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THE LIBERAL WAR ON SCIENCE! Conservative kooks went after Gore. And so did our own private Mooney: // link // print // previous // next //
TUESDAY, MARCH 20, 2007

THE START OF SOMETHING BIG: On a very important matter, Atrios was slightly more right than Glenn Greenwald. Yesterday, both gents discussed the press corps’ reaction to Clinton’s March 1993 firing of those U.S. attorneys. (Bob Dole dubbed the event the “March Massacre”). Here was Greenwald’s account of what happened, back when the Clinton Admin was still young:
GREENWALD (3/19/07): The beginning of the Clinton administration was really the birth of the all-out right-wing filth and noise machine, and—working with Republican Congressional leaders—it attempted to convert a completely routine decision by the Clinton administration to replace all U.S. attorneys into some sort of explosive corruption scandal.
The right-wing noise machine did it, Greenwald said. In response, Atrios extended and revised Glenn’s remarks. Ate was right in one major way, somewhat wrong in some others:
ATRIOS (3/19/07): Greenwald says it's an early demonstration of the right-wing noise machine. I think it was part that, but this kind of thing (remember Travelgate?) was also thoroughly mainstreamed in our press. My theory has long been that after 8 years of Nixon/Ford, a brief 4 year pause of Carter, then 12 years of Reagan/Bush, that Washington had become a Republican town from top to bottom. Clinton coming into town really did upset the socio-economic order, and David Broder and the gang didn't like the fact that the "good people" they had lovely dinner parties with had to go and find new jobs.
Not quite right. In fairness to Broder, he doesn’t seem to have written about the Clinton attorney firings at all. And as a sign of how different things were back then, the Washington Post defended Clinton in a March 26 editorial, quite robustly. Here was the paper’s first paragraph:
WASHINGTON POST EDITORIAL (3/26/93): The innuendo in which U.S. Attorney Jay Stephens has indulged in the past few days can only be calculated to undermine the integrity and reputation of the prosecutorial process he claims it is his goal to protect. Attorney General Janet Reno announced at a news conference Tuesday [March 23] that all U.S. attorneys across the country were being asked for their resignations. No surprise there. These are political appointees who owed their jobs to the last administration and have expected to be replaced ever since last November's election. It would likely have happened earlier had the Clinton administration not made such an adventure out of the appointment of an attorney general.
The Post took Clinton’s side in the firings, quite completely. Using Nexis, we can find no record of any Post columnist criticizing Clinton on this matter. But uh-oh! The criticism of Clinton’s conduct didn’t just come from the “right-wing machine.” A major change in American life had begun. Jim Lehrer cited the new reality on that Friday’s NewsHour:
LEHRER (3/26/93): David [Gergen], the President's attorney general, Janet Reno, this week fired—or didn't fire, but asked for the resignations of all the Republican-appointed U.S. attorneys. The Republican leadership and the New York Times editorial page, an interesting combination, among others, have been shouting about it ever since. How do you feel about that?
In fact, it was just as Lehrer said; over at the New York Times, Howell Raines was echoing the Republican leadership, writing angry editorials about Reno’s troubling decision. (March 25: “Janet Reno starts badly.” March 26: “Justice Disrupted.”) The Post was rolling its eyes at this matter, but Raines was up in arms at the Times. For the record, Raines had previously lived in DC, but his pique now emanated from Gotham. And he surely was not a “Republican” or a “conservative” by any normal reckoning.

By this time, though, the New York Times’ strange relation with Clinton had been developing for more than a year. Jeff Gerth’s bungled Whitewater reporting started in early 1992; Raines was now starting the run of anti-Clinton editorials which would never end. (In January 1999, Michael Tomasky surveyed the damage with this report in The Nation.) And oh yes—before Raines finished savaging Clinton, he and his famous idiot savants started their war on Clinton’s successor. It was on Raines’ watch, for example, that Maureen Dowd and Frank Rich invented the punishing Love Story bull-roar in December 1997. Starting in March 1999, this inane pseudo-story was used to savage Candidate Gore for two solid years. By now, though, the entire “mainstream press corps” was reciting the RNC’s tales. Raines’ editorials on the firings, cited by Lehrer, had been the coal mine’s canary.

