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An Inconvenient Truth
Media Matters
May 19, 2006

Gore's critically acclaimed new film, An Inconvenient Truth (Paramount Classics, May 2006), appears in select theaters on May 24. The "straightforward but quietly devastating film," as the Los Angeles Times put it, argues that "we can no longer afford to view global warming as a political issue" and places it among "the biggest moral challenges facing our global civilization."

Of course, when you combine the victim of a multi-year media smear campaign -- Gore -- with a topic the oil companies would rather we continue to ignore, you can be certain the film will be greeted by a stream of lies and distortions.

Indeed, before the film even opened, Fox News hosted Cato Institute senior fellow Patrick J. Michaels, whose work on climate issues has been funded by fuel companies. Michaels wasted no time in smearing Gore, falsely claiming that Gore endorsed exaggerating the threat of global warming.

Also on Fox, Wall Street Journal editorial board member Rob Pollock and Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Richard Lindzen got the science of global warming wrong. And ABC News' John Stossel (who previously called global warming "another foolish media-hyped scare") dismissed the threat of climate change, claiming "the alarmist scientists who always get the most play in the media, and most scientists don't agree with that."

In fact, the overwhelming majority of scientists agree that global warming is real, that it is a threat, and that human activities have made it worse. And contrary to Stossel's claim, it is actually the few (usually industry-backed) scientists who disagree who get disproportionate media attention. As Jules and Maxwell Boykoff explained in an article in the November/December 2004 edition of Extra!, a bimonthly magazine from Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR):

In our study called "Balance as Bias: Global Warming and the U.S. Prestige Press" -- presented at the 2002 Conference on the Human Dimensions of Global Environmental Change in Berlin and published in the July 2004 issue of the journal Global Environmental Change -- we analyzed articles about human contributions to global warming that appeared between 1988 and 2002 in the U.S. prestige press: the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times and Wall Street Journal.

Using the search term "global warming," we collected articles from this time period and focused on what is considered "hard news," excluding editorials, opinion columns, letters to the editor and book reviews. Approximately 41 percent of articles came from the New York Times, 29 percent from the Washington Post, 25 percent from the Los Angeles Times, and 5 percent from the Wall Street Journal.

From a total of 3,543 articles, we examined a random sample of 636 articles. Our results showed that the majority of these stories were, in fact, structured on the journalistic norm of balanced reporting, giving the impression that the scientific community was embroiled in a rip-roaring debate on whether or not humans were contributing to global warming.

More specifically, we discovered that:

53 percent of the articles gave roughly equal attention to the views that humans contribute to global warming and that climate change is exclusively the result of natural fluctuations.

35 percent emphasized the role of humans while presenting both sides of the debate, which more accurately reflects scientific thinking about global warming.

6 percent emphasized doubts about the claim that human-caused global warming exists, while another 6 percent only included the predominant scientific view that humans are contributing to Earth's temperature increases.

Through statistical analyses, we found that coverage significantly diverged from the IPCC [the United Nations-sponsored Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] consensus on human contributions to global warming from 1990 through 2002. In other words, through adherence to the norm of balance, the U.S. press systematically proliferated an informational bias.

In other words: despite the fact that there is very little disagreement among scientists -- at least among those who aren't on the oil companies' payroll -- about the human effects on global warming and its disastrous implications for the survival of the planet, news reports about global warming consistently suggest the opposite.

There is, of course, a way around this media misinformation: See the movie.

Original Text