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Red Herring” – Al Gore, The Climate Sceptics And The BBC


On October 10, the BBC’s Ten O’Clock News led with the story that a High Court Judge had found nine "errors" in Al Gore’s climate film, ‘An Inconvenient Truth’, which the UK government has been sending to schools around the country. As a result, by way of "balance", the government will now be required to include "guidance notes" with the film. (BBC news online, ‘Gore climate film’s "nine errors",’ October 11, 2007; http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/7037671.stm)


The case had been brought by Stuart Dimmock, a lorry driver and school governor who says he objects to the film’s "brainwashing" of schoolchildren. Although Dimmock’s lawyers branded the judgement a "landmark victory", they failed in their attempt to ban the film from secondary schools. (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/7037671.stm)

Also on October 10, BBC Radio 4′s ‘The World Tonight’ featured an extended report on the story including an interview with Dimmock. The following exchange was of particular interest:

Stuart Dimmock (SD): It’s a political shockumentary, it’s not a scientific documentary.

BBC presenter Robin Lustig (RL): But you’re not a scientist yourself, are you?

SD: No.

RL: Some people might wonder why you felt so strongly about this that you were prepared to take it all the way to the High Court, whether you have an agenda of some kind – do you?

SD: I have two young children. In my mind it’s wrong that we push politics into the classroom.

RL: Could I ask you one other question, Mr Dimmock? It’s not cheap taking a case to the High Court [The case cost £200,000].

SD: No, it’s not.

RL: Were you helped financially to do this?

SD: The government have been ordered to pay my costs. [Unclear] £60,000 upfront payment.

RL: But you didn’t know that that was going to be the order until today, did you?

SD: No, I didn’t.

RL: Who took the risk?

SD: [Long, five-second pause]. Mmmm, I’ve had pledges of support.

RL: May I ask you from whom?

SD: You can ask from whom but I’m sorry I can’t tell you because I haven’t got the names of the people that have pledged their support. It’s through a website. (BBC R4 ‘The World Tonight’, October 10, 2007, our transcript; whole item can be heard here: http://www.fileden.com/files/2006/9/11/214131/BBC%20Radio4%20-%20An%20Inconvenient%20Truth.mp3)

Although Dimmock claimed not to know who had provided financial support, the website of the New Party, of which he is a member, had declared two weeks earlier, on September 27:

"The New Party is backing a legal challenge by one of its members against a government decision to circulate Al Gore’s film, An Inconvenient Truth, to all 3,850 English secondary schools." (http://www.newparty.co.uk/news/september2007/high-court-to-judge-al-gore-film.html)

Perhaps the backing was moral rather than financial.

The BBC’s Robin Lustig did not press the issue further: Which website? Who was funding it? Instead, he moved on to discuss the issue with BBC environment reporter Roger Harrabin. In ‘balanced’ BBC fashion, Harrabin declared of the Al Gore film: "it was not made to show to children and I think, you know, fair cop".

Also remarkable in ‘balanced’ news coverage, the BBC’s framing of the judicial process and decision suggested that it was entirely reasonable for a judge to sit in judgement on climate science. It was left to Oxford climate scientist Myles Allen to point out to the BBC: "The judge has set himself to adjudicate on the scientific consensus," the implication being that this was questionable (Allen, The World Tonight, op. cit.). In our view the adjudication was as absurd as the idea that a judge should pronounce on whether a journalist’s report was "unfounded", as happened in the 2003-2004 Hutton Inquiry.

It was also left to Dr. Allen to point out that some of the judge’s nine assertions of ‘error’ were "just plain wrong". Unfortunately, as far as we are aware, the BBC headline reports had no balancing quotes from climate scientists disputing the judge’s claims. (Note: Judge Burton’s judgement actually has the word "error" in quote marks, recognising that there might indeed be scientific justification for these arguments – a subtle but vital point missed by the media)

Later, in an online piece, Roger Harrabin did take a somewhat more sceptical view of the judge’s findings. On Arctic melting, which is proceeding faster than the most recent IPCC report had expected, Harrabin noted, "the judge is on slightly more contentious ground". (Harrabin, BBC news online, ‘The heat and light in global warming,’ October 11, 2007; http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/7040370.stm)

Of Dimmock, the lorry driver who brought the case to court, Harrabin noted in a single tantalising, but ultimately mysterious, sentence:

"Mr Dimmock is a member of the ‘New Party’, apparently funded by a businessman with a strong dislike of environmentalists and drink-drive laws."

Fascinating, but what did this signify? The reader was left dangling at the end of this one sentence, to wait in vain for further clarification.

Hidden Links – "A Red Herring"?

There was worse to come from the BBC. The day after the High Court decision, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded jointly to the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and Al Gore. Suddenly to be seen making multiple appearances in BBC studios was Martin Livermore, director of a group called the Scientific Alliance.

