‘Climategate’ and the Perils of the Media’s Short Attention Span

    by Martin Moore
    December 10, 2009

    There is a moment with which all stand-up comics are familiar. It comes when they release their big punchline, sometimes known as the “drop.” For the drop, timing is everything. A successful drop means a joke takes off. An unsuccessful drop leaves it flat on its face.

    The already-infamous release of climate change emails was a fantastically successful drop. Though the emails themselves date from the late 1990s onwards, their release was perfectly timed to capture the media’s attention just before the Copenhagen climate talks — to achieve maximum impact. And it worked.

    Why? Not because they undermined the science of global warming. Only a hardened rump of skeptics still believe the world is not warming (as opposed to the larger number who dispute the causes and implications). Nor because they proved there was a global conspiracy of scientists determined to hide the truth from us (rather than a handful of scientists who might well have been manipulating aspects of their data). Nor to help promote a climate change skeptic think tank, the Global Warming Policy Foundation, which coincidentally launched around the same time.


    The release of climate change emails dominated the headlines because it was a good news story. It fit with the basic need of news: to reveal something previously hidden, to uncover alleged wrongdoing, and to cast doubt on a widely held consensus.

    Media Not Built to Cover Climate Well

    In a larger sense, however, climate change doesn’t fit with news’ needs. The climate doesn’t change on an hour-by-hour or daily basis, but over years and decades. It is theoretically urgent but, for most of us, not immediately apparent. Structurally, mainstream news is not built to cover long-term climate change well.

    Mainstream news has a short attention span. Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair’s former director of communications, remarked that if a politician could weather a media storm for 10 days then he would survive. The media would move on.


    Newspapers — understandably — don’t want to fill their front pages day in and day out with gradual news. Gradual news doesn’t sell. “Antarctic ice cap retreated one foot” is unlikely to get people reaching into their pockets for loose change.

    As a result, we tend to get treated either to occasional apocalyptic headlines of “the end is nigh” variety, or to news that bucks the scientific consensus.

    So, when something like these emails comes along, the story is irresistible to most news outlets. Not just irresistible to cover, but irresistible to elevate the emails from an indication of shabby scientific behavior by a small number of scientists into evidence of a massive global warming conspiracy.

    Contrarians, But About the Wrong Things

    The problem is that a lot of those within mainstream media are a little bored of climate change. Journalists don’t like consensus, especially not when it is foisted on them by ivory-towered experts on the basis of “trust us, we know more about this than you do.” A lot of journalists are contrarians, and, for the most part, this is a very good thing.

    But when it comes to climate change, many seem to be misdirecting their contrariness. Rather than being contrary about the science, about which the vast majority of journalists know very little, shouldn’t journalists be contrarian about the difficult political implications? Isn’t that the territory most of us are going to have to live on for the next 50 odd years? And the territory that most journalists would feel more comfortable inhabiting?

    Tagged: climate change climategate copenhagen emails global warming
    • John A. Jauregui

      Are you angry about this obvious fraud and the national media’s complicity in the cover-up, misinformation, reframing and misdirection of the issue? Take responsibility and take action. Stop all donations to the political party(s) responsible for this fraud. Stop donations to all environmental groups which funded this Global Warming propaganda campaign with our money, especially The Environmental Defense Fund. START donations to Oklahoma’s Senator Inhofe, the only politician to stand firmly against this obvious government/media coordinated information operation (propaganda) targeted at its own people. People that government leaders and employees are sworn to protect. Write your state and federal representatives demanding wall to wall investigations of government sponsored funding and coordination of this and related propaganda campaigns and demand indictments of those responsible. Write your state and federal Attorneys General demanding Al Gore and others conducting Global Warming/Climate Change racketeering and mail fraud operations be brought to justice, indicted, tried, convicted and jailed. That’s what I have done in response to this outrageous violation of the public trust. Think of the consequences if you do nothing! For one, the UK is becoming the poster child for George Orwell’s “1984” and the US government’s sponsorship of this worldwide Global Warming propaganda campaign puts it in a class with the failed Soviet Union’s relentless violation of the basic human right to truthful government generated information. Given ClimateGate’s burgeoning revelations of outrageous government misconduct and massive covert misinformation, what are the chances that this Administration’s National Health Care sales campaign is anywhere near to the truth?

