'Un-Journalism' at the New Yorker

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Memo
To: David Remnick, editor
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Global Warming

I
did wade through all three parts of Elizabeth Kolbert’s “The
Climate of Man,” hoping to find a scrap of redeeming social
value in the series on Global Warming. Yes, you will put it up for
a Pulitzer and it will probably get one. The Pulitzer Committee
loves to hand out prizes for political three-parters in a magazine
as distinguished as The New Yorker and they will not be able
to resist. If you recall, though, I did send you an e-mail protest
after the first two parts appeared in your April 24 and May 2 issues.
It wasn’t that the articles were not beautifully written, as
Ms. Kolbert does have a way with words. It was that she began the
series by announcing that the scientific community has now concluded
that mankind in a significant way is producing the carbon dioxide
that is cooking the atmosphere. Then you show a bunch of pictures
of glaciers melting, although the reader cannot tell from looking
that the glacier is melting because too many of us are driving SUVs
or because solar activity in the last part of the 19th century heated
up the earth by a degree or two, and the icecaps are still melting
as a result.

Now
I am not going to spell out all the arguments on why I do not believe
in anthropogenic (mankind) causes of GW. That’s something Elisabeth
Kolbert should have done before she traveled around the planet to
watch ice melt. If you want the articles in your magazine to persuade
readers of political positions you have already arrived at, you
of course will instruct the writers you assign to only tell half
the story. But I know you are a better man than that, David, one
of the best journalists I’ve observed over the last 15 years,
a big reason why I subscribe to the New Yorker at home and
read it the same evening it shows up.

There
are occasional lapses in your judgment, though. You did this, remember,
when you assigned Jeffrey Goldberg in 2002 to write up Saddam Hussein’s
genocide of the Iraqi Kurds at Halabja in March 1988. Even then
you ran photographs of mangled bodies of adults and children with
captions asserting flatly that they were killed by poison gas from
Saddam’s air force. Goldberg later was asked by Roger Trilling
of the Village Voice why he did not mention the 1990 report of the
Army War College that those in the photos were killed by Iranian
artillery firing poison gas at the Iraqi army. Goldberg replied
that the War College report had been so discredited that he saw
no need to mention it. Of course, the folks who discredited the
report were the neo-cons who cleared the way for him to go to Kurdistan
and talk to Kurds opposed to Saddam who told him what they wanted
him to write. Even before it hit the streets, the article was being
promoted by the neo-cons who had obviously seen it before it went
to press. And before the ink was dry, President Bush was extolling
its merits in a White House briefing and Vice President Cheney was
flogging it on Meet the Press. In other words, your lapse
helped lead to the war.

To
be fair, David, I do think that if you had assigned yourself the
story on Iraq or on Global Warming, you would have produced genuine
Pulitzer material. You are truly a great reporter. You would not
have begun the reporting process by deciding on all the questions
you would not ask and all the relevant material someone had said
was discredited that you would not look at. Your lapse was as an
editor in not raising red flags on the stories submitted. Goldberg
and Kolbert did not commit plagiarism and make up stories and interviews
in place of honest reporting. They committed what I can only call
Un-Journalism, which is becoming a common practice in the Fourth
Estate, probably the greatest reason why the opinion polls show
the American people have a lower regard for the new media than for
Congress.

Here
are the three articles in the series, which I post without further
comment, except to invite my website readers to check them out if
they wish and look for any evidence that Ms. Kolbert did anything
other than write a long editorial on behalf of government intervention
to stamp out carbon dioxide. Before you submit the series for a
Pulitzer, I suggest you assign yourself the story and see what you
come up with.

The
Climate of Man Part I

The
Climate of Man Part II

The
Climate of Man Part III

May
10, 2005

Jude
Wanniski [send him mail]
runs the financial/political advisory service Wanniski.com.

Jude
Wanniski Archives

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