The New York Times, America’s newspaper of record, made an embarrassing correction on Wednesday to a story published on the front page of Tuesday’s edition. The story warned that President Donald Trump could suppress a climate change report which had already been published online — in December.
“Scientists Fear Trump Will Dismiss Blunt Climate Report,” the Times‘ headline read, The Washington Post‘s Erik Wemple reported. The Times story mentioned the climate change report as though it were a secret bombshell, previously unavailable, which the Times had exclusively received, and which Trump would ignominiously destroy.
This paranoia was underscored three times. “One government scientist who worked on the report, and who spoke to The Times on the condition of anonymity, said he and others are concerned it would be suppressed,” wrote the Times‘ Lisa Friedman. She also noted, “A copy of [the report] was obtained by The New York Times,” and “The draft report by scientists from 13 federal agencies, which has not yet been made public, concludes that Americans are feeling the effects of climate change right now.”
But the report had been made public — nine months ago. According to the Internet Archive, a website that archives content published online, the document was published on December 15, 2016, and went through a comment period until February 3 of this year. The Archive uploaded the report in January.
“It’s not clear what the news is in this story,” Robert Kopp, a climate scientist at Rutgers University who is listed as among the lead authors of the report, said on Twitter. “The Times’ leaked draft has been on the Internet Archive since January, during the public comment period.”
The Times' leaked draft has been on the Internet Archive since January, during the public comment period https://t.co/B8XLQ6omb2
— Bob Kopp (@bobkopp) August 8, 2017
Another of the report’s authors, Katharine Hayhoe, a professor at Texas Tech who leads the school’s Climate Science Center, said the same. “Important to point out that this report was already accessible to anyone who cared to read it during public review & comment time,” she tweeted. “Few did.”
Important to point out that this report was already accessible to anyone who cared to read it during public review & comment time. Few did. https://t.co/eYgsj09Z97
— Prof. Katharine Hayhoe (@KHayhoe) August 8, 2017
On Wednesday, the Times offered this correction:
An article on Tuesday about a sweeping federal climate change report referred incorrectly to the availability of the report. While it was not widely publicized, the report was uploaded by the nonprofit Internet Archive in January; it was not first made public by The New York Times.
As The Washington Post‘s Erik Wemple argued, “given the magnitude of the screw-up,” this correction “should sit atop the story, surrounded by red flashing lights and perhaps an audio track to instruct readers: Warning: This story once peddled a faulty and damaging premise.”
That premise? That the Trump administration is stifling a damaging draft report with dire climate change warnings. As the Times‘ Friedman wrote, “The average temperature in the United States has risen rapidly and drastically since 1980, and recent decades have been the warmest of the past 1,500 years, according to a sweeping federal climate change report awaiting approval by the Trump administration.”
In other words, by suggesting the report was kept secret and might be “suppressed,” Friedman was peddling the notion that Trump was hiding the evidence on climate change to support his agenda.
As Wemple noted, the revised version of the Times story pulled the language saying the report “was obtained by the New York Times,” as well as the falsehood that it has “not yet been made public.” Nevertheless, two lines stoking paranoia remain: “Another scientist involved in the process, who spoke to The New York Times on the condition of anonymity, said he and others were concerned that it would be suppressed,” and “Scientists say they fear that the Trump administration could change or suppress the report.”
This flatly contradicts what four co-authors of the report, who spoke to the Associated Press (AP) on the condition of anonymity, testified about the assessment. According to the AP, they “said they have not heard of or witnessed any attempt by the White House to suppress or censor the scientific document.”
One author said, “It was under the radar and we were fine with that.” Whom did the Times author actually speak to?
“It’s very disappointing, yet entirely predictable to learn The New York Times would write off a draft report without first verifying its contents with the White House or any of the federal agencies directly involved with climate and environmental policy,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement.
“As others have pointed out — and The New York Times should have noticed — drafts of this report have been published and made widely available online months ago during the public comment period,” Sanders added. “The White House will withhold comment on any draft report before its scheduled release date.”
So how did the Times experience this monumental screw-up? Washington bureau chief Elisabeth Bumiller explained, “We were just not aware that somebody involved in the report had put a draft on this nonprofit Internet site. It was not a well-known site to us and the point is that the people who shared the draft with us were not aware of it either.” How about the public comment period, while it was freely available on the EPA website?
“That doesn’t change the larger point that scientists were worried that the government wouldn’t approve the report or release it through normal channels,” Bumiller declared.
Again, the scientists who spoke to the AP seemed utterly unconcerned about this possibility. What does the massive correction the Times had to run mean for the credibility of their quotes involving these scientists?