Climate Change: NBC 29 vs. The World

Global climate change is a fact. All research scientists agree that the temperature of the earth began rising in the early 1800s, and has spiked in the past half century.

(Bear with me here.)

Of the 928 research papers published on climate change between 1993-2003, every single one of them explicitly or implicitly endorsed that global climate change is caused by mankind. Not a single paper dissented. All major U.S. and global scientific bodies that have anything to do with the matter have issued statements chalking it up to an increase in greenhouse gas concentrations. Not to put to fine a point on it, there is unanimous consensus among research scientists that global warming is caused by humans.

And then there’s NBC 29, whose crack scienticians have come to the opposite conclusion. This evening, on their 11pm broadcast, they ran a story asserting that there is no such thing as global climate change — the temperature is not going up — and backed it up by interviewing a fellow from over in Farmville. Even he didn’t go as far as NBC 29, taking the still-absurd position that sure, it’s happening, but humans have nothing to do with it. Neither NBC 29 nor the interview subject cited any research, data, or new conclusions.

Who did they interview for this? One Dennis Avery, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, over in Churchville. Avery is known for his bizarre, frequent claims that organic food is actually dangerous, and that widespread consumption of it would lead to forced abortions and mass starvation. A few years ago, he wrote that “according to recent data compiled by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), people who eat organic and natural foods are eight times as likely as the rest of the population to be attacked by a deadly new strain of E. coli bacteria.” An investigation by the New York Times revealed that he’d completely made this up. When asked about his assertion, the CDC was baffled, saying that they have no such data, and that Avery’s statement was “absolutely not true.”

His employer, the Hudson Institute, is most well-known known for its founder, Herman Kahn, on whom the character of Doctor Strangelove was based for Stanley Kubrick’s movie — Kahn actually believed that a thermonuclear war could be won. The organization is funded by the biochemical industry — Dow, Monsanto, Novartis, DuPont, ConAgra, etc.

Now, I don’t just happen to know all of this. I’d never heard of the guy or this organization before tonight. But the moment the story went on the air, alarm bells started going off: Google and five minutes of reading made clear to me that the guy is a professional liar who has been caught many times making things up just to get on camera. Is NBC 29 not aware of Google?

It’s rare that I take a shot at local media outlets for crappy journalism, because a) it’s rarely a problem here and b) what do I know? But NBC 29 must be feeling the heat from their new competition, because this cringe-worthy bit of journalism is probably the lamest segment that I’ve ever seen on the air. Whoever is running their news room should be embarrassed to have broadcast this garbage.

21 thoughts on “Climate Change: NBC 29 vs. The World”

  1. Even the most ardent holocaust deniers, flat-earthers, and climate-change deniers will admit that they’re in an extreme minority. NBC 29 didn’t even have the good sense to acknowledge that.

  2. It is interesting to compare the scientific quality of stories regarding the hard sciences versus education. In this particular story by NBC29, it seems ridiculous that such a news organization would air an opinion not supported by any evidence. In education, however, it is done all the time.

    How many times have the local media aired an opinion on the achievement gap in charlottesville by someone who has little evidence behind their arguments? Everyone has an opinion when it comes to education, and it is interesting how we judge a person’s qualifications to make such a statement. Why do we ask the pastor of a church, for example, what he thinks about closing the achievement gap? Should NBC29 ask a school principal how to fix some critical problems in a Baptist Church? We interview “local leaders,” teachers, citizens, and even superintendents. When these individuals speak, how many of them are actually basing their comments on research they have read or conducted? Few.

    Perhaps that is one reason why our society overall continues to struggle with educational improvements: we won’t stop mistaking intuition for evidence.

  3. colfer, I just finished reading that New Scientist piece — it’s excellent. Thanks for the link.

    I’m of two minds of the perspective of UVa’s Patrick Michaels, who is quoted not denying the existing of global climate change (as NBC 29 did), but that we have any impact on this. On the one hand, it’s important that there always be serious research scientists willing to question all of our most basic assumptions. The dominant scientific view has, over the centuries, been completely wrong about any number of very important things, which was only discovered when one renegade ignored the dominant belief. But on the other hand, if Mr. Michaels has something to add to the discussion, I’m curious why he hasn’t published a paper to document his findings. The fact that he hasn’t done so indicates to me that this is a case of, as rfc9s describes, Mr. Michaels’ beliefs outweighing the facts.

    The absolutely unanimity of all published work on this topic and the apparent unwillingness or inability of the rare dissenters (how odd that we’d have our own Bjorn Lomborg here in Charlottesville!) to provide any dissenting data leads me to the inevitable conclusion that their opposition simply isn’t rooted in fact. And that ain’t good science.

