Bearing False Witness

David Corn on Jerry Falwell:

Falwell is free to be foolish, and CNN is free to exploit his foolishness to achieve that much-sought-after image of fair-and-balanced. But Falwell went further. He claimed, “global warming is a myth.” Sider tried to rebut him, saying, “Our best scientists tell us that, in fact, global warming…” But Falwell interrupted to counter, “No, our best scientists don’t tell us.” He explained: “It was global cooling 30 years ago … and it’s global warming now. And neither of us will be here 100 years from now to know what it is. But I can tell you, our grandchildren will laugh at those who predicted global warming. We’ll be cooler by then, if the Lord hasn’t returned…. The fact is that there is no global warming.”

Falwell was lying. The consensus of the climate-science community is indeed that human-induced global warming is real and that it poses serious dangers. Last year, after much foot-dragging, President Bush acknowledged this. His acceptance came begrudgingly when the National Academy of Sciences released a report that Bush had commissioned. The study decisively noted, “Greenhouse gasses are accumulating in Earth’s atmosphere as a result of human activities, causing surface air temperatures and subsurface ocean temperatures to rise…. The changes observed over the last several decades are likely mostly due to human activities…. Human-induced warming and associated sea level rises are expected to continue through the 21st century.”

Does Falwell not consider the NAS to be “our best scientists”? Does he know better ones? Does he know better himself?

Falwell then shifted from deceit to delusion: “The whole [global warming] thing is created to destroy America’s free enterprise system and our economic stability.” That must be why so many radical anti-American individuals and outfits such as the NAS, George W. Bush, George H.W. Bush, British Petroleum, William Clay Ford Jr., Kenneth Lay and Enron (yes, indeed!), Colin Powell, and Christine Todd Whitman have acknowledged the threat of global warming. Falwell is a paranoid loon to believe some devilish force cooked up global warming to annihilate America. And he ignores all the other costs of an oil-obsessed economy: air pollution, oil spills (see Spain), a dependence on imports.

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Falwell’s appearance on this segment illustrates a fundamental problem with shouting-head journalism. Cable news networks, adopting the bedrock principal of the adversarial judicial system, often act as if the best way to present information is to serve the viewer two opposing advocates battling it out. But in many instances, this ends up confusing rather than illuminating. Not every fact is debatable, not every opinion equal — or worth equal time. What was the journalistic responsibility of Judy Woodruff, who moderated the Sider-Falwell exchange? Shouldn’t she have informed the audience that there was absolutely no factual basis to what Falwell was saying? Is it her job to provide a platform to someone who can be proven to be a liar?