On the Political Grapevine segment of Special Report for December 12, 2007, Brit Hume put words in the mouth of Pope Benedict. "The pope, it seems, is a global warming skeptic," he reported, referencing the pontiff's annual World Peace Day message. "Benedict XVI is warning that solutions to climate change must be based on solid science, not politics and that the welfare of humans must take precedence over animals and plants."
Read the message yourself, which contains nothing to suggest any doubt about global warming. What global warming skeptic asserts that "the problems looming on the horizon are complex and time is short," so that wealthy countries "have a pressing need' to "reassess the high levels of consumption" and "search for alternative sources of energy and for greater energy efficiency"?
Hume lied. Or he didn't quite lie, since he inserted the words "it seems" to suggest an opinion rather than a fact. But that little qualifier doesn't absolve him or his reporting of dishonesty. Viewers still got a false impression that the pope challenges the scientific consensus on global warming.
Hume's Political Grapevine is the one segment on Special Report where his deceitfulness shows up night after night, year after year. Don't take my word for it. Just access the Political Grapevine archive, which, unfortunately, only goes back a few months. Pick five prior segments at random, and then carefully fact check each of the stories. Trust me. The odds are extremely high that on at least three of those five segments you will find something where the facts are twisted to leave a false impression. Where I come from, that's statistically significant pattern, suggesting a deliberate editorial policy.
The deceptions generally promote the standard right wing themes - global warming is a hoax, conservatives are persecuted in academia, liberals go overboard with political correctness, and you can't trust the mainstream media. But this time we can stick with global warming:
"On the same day Al Gore received his share of the Nobel Prize for his work on climate change -- one of his main arguments is being challenged by a scientific fact.
"Gore has said that the northern polar ice cap could be completely gone in as little as seven years. But Brazil's MetSul Weather Center reports the ice and snow cover in the Arctic have recovered to within one percent of normal -- even though the official start of winter is still more than a week away.
"And it says the southern polar ice cap actually has an additional 772,000 square miles of ice now -- compared to a year ago."
"A scientific fact"? From which scientist? Why, none other than Alexandre Amaral de Aguiar, Communications Director for the MetSul Weather Center and the weatherman for Ulbra TV in Porto Alegre, Brazil. Read the reporting yourself. It simply lacks sufficient information for anyone to say that it contradicts the scientific work of others. Nonetheless, MetSul was absolutely thrilled to receive such an important mention on Fox News.
Again, Hume's reporting is neither defamatory nor flat out false. But it does leave viewers with an impression at odds with the truth.
"Al Gore and others who blame humans for global warming often say climate change is responsible for much stronger hurricanes recently.
"But now two oceanographers say that is not true. Gabriel Vecchi of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Brian Soden of the University of Miami publish their findings in today's issue of the science journal Nature."
Here's the giveaway: Reputable scientists, when they publish their studies, almost never reference someone else's analysis by using the words "not true," as Hume reported. Rather, they say that their findings contradict the findings of others. Or as Professor Soden stated,
"While these results challenge some current notions regarding the link between climate change and hurricane activity, they do not contradict the widespread scientific consensus on the reality of global warming."
Though the distinction may be too subtle for Fox News and its audience, "challeng[ing] some current notions" is not the same thing as saying something is "not true."
"Climate scientists from three American universities have published peer-reviewed research indicating global warming cannot be affected or modified by controlling the emission of greenhouse gases -- and that current greenhouse computer models saying otherwise are wrong. The report in the International Journal of Climatology of the Royal Meteorological Society was written by professors from the universities of Rochester, Alabama and Virginia.
"Lead author David Douglass of Rochester writes --'The inescapable conclusion is that the human contribution is not significant and that observed increases in carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases make only a negligible contribution to climate warming.'
"The report says satellite data indicates greenhouse computer models ignore the mitigating effects of clouds and water vapor on the warming properties of carbon dioxide. It says climate change is most likely caused by variations in solar winds and associated magnetic fields.
"A senior fellow at the liberal Center for American Progress tells Cybercast News the study is 'radically out of step with the complete scientific consensus.'"
Fair and balanced, right? Hume simply cites a study published in a legitimate scientific journal, and notes a liberal think tank says its "radically out of step with the complete scientific consensus." Again, no outright falsehoods. Though the authors did not exactly emerge from nowhere. S. Fred Singer made a name for himself by arguing that the dangers of passive cigarette smoke were based on "junk science" . He also worked on a $5 million campaign, hatched at American Petroleum Institute to convince the public that the science of global warming is riddled with controversy and uncertainty.
Remember, this is merely the low hanging fruit from a single week of Political Grapevines.
And for some variety, here's one of those phony "liberal academics persecute conservatives" tidbits:
"A student at Hamline University in Minnesota has been suspended and ordered to undergo a mental health evaluation for advocating the carrying of legal concealed weapons on campus.
"TownHall.com reports Troy Scheffler made the case in an e-mail to a school official that licensed gun owners could stop or prevent the kind of violence that struck Virginia Tech earlier this year. He pointed out that research has indicated the possibility of armed resistance discourages potential criminals. And he noted that many Virginia Tech students have said the massacre there would not have happened if the school had not banned concealed weapons.
"But even though the school has a policy that guarantees students will be free to discuss all questions of interest and express their opinions openly, the dean of students says Scheffler's e-mail was deemed to be threatening. Scheffler was placed on interim suspension, which will only be lifted after he agrees to a psychological evaluation."
Except when you read Scheffler's e-mail to the university president, the focus was not so much on "research" and "discouraging potential criminals." In fact there was no mention of any "research." It was more about painting swastikas on bathroom walls - as an expression of frustration at all those non-white non-Christians attending Hamline University. Here are some salient passages with the original spelling and grammar:
"I was wondering why a swastika painted by some frustrated ladies in their bathroom turned somehow into red flags of a hate crime but you dont consider an asian guy admittedly killing people because he hated them not hate motivated...
"I would suggest if you are truley concerned about student security, you lift a ridiculous conceal carry campus ban and let the students worry about their own 'security'. VA Tech just recently passed their conceal carry permit ban; we can all see how well that worked for criminal minds...
"For a 'Christian' university, I am very disappointed in Hamline. With the motif of the curriculum, the atheist professors, jewish and other non-Christian staff, I would charge the school with wanton misrepresentation...
"In fact, 3 out of 3 students just in my class that are 'minorities' are planning on returning to Africa and all 3 are getting a free education ON MY DOLLAR. I bet the staff here is wondering how a swastika ended up in a bathroom... More people than you can imagine are tired of this all. It's just sad that they resort to petty vandalism rather than speak their mind like I am."
So forget politics or free speech for a second, and think like a person running a business. Suppose you get a note like that and you ignore it. If, by some remote possibility, the sender then becomes involved in any kind of violence, the negative publicity and lawsuits could be devastating. So a psych evaluation seems like a prudent step - motivated out of pragmatism rather than liberal political correctness.
I could go on and on. Anyway, you too can try this exercise at home. Journalism teachers, you might want to use the Political Grapevine Archive, for assignments on fact checking.
One final point: The bit about "Townhall.com reports" is no excuse for Hume or Fox News. Like the text of the pope's message, the original source material was easily accessible on the web.