    • Rick

      Without getting into the corruption behind the “Global Warming Con” here is just a short comment from the “Runp” on the underlying science that has been so poorly reported on and so absolutely politicized.

      There was a huge body of science developed back in the 70’s that put us on the verge (within a few thousand years) of an epic ice-age on the scale of the one that killed off the mammoths. The basic idea is that there is all sorts of evidence that gives us a picture of regular cycles of warming and cooling going back at least 100’s of thousands of years.

      Here is on place to start looking at the Ice core data.

      It would be helpful if people like you stopped bombastically pretending to know everything and REALLY started to make an attempt to research stuff before you write about it.

      If this does not get you off your hi horse and start thinking for yourself just a little – noting will.

    • Mr.Rogers in Hawaii

      Well… being that the Copenhagen Summit isn’t about Global Warming, but everything to do with ” Global Domination “, by the likes of George Soros, and friends… ( IMF ) World Bank… I’d think if the ” Media “, wasn’t being paid by the various coporations that own them… You’d see headlines, and news-casts that Screamed !!!… This Fact !
      I found a web-site… infowars.com that has Alex Jones, a talk radio host out of Austin, TX, that seems to hit on what most of us on here are getting at.
      I’m at the point currently… I can’t stomach what’s on TV, or printed in any rag.

    • Hopwoodian

      Don’t let the previous comments get you down. It’s remarkable how these folks always pounce to post every time something thoughtful and accurate is posted anywhere on the internet about climate change. I am not sure why they are so motivated to do what they do. Fortunately they are so easy to see through *shakes head*

      I just wanted to say I found your post to be a thoughtful critique of media treatment of this story. Quite correct on all counts. The stolen email story was fairly irresistable and plenty newsy, but the real story is the desperate and ridiculously effective tactics of those who are determined to distract as many of us as possible from dealing with the actual and sadly inconvenient truth of climate change. There is so much scientific evidence to study and these folks — and too many editors and news anchors – can’t be bothered to understand it. Thanks for your post.

    • Vindicated

      I wish someone could show me real evidence or effects of man-made climate change, as opposed to natural climate change which the earth has been experiencing since it was formed. I mean real evidence, not the usual polar bears crap, or ice caps melting, or all the usual crap. All of what we are experiencing in climate is natural, and if anyone really thinks that man has any possible input into climate change by adding CO2 to the air, are sadly misinformed . Its all a huge scam. Come on, show me some real evidence. There is none. It is freezing cold all across Canada, and snow in Australia in summer…you guys ned your heads examined.

    • Rick

      One more comment from the “Rump”. I suppose I have to give Mr. Hopwoodian something a little more transparent to see through (ignore) on the science of Global Warming or lack thereof, just to wet his appetite.

      And I should make it clear that I am not some smug absolutist that thinks he knows for sure when the next Ice age is coming or when or not, but the evidence cited by Al Gore and Company is certainly, in my mind, contrary to his own conclusions.

      The two points I want to make are that:

      1. The conclusion cited by Al Gore for carbon being the cause of Global Warming is exactly backwards. First the ice cores show that the temperature rises, then the CO2 levels follow probably as a result of the increase in temperature and the probable increase in life activity in general during the interglacial period. There seems to be a lag of as much as a thousand years between the increase in temperature and the increase in CO2.

      2. Human caused carbon is such a small percentage of the total that it is almost statistically negligible.

      There is so much more to this to explore, it amazes me that the media takes the position that it is beyond there ability to actually learn about the earth.

      Once you give these couple of obvious meeknesses in the case for spending trillions of dollars on a crash program to lessen carbon emissions, you have to begin looking at who will benefit in the short term on this kind of hoax.


      Lets move the green discussion toward chemical pollution from factory farming and the military industrial complex that is contributing to an explosion in degenerative diseases in the industiralized world.

      The global warming hoax would create a giant waste of resources.

      This energy would be better spent on honest science to guide our understanding of the biosphere in a holistic way.

      We need to adopt a new paradigm of honesty and collaboration or we will have some real environmental catastrophes crepe up on our door step that makes an ice age or period of global warming look easy to manage.

      For those of you in the media who mindlessly report the ‘News” from the comfort of a script and a cushy $$$$$ job with little consideration for the correctness and effect of the pablum you slither into the minds of the unwitting audience,


      Shame on you……………

    • Bob Pashos

      Well said, Hopwoodian! I’m with you on that …

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