So no, this story isn’t quite as simple as Atrios made it (he was working from recollection). But in yesterday’s column, Greenwald (who does superlative work) committed what we’d call the SLO—the Standard Liberal Omission. He posted complaints about the firings from conservative news orgs, then said this was a “right-wing” flap. As such, he omitted the part of Clinton-era journalism which changed our American politics. He missed the fact that the New York Times stood with the Washington Times on this matter. When we ignore this part of the story, we ignore our most fundamental recent history. It was this melding of the mainstream with the right that redefined Clinton-era journalism—and eventually sent Bush to the White House.

We liberals love to shake our fists at the Washington Times and the Wall Street Journal. But on their own, these conservative orgs can’t really tip our elections. Alas! As the Clinton-Gore era developed, the mainstream press corps increasingly began to adopt the tales of the right-wing machine. By late 1998, the two press corps were virtually indistinguishable, at least when it came to their Clinton-Gore jihad. This culminated with Campaign 2000—the event we liberals, to this day, simply refuse to discuss.

READ EACH THRILING INSTALLMENT: Below, we offer our fifth and final post about William Broad’s recent report on Al Gore. Be sure to read every installment:
Don Easterbook may not reed reel gudd. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/14/07.

Apples and oranges littered the highway as Broad failed the nation again. See THE DAILY HOWLERR, 3/15/07.

Does William Broad have politics? The question has to be asked. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/16/07.

Is Easterbrook a bit of a nut? Broad didn’t want you to ask. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/19/07.
And now, in our thrilling final installment, we look at the way libs and cons responded to Broad’s report.

THE LIBERAL WAR ON SCIENCE: Alas! William Broad’s report on Gore’s film could have been very helpful. He could have used last month’s IPCC report as an occasion to review the current science of warming; in the process, he could have reviewed the most significant claims which were made in Gore’s film and book. Best example: What are the odds that the Antarctic and Greenland ice shelves will break loose, causing catastrophic coastal flooding? It’s the most dramatic presentation in the Gore film. Given the current state of the science, how likely is it to happen?

But William Broad took a different route—a route which has been numbingly common at his kooky newspaper. He constructed another referendum on Gore—the latest attempt to suggest that Gore is some kind of wild-eyed exaggerator. No, they no longer use “invented the Internet;” they no longer cite their “Love Story” bull-roar. But the basic structure is still in place. In his second sentence, Broad wrote that some scientists “argue that some of Mr. Gore's central points are exaggerated.” Soon thereafter, he hammered the following framework around his hapless report:

BROAD (3/13/07): Kevin Vranes, a climatologist at the Center for Science and Technology Policy Research at the University of Colorado, said he sensed a growing backlash against exaggeration. While praising Mr. Gore for ''getting the message out,'' Dr. Vranes questioned whether his presentations were ''overselling our certainty about knowing the future.''

Typically, the concern is not over the existence of climate change, or the idea that the human production of heat-trapping gases is partly or largely to blame for the globe's recent warming. The question is whether Mr. Gore has gone beyond the scientific evidence.

''He's a very polarizing figure in the science community,'' said Roger A. Pielke Jr., an environmental scientist who is a colleague of Dr. Vranes at the University of Colorado center. ''Very quickly, these discussions turn from the issue to the person, and become a referendum on Mr. Gore.''
As David Roberts demonstrates at The Huffington Post, Broad offers little real evidence for the claim that Gore has become “a very polarizing figure in the science community.” But let’s face it—Gore has long been a “very polarizing figure” for the kooks who work at the New York Times! Their kooky coverage of Gore dates to December 1997, when Frank Rich and Maureen Dowd invented the ludicrous Love Story claptrap—a punishing assault on Gore’s character which was endlessly pimped during Campaign 2000, helping send Bush to the White House. Whatever Broad’s intentions may have been, he extended his newspaper’s string of Gore-attacks with this bungled report. Yes, he made an utter mess of the ice shelves matter; but then, he mangled almost every substantive matter he touched. Meanwhile, he built his report around Don Easterbrook, a “rank-and-file scientist” who doesn’t believe that humans are causing global warming and predicts that we’ve entered a period of cooling! In short, Easterbrook doesn’t disagree with Gore; he disagrees with the vast range of modern climate science. But Broad forgot to tell readers that. Instead, he used Easterbrook’s highly unusual views to tag Gore as an “exaggerator” once again.

