Climategate: The World's Biggest Story, Everywhere but Here

I contacted all three papers -- the LA Times, the Washington Post, and the New York Times — asking for comment, or for a pointer to the stories I had missed. Only one of the three replied, and they wouldn't speak for attribution or on the record.

It's truly a puzzle. This is a story that affects the future of human civilization, if some of the believers are right. It ties financially to people right up to the top of American politics, as well as major industries throughout the U.S. and the world. What's more, the story would seem to be all wrapped up, ready for aggressive investigative reporters with the resources of the Times to expose. Some of the perpetrators have even begun to confess. Why wouldn't the Times cover it at all?

Are there any mentions of Professor Phil Jones' admission in a BBC interview that he isn't good at keeping records, that his notes were so disorganized that he couldn't comply with the Freedom of information requests, that there had indeed been no statistically significant warming since 1995 and that there was still significant uncertainty about the Medieval Warm Period, and even about climate science in general?

Thanks to Gerard Vanderleun of the American Digest blog -- and his link to Tom Nelson, one of my new favorite climate aggregators -- we might have an answer. Nelson ran into this audio recording (warning: 105MB mp3 file) of the first Shorenstein Center/Belfer Center seminar on news coverage of climate change. One of the speakers was Andrew Revkin of the New York Times. Here's part of what Revkin had to say, transcribed by Tom Nelson:

One thing that's interesting to note ... in this administration shift is that all the coverage that I did of all those obfuscations, editing, censorship and stuff that the Bush administration got involved in was a no-brainer getting that on the front page of the New York Times ... Now, theoretically, should I be just as aggressively writing about these revelations? [nervous laugh]. There's total ... complete differences between what was going on then and some of the things you've heard about recently in terms of the scientific integrity of the IPCC ... The bottom line is, there was a predisposition at my newspaper to say hey, that's a great get; there's a major front page story ... when Phil Cooney ... editing climate reports and all that stuff ... it fit a very comfortable theme that all environmental stories for the longest period of time had, which is there's bad guys and good guys. Shame on you, shame on you.

Could it possibly be that the Times would sit on a story of this magnitude simply because it doesn't say "shame on you" to the right people?

There may be some some additional insight to be gained by reading two pieces from Columbia Journalism Review: "MIA on the IPCC," published January 29, and and "U.S. Press Digs Into IPCC Story," two weeks later.

The January 29 piece says, reasonably:

In the days after the story first broke, The New York Times and The Washington Post each ran one print article about the Himalayan glaciers error. The Christian Science Monitor, now published online, produced one piece, and the Associated Press and Bloomberg sent a couple of articles over the wire.

Unfortunately, that’s about it. Meanwhile, outlets in the UK, India, and Australia have been eating the American media’s lunch, churning out reams of commentary and analysis. Journalists in the U.S. should take immediate steps to redress that oversight.

It then runs through some of the other IPCC issues that had come to light by then, and concludes:

So, yes, an “old row” it is, but a very important one, to which the American press should pay more attention (taking a cue perhaps from the Guardian, which thought the flap between the Sunday Times, the IPCC, Ward, and Pielke was newsworthy enough). For, indeed, the row continues. Over the last week, Pielke has posted a number of entries on his blog revisiting his criticisms of the IPCC’s work on disaster losses and responding to Ward’s defense of the panel. ... Today, he announced that next Friday he will debate Ward at the Royal Institution of Great Britain. The event is titled, “Has Global Warming increased the toll of disasters?”

That’s a great question. Unfortunately, the debate is in London, which probably means we’ll be hearing crickets in the U.S. media while coverage of this momentous topic continues elsewhere.