Guest Opinion by Kip Hansen
It pains me to write this opinion piece. As long-term readers here know, I have often defended Andy Revkin, ex-NY Times Environmental Journalist turned NY Times Opinion Section Environmental Columnist, here at WUWT, opening myself to attacks ranging from childish to vicious, and occasionally childishly vicious. Of course, when I comment at Revkin’s NY Times’ Opinion section blog, Dot Earth, whether supporting him or criticizing him, I am similarly attacked by soldiers on one side or the other of the Climate Wars.
Revkin recently committed what I consider a public journalistic offense, on his Dot Earth blog, which I had hoped to help him see in a different, more complete and fairer light, through private emails and by an advanced copy of this opinion essay sent to him yesterday (13 June). That effort failed and, in replies to my emails (in which he neither granted nor denied permission to publish, though explicitly asked), he has informed me of his reasoning and justifications (see the Postscript if that’s all you care to read). Truthfully, what Revkin says only makes his offense worse, in my opinion.
NB: This opinion piece is about journalism, lack of, not climate science or the other issues involved in the Watts/Peterson affair.
Andy Revkin, NY Times opinion section columnist, the author and host of the NY Times environment opinion blog Dot Earth, covered the Watts/McKibben meet recently in this in his piece:
to which I left the following comment:
“….Kudos to Andy for this — and for today’s title identifying McKibben as a “Climate Campaigner” and Anthony Watts as a “Climate Change Critic”.
The most interesting thing is that these two men are thought of as exemplars of the furthest reaches of opposing views on the climate change — yet in reality are clear thinking, reasonable men who simply disagree about a subject fraught with scientific uncertainty.
My thanks to Andy for highlighting this little get together, which should, in a rational world, be an everyday occurrence as colleagues in a shared scientific field meet and chat about their personal views.”
I still hold that opinion.
Revkin then disappoints, adding the following update at the top of the column:
“Update, June, 9, 8:51 p.m. | Having been on the run overseas since the weekend, I’m only now catching up with Anthony Watts’s attack on Tom Peterson, one of the authors of a recent National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration climate paper. The exchange, in which Watts accuses Peterson of prostituting himself and hints at fraud, occurred just before* he’d posted on his friendly meeting with climate campaigner Bill McKibben, described below.
Here’s my reaction:
Any notion that Watts is interested in fostering an atmosphere of civility and constructive discourse evaporates pretty quickly in considering how he handled his questions about that paper. Alternating between happy talk about rooftop solar and slanderous accusations is not constructive or civil.”
Challenged by readers, including myself, in comments, the only reply Revkin gives, to another commenter, is:
Dot Earth blogger 12 hours ago
”I felt it was important to convey the “full Anthony Watts.””
In my opinion, Revkin has utterly failed in his duty as a journalist – the duty to find the facts and the context and report them without injecting personal or political bias.
He failed to discover the obvious fact that Watts had not attacked Peterson – Watts had sent a personal email to Peterson at his official government email address, stating a change in his [Watts’] personal opinion about Peterson’s scientific ethics. It was a harsh personal opinion, but it was personal, man-to-man, between men who should be colleagues and who have been communicating with one another on a one-to-one basis for years.
It is Peterson, a government employee, a government official, listed at climate.gov as “Principal Scientist at NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center.”, who turns this exchange of official government email into a public matter. How? By sending a copy of his government email to a tabloid-like slander-slinging climate-wars website in Australia – a site with known and repeated antagonism to Watts and bending-over-backwards loving-kindness for all things and persons in agreement with the IPCC Climate Consensus. [This is my personal opinion of the website in question, based on repeated reading of content there. WUWT is not responsible for my opinion in this matter.]
What Watts did not do: He did not publish his personal opinion publicly – despite being the editor and owner of the world’s most viewed website on climate (by orders of magnitude). He did not write a joe-romm-ish 1,500 word screed and send it to the tabloid press. That action would have been a public attack. He did not do that. There was no public attack.
The Questions that would have been asked by a True Journalist:
What? Answer: A personal communication between a citizen and a government official at NOAA, in which the citizen expresses a harsh personal opinion about his loss of trust in the public official’s work product and/or personal professional ethics, that has morphed in the blogosphere into an “attack on Peterson by Watts”.
Who? Answer: Anthony Watts, proprietor of the world’s most viewed website in climate matters and Thomas Peterson, as “Principal Scientist at NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center.”.
