fire risks in parts of the Western U.S. by promoting warmer and drier conditions. Seven of nine fire experts contacted by Media Matters agreed journalists should explain the relationship between climate change and wildfires. But an analysis of recent coverage suggests mainstream media outlets are not up to the task -- only 3 percent of news reports on wildfires in the West mentioned climate change.

  • Forbes Still Publishing Heartland's Climate Nonsense

    Blog ››› ››› JOCELYN FONG

    Forbes Heartland InstituteA recent Forbes column alleges that federal scientists are "doctoring" temperature data to fabricate a warming trend, after the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced that the last 12-month period was the warmest on record for the continental U.S.

    But what the column paints as a nefarious conspiracy is actually just proper science -- NOAA painstakingly applies peer-reviewed adjustments to account for errors and gaps in the raw data from thousands of temperature stations across the country. The resulting temperature record has been independently evaluated and corroborated.

    The column is by James Taylor of the Heartland Institute, the libertarian group that recently made headlines with a short-lived billboard campaign tastelessly invoking the Unabomber. This is not the first time Taylor has used his platform at Forbes to malign scientists and spread bad information about climate research.

    At issue are the corrections NOAA uses to eliminate errors and known sources of bias from the raw weather station data (which Taylor likes to call "the real-world data"). Keep in mind that the U.S. represents just 2% of the Earth's surface so the data we're talking about are a small part of the evidence of global climate change.

    The scientists (Taylor calls them "bureaucrats") know that the raw data have flaws -- stations are moved, natural disasters knock stations offline, measuring instruments change -- so NOAA performs quality control using methods that are published in peer-reviewed papers. Taylor concedes that "it is, of course, possible that certain factors can influence the real-world temperature readings such that a correction in real-world temperature data may be justified." But when he doesn't like the results, he concludes that the adjustments aren't valid corrections but "doctored data."

  • Bill O'Reilly Denies Clear Progress In Green Energy

    ››› ››› JOCELYN FONG

    Criticizing President Obama for "remain[ing] enthusiastic about massive government investment in green energy," Fox News' Bill O'Reilly claimed that "the feds have not been able to make progress in the green area despite spending many, many billions of dollars." In fact, federal policy has driven improvements in energy efficiency and rapid growth in clean technology.

  • Fox Serves As Mouthpiece For Mountaintop Mining Industry

    ››› ››› JOCELYN FONG & SHAUNA THEEL

    In strikingly one-sided reports, Fox News assailed an anticipated regulation protecting streams from mountaintop coal mining waste. Among other misleading claims, Fox accused the Obama administration of punishing a contractor who said the rule would kill jobs, when in fact, extensive evidence indicates the contract was halted simply because the firm did shoddy work.