Livermore was interviewed on BBC R4′s ‘The World At One’ by presenter Shaun Ley, who asserted that the Scientific Alliance "campaigns to improve the quality of debate about science". (The World At One, BBC R4, Friday, October 12, 2007). Livermore proceeded to lampoon efforts to combat climate change as a "fashionable cause", and expressed "concern" that the Nobel award "will tend to close down the debate even further". He added:

"There is a view from a lot of people that this is such a serious issue that even though things are uncertain we shouldn’t allow a debate, we should push ahead with trying to do something about it, and that any person who questions the perceived wisdom should actually be censored, effectively. So I think this will push us further down that path, which is not healthy."

Contrary to the BBC’s naive description, the Scientific Alliance was founded with the financial backing of wealthy businessman Robert Durward, who owns Cloburn Quarry in Lanarkshire and is director of the British Aggregates Association which defends the interests of the quarrying industry. The Scientific Alliance also has deep links to a network that has long been pursuing a "sceptical" agenda on environmental issues. Livermore, for example, was the "scientific consultant" behind Martin Durkin’s deeply flawed and much criticised Channel 4 ‘documentary’, ‘The Great Global Warming Swindle’. (George Marshall, ‘The Great Channel 4 Swindle,’ March 9, 2007; http://climatedenial.org/2007/03/09/the-great-channel-four-swindle)

Durward is also a financial backer and member of the National Policy Committee of the New Party, a group so right-wing that Scottish Tories described them as "fascist". On its website, the New Party states:

"The National Policy Committee (NPC) consists of ordinary people from all walks of life and is in overall charge of the creation and development of our policies."

Committee members include Alex Black, "a self employed Road Transport Contractor"; Mike Clarke, "for most of his career he applied his knowledge of chemistry in oilfield systems, working, training and advising on corrosion management and chemical treatments in the North Sea and many overseas count [sic]"; Robert Durward, "involved in the agricultural, haulage, plant and minerals industries", and so on. Just "ordinary people from all walks of life", in other words. (http://www.newparty.co.uk/about/nationalcommittee.html)

Both the New Party and Scientific Alliance work closely with the PR company Foresight Communications founded by Mark Adams OBE, who was a private secretary for parliamentary affairs at No. 10 for nearly four years. He also worked as private secretary to Tony Blair for six months after the 1997 election. Adams set up the Scientific Alliance with Durward in 2001.

The jigsaw pieces fall into place when we recall that Stuart Dimmock, who brought the High Court Case, is also a member of the New Party. Rather than being a solitary ‘David’ fighting the government ‘Goliath’, it appears Dimmock fought the case with considerable business backing.

When challenged by Media Lens on his radio programme’s failure to explore these connections, Marc Settle, the editor of BBC R4′s ‘The World At One’, responded:

"I agree that the programme could have been clearer about the connection between the New Party and the Scientific Alliance, and in future I will ensure that editions I am involved with will make the relationship clear." (Settle, Email, October 14, 2007)

Andy Rowell, author of ‘Green Backlash’ and co-editor of SpinWatch.org, put the BBC to shame by publishing a powerful blog exposing these links the day after the court decision. (‘Revealed: The hidden agenda behind Gore film attack,’ October 11, 2007; http://priceofoil.org/2007/10/11/revealed-the-hidden-agenda-behind-al-gore-film-attack/)

We communicated some of Rowell’s findings to the BBC’s Roger Harrabin. This was vital material, was it not? No, Harrabin replied, the network of links was "a red herring". After Rowell discussed the issues with him in a telephone conversation, Harrabin told us he was pursuing the links and that we should "watch this space" with regard to that day’s Ten O’Clock News (Friday, October 12, 2007).

We watched that "space" – a climate-related item by Harrabin which appeared on the "Ten" about Gore sharing the Nobel Prize with the IPCC. Harrabin even had an interview with the near-ubiquitous Martin Livermore of the Scientific Alliance. But of the links between that group, the New Party, Martin Durkin, and wealthy businessman Robert Durward, there was not a word.

A number of newspapers have since reported that financial support for Dimmock’s case was provided by Lord Monckton, who wrote the New Party’s manifesto. Last year, Monckton argued that the IPCC had grossly exaggerated the danger of climate change in articles published by the Sunday Telegraph. Monckton wrote:

"This week, I’ll show how the UN undervalued the sun’s effects on historical and contemporary climate, slashed the natural greenhouse effect, overstated the past century’s temperature increase, repealed a fundamental law of physics and tripled the man-made greenhouse effect." (Christopher Monckton, ‘Don’t believe it!’ Sunday Telegraph, November 5, 2006)

The articles – decidedly Durkin-esque in theme and content – were subsequently demolished by climate scientists. Environmental campaigner George Monbiot commented wryly of Monckton:

"He is trying to take on the global scientific establishment on the strength of a classics degree from Cambridge." (Jonathan Leake, ‘Please, sir – Gore’s got warming wrong,’ The Times, October 14, 2007)

Monckton is now behind moves to have copies of Durkin’s documentary, ‘The Great Global Warming Swindle’, sent to 3,400 UK secondary schools "to counter Gore’s flagrant propaganda". It is hoped that the package will feature a new film called ‘Apocalypse No!’, a slideshow of Lord Monckton challenging Gore’s arguments.

