CNN lived up to its reputation of providing false balance on climate science once again on the latest edition of Crossfire.
On January 6, Newt Gingrich, former Speaker of the House and presidential candidate and current co-host of Crossfire, opened the segment by introducing guests “on opposite sides of the global warming debate.” He claimed to present some “inconvenient facts” to cast doubt on the scientific consensus on manmade global warming, stating that “temperatures have flat lined for the past 16 years,” (which is not true) and asking “Is it cold enough for you?” By contrast, Van Jones began by saying, “we should not be debating whether global warming is real, whether it's caused by humans,” because scientific certainty on the matter is at the “same level of agreement that you got that HIV causes AIDS.”
Recent cold weather nationwide apparently spurred the debate; earlier in the day, Crossfire's Twitter account tweeted, “TONIGHT's #Crossfire:historic lows bring out the climate change skeptics.” They are right about the skeptics -- cold winter weather has prompted the right wing media to resume their tradition of “snow-trolling” in force, with some even suggesting that the planet has entered a period of global cooling.
But cold winter weather is not expected to go away with climate change and does not negate the long-term trend of global warming. And it is misleading to look at the United States' weather alone when talking about global warming -- for example, this past December tied for being the second-hottest December on record since 1979 globally, even while it was unusually cold in the United States. Additionally, the polar vortex responsible for dangerous Arctic-style weather across the Midwest could be connected to global warming.
As for Crossfire's “debate,” the segment only demonstrated CNN's tendency to provide false balance on climate change. The show featured League of Conservation Voter's Navin Nayak and the Heritage Foundation's David Kreutzer. Kreutzer, an economist who has no scientific degree and who previously believed that global cooling defined this century's first decade, claimed that “what you call deniers agree” that “the world is getting warmer” and “some of that warming is due to man, maybe a significant amount.” But that didn't stop him from debasing the scientific consensus throughout the “debate” -- calling the 97 percent consensus a “bogus term.”
Pitting one economist's opinion against an entire body of science is a classic example of false equivalence. Margaret Sullivan, public editor of New York Times, explains this fallacy and why she chooses to not use it at the Times:
Simply put, false balance is the journalistic practice of giving equal weight to both sides of a story, regardless of an established truth on one side. And many people are fed up with it. They don't want to hear lies or half-truths given credence on one side, and shot down on the other. They want some real answers.
CNN has repeatedly provided false balance to the issue of climate change, often giving a platform to industry-funded “skeptics” such as “divisive and toxic” Marc Morano and, in this case, David Kreutzer, who works for fossil fuel-funded Heritage Foundation.
Van Jones struck back, likening the climate science debate to that of the dangers of smoking tobacco, saying it's “exactly what happened with the science on tobacco. My father died of lung cancer. And for about 40 years they were handpicking science, the tobacco industry, saying look at this, look at this, it's safe. It turned out it wasn't safe. I'll never get my dad back. I don't want us to lose the planet from the same kind of bad reasoning.” Appropriately, scientists are just as certain that humans are driving climate change as they are that cigarettes can kill.
Nayak also criticized the premise of the debate, saying, “We're actually backwards having a debate.” And he's right -- if CNN continues to familiarize their audience with the false theories of skeptics, they are more likely to be believed -- a big step backwards.