‘Meet the Press’ Host: Climate Segment Meant as Debate on ‘Policies’

WASHINGTON - APRIL 26: (AFP OUT) Jon Meacham (C), editor of Newsweek magazine, and Doris Kearns Goodwin, Presidential Historian, listen to David Gregory (L) speak during a live taping of 'Meet the Press' at NBC April 26, 2009 in Washington, DC. Goodwin and Meacham spoke about President Obama's first 100 days as president of the United States. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images for Meet the Press)
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Ben Geman
Feb. 16, 2014, 9:46 a.m.

After ex­cor­i­at­ing “Meet the Press” in ad­vance for its planned cli­mate change “de­bate,” en­vir­on­ment­al­ists came away with a mixed bag.

They feared the “de­bate” format would cast un­due doubt on the sci­entif­ic con­sensus on glob­al warm­ing, and hand Ten­ness­ee Re­pub­lic­an Mar­sha Black­burn a for­um to make as­ser­tions at odds with the pre­vail­ing sci­ence.

But host Dav­id Gregory sought re­peatedly to in­ocu­late the seg­ment against the false-bal­ance charges be­fore and dur­ing de­bate between Black­burn, a cli­mate skep­tic, and sci­ence edu­cat­or Bill Nye (“the sci­ence guy”).

“In the sci­entif­ic com­munity this is not really a de­bate about wheth­er cli­mate change is real. The con­sensus is that it is,” Gregory said be­fore toss­ing ques­tions to the duo.

The plan, Gregory said, was a de­bate over cli­mate change “policies,” and he began by ask­ing guests if re­cent weath­er ex­tremes had cre­ated a “new ur­gency” to act.

Gregory prob­ably in­vited some fresh cri­ti­cism when he said “the ma­jor­ity” of sci­ent­ists at­trib­ute cli­mate change to hu­man in­flu­ence but “there are cer­tainly some in the sci­entif­ic com­munity who don’t be­lieve that is the case.”

(En­vir­on­ment­al­ists and cli­mate sci­ent­ists will likely find fault with Gregory’s em­phas­is: It’s a tiny minor­ity of sci­ent­ists who dis­pute hu­man-in­duced cli­mate change.)

But was the seg­ment the valentine to cli­mate skep­tics that crit­ics be­lieved in­ev­it­able, giv­en the format?

“Meet the Press” caught plenty of flack in the Twit­ter-verse for the seg­ment as it un­fol­ded and after.

“Some people think facts are facts. Oth­ers dis­agree. On #meetthep­ress, we let you de­cide!,” tweeted Mi­chael Grun­wald, Time magazine’s seni­or na­tion­al cor­res­pond­ent, who has writ­ten widely on the en­vir­on­ment.

A post on Cli­mate Pro­gress, a blog of the lib­er­al Cen­ter for Amer­ic­an Pro­gress Ac­tion Fund, that ran af­ter­ward knocked the de­bate format but trained most of its fire on Black­burn.

“At­tempt­ing to host a pro­duct­ive de­bate on cli­mate change policy can be hard when one of the people de­bat­ing said policy does not be­lieve cli­mate change ex­ists. But that is ex­actly what NBC’s ‘Meet the Press’ at­temp­ted to do on Sunday,” wrote Emily Atkin.

Na­tion­al Journ­al‘s un­scientif­ic re­view of how the show went over also shows that Miles Grant, an en­vir­on­ment­al­ist who slammed the seg­ment ahead of time, gave props to Gregory while still bash­ing the de­bate.

He tweeted that it was “pain­ful to watch” Gregory “try to coax” in­tel­li­gent cli­mate policy dis­cus­sion from Black­burn. Grant said on Twit­ter that he gives “cred­it” to Gregory for fo­cus­ing on “cli­mate solu­tions” but that the show “booked wrong guests for that de­bate. View­ers left con­fused?”

Back to the show it­self: At one point Gregory chal­lenged Black­burn when she claimed, “there is not con­sensus there.”

“I just have to in­ter­rupt you,” Gregory said. “You can pick out par­tic­u­lar skep­tics, but you can’t really say, can you, that the hun­dreds of sci­ent­ists around the world who have looked at this have got­ten to­geth­er and con­spired to ma­nip­u­late data.”

The seg­ment, to be sure, left Black­burn and Nye plenty of time to fo­cus on sci­ence.

At one point Black­burn down­played the im­port­ance of rising CO2 levels, call­ing the rise from 320 parts-per-mil­lion — which was the level about a half-cen­tury ago — to today’s 400 parts-per-mil­lion “very slight.”

That didn’t sit well with Nye.

“You as­ser­ted, con­gress­wo­man, that a change from 320 to 400 parts per mil­lion is in­sig­ni­fic­ant. My good­ness. That’s 30 per­cent. That’s an enorm­ous change, and it’s chan­ging the world, and that’s just over the last few dec­ades,” he said.

“You are a lead­er. We need you to change things, not deny what’s hap­pen­ing,” Nye said.

On policy, Black­burn ripped what she al­leges will be eco­nom­ic­ally harm­ful cli­mate reg­u­la­tions and poin­ted out that U.S. emis­sions levels have fallen already (they’re now at roughly 1994 levels).

“We need to look at the cost-be­ne­fit ana­lys­is and make sure these tech­no­lo­gies are af­ford­able for the Amer­ic­an people,” she said.


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