The irony of this initiative is clear when we consider that Monckton backed Dimmock’s court case and that, as noted above, Dimmock insists: "In my mind it’s wrong that we push politics into the classroom."

The website promoting Dimmock’s campaign declares its aims:

"1. To research and monitor examples of partisan political content being introduced into schools.
2. To support those campaigning to keep education free from political bias.
3. To promote fair and honest teaching." (http://www.straightteaching.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=6&Itemid=27)

And it turns out, in a further twist, that Monckton’s schools initiative is being funded by a right-wing American think-tank, the innocently named Science and Public Policy Institute (SPPI). (Michael McCarthy, ‘Climate deniers to send film to British schools,’ The Independent, October 15, 2007)

Rather like the Scientific Alliance, the good folk at SPPI "support the advancement of sensible public policies for energy and the environment rooted in rational science and economics". (http://scienceandpublicpolicy.org/our_mission.html)

As anyone who has studied the corporate green backlash will know, "sensible public policies" are actually policies that recklessly subordinate people and planet to short-term profit for the people promoting them (See Andy Rowell, Green Backlash, Routledge, 1996).

One entry title on the SPPI website reads: ‘Greenhouse Warming? What Greenhouse Warming?’ (August 22, 2007; http://scienceandpublicpolicy.org/monckton_papers/greenhouse_warming_what_greenhouse_warming_.html)

The author? "Christopher Monckton, 3rd Viscount Monkton of Brenchley", listed as Chief Policy Adviser at SPPI. (http://scienceandpublicpolicy.org/personnel.html)

In one of his Telegraph articles, Monckton wrote:

"The Royal Society says there’s a worldwide scientific consensus. It brands Apocalypse-deniers as paid lackeys of coal and oil corporations. I declare my interest: I once took the taxpayer’s shilling and advised Margaret Thatcher, FRS, on scientific scams and scares. Alas, not a red cent from Exxon." (Monckton, op.cit.)

The same, alas, cannot be said of Craig Idso, the Science Adviser and Chairman of the Board at SPPI where Monckton is Chief Policy Advisor. Idso is listed on Greenpeace’s Exxonsecrets.org webpage documenting "Exxon-Mobil’s funding of climate change sceptics." (http://exxonsecrets.org/html/personfactsheet.php?id=15)

We are deceived if we imagine climate scepticism is the product of a few wealthy eccentrics with too much time and money on their hands. Phil Lesley, author of a handbook on public relations and communications, clarifies the bottom line goal for industry:

"People generally do not favour action on a non-alarming situation when arguments seem to be balanced on both sides and there is a clear doubt. The weight of impressions on the public must be balanced so people will have doubts and lack motivation to take action. Accordingly, means are needed to get balancing information into the stream from sources that the public will find credible. There is no need for a clear-cut ‘victory’… Nurturing public doubts by demonstrating that this is not a clear-cut situation in support of the opponents usually is all that is necessary." (Lesly, ‘Coping with Opposition Groups,’ Public Relations Review 18, 1992, p.331)

With the world teetering on the brink of an environmental abyss – and, perhaps, already sinking into that abyss – industry’s hall of crazy mirrors with their "balancing information" is bigger and more active than ever. It might seem insane, but the infinite, insatiable nature of the corporate profit drive has always been just that.

This is the price we pay when society is dominated by unrestrained greed, and by the blindness that greed brings.
 

USEFUL RESOURCES

For further details of the Scientific Alliance, go to: http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Scientific_Alliance

Also see Andy Rowell, ‘The Alliance of Science’, Guardian, March 26, 2003; http://society.guardian.co.uk/societyguardian/story/0,,921537,00.html

Professor John Shepherd of the National Oceanography Centre, Southampton, has written a critique of Judge Barton’s remarks: http://www.medialens.org/articles/Al_Gore_judgement_evaluation.pdf

See: ‘Surviving Climate Change: The Struggle to Avert Global Catastrophe’, edited by David Cromwell and Mark Levene, which has just been published by Pluto Books (London, 2007).

For further analysis and resources, please go here:
http://www.medialens.org/forum/viewtopic.php?p=8988#8988

SUGGESTED ACTION

The goal of Media Lens is to promote rationality, compassion and respect for others. If you decide to write to journalists, we strongly urge you to maintain a polite, non-aggressive and non-abusive tone.

Write to Roger Harrabin, BBC environment correspondent
Email: [email protected]

Write to Steve Herrmann, BBC news online editor
Email: [email protected]

Write to Marc Settle, editor of BBC R4′s ‘The World At One’
Email: [email protected]

Write to Robin Lustig, presenter of BBC R4′s ‘The World Tonight’
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