Politico.com, Dec. 15, 2010
Fox News Washington managing editor Bill Sammon sent an e-mail to staff last December offering guidance on how to handle the climate debate, three weeks after the Climategate scandal broke and in the midst of the Copenhagen climate summit.
“Given the controversy over the veracity of climate change data,” Sammon wrote, “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.”
The email, leaked to liberal media watchdog and frequent Fox critic Media Matters, was sent on Dec. 8, minutes after Fox White House correspondent Wendell Goler reported that U.N. scientists had issued a report saying that 2000-2009 was “expected to turn out to be the warmest decade on record.”
Neither Sammon nor Fox News responded to requests for comment.
Media Matters has embarked on a crusade against Sammon, who it says has pushed Fox’s straight-news daytime reporting rightward. Last week, the watchdog group released another leaked e-mail showing Sammon urging staffers to forgo the phrase “public option” for variants of “government option,” a choice Sammon defended to The Daily Beast’s Howard Kurtz.
Ari Rabin-Havt, vice president for research and communications at Media Matters, said there were more e-mails coming from what he described as a “Fox source.”
“We have a number of reporters we’ve hired who are working for us, doing investigations on several things,” he said. “One of them was hired to build sources within Fox, among Fox employees, and has been working diligently to build the sources, and has had some success. That was how we have all these stories over time. It started with comments and off-the-record quotes, and now we have started getting hard documentary evidence that we felt was trustworthy enough to build on.”
In the climate e-mail episode, Goler was on the scene in Copenhagen, reporting for Fox’s daytime news program “Happening Now."
When the program’s host, John Scott, asked him about the Climategate e-mails, Goler replied that the affair had raised some questions about the data from the hacked institution, East Anglia University, but that “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.”
Sammon sent the e-mail to a list of senior executives and producers 15 minutes later. Later that day, Bret Baier conducted another interview with Goler, introducing his 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 also referred to the Climategate e-mails in his report.
The Climategate controversy refers to the hacking of e-mails at the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit showing American and British researchers discussing how to combat climate skeptics, strategizing about whether certain data should be released and at one point calling climate change skeptics “idiots.” The affair was held up as evidence by climate change skeptics that climate scientists had conspired to make the case for human involvement in global warming stronger than it actually was.
Although a British panel wouldn’t clear the group of scientists involved in the Climategate scandal for another seven months, other scientists came forward in the weeks following the scandal saying the affair did nothing to undermine the consensus that human beings are causing climate change.
“The body of evidence that human activity is the dominant cause of global warming is overwhelming,” a group of 29 scientists wrote to Congress in early December 2009. “The content of the stolen e-mails has no impact whatsoever on our overall understanding that human activity is driving dangerous levels of global warming.”
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