Fox News Boss Told Staff to Play Up Climate-Change Skepticism

Another black eye, some think, for the home of "fair and balanced"

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On Wednesday, the liberal watchdog site Media Matters published an e-mail from Bill Sammon, Washington managing editor of Fox News, in which Sammon urged the network's reporters and producers not to refer to climate change "without IMMEDIATELY pointing out that such theories are based upon data that critics have called into question." The e-mail, dated December 8, 2009, was sent around the same time as the Climategate scandal and the Copenhagen climate summit.

This story comes only days after Media Matters leaked another Sammon e-mail, this one encouraging Fox News staffers to use the term "government option" instead of "public option" when discussing health care reform. Here's a look at the responses to this latest bit of news:

  • Just for the Record, Global Warming Is Real  Ben Dimiero, author of the Media Matters post, points out that "at the time of Sammon's directive, it was clear the [Climategate] '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 [Climategate] emails do not undermine the overwhelming scientific consensus that human activity is warming the planet."

  • The Evidence Adds Up, agrees Brad Johnson at Think Progress. "The assertion of a global scientific conspiracy to falsify the existence of a warming planet--particularly when the physical evidence of declining glaciers, changing seasons, intensifying weather disasters, and rising seas would be rather difficult to concoct--is a fantastic claim."

  • Sammon Is Wrong In Every Sense Except the Technical One  "Yes, critics have called the temperature record into question," writes John Timmer at Ars Technica. "But these criticisms do not appear to be scientifically valid." Timmer cites a number of records and analyses that lend support to the model of a warming planet. "Sammon doesn't seem interested in learning any of this. On a personal level, that's perfectly acceptable. Unfortunately, Sammon has chosen to turn his willful ignorance into official policy for a large and influential staff of journalists."

  • We've Watched the Results of This  "These propaganda efforts have been quite effective," writes liberal Steve Benen at The Washington Monthly. "Remember, as recently as a few years ago, Republican voters, by and large, believed what the mainstream believed when it came to climate science. Then they were told to believe something new, as Sammon's memo helps demonstrate."

  • Shock-Related Heart Attack Not Forthcoming  "This would be a bombshell email coming from any other news organization in the world," writes Joseph Romm at Climate Progress. "So maybe the only bombshell is that Sammon was foolish enough to put this egregious Fox News policy into an email."

  • Media Matters: Yep, This Comes Straight From Fox  Politico reports that Ari Rabin-Havt, vice president for research and communications at Media Matters, confirmed that a reporter for the organization "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."

  • Sammon Was Right to Do What He Did  "Is is a scandal to point out that contested theories are, in fact, hotly contested?" asks one of the bloggers at Confederate Yankee. "Despite protestations to the contrary by those with vested political and financial interests, climate change science is a field of study in its infancy with significant room for debate. Asking for reporters to note the controversial nature of climate science claims is the only responsible position for a news manager to take."

  • Can Fox Ignore This? wonders Jon Bershad at Mediaite. "Media Matters appears to have multiple internal memos and (wisely) plans on publishing them separately and in a drawn out fashion," Bershad guesses.

It will be interesting to see if Fox News makes any kind of response ... If the outcry over these leaked Sammon memos (and theoretically more to come) gets too deafening in other circles, Fox News may have to recognize that Sammon's objectivity has been compromised to the degree that they will make an example of him. Perhaps they won't fire him, but will instead move him to another position, one with 'opinion' clearly in the title.

  • Let's Have a Disclaimer Party!  "In fairness to Sammon," writes Gawker's Hamilton Nolan, "we need to immediately point out that due to the philosophical reasons laid out in David Hume's Problem of induction, it is completely possible that the entire world could collapse into a sea of random particles at any moment."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.