Friday, January 19, 2007

Too Silly To Be True? It Probably Is.

A prime example of the way that talk-radio, cable-news and other discussion-polluters gin up phony controversy popped up this past week, and it says a lot about what they do to poison the dialog regarding important national issues.

This week, national and local wing-nuts pounced on the comments of a Weather Channel climate expert, Dr. Heidi Cullen, who posted on a Weather Channel blog back on December 21st, criticizing meteorologists that are certified by the American Meteorological Society (AMS) who facilitate unscientific “controversy” about humans contributing to global warming.

According to Mark Belling, Rush Limbaugh and countless other subscribers to the daily GOP talking-points memo, Cullen wrote that meteorologists who don’t “believe” in human-caused global warming should be drummed out of the AMS. This was proof, according to the wing-nuts, that Cullen was just one of many liberal thugs, who were trying to shut up anyone who dared to question the left’s global warming orthodoxy.

Both used their characterization of Cullen’s comments to go off on their usual rants about the motives of those who subscribe to the obvious and uncontroverted science of the global warming crisis. Limbaugh claimed they were Communists and Socialists who wanted to destroy American industry, for some reason. Belling called them “bigots”, although “bigoted” against whom, he couldn’t say. Sticking to the talking points, both implied there was some sort of controversy about the issue, without citing any opposing scientific research (because there isn’t any) and both, in the lamest of fall-back positions, claimed (falsely) that, even if humans caused it, there was nothing we could do about it at this point.

The wing-nuts have gone off on their global warming tirade before, usually chuckling at the supposed silliness of the concern when there is a snowstorm in Texas or something. “Hey, the fruit is freezing in Florida! Some ‘global warming’, huh?” But with the month-old hook of Dr. Cullen’s post (it must have conflicted with the right’s phony war-on-Christmas campaign back when it was actually posted), the wing-nuts were more shrill than usual about the whole thing. By twisting Cullen’s message, they got to squawk about not only the (to them) impossibly ridiculous global warming issue, but also the supposed attempt at mind-control by the dangerous liberals who (they say) try to shut down the expression all opposing thought.

Frankly, if Cullen’s comments were as presented by the wing-nuts, I might have almost agreed with them. But I knew before I even looked up the original post by Cullen this morning that the wing-nuts had twisted, interpreted, took out of context and otherwise misrepresented her intent and even the comments themselves. I knew they did because wing-nuts always raise the straw man, because they can't knock down anything else. After looking at the souce material, I was not surprised to find that they outright lied about it.

Dr. Cullen’s comments arise out of a small game of inside-baseball for meteorologists. Cullen was actually commenting on a post by a weather blogger in D.C., who heard an AMS-certified TV weatherman lend credence to the right-wing agenda by claiming that global warming may simply be part of “cyclical patterns” (a standard wing-nut cannard) and that no “generalizations” can be made from the available data. The D.C. blogger, Andrew Freedman, made the point that the TV guy would be lucky to pass a test in climate class and reminded him that the AMS itself had established three years ago – as has every qualified scientist in the world – that human activity is a “major agent of climate change”.

There is a reason for pretty-boy-and-girl TV weather geeks go out and get AMS certification. They want you to think that they speak with authority when they advise you to send Little Jimmy out with a coat tomorrow morning. Since they hold themselves out as some sort of perfect-toothed scientists, I would also say they have a responsibility not to get drawn in to happy-talk with the attractive (and decidedly non-certified) news-and-sports heads on the issue of climate change, and, if they do, they should try to get it right, according to science and not the wishful thinking of their SUV-selling advertisers. That was Freedman’s point.

Cullen took it, as she put it, “a step further”. First, she said “meteorologists have a responsibility to truly educate themselves on the science of global warming...they owe it to their audience to distinguish between solid, peer-reviewed science and junk political controversy.” Well, sure. Hard to argue with that, unless, of course, you are engaged in “junk political controversy” on a daily basis, as all wing-nuts are. Finally, she suggests, “if a meteorologist can't speak to the fundamental science of climate change, then maybe the AMS shouldn't give them a Seal of Approval.”

Notice she didn’t say AMS certification should be pulled for those ignorant of the basic facts; just that maybe (just maybe) the AMS shouldn’t give the Seal of Approval to someone spouting un-science (or, going along with those who do).

In response to the phony controversy, Cullen followed up with a post on January 18th: “The point of my post was never to stifle discussion. It was to raise it to a level that doesn't confuse science and politics.” Limbaugh played parts of the audio version of her clarification, but left out that important point. Wing-nuts never let the facts get in the way of a good poisoning.

Despite the obvious existance of global warming and its human-driven causes, the “issue” seems to be a favorite and permanent topic for national and local wing-nuts. Are they that co-opted by oil industry contributions to their GOP bosses? Is it because Al Gore had the termity to use his knowledge and celebrity to establish The Inconvenient Truth? More likely, the phony “they-are-coming-for-your-SUVs” message has replaced the old phony “they-are-coming-for-your-guns” paranoia for their angry-white-male demographic. Besides, more people have SUVs than guns, anyway.

There is an old adage that can protect you in an advertising marketplace that often promises the Moon and more: if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. The same idea can and should be applied to wing-nut talk radio claims of outrageous liberal behavior. That is: if it sounds too silly to be true, it probably is. Such as it is with Dr. Cullen and her reasonable comments about the responsibility of those who know better (or who should know better) not to be browbeaten by political hacks into discussing phony issues in phony ways.


Michael J. Mathias said...

You're a brave soul for wading through all their bullshit.

Anonymous said...

Surprise Suprise, the tolerant left encouraging debate. I never get tired of liberal hypocrisy. Write on!