Yep! In the case of those ice shelves, Broad even swiped an apples-and-oranges fruit truck wreck from the less reputable New York Sun (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/19/07). But so what? So it has gone for the past fifteen years, as the Times has adopted crackpot claims against Clinton and Gore from the RNC and its kooky affiliates. Once again, we see the defining shape of our age; we see our most famous newspaper stooping low to adopt the work of the fakes and dissemblers. The New York Sun swapped some apples for oranges—so the Times chose to run the scam too.

Only the Times can explain this strange conduct—conduct which has been routine for the past fifteen years. But how does the Times keep getting away with such conduct? To answer that, let’s look at the way some political players reacted to Broad’s bungled work.

Predictably, conservatives ran to hail Broad’s genius. Easterbrook, the “rank-and-file scientist” who thinks the earth is cooling, was dragged onto three cable programs; he shared his genius with Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson and Glenn Beck, all of whom assured the world that Gore has been fooling them again. For example, here we see uber-idiot Beck just before speaking with Easterbrook:
BECK (3/13/07): A newspaper article came out today which said scientists argue that some of Mr. Gore’s central points are exaggerated and they’re erroneous. They were alarmed, some say, at his alarmism.

And where did this article appear? What evil conservative Wall Street Journal rag did this come from? None. It came from the New York Times!

Here’s the point tonight: Al Gore is finally being slammed in the face for his distortion of science and the facts, and it’s being done by the New York Times. Some days it just doesn’t get any better.

The stupidity grew as Beck continued. For example, here’s what happens when the New York Times decides to swap apples for oranges:
BECK: The article also calls attention to Gore’s claims that our oceans would eventually rise by up to 20 feet destroying parts of New York and Florida along the way.

Turns out it seems Al may have accidentally mistaken feet for inches. The truth is the water level may rise by a maximum of 23 inches over the next 100 years. And that happy fact comes from the U.N. [the IPCC], not exactly a credible source in my book. Still, a far cry from the “Poseidon” wave that Al depicts in his movie.

Now, to me, it’s about time that these people got reeled back in. In fact, it’s way past time. It’s amazing to me that it took a year to do it.
As you’ll recall, Gore was describing what will happen if those two huge ice shelves break off. By contrast, the IPCC was predicting what will happen if the ice shelves don’t give way. But so what? Bjorn Lomborg had printed this crap in the New York Sun—and Broad then hustled it into the Times. And kooks like Beck knew just what to do. They began to call Al Gore a big kook, as they’ve done for roughly a decade.

Predictably, kooky-con web sites also trashed Gore as soon as they got a whiff of Broad’s piece. At Slate, Christopher Beam linked to various sites which had commented on Broad’s report. He started with a pair of conservative bloggers; they marveled at the fact that a liberal paper like the Times would print such an attack on Gore. "No one will be able to argue that this story is a propaganda campaign on the part of oil companies,” a Texas conservative dumbly said. But then, kooky-cons always know what to do when they’re handed such bungled reports.

Sadly, our “liberals” still don’t. In turn, Beam linked to Roberts’ angry piece at The Huffington Post—an angry takedown of Broad’s bungled work. But omigod! Beam also linked to Chris Mooney, fiery young author of the heralded book, The Republican War on Science. It would be hard to find a better example of the liberal breakdown which has defined the Clinton-Bush era.

