Written by Steve Horn, crossposted from DeSmogBlog
There's an old German proverb that goes, "Whose bread I eat his song I sing."
Enter a recent spate of reportage by the Public Broadcasting System's (PBS) "Newshour." In a September 17 story titled, "Climate Change Skeptic Says Global Warming Crowd Oversells Its Message" (with a URL titled, "Why the Global Warming Crowd Oversells its Message") the Newshour "provided an unchecked platform for Anthony Watts, a virulent climate change denier funded by the Heartland Institute," as described by Forecast the Facts.
Forecast the Facts created a petition demanding that the "PBS ombudsman...immediately investigate how this segment came to be aired," stating that, "This is the kind of reporting we expect from Fox News, not PBS."
Very true, this is exactly the type of reporting we've come to expect out of Rupert Murdoch's Fox News, a cable "news" network that provides a voice for right-wing propagandists on all policy issues, including climate change denial. But perhaps expectations are too high for PBS' "Newshour" and we should've expected exactly what we got: a friendly platform for the climate change denying merchants of doubt.
What's at play here goes above and beyond a single bad story by "Newshour." Rather, it's a small piece and the result of an aggressive campaign that's been going on for nearly two decades to destroy public television in the public interest.
Based on the shift in how the "Newshour" has funded itself over the years, it's evident that the once-esteemed "MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour" streamed on the Public Broadcasting System has transformed PBS into what investigative reporter Greg Palast calls the "Petroleum Broadcasting System."
"Petroleum Broadcasting System" Sponsored by Chevron, Koch Industries, ExxonMobil, Et Al
In an October 2010 story, Palast pointed out that the "Newshour" is funded by Chevron in critiquing its softball coverage of the BP oil disaster. This led him to refer to PBS as the "Petroleum Broadcasting System."
Above and beyond funding from Chevron, "Newshour" also lists Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF), owned by Warren Buffett under the auspices of Berkshire Hathaway, as a sponsor. As previously reported here on DeSmog, BNSF - the second largest freight rail company in the U.S. behind Union Pacific - is a major transporter of tar sands infrastucture to the Alberta tar sands. It's also a major mover of coal being sent to coastal terminals and exported to Asia.
BNSF also inked a deal in June 2012 with U.S. Silica Holdings Inc. to "build and run a major warehousing operation...to store sand destined for the Eagle Ford Shale." The Texas-based Eagle Ford Shale basin, like all shale basins, requires vast amounts of fracking sand (aka sillica sand) in order to tap into the gas located deep within the shale reservoir. This sand predominantly comes from western Wisconsin's "sand land," as we explained in a recent short documentary.
The San Antonio Business Journal explained the situation in-depth:
The proposed facility, scheduled to open in early 2013, will be constructed on 290 acres of land the railroad purchased late last year. It will be able to store up to 15,000 tons of sand used by drillers during the hydraulic fracturing process to release oil and gas from dense shale rock.
The Fort Worth-based railway will haul up to 40,000 tons of silica sand and other products per month to San Antonio from U.S. Silica operations in Ottawa, Ill., and Rochelle, Ill.
To top it off, Buffett himself has major personal investments in Big Oil, as we've written about on DeSmog. As of August 2011, he owned 29.1 million shares of stock in ConocoPhillips, 421,800 shares of stock in ExxonMobil, and 7.777 million shares of stock in General Electric, all three of which are involved in various aspects of the tar sands extraction industry and the shale gas extraction industry.
In sum, BNSF is cashing in big time from the shale gas boom, the tar sands boom, and the coal export boom.
Koch Industries - a major Heartland Institute funder and key behind its founding - has also funded PBS' "Nova" to the tune of $7 million. ExxonMobil has also provided funds to PBS' "Nova," "Nightly Business Report" and "Masterpiece Theatre." Both ExxonMobil and Koch Industries are among the top funders of the climate change denial machine.
The Plan: Cut Public Funding, Make PBS Rely on Fossil Fuel Industry Money
Looking at the situation more broadly, it's important to understand that PBS didn't always rely on fossil fuel industry largesse to keep itself afloat.
Rather, over the past two decades, PBS has been under attack by the Republican Party, with constant threats and a coordinated campaign to defund a network originally set up to be a public educational service via the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967.
As explained in a February 2011 ABC News story,
One of Newt Gingrich's first acts as speaker of the House in 1995 was to call for the elimination of federal funding for CPB, and for the privatization of public broadcasting. Neither attempt was successful, though it did keep the hot-button issue in the limelight for years.
During the early 2011 budget debates, ABC explained that "The House Republicans' budget would rescind any funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting -- which partially supports these two organizations -- for the remainder of the year, and zero out millions in funds after that."
President Barack Obama joined in on the attack on public television with his "bipartisan deficit commission" -- referred to as the "Catfood Commission" by FireDogLake -- calling for "eliminating funding for the CPB, estimating that it would save the government $500 million in 2015," ABC explained. His Republican Party opponent for the 2012 presidential race, Mitt Romney, has also called for the defunding of PBS.
