This simple three-word phrase is almost impossible to say because it changes everything. It is easiest for a child to say it — after all, a child isn’t expected to be right about things. But the higher you climb through life, the more difficult it becomes to admit being wrong. It would be devastating for a president of the United States to say it: “I was wrong.” And it may be about as difficult for an established, respected scientist who does research at an institution funded by millions of tax dollars.
That is why I don’t expect any of the scientists caught by the Climategate leak to admit “I was wrong” anytime soon.
Consider the case of Roger Revelle, the “grandfather of global warming.” He didn’t say “I was wrong” during all the years he was heading up the Scripps Institute of Oceanography or the Center for Population Studies at Harvard. He waited until he was in a retirement job back at UC San Diego — a mere professor without any research or grant monies coming in — to admit he was wrong about CO2 being an important greenhouse gas.
But to his credit, he did say it in his final years. I respect that he did clear the air before leaving the scene.
I regret that Al Gore, the IPCC, and the media were no longer listening to him.
The media rarely says it: “We were wrong.” I have worked in newsrooms for 56 years — I have never heard it. On several occasions I have heard “we were misinformed,” “we were misled,” and even “we were duped.” On several occasions I have heard “we must correct this item” — but even on these rare occasions there is great reluctance.
It would take a monumental event to force the media to say “we were wrong.”
The media claims to be unbiased, but everybody knows that is not true. “Fair and balanced” is a great slogan, but it’s not a reality. I have witnessed that bias at all three of the old-line networks (yes, I did the circuit) and major market network stations. There happens to be less bias and better balance at the small independent station where I work now in my retirement job than anywhere else I have worked. But still, every person in the newsroom — including me — comes to work with personal biases, and as hard as we try to set them aside, they shine through from time to time.
Generally speaking, people who launch media careers are “do-gooders,” wanting to inform the people regarding how to make the world and their communities better places. It comes off, mostly, as a liberal bias. Most news people in the United States voted for Al Gore. They support the United Nations. They want to advance the environmental issues of clean water and clean air, and protect our natural areas.
So when global warming came along, they accepted it immediately, without question, as a major environmental challenge that they needed to tell the public about. They felt they needed to help bring about the changes required to solve the problem.
For years and years — peaking with the Al Gore movie and the UN conference in Bali — every scientific paper about melting ice, the plight of polar bears, the fear of submerged coastlines, and the entire spectrum of far-fetched global warming-related claims and studies was reported with priority and without question. The media felt it was doing great service towards saving the planet. And the bosses knew nothing built ratings better than “the sky is falling.”
The skeptics were regarded as cranks and shills for evil polluters, such as the oil companies. If they got coverage at all, it was negative.
Now comes Climategate. It is out of step with the media agenda. What does the media do now?
“Ignore it,” has been the first answer.