Yep! Conservative kooks were jumping on Gore—but then again, so was our own private Mooney! Let’s start by citing Beam’s synopsis of what Mooney had said:

BEAM (3/13/07): At The Intersection, liberal science writer and Seed magazine correspondent Chris Mooney defends Gore’s movie as "almost entirely accurate": "But my question as a point of strategy has always been: Why include the 1 to 5 percent of more questionable stuff, and so leave oneself open to this kind of attack? Given how incredibly smart and talented Al Gore is, didn't he see this coming?"
And it gets even worse when we read Mooney’s post. Like other good boys in the “liberal” firmament, Mooney didn’t have a single word of criticism for Broad or his hopelessly bungled report. Instead, he put the onus on Gore; he wondered why Gore would “leave himself open” to such attacks. “New York Times slams Gore,” his headline says, “and frankly, I’m surprised it didn’t happen sooner.” Here’s how this modern, well-trained “liberal” responded to Broad’s massive nonsense:
MOONEY (3/13/07): Let me be clear: I have seen An Inconvenient Truth, and I found it almost entirely accurate. Gore has done a tremendous job of drawing attention to this issue and he gets the science right by and large. But my question as a point of strategy has always been: Why include the 1 to 5 percent of more questionable stuff, and so leave onself open to this kind of attack? Given how incredibly smart and talented Al Gore is, didn't he see this coming?

Alas, I’ve already shown how Gore overstepped on the relationship between global warming and tornadic activity (something the Times piece curiously omits, as this is a clear cut-case and an obvious opportunity to show the IPCC itself contradicting Gore). The treatment of hurricanes in An Inconvenient Truth is also problematic, as James Hansen himself notes in the current Times piece.

Where do we find these weak-willed boys—these cosmic, world-class Born Losers?

Amazing, isn’t it? For himself, Mooney believes that Gore’s film is “almost entirely accurate.” About one to five percent of its content is “more questionable,” he writes. You would think, therefore, that he might be surprised to see Gore being “slammed by the Times” in such a full-throated fashion. Not at all! In fact, Mooney says he’s surprised it didn’t happen sooner—though he never explains why it makes sense to “slam” a film which may be 99 percent accurate. Let’s say it again—Mooney doesn’t offer a single word of criticism for Broad’s reporting or sense of balance. Instead, he wonders why a guy as smart as Gore would set himself up for the slaughter.

How lamb-like is our own private Mooney? To understand that, you have to click on his link to the earlier post where he has “already shown how Gore overstepped on the relationship between global warming and tornadic activity.” To see that earlier post, just click here. With apologies for the length, we’ll offer the bulk of his takedown:
MOONEY (2/7/07): In An Inconvenient Truth, Al Gore threw in the 2004 U.S. tornado season in his laundry list of phenomena apparently related to climate change: "Also in 2004, the all-time record for tornadoes in the United States was broken." Incidentally, for this quotation I am relying on the Competitive Enterprise Institute's takedown of Gore's movie. I really hate to do that, but in this case—at least on this individual point—CEI seems to have found a weakness in Gore's presentation.

Why would Gore throw in the mention of tornadoes, except to imply some sort of causal connection between the 2004 season and global warming? As I recall the movie, Gore didn't make any specific causal claim, but again, why else include the topic if not to suggest the existence of one?

And yet now, here comes the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report Summary for Policymakers, which clearly states:

“There is insufficient evidence to determine whether trends exist in the meridional overturning circulation of the global ocean or in small scale phenomena such as tornadoes, hail, lightning and dust-storms.”

If there's no documented trend in tornadic activity at this point, then of course we cannot claim that climate change is directly affecting tornadoes. There may well be theoretical reasons for thinking that there would be an impact (I'm not sure what those would be, but then, this isn't my area). But in the absence of even a documented trend, much less a successful causal attribution, we need to be very cautious about how we discuss this subject. And I just can't see how Gore's statement in An Inconvenient Truth would fit this standard.
Maybe there’s away to get dumber than that. But we’re not sure what it would be.

For starters, note this one fact. In this earlier post, Mooney is criticizing a single sentence in Gore’s entire book and movie. (Yes—that single sentence which Mooney quotes is the book’s only sentence on this topic.) Let’s assume something that isn’t quite clear; let’s assume that Gore’s implication in that sentence is just flat-out wrong. Why would a single mistake in a full-length film justify such an attack by the Times? No one but a modern “liberal” would ever “reason” this way.