Private funding of what was originally supposed to be a publicly-funded television station comes with its own agenda. This agenda departs from the mission set out by the 1967 Act, which deemed it "in the public interest to encourage the growth and development of public...television broadcasting, including the use of such media for instructional, educational, and cultural purposes" and said it "should be created...to afford maximum protection from extraneous interference and control."
The New York Times said it best in a May 2008 story: benevolent corporate underwriting of public television is "increasingly out of step with the...needs of corporations" as they don't "sponsor public television programs for purely philanthropic reasons."
Plenty of Money for PSYOPs Campaigns Abroad
Even PBS President Paula Kerger has internalized the message that the U.S. government is "broke," stating after the latest attempt to defund NPR by House Republicans, "While we understand the many difficult decisions appropriators must make and that the nation is facing challenging economic times, if enacted, such drastic cuts in federal funding could have a devastating effect on public television stations."
Far from being strapped for cash, though, the U.S. government has plenty of money to spend on overseas psychological operations (PSYOPs) campaigns around the world of the sort covered by DeSmog during the shale gas industry's PSYOPs revelation of November 2011.
Media scholar Bob McChesney explained this phenomenon in a March 2011 Democracy Now! appearance, during the middle of the previous round of PBS funding cuts debate in the U.S. House of Representatives:
You know, currently the United States spends roughly twice as much money bankrolling international broadcasting — Voice of America and the various Radio Martís and things like that — than it does paying for domestic public broadcasting and community broadcasting, roughly twice as much — $750 million, roughly, last year. And the idea of raising that and putting more propaganda out to sort of enhance the view of the United States vis-à-vis other nations of the world is entirely the wrong way to go.
That $750 million is more than the $500 President Obama said the U.S. could save by slashing publicly-funded media. In leiu of public funding, American citizens are being shafted with fossil fuel-funded disinformation here at home, while subsidizing it with their tax dollars abroad.
Unless we see big changes in funding for public television, it'll continue to be a standard operating procedure for outlets like PBS to transform into iterations of the newfangled "Petroleum Broadcasting System" - and to end where we began - play the game of "Whose bread I eat his song I sing."
Image Credit: Forecast the Facts
This guest post was written by Brendan DeMelle, crossposted from DeSmogBlog.
Climate skeptics are once again proven wrong, and this time even Koch money can't skew the facts.
Have you heard the one from climate deniers that the “Urban Heat Island” effect has ruined all the weather stations and made the data they collect completely useless? The deniers claim any warming trend seen from these temperature recordings is from concrete buildings and asphalt roads – and that climate change is therefore a myth?
That would be false. Says whom, you ask? How about a new Koch-funded scientific study?
An investigation by the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature (BEST) project released yesterday once again thoroughly dispatches the skeptic myth about the “Urban Heat Island” (UHI) effect.
Many global warming skeptics have long claimed that the urban heat island effect is so strong that it has skewed temperature measurements indicating that global warming is happening. The skeptics argue that efforts to curb global warming pollution are therefore unnecessary, citing their pet theory that surface temperature stations were swallowed by, or moved closer to, cities, thus skewing surface temperature records on the whole.
The BEST papers – which still must go through rigorous peer review – confirm what climate scientists have correctly stated previously, demonstrating without doubt that “very rural” temperature stations miles from any new “UHI” towns or cities have also recorded warming at 0.9 degrees Celsius over the last century.
To put it plainly, even the Kochtopus denial machine will have a tough time trying to twist this Koch-funded project’s findings. It looks like the Kochs backed the wrong horse here - one wonders whether they thought Hadley CRU would be proven wrong?
Notable skeptics like Anthony Watts have long pushed this bogus UHI theory. In fact, Watts admits that he basically became a climate skeptic when he heard that urban heat islands (UHI) had distorted the global temperature record. In November, Watts wrote on Watts Up With That: “UHI is easily observable. I’ve been telling readers about UHI since this blog started…”
Mr. Watts isn’t quitting his fight just yet, complaining yesterday on his blog that the BEST studies must first clear peer review. Fair enough, sir, but in the meantime you might want to sharpen your flatware in preparation to dine on crow.
After all, Watts said in March: “I’m prepared to accept whatever result they produce, even if it proves my premise wrong.”
Brian Angliss over at Scholars & Rogues notes the sheer hypocrisy of Anthony Watts whining about BEST publishing the findings prior to peer-review, a sin Watts himself is guilty of:
This is the same Anthony Watts who published a paper with Joe D’Aleo titled “Is The US Temperature Record Reliable?” two full years before he published the associated peer reviewed paper. Oh, and the peer-reviewed paper came to the opposite conclusion of the Heartland paper.
And the BEST papers? Pre-release versions of the papers they’ll be submitting shortly for peer-review at real scientific journals. The Watts/D’Aleo paper? Published by the climate disruption denying Heartland Institute.
Watts has so much invested in the US surface station temperature record being wrong that he can’t seem to admit that his own research proved it was right, never mind accept that anyone else’s analyses might show the same.
