Saturday, August 14, 2004
Is there a sweeter, punchier four-word précis of the Bush administration's M.O.? We tip our imperial diadem to ace phrasemaker Ross Gelbspan, whose new book on global warming, Boiling Point, is reviewed in tomorrow's NYTBR by the promising young critic Al Gore:
At a time when prominent journalists are writing mea culpas for allowing themselves to be too easily misled in their coverage of the case for war in Iraq, Gelbspan presents a devastating analysis of how the media have been duped and intimidated by an aggressive and persistent campaign organized and financed by coal and oil companies. He recounts, for example, a conversation with a top television network editor who was reluctant to run stories about global warming because a previous story had ''triggered a barrage of complaints from the Global Climate Coalition'' -- a fossil fuel industry lobbying group -- ''to our top executives at the network.''
He also describes the structural changes in the news media, like increased conglomerate ownership, that have made editors and reporters more vulnerable to this kind of intimidation -- and much less aggressive in pursuing inconvenient truths.
Gelbspan's first book, ''The Heat Is On'' (1997), remains the best, and virtually only, study of how the coal and oil industry has provided financing to a small group of contrarian scientists who began to make themselves available for mass media interviews as so-called skeptics on the subject of global warming. In fact, these scientists played a key role in Gelbspan's personal journey on this issue. When he got letters disputing the facts in his very first article, he was at first chastened -- until he realized the letters were merely citing the industry-funded scientists. He accuses this group of ''stealing our reality.''
In this new book, Gelbspan focuses his toughest language by far on the coal and oil industries. After documenting the largely successful efforts of companies like ExxonMobil to paralyze the policy process, confuse the American people and cynically '' 'reposition global warming as theory rather than fact,' '' as one strategy paper put it, he concludes that ''what began as a normal business response by the fossil fuel lobby -- denial and delay -- has now attained the status of a crime against humanity.''