BROOKE GLADSTONE: This is On the Media. I'm Brooke Gladstone. The White House recently released a report signed by the secretaries of both Energy and Commerce, which (quote) "supported the view of many scientists that human action, from driving automobiles to running power plants, helped cause global warming." A big change for this White House. But when a New York Times reporter asked the president why the administration had changed its position on global warming, the president replied "I don't think we did." "The president's policy is the same," affirmed White House spokesman Trent Duffy. "We need to fill in the knowledge and the scientific gaps." That's despite the administration's own claim that the report was based on the best possible scientific evidence. Well, at least we know about the report in the administration's changing yet, apparently, unchanged stance -- a fact that gladdens the heart of Ross Gelbspan. His new book, Boiling Point, slams the press for slighting coverage of global warming. Ross, welcome to OTM.
ROSS GELBSPAN: Thank you so much for having me on.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: We've talked a lot on this program about how the journalistic convention that requires reporters to give equal weight to both sides regardless of the evidence can give the news consumer the impression that both sides are equally valid, even when they're not. Now, you make the same argument with regard to climate change, and you call this "stealing our reality." What do you mean?
ROSS GELBSPAN: In the very early 90s, when the science was still uncertain, that kind of reporting was appropriate. In 1995, this intergovernmental panel on climate change -- and this includes more than 2,000 scientists from a hundred countries in what is the largest and most rigorously peer-reviewed scientific collaboration in history -- said global warming is definitely happening due to human activities. This is a fact. And yet, the press continues to treat the story as though there were two sides to it. Public relations specialists of big coal and big oil really have exploited the ethic of journalistic balance.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Well, let's talk about who's muddying the waters, then. About a decade ago, you wrote an article for the Washington Post, and at that point, you smelled something fishy. Tell me what happened.
ROSS GELBSPAN: After the article appeared, I got a number of letters from readers saying they didn't believe that we were changing the climate, and the referred me to the work of several scientists, and I was persuaded by their work that this issue was basically stuck in uncertainty, and we really didn't know what was causing the warming. Other mainstream scientists showed me that these few, so-called "greenhouse skeptics" were being extremely selective. They were manipulating the data. In some cases, they were simply issuing falsehoods. They were, in fact, getting lots of money from the coal industry which was really not publicly disclosed until we published it.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Okay, but that was then and this is now. We have the president's report, and it says that we now understand that human beings and their fossil fuel lives are what's fueling global warming. So these specialists have been shunted aside? We're clear from all that obfuscation?
ROSS GELBSPAN: No, we're not, as a matter of fact. What began as this campaign of deception and disinformation which was funded by the coal industry has been taken over by other companies. Exxon Mobil has spent 12 million dollars since 1998 funding some of these same skeptics. Their message has changed a little bit. Rather than saying global warming isn't happening, at some point they began to say it's good for us.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So you say that basically Exxon Mobil has inherited the disinformation campaign from the coal industry, and you see their expert shills being still quoted in the press? Give me a name.
ROSS GELBSPAN: Fred Singer is one of the more prominent nay-saying skeptics. Singer had received anywhere from 10 to 75,000 dollars from Exxon Mobil in 1998. And that information didn't come through some real magical work of investigative reporting. It happened to be on Exxon Mobil's website. But despite that, Fred Singer continues to be quoted in the Post and other papers without referencing the fact that he is being supported and has been supported by the fossil fuel lobby.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Let's say he is taking money from Exxon Mobil. Does that ipso facto mean that he's lying?
ROSS GELBSPAN: Absolutely not. Industry-funded research is neutral. It can be good; it can be bad. It's not inherently bad. But I think the issue of disclosure in terms of the public's right to know is extremely important.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: The issue of climate change is the subject of daily articles in the European press, but as you've noted, it gets scant coverage over here. Why do you think that is, and how should the U.S. press be covering the issue?
ROSS GELBSPAN: I think the press should take it out of the ghetto of being a sub-beat of environmental reporters, because I think its implications are much larger than that. For example, in May, Haiti was hit by 5 feet of rain in 36 hours in an area of southern Haiti. This drought in the western U.S. has surpassed the Dust Bowl. It's shaping up as the worst drought in that region in 500 years. This summer's monsoons have left more than 30 million people homeless in South Asia. Last summer, this heat wave in Europe left more than 30,000 people dead. And the connection is not being made by the press.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Can scientists say indisputably, incontrovertibly that this tragically wacky weather that we've been experiencing can be directly tied to global warming? They can prove that?
ROSS GELBSPAN: Absolutely. They cannot attribute any one incident to global warming, but the pattern is totally established. it's very similar to cigarettes and lung cancer. You can't attribute any one case of lung cancer to cigarette smoking, but epidemiologically there's no question that smoking definitely contributes to lung cancer. So that if in covering these extreme weather events, the press were to do a proper job, it would simply insert a line that says "Scientists associate this pattern of violent weather with global warming."
BROOKE GLADSTONE: All right. Ross, thank you very much.
ROSS GELBSPAN: Thank you. I really appreciate this.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Ross Gelbspan is the author of the new book Boiling Point: How Politicians, Big Oil and Coal, Journalists and Activists Have Fueled The Climate Crisis and What We Can Do to Avert Disaster.