When? Answer: The original email exchange took place approx. 5 June. Thomas Peterson copied the email exchange with Watts from his official NOAA NCDC email account to a tabloid-like climate website in Australia on June 6, 2015 at 6:04 PM.
Why? Answer: Peterson’s real purpose in doing so is known only to him. But in his comment accompanying the copied email exchange he states “Dear Sou et al., I thought you might find an email exchange I had yesterday with Anthony Watts interesting.”
Does it bleed? Answer: [This flip question is ‘sorta’ what journalists ask themselves to see if there will be relevant public interest in the event.] Yes. US Government Official copies work-related email exchange to foreign web-based tabloid press, suspected of doing so for personal/political advantage in the Climate Wars.
Do we see these answers in Revkin’s journalistic effort? No, nothing in his published work product on this affair reflects that he even considered the context or the facts – other than the one-sided spin in the web-tabloid. Nothing in his response to criticism on his blog (where he gives only the one reply above) indicates that he even noticed that it was Peterson himself that turned a private communication into a “public attack” (although he knows Peterson made the email public) or that Peterson’s copying work-related government email to the foreign web-based tabloid press might be a violation of NOAA regulations or an government employee ethics offense. Or that it is extremely unprofessional at the very least.
In fact, it appears that Revkin’s only involvement with the issue has been to band-wagon on the politically-motivated Climate Wars blogosphere outcry – without reviewing the facts at all.
As of 11;25 AM today, I have had no response from Revkin to my comments on Dot Earth or to personal email to him requesting that he take another look at the affair.
I know that Revkin is over-committed time wise – holding what for most people would be at least two full-time jobs. Maybe he has been too busy to look more closely at the issue. If so, he should not have said anything until he took the time to review the affair properly in its entirety.
I invite him to do this review now and respond here at WUWT. (Or, if he wishes, he knows my email address and can comment fully to me off-the-record, with portions marked “OK for publication”, which he knows I will honor.)
I look forward to seeing a revision of his Dot Earth comments here or at Dot Earth.
# # # # #
I have received two replies from Mr. Revkin, which I do not have explicit permission to publish. Thus, rather than simply inserting them here, I will pull three fair-use quotes from them, which contain the essence of his reasoning and justification.
The first two quotes are from Mr. Revkin’s emailed response to an advance-of-publication copy of the above essay. In that response, the quotes are presented already as quotes, probably from his response to Anthony:
“What was notable was the contrast between your [Watts’] approach to Bill and to Peterson. I couldn’t justify the tone in what I wrote about your Chico meeting without an addendum reflecting what transpired here.”
“Suggestions of scientific fraud or prostitution, even in a personal email, are different (particularly given your policy about considering such missives ‘fair game for publishing,’ one presumes you figured this might end up public).”
My response to the above, though a great deal longer, can be summarized in this one extracted sentence: “Your reasoning is specious at best, even for a private citizen — as a journalist, they cut no ice at all. There is no journalism in that.”
The second is more damning, and came as a reply from Revkin to my response just above:
“Don’t take this wrong, but I really do have more important things to do than dig in further on this.”
What happened to the World Class Journalist Andrew Revkin? Has he hung up journalist spurs? placed his shiny Journalist Star in a shadow box and hung it on the wall? permanently shelved his pocket-copy of the Journalists’ Code of Ethics? Can it really be that he is simply too busy to do a proper journalist’s job?
Or has he traded all that in for the more-or-less anything goes rules of the Opinion Columnist?
Or has become just another echo-chamber partisan gunslinger on the Climate Team’s side of the Climate Wars, taking quick-draw cheap shots at those who others point out to him as opponents? unconcerned if he shoots down the wrong guy in any given shoot-out, too busy to check his aim.
Maybe this is what has become of the majority of science journalists …. They are all simply too busy to do their real jobs. What a sad sad day.
# # # # #
Note from Anthony:
Kip Hansen wrote this essay unsolicited. While I admit I used harsh words, probably the harshest I’ve ever used, I too was surprised that Dr. Tom Peterson chose to immediately send the email to the slimiest of outlets Sou aka “hotwhopper”, run by a person dedicated to denigration, who has not the integrity to use her own name: Miriam Obrien. While I regret that I didn’t choose my words better, I have no change in my opinion [after the NYT incident] on NCDC after what they did with Karl et al. 2015. And apparently, according to insiders, there was an internal fight at NCDC over the publication of Karl et al. 2015. I offered this backstory to Revkin, but he was uninterested.
Sadly, it speaks to the integrity of both Dr. Peterson and Andy Revkin that they consider this form of “journalism” acceptable.