Michael Mann Visits Yale: Discusses corporate influence on the news; and how foreign press may save us.

Because his lawsuit now goes forward, Professor Michael Mann can’t discuss his latest victory in defamation proceedings against a small consortium of climate change deniers.  But following a recent presentation at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Science the author of The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars did talk about the bigger picture, the corporate interests funding climate disinformation and how Comedy Central, the BBC and Al Jazeera may yet bring the major networks around.

Mann is the Penn State climatologist whose reconstruction of global temperatures dating back over a thousand years shows a precipitous rise through the present day.  The stark simplicity of the graph and the dramatic “hockey stick” shape it describes make it a useful icon for those who explain the phenomenon of climate change.   For those who dispute its reality Mann is a target.  A number of the hacked e-mails central to the now discredited scandal of “Climate Gate” were between researchers at East Anglia University and him.

Ultimately at least eight independent investigations into the alleged scandal exonerated every scientist involved of any scientific misconduct.  But while the first stories about “Climategate” made headlines, the individual findings on his behalf by the EPA, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric research center, Penn State, East Anglia University, the British House of Commons – even a group from the University of California funded by the Koch Brothers – were not.  

Pilloried and exonerated, Mann has become a reluctant spokesman for the 97% of the scientific community that believes that global warming is real, that human activity is driving it, and that lacking concerted action the results will be dire. 

He was at Yale University to talk about his book that chronicles his experience of recent years when he sat down to talk with us.

Q: Anthony Leiserowitz, Director of Yale’s Project for Climate Change Communication, says that environmental issues – all environmental issues – collectively merit about 1% of news coverage.  But there are a few serious journalists out there devoting time to climate change.  Who among them is your favorite?  Bill Maher, Stephen Colbert or Jon Stewart?

{Laughs}  It’s funny.  Isn’t it interesting that some of the hardest hitting news coverage of this comes from comedians?  People not subject to the same constraints that traditional media is subject to…. It is rather ironic that you have to go to some of these other sources.  But you know, MSNBC has been quite good.  The Chris Hayes show.  Chris Matthews.  Al Jazeera English and now Al Jazeera America … when they took over the station that used to be Current TV, within the first hours of coverage, they aired a 30-minute discussion between me, Heidi Cullen who works for Climate Central, Klaus Jacob from Columbia University.  It was an in-depth 30-minute discussion led by a very informed moderator that asked insightful questions.

One of my hopes is that as the media becomes more internationalized over time … and you’ve got networks like Al Jazeera and BBC that are now competing with the American news networks … that may lead to an overall improvement in the quality of coverage of this issue.  The national competition alone hasn’t been adequate but the international coverage is forcing them to improve….  After al Jazeera English went on the air, CNN did a pretty hard-hitting piece on climate change, something they almost never do.  And so they may recognize that there’s some competition, that if the other networks, that if CNN refuses to cover it, but if Al Jazeera and BBC cover it, then they may be losing viewers.

Q: Climate Gate was headline news.  But we had to Google to find results of the various studies that universally absolved everyone involved of wrong-doing. 

They’re usually buried on page A28 or so

Q:  {Our turn to laugh} Do you think the poor coverage by the press is evidence of collusion?  Or is it simple laziness?

A combination of both, really.  There are times when media organizations are unwilling to take on some of the  … let’s face it …. their advertising comes from groups  like the American Petroleum Institute, and Exxon Mobile .. when they shy away from industry attacks on the science, one can infer that there is an almost implicit quid pro quo taking place.

Most people don’t realize that the second largest stockholder of NewsCorp (Rupert Murdoch’s media conglomerate; owners of Fox News, the Wall Street Journal, etc.) stock is Kingdom Holding, which is the Saudi royal family.  So Murdoch and the Saudi family own a controlling share of NewsCorp.

Q: Your television interviews are all over the internet, defending your work and by inference the work of scientists everywhere.  It’s got to get in the way of your research.  Do you” ever wake up in the morning and say, “Won’t you all please let me do my work?!

Not really.  You know I’m a data guy.  I’ve always loved looking at numbers, trying to discern patterns. I could happily have spent the rest of my life engaged in such scientific undertakings. But l embrace this new role.  I’ve got good people to help me carry on my scientific work.  That allows me to spend time doing education and outreach, informing the larger discussion.