Watts is by no means alone in embracing the Urban Heat Island theory to downplay global warming science. John Christy, Roy Spencer, S. Fred Singer, Tim Ball and his “Friends of Science”, Ross McKitrick and Pat Michaels - to name a few - have all been proponents of the Urban Heat Island theory to explain away global warming data. Many of them excitedly praised the BEST study when it was first announced, apparently confident that it would confirm their theory. They should also sharpen their flatware for a feast of crow and humble pie.
Richard Muller and Judith Curry, the ringleaders of the BEST effort, have each received a significant amount of criticism for their own attacks on climate science, including on DeSmogBlog, and the lashings from Joe Romm at Climate Progress. (Romm broke this story back in March, in fact, but now we have the full papers from Muller’s team to back up the claims.)
It now appears that the BEST effort confirms again what the, ahem, best climate scientists have told us repeatedly in the peer-reviewed science published on this issue over the past 20 years - that UHI is negligible and certainly doesn’t skew the conclusion that surface temperatures are rising. In fact, a 2010 study indicated that stations identified by Watts and others as exaggerating warming actually indicated a cooling trend on closer examination. Oops.
Yes, the favorite arguments from skeptics griping about temperature station quality, selection bias and data correction all appear to be falling apart, thanks in part to $150,000 of their sugar daddy Charles Koch’s coin, no less.
Remember Climategate? Recall how Phil Jones was dragged through the mud chiefly due to the allegation that his landmark 1990 study on UHI - later cited by the International Panel on Climate Change – was allegedly plagued by flawed temperature data?
As it turns out, Jones and his colleagues at the Hadley Centre, who compile the HadCRU global temperature record are enjoying yet another exoneration today, since BEST data confirms the premise that the Urban Heat Island effect is not responsible for the extent of recorded global temperature rises.
But there’s little cause for celebration. What the BEST papers clearly confirm (once again) is that global warming is real, and temperatures are rising quickly.
As Richard Muller writes in a Wall Street Journal opinion piece today:
“When we began our study, we felt that skeptics had raised legitimate issues, and we didn’t know what we’d find. Our results turned out to be close to those published by prior groups. We think that means that those groups had truly been very careful in their work, despite their inability to convince some skeptics of that. They managed to avoid bias in their data selection, homogenization and other corrections.
Global warming is real. Perhaps our results will help cool this portion of the climate debate. How much of the warming is due to humans and what will be the likely effects? We made no independent assessment of that.”
The hardened deniers will surely find something else to complain about now, as their attempts to paint man-made climate change as a myth grown increasingly desperate. But anyone who could be described as a “reasonable skeptic” must recognize this plain fact and stop misleading the public on this issue. To do otherwise is dishonest and frankly unethical.
Similar to Rolling Stone's "The Climate Killers" article that was released at the beginning of the year, AlterNet has just profiled some of the most influential political, financial and popular enemies of the Earth's increasingly disrupted climate.
Snide comments aside, both reports nail some of the most influential staples: Koch Industries, an infamous engine of the climate denial machine; Warren Buffet, the filthy-rich investor who has placed his bets on coal; and Joe Barton, Big Fossil's purchased U.S. Representative (over 1.7 million dirty dollars over the last decade).
AlterNet's newer spotlight identifies Harold Lewis and Freeman Dyson, who are similar to the likes of S. Fred Singer and Patrick Michaels in their use of scientific credentials for corporate public relations rather than, say, active climate studies...or scientific study in general. Also like Singer and Michaels, they have ties to prominent denier think tanks such as Cato, the Heartland Institute, and the Competitive Enterprise Institute, all of which are currently or formerly funded by Koch Industries and ExxonMobil. Similarly, AlterNet mentions Anthony Watts, whose skeptic blog is the go-to hub for climate-solutions obstructionism, and whose credentials as a TV weatherman (not certified by the American Meteorological Society) fool people into thinking he's a climate expert. Like the other junk scientists mentioned in the article, Watts has ties to the Heartland Institute.
In a contrasting look at university integrity, AlterNet also profiles Ken Cuccinelli, Virginia's attorney general who has used the "climategate" nonscandal as grounds to continue harassing Michael Mann, the influential University of Virginia climatologist whose university research was a primary target of the hacked East Anglia emails. While Mann was defended by his university and cleared of wrongdoing after investigations, the same can't be said for George Mason University's Edward Wegman. AlterNet points out that Wegman is currently under formal investigation his George Mason for pushing bogus climate material for none other than Texas Rep. Joe Barton.
It is worth noting that George Mason University (GMU) is a known breeding ground for climate deniers and heavily supported by the Koch brothers; both the Mercatus Center and the Institute for Humane Studies (IHS) operate out of the University have received millions of dollars from the Kochs. There's also Koch Industries executive Richard Fink, who taught and filled various other positions at GMU, co-founded and directs GMU's Mercatus Center, directs the Institute for Humane Studies, is the president of two Koch family foundations that fund these groups, founded the Citizens for a Sound Economy Foundation (which became the Americans for Prosperity Foundation, of which Fink is a director)...Rich Fink pretty much lives up to his name.
Glenn Beck (who attended Charles Koch's secret election strategy meeting last June), Mitch McConnell, former BP CEO Tony Hayward, Peabody CEO Gregory Boyce, and others are also credited for their dirty work in the full article.