The Stories Behind the Story

Yesterday, New York Times global warming ace Andrew Revkin broke the story of how an official at the White House Council on Environmental Quality--Philip Cooney, formerly of the American Petroleum Institute--has tinkered with the wording of government reports on global warming to exaggerate scientific uncertainty. Published on the front page of the Times, and coming just after Tony Blair arrived in the U.S. to pester Bush about climate change, Revkin's article was bound to draw considerable attention. Indeed, in yesterday's press gaggle, White House spokesman Scott McClellan had to put on an impressive display of public relations jujitsu just to head off a feeding frenzy of reporters peppering him with questions about climate science. It was truly a sight to behold.

But what nobody pointed out is the following: Andy Revkin has broken numerous similar stories over the past several years. In each case, they create a stink for the administration, but because of the short attention span of the media, it's only a temporary one. Then business as usual resumes -- as does the routine politicization of science, apparently -- while I suppose that Revkin starts working on the next story.

Let's just take a look at some examples of what Revkin has exposed over the years about the Bush administration's politicization of and interference with climate science and government climate scientists:

April 2, 2002: Following urging by energy interests, the Bush administration pushes to have leading scientist Robert Watson--who is "highly regarded as an atmospheric chemist by many climate experts," according to Revkin--removed as chairman of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Watson is indeed later replaced by a scientist from India.

September 15, 2002: An annual Environmental Protection Agency report on air pollution omits its section on global warming "for the first time in six years," Revkin reports, a decision made "by top officials at the Environmental Protection Agency with White House approval." "There's a complete paranoia about anything on climate, and everything has to be reviewed widely," one EPA insider tells the Times.

June 19, 2003: The White House Council on Environmental Quality drastically edits the global warming section of an EPA report on the state of the environment, leaving the section "whittled to a few noncommittal paragraphs." "Among the deletions," writes Revkin, "were conclusions about the likely human contribution to warming from a 2001 report on climate by the National Research Council that the White House had commissioned and that President Bush had endorsed in speeches that year." An internal EPA memo--which you can download here--objects that due to the White House changes, the report "no longer accurately represents scientific consensus on climate change." Ultimately the EPA decides to drop the global warming section from the report entirely.

April 25, 2004: NASA cracks down on its scientists, telling them they are not allowed to do interviews or otherwise comment on the global warming disaster flick The Day After Tomorrow. ''It's just another attempt to play down anything that might lead to the conclusion that something must be done'' about climate change, gripes one government scientist to Revkin, who can't use his name "because of standing orders not to talk to the news media."

October 26, 2004: NASA climate expert James Hansen--sometimes called the "father of global warming" for his 1988 congressional testimony calling attention to the problem--goes public with allegations that agency administrator Sean O'Keefe instructed him not to discuss "dangerous anthropogenic interference [with the climate], because we do not know enough or have enough evidence for what would constitute dangerous anthropogenic interference.'' Hansen, a government employee, lays it on the line to denounce the Bush administration's approach to climate science just days before the presidential election.

Does anyone detect a pattern here? (Besides the fact that Andrew Revkin is a good reporter I mean.)

This list sets Revkin's latest story, about the Council on Environmental Quality and its editing of scientific reports, into a much deeper context. Not only has the office done this before; it has been previously caught in the act for it by Revkin and the Times. So there's a very long history here, and the current news is just one episode among many. Moreover, despite this long history, and despite repeated complaints from government scientists and whistleblowers, the Bush administration shows no inclination of ceasing to interfere with government climate science on a regular basis. Indeed, it refuses to admit there's even a problem.

Moreover, Andrew Revkin is just one reporter out of many who's been covering interference with climate science by the Bush administration. For a totally different example--now switching over to the Washington Post -- see here. I suppose it's possible that every last one of these news stories might be based on massive distortions and a hefty helping of liberal media bias. But it doesn't seem very likely, does it?