  4. This type of reporting isn’t that surprising to me. Over the past couple of years, NBC29 has lost it’s two stalwarts of ethics, honesty, and journalistic integrity, Robert Van Winkle and Dave Cupp. They were both consummate pros, and it’s not hard to imagine them keeping everybody else in line, and honest.

    It’s painful to watch their news these days, and I rarely do. It’s too easy to find real news on the tube now. On NBC 29, too many commercials are disguised as “news stories,” and they rarely, if ever, uncover any actual news – certainly not anything you can’t read in the morning paper. Truly, they should leave the investigation of global issues to people who know what they’re doing. And if they want to counter conventional wisdom, they need to come a lot stronger with facts and evidence than it seems they did in this case. They might as well start teasing their news with promos such as “Local man disputes round earth ‘theory;’ details at 11.”

  5. I often wonder when the grownups will come back and take control at Channel 29. It’s like “Broadcast News” meets “Home Alone.”

  6. Climate change is one of those funny sort of debates. Not funny “ha ha”, but funny because people get so very, very worked up over it.

    My own pet beliefs on climate change are that global warming is happening (hey, we’re not in an ice age any more!), mankind may or may not have accelerated the process, and there’s probably nothing we can do to stop it now (though there may be something we can do to slow it down now). With an additional feeling that I’m not sure we’d even want to stop it now, since with our (demonstrated) imperfect understanding of the system, we might just succeed at slipping ourselves back into another ice age.

    Actually, back in the ’70s the fear actually was “global cooling” instead of global warming.

    All that being said, I’d certainly agree with any proposal to reduce pollution. But not because of global warming.

  7. Irresponsible, that’s for sure. What ever happened to doing research to find facts and writing reports based on those facts? I don’t think any of the “major” news outlets in this area do it day in and day out. But (I don’t get to watch NBC 29 all that much), this is just one “reporter’s” story…there must be some people who do quality work at 29…right?

  8. This sort of thing has become far to common. Reporters “balance” their stories by finding one person to say “white” and another to say “black”. Rarely is there any interjection by the reporter about the qualifications of the interviewees of the rigors — or lack thereof — of the foundations for the black v. white conclusions. I’m really shockied that anyone’s shocked.

  9. This sort of thing has become far to common. Reporters “balance” their stories by finding one person to say “white” and another to say “black”.

    You’re absolutely right, this happens constantly, without any acknowledgment that 99% of people believe “white” and 1% believe “black.” The trouble here is that they NBC 29 didn’t even find somebody to say “black” — only one side was presented.

  10. First — apologies for all the typos above.

    Second — I’m having trouble with what “99% of people believe…” This is a blog — a place for opinions, so what we believe is the point, really. While public sentiment is part of the news, it’s gotten to be too big a part. How many “news” agencies conduct self selected polls and then publish or broadcast them as part of the news? Far too many. The news everywhere is increasingly being confused with what we think the news is and what some of us believe about it. Golde’s in jail in Kiev. Partly it’s a function of time: getting iffy information out fast is better than getting accurate information out a little bit later. So America believes that the OK city bombers were Islamic terrorists for a day or two before we discover that, nope — it was good old American terrorists that did it. (wave flag here)

    All news is suspect. Of course it is. The concept that reporters can be impartial is ridiculous. I long for a more general known partiality. Increasingly, the commentators are more useful than the impartial masses of reporters. The consumer knows where they begin on the belief scale and can take into account the beginning slant. Well, unless they’ve been paid by the Feds to schill for something. Propaganda, anyone?

  11. I’m having trouble with what “99% of people believe…” This is a blog — a place for opinions, so what we believe is the point, really. While public sentiment is part of the news, it’s gotten to be too big a part. How many “news” agencies conduct self selected polls and then publish or broadcast them as part of the news?

    I really shouldn’t have said what “people believe” — it’s the wrong term entirely. If 99% of people don’t believe in gravity, it continues to exist. Likewise, I’m not interested in the general public’s belief in gravity — it’s the facts that news outlets should be reporting. Given that 100% of published research scientists believe that global warming exists, for WVIR to run a story to the contrary is nuts.

