In the midst of global climate change talks last December, a top Fox News official sent an email questioning the “veracity of climate change data” and ordering the network's journalists to “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.”
The directive, sent by Fox News Washington managing editor Bill Sammon, was issued 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.”
This latest revelation comes after Media Matters uncovered an email sent by Sammon to Fox journalists at the peak of the health care reform debate, ordering them to avoid using the term “public option” and instead use variations of “government option.” That email echoed advice from a prominent Republican pollster on how to help turn public opinion against health care reform.
Sources familiar with the situation in Fox's Washington bureau have expressed concern about Sammon using his position to “slant” Fox's supposedly neutral news coverage to the right.
Sammon's orders for Fox journalists to cast doubt on climate science came amid the network's relentless promotion of the fabricated “Climategate” scandal, which revolved around misrepresentations of emails sent to and from climate scientists at the University of East Anglia's Climatic Research Unit.
At the time of Sammon's directive, it was clear the “scandal” did not undermine the scientific basis for global warming and that the emails were being grossly distorted by conservative media and politicians. Scientists, independent fact-checkers, and several investigations have since confirmed that the CRU emails do not undermine the overwhelming scientific consensus that human activity is warming the planet.
Contrary to Sammon's email, the increase in global temperatures over the last half-century is an established fact. As the National Climatic Data Center explains, the warming trend “is apparent in all of the independent methods of calculating global temperature change” and “is also confirmed by other independent observations.”
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On the December 8 edition of Happening Now, one of Fox News' daytime straight news shows, Fox White House correspondent Wendell Goler delivered a live report from Copenhagen and was asked by host Jon Scott about “U.N. scientists issuing a new report today saying this decade is on track to be the warmest on record.”
Goler accurately reported that, indeed, 2000-2009 was “expected to turn out to be the warmest decade on record,” following a “trend that has scientists concerned because 2000-2009 [was] warmer than the 1990s, which were warmer than the 1980s.” Goler went on to explain that “ironically 2009 was a cooler than average year in the U.S. and Canada,” which, he said, was “politically troubling because Americans are among the most skeptical about global warming.”
When Scott brought up the “Climategate” emails, Goler explained that although people had raised questions about the CRU data, “the data also comes from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and from NASA. And scientists say the data of course across all three sources is pretty consistent.” Watch:
Less than 15 minutes after the segment, Sammon sent the following email to the staffs of Special Report, Fox News Sunday, and FoxNews.com, as well as to other reporters, producers, and network executives, instructing them to “IMMEDIATELY” include objections of “critics” when reporting on climate data:
From: Sammon, Bill
To: 169 -SPECIAL REPORT; 036 -FOX.WHU; 054 -FNSunday; 030 -Root (FoxNews.Com); 050 -Senior Producers; 051 -Producers; 069 -Politics; 005 -Washington
Cc: Clemente, Michael; Stack, John; Wallace, Jay; Smith, Sean
Sent: Tue Dec 08 12:49:51 2009
Subject: Given the controversy over the veracity of climate change data...
...we 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. It is not our place as journalists to assert such notions as facts, especially as this debate intensifies.
That night's Special Report with Bret Baier -- Fox's flagship news program -- featured another report by Goler on the Copenhagen conference. Anchor Bret Baier introduced the report by saying that as "'climategate-fueled skeptics continued to impugn global warming science, researchers today issued new and even more dire warnings about the possible effects of a warmer planet."
Goler's report featured a clip of Michel Jarraud of the World Meteorological Association explaining the recent finding that 2000-2009 “is likely to be the warmest on the record.”
Appearing to echo Sammon's orders, Goler immediately followed this by saying that “skeptics say the recordkeeping began about the time a cold period was ending in the mid 1800s and what looks like an increase may just be part of a longer cycle.”
After running a clip of American Enterprise Institute scholar Kenneth Green questioning the “historical context” of the WMO's climate findings, Goler then brought up the climategate emails:
GOLER: Meanwhile, the hacked or leaked e-mails from East Anglia University pushed the U.N. to once again defend its data. Scientists say it's consistent with that from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA, and the U.N. secretary general says nothing in the e-mails cast doubt on the basic scientific message.
BAN KI-MOON, U.N. SECRETARY GENERAL (video clip): That the climate change is happening much, much faster than we realized and we human beings are the primary cause.
That night, on the same Special Report broadcast, correspondent James Rosen advanced the wildly misleading claim that climate scientists “destroyed more than 150 years worth of raw climate data.”
By the time Sammon sent his email on December 8, it was already clear that “Climategate” was not only overblown, but also had no bearing on the validity of scientific theories about climate change.
- In a letter to Congress sent four days before Sammon's memo, 29 prominent scientists -- including 11 members of the National Academy of Sciences -- stated: “The body of evidence that human activity is the dominant cause of global warming is overwhelming. The content of the stolen emails has no impact whatsoever on our overall understanding that human activity is driving dangerous levels of global warming.”
- On December 2, the prestigious science journal Nature stated: “Nothing in the e-mails undermines the scientific case that global warming is real -- or that human activities are almost certainly the cause. That case is supported by multiple, robust lines of evidence, including several that are completely independent of the climate reconstructions debated in the e-mails.”
- On November 25, the American Meteorological Society released a statement saying: “For climate change research, the body of research in the literature is very large and the dependence on any one set of research results to the comprehensive understanding of the climate system is very, very small. Even if some of the charges of improper behavior in this particular case turn out to be true -- which is not yet clearly the case -- the impact on the science of climate change would be very limited.”
- On November 23, Peter Frumhoff, the director of science and policy at the Union of Concerned Scientists and a “lead author of the Fourth Assessment Report” by the IPCC said: "[O]ur understanding of climate science is based not on private correspondence, but on the rigorous accumulation, testing and synthesis of knowledge often represented in the dry and factual prose of peer-reviewed literature."
Several subsequent inquiries into the climategate emails did not find evidence of scientific malpractice that damages the credibility of CRU's climate science and also cleared the scientists of deceptively manipulating climate data.
Shortly after Sammon's memo, numerous media outlets, including the Associated Press, FactCheck.org, and PolitiFact.com also analyzed the emails and concluded that they did not undermine climate science.
Nonetheless, Fox's news and opinion programs relentlessly hyped the supposed scandal in order to cast doubt on the scientific case for climate change, both before and after Sammon's memo. Some lowlights:
- Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace repeatedly pushed climategate distortions, both before and after Sammon's directive.
- On December 3, America's Newsroom host Bill Hemmer falsely claimed the emails showed scientists hiding “evidence of a decline in global temperatures.”
- Online, Fox's website Fox Nation characterized the emails as “Global Warming's Waterloo.”
- Neil Cavuto, Fox's “Senior Vice President of Business News” and host of Your World with Neil Cavuto, interviewed a filmmaker dressed as a polar bear during the Copenhagen conference and joined him in promoting “Climategate” distortions.
A month after Sammon sent his memo, NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies released data confirming that 2009 was the second warmest year on record and marked the end of the warmest decade on record.
After spending weeks hyping the Climategate non-scandal, Special Report never mentioned the NASA report.
Media Matters contacted Sammon and Fox spokespeople for comment and we have not received a response.
Jocelyn Fong and other Media Matters staff contributed to this report.