Meanwhile, let’s note anther fact: Mooney clobbers Gore’s single sentence on tornadic activity because of what the IPCC has now said. But that report was issued last month—a year after Gore’s film went into theaters. “If there's no documented trend in tornadic activity at this point, then of course we cannot claim that climate change is directly affecting tornadoes,” Mooney brilliantly writes. But when he writes that, he is citing the IPCC report—a report Gore didn’t have available. In short, Mooney scolds Gore for failing to heed a report which didn’t yet exist.

Why did Gore write his single sentence on tornadoes? We don’t have the slightest idea. What would he say about it today? We can’t answer that either. But how strange! Even after linking to Roberts’ post (in an update), Mooney doesn’t have a word of complaint about Broad’s massive bungling. Nor does he say a single word about the uses to which Broad’s report was being put on cable, or on kooky-con web sites. Instead, our own private Mooney criticizes Gore—because one percent of his content is “questionable!” As always, conservative cable hosts went after Gore—and our own private Mooney did too.

Good grief! Why would a fiery fellow like Mooney take such an odd approach to this matter? After all, here’s how his fiery book, The Republican War on Science, was reviewed in the New York Times (by John Horgan):

HORGAN (12/18/05): As the title indicates, Mooney's book is a diatribe, from start to finish. The prose is often clunky and cliched, and it suffers from smug, preaching-to-the-choir self-righteousness. But Mooney deserves a hearing in spite of these flaws, because he addresses a vitally important topic and gets it basically right.

Mooney charges George Bush and other conservative Republicans with ''science abuse,'' which he defines as ''any attempt to inappropriately undermine, alter or otherwise interfere with the scientific process, or scientific conclusions, for political or ideological reasons.'' Science abuse is not an exclusively right-wing sin, Mooney acknowledges. He condemns Greenpeace for exaggerating the risks of genetically modified ''Frankenfoods,'' animal-rights groups for dismissing the medical benefits of research on animals and John Kerry for overstating the potential of stem cells during his presidential run.

In ''politicized fights involving science, it is rare to find liberals entirely innocent of abuses,'' Mooney asserts. ''But they are almost never as guilty as the Right.'' By ''the Right,'' Mooney means the powerful alliance of conservative Christians—who seek to influence policies on abortion, stem cells, sexual conduct and the teaching of evolution—and advocates of free enterprise who attempt to minimize regulations that cut into corporate profits. The champion of both groups—and the chief villain of Mooney's book—is President Bush, whom Mooney accuses of having ''politicized science to an unprecedented degree.''
Weird! Mooney’s the type of fiery liberal who will pen “a diatribe” against “the Right.” But isn’t it odd! He doesn’t have a word to say about the New York Times! No, we can’t mind-read this fiery young fellow’s motives. But in trashing the right—and whitewashing the Times—Mooney does set up a lucrative mainstream writing career. In the future, when you see his by-line appear in the Times—he has already published for the Los Angeles variant—remember the knives he put in Gore’s back to keep his own career hopes alive. Remember the knives he put in the back of you and your ongoing interests.

Conservatives knew what to do with Broad’s piece. Of course! They dragged poor Easterbrook onto TV and lit into Big Liar Gore once again. And we “liberals” also knew what to do; as we’ve done for the past fifteen years, we knew we should keep our mouths shut! In this case, David Roberts proved the wondrous exception to the predictable liberal silence—the silence which has enabled the press corps’ War Against Gore ever since its inception. After all, it wasn’t just Mooney who kept his mouth shut when William Broad wrote that ludicrous piece. The New Republic shut its traps too—and so did the lads at the fiery Prospect. Anyone hear Kevin Drum make a peep? Your other favorites didn’t speak either—just as they’ve kept their mouths shut at all other junctures in the long-running War Against Gore.

There was nothing new about Broad’s kooky piece; the Times has been trashing Gore in this manner for almost ten years. But then again, there was nothing new about our “liberal” silence; throughout that decade, our paper-trained lads have known they should always keep their mouths shut. Last week, it was the same old thing! Conservative kooks went after Al Gore—and so did our own private Mooney.