    That said, I don’t think media outlets need to run a poll to determine the 99/1 split on most topics. I’ll wager than 10% of Americans believe that the sun revolves around the earth. That’s not a joke — I seriously believe that 1/10 believe that to be the case. Irresponsible modern journalism would display this as a matter on which intelligent minds may disagree, airing the views of the 10% as equal time to the 90%. Now, the facts are very clear — there’s no need to bother with the geocentric solar system folks. But this is part of the “black” and “white” illusion that you describe. It’s an effort to portray both sides of a story — in an attempt to be balanced — without bothering to tell the viewers that there is, in reality, no such balance. The earth revolves around the sun, and that’s that.

  12. Does NBC 29 have this story on its Web site?

    Oddly, this story wasn’t on their website that evening, and I haven’t seen it since. All of the other stories that I saw that evening (probably half of the broadcast) were featured on their website.

    Who was the reporter?

    Oddly, nobody, at least that I recall. The story was introduced by anchor Adam Longo, but I recall only the lengthier-than-normal video clip of Dennis Avery speaking, and then the broadcast returned to Longo. Surely somebody put the piece together, and perhaps that was even indicated, but I’m pretty sure that nobody’s face other than Longo’s and Avery’s was shown.

  13. Sounds like those video news releases we keep hearing about. NBC29 has run them before. If you don’t know, they’re packaged to look like news reports. No credits anywhere. Often a fake name for the “reporter,” if any. The US gov’t got caught making some, but the ones from hospitals and such are probably worse. The shameless stations say, hey a health feature, and run it just like one of their own reports.

    They are somewhat similar to the network-supplied reports that end with “So-and-so reporting, back to you.” Except news releases are garbage!

  14. I don’t know if it’s propaganda in the sense that it was one of those gov’t agency press-release puff pieces; more likely it was a release from the Hudson Institute where they took a page from the government and used the TV news format. NBC 29 is fairly pathetic in their search for time-filler, especially in the after-the-weather, before-the-sports block. Over the years the sports and weather blocks have grown and grown. They’ve been pathetic that way for years, so a quick and poorly vetted grab at a press release for footage is not surprising.

    I am sure that the departure of Dave Cupp has really left the playpen without any serious journalistic ability or adult supervision. I am not particularly struck by the acumen of most of the reporters there – there are exceptions, and I imagine it’s harder than it looks – but the ease of googling for background in this case sets a pretty low threshold for minimal research. The earlier comments about the black/white oversimplification of issues for ease of presentation and ingestion seem pretty accurate to me. I think that practice of dumbing down the news is odious enough as it is, but I’m sure the reporters would ‘hide behind’ that fig leaf to justify lazy research – nuance and depth require thought! Big surprise!

    Again, maybe I’m being unfair; I don’t know how much time they really have to put together news, or how much real news there is to broadcast. I will note that sometimes days go by without much new ‘real’ news on this site (and to the site’s credit, I think the stories are ‘real’ as in worthy of being aired), other times there are a couple of stories a day. 29 has to gin up something for half an hour every night (well, fifteen minutes of ‘genuine’ content).

    Hey, if you’re really worried about what passes for media these days, write a letter to your congressman – not that I think either Goode or Cantor are particularly sympathetic – or both senators seeking to protect and preserve the wonderful in depth and nuanced presentation of news we get from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting for the moment! The recent study finding NPR/PBS listeners among the best informed media consumers while Fox TV and Radio consumers among the worst, begs the question: is depth, thoughfulness and nuance (in general, being well-informed) inherently liberal? ;-)

  15. The more I think about this, the more I believe that y’all are right — this was a VNR from the Hudson Institute, and NBC 29 swallowed it hook, line, and sinker. It’s just too difficult to believe that NBC 29 actually had a producer go out and create a story on this topic, tracking down Dennis Avery for an interview. I’ll bet everything, right down to Adam Longo’s introduction, was straight from the VNR.

  16. An addendum to the observations about the ‘equal time’ or black/white presentation of issues, which distorts perceptions of their support: it serves to protect news agencies from litigation. I suspect 29’s lawyers, especially after the recent lawsuits against them for defamation(? – the guy who was somehow mixed up in a murder), have set some ‘equal time’ timers for presentations.

    Waldo/Colfer: that was the phrase/word I was hunting for: “VNR”.

  17. It doesn’t need to come from a government to be propaganda; though Bush is leading the way with a huge expansion of government funded propaganda — paying commentators to trumpet NCLB and trying to force Social Security workers to endorse his vision of privativzed accounts are just two widely publicized moments in his right-wing-conspiracy, governmental propaganda explosion. Your tax dollars at work, even if not in this case…

  18. Elizabeth: quite right – propaganda needn’t be government sponsored to qualify. Yes, the other examples you were referring to are exactly in the mold I was alluding to.

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