How Journalists Can Mislead Readers: An Annotation | News | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

How Journalists Can Mislead Readers: An Annotation

Fake news usually does not involve complete fabrications. Often, news-fakers cherry-pick a real fact and repackage it in a misleading context. This example was posted on Breitbart News on Nov. 30, 2016, by British-based writer James Delingpole.

1The world’s climate researchers overwhelmingly agree that climate change is real, man-made and happening now. But this snarkily written piece, complete with sensational headline, cites an article in British newspaper The Mail on Sunday to argue that climate change is the province of “alarmists.” The Breitbart story was widely shared, and the subject of an approving tweet by the climate-denying U.S. House Committee on Science, Space and Technology

2 The Mail article was written by David Rose, whose professional affiliations Delingpole never identifies. Rose is a veteran climate-change denier who has approvingly passed along predictions of a mini ice age. (Delingpole himself is known for questioning both the role human activity plays in climate change and the severity of climate change itself; he also promoted “Climategate,” the fraudulent 2009 attempt to claim that scientists had conspired to fool the public into believing in global warming.)

3The Mail article argued that last year’s unusually high temperatures were due to El Niño, not climate change, and that a recent drop in land temperatures is cause for disbelief in global warming. Sounds convincing — until you recall that some 70 percent of the world’s surface is covered by water, which is a big heat sink.

4Delingpole’s only other source is “Dr. David Whitehouse, science editor of the Global Warming Policy Foundation.” Sounds authoritative, no? But Whitehouse is an astrophysicist, not a climate scientist. And notwithstanding the Foundation’s neutral-sounding name, in 2014, The Independent described the British-based think tank as “the UK’s most prominent source of climate-change denial.” 

5The Mail on Sunday article was debunked in a Dec. 2 New York Times article that quoted two actual scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. El Niño, they said, was not solely responsible for the warmer temperatures, but merely added to a pronounced long-term warming trend.

6All this confusion might simply be attributable to bad reporting — a journalist swayed by a flawed article. But this “death rattle” part of Delingpole’s article is an outright lie: In the real world, evidence that climate change is real, happening now and caused by humans is only mounting. Important indicators like declines in polar sea ice suggest that the climate is warming even faster than previously predicted.

7 The idea that there was a recent “pause” in global warming is another lie, thoroughly debunked. Within weeks of the Breitbart article’s publication, NOAA confirmed that 2016 was our third straight hottest year on record — and that 10 of the other 11 hottest have been since 2003. The 12th was in 1998.