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Context of 'January 2006: NASA Scientist Reveals Government Attempt to Censor, Restrict Statements on Global Warming'

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When climate scientist James Hansen gives NASA administrator Sean O’Keefe a presentation on the dangers of human-caused climate change, O’Keefe cuts him off. “The administrator interrupted me,” Hansen later says. “He told me that I should not talk about dangerous anthropogenic interference, because we do not know enough or have enough evidence for what would constitute dangerous anthropogenic interference.” (O’Keefe’s spokesperson will later deny this account of the meeting.) Hansen’s presentation to O’Keefe was a summary of another presentation, titled “Can we defuse the global warming time bomb,” that he already gave to the White House Council on Environmental Quality in June 2003. [Hansen, 10/26/2004 pdf file; New York Times, 10/26/2004]

Entity Tags: James E. Hansen, Sean O’Keefe

Timeline Tags: Global Warming

Admiral Conrad Lautenbacher, administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), officially implements a new NOAA-wide media policy. The new policy, written by NOAA Public Affairs Director Jordan St. John, government lawyers, and Commerce Department policymakers, gives the NOAA’s public affairs offices ultimate authority over all agency communications. [Raw Story, 10/4/2005; Union of Concern Scientists and Government Accountability Project, 1/30/2007, pp. 31 pdf file; Maassarani, 3/27/2007, pp. 10 pdf file] The media policy will become more restrictive after Hurricane Katrina (see September 29, 2005).

Entity Tags: Jordan St. John, Conrad C. Lautenbacher

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record, Global Warming

Drew Shindell, an ozone specialist and NASA climatologist, submits a press release to the Goddard Space Flight Center public affairs office (PAO) announcing the publication of a paper he has co-authored on climate change in Antarctica (see September 25, 2004). Shindell and the PAO agree on the title “Cool Antarctica may warm rapidly this century, study finds,” for the release. But NASA headquarters asks them to “soften” it. The next suggested title, “NASA Scientists expect temperature flip-flop at the Antarctic,” is also rejected. The title that is finally approved—over the objection of Shindell—is “Scientists predict Antarctic climate changes.” In testimony before Congress, Shindell will later recall, “I have worked on numerous releases during my 12 years at the Goddard Institute. While previous to this time, press releases had been issued rapidly and with revisions from headquarters that were made primarily to improve clarity and style, this release was repeatedly delayed, altered, and watered down.” [US Congress, 1/30/2007 pdf file; Union of Concern Scientists and Government Accountability Project, 1/30/2007, pp. 33 pdf file] The press release is finally issued on October 6. [NASA, 10/6/2004]

Entity Tags: National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Drew Shindell

Timeline Tags: Global Warming

The prestigious Geophysical Research Letters publishes a paper summarizing the results of a study that suggests that Antarctica may warm rapidly during the next 50 years. Researchers Drew Shindell and Gavin Schmidt of NASA’s Goddard Institute of Space Studies used computer modeling to predict the effect of increased ozone levels over Antarctica. Ozone levels are expected to increase over the next few years due to international treaties that have banned ozone-depleting chemicals. The computer modeling suggested that, while Antarctica has mostly cooled over the last 30 years, this trend may quickly reverse because higher ozone levels will likely lead to the disruption of the westerly winds that currently provide a buffer against the warmer temperatures of lower latitudes. The higher temperatures in turn could result in the loss of the continent’s ice shelves. [Shindell and Schmidt, 2004; NASA, 10/6/2004]

Entity Tags: Drew Shindell, Gavin Schmidt

Timeline Tags: Global Warming

James E. Hansen, director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, tells the New York Times that the Bush administration has been putting pressure on scientists to produce studies that are in-line with official policy on issues like global warming. He says this practice has penetrated deep within the government bureaucracy. “Under the Clinton-Gore administration, you did have occasions when Al Gore knew the answer he wanted, and he got annoyed if you presented something that wasn’t consistent with that,” he says. “I got a little fed up with him, but it was not institutionalized the way it is now.” The Times reports that Hansen, along with two other NASA scientists and several officials at NASA headquarters and at two agency research centers have “described how news releases on new global warming studies had been revised by administrators to play down definitiveness or risks. The scientists and officials said other releases had been delayed.” [New York Times, 10/19/2004]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), James E. Hansen

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record, Global Warming

In a speech before an audience at the University of Iowa, James E. Hansen, director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, says the Bush administration is suppressing evidence of global warming. He says that officials routinely dismiss such evidence on grounds that it is not of sufficient interest to the public. However, studies that suggest less alarming interpretations of climate data are treated more favorably, he says. According to Hansen, officials have also edited reports to downplay the potential effects of global warming. Hansen thinks the administration is trying to keep the public uninformed about the issue. “In my more than three decades in government, I have never seen anything approaching the degree to which information flow from scientists to the public has been screened and controlled as it is now,” he says. [Associated Press, 10/26/2006]

Entity Tags: James E. Hansen

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record, Global Warming

Department of Commerce press officer Catherine Trinh rejects a request for a media interview with a climate scientist. (The identity of this scientist has not been revealed.) “Let’s pass on this one,” she says in an e-mail to an official at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The official asks in response, “Can I please have a reason?” In another e-mail, Trinh again rejects a request for an interview. “Let’s pass on this… interview, but rather refer him to [redacted] of the [redacted] at [redacted],” she writes. “CEQ [White House Council of Environmental Quality] suggested him as a good person to talk on this subject.” The e-mails, obtained by Salon in 2006, reveal that requests for media interviews about climate change are being screened by officials at the Commerce Department (NOAA is part of the Department of Commerce). When asked by Salon if Commerce reviews all requests for media interviews with scientists, Richard Mills, the department’s director of public affairs, states, “I wouldn’t characterize it like that.” [Salon, 9/19/2006]

Entity Tags: Catherine Trinh, Richard Mills, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record, Global Warming

NOAA Chief Financial Officer Maureen Wylie distributes a memo to all NOAA employees applying the agency’s 2004 media policy (see June 28, 2004) to communications with Congress. From this point on, the NOAA’s public affairs office will have ultimate authority over all agency communications with Congress. [Maassarani, 3/27/2007, pp. 45 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Maureen Wylie

Timeline Tags: Global Warming

National Weather Service (NWS) Regional Public Affairs Director Jim Teet sends an email to employees of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) informing them that all requests for contact from the national media must “now receive prior approval by” the Commerce Department. According to the memo, when a media request is made, employees must obtain the “name of the reporter and their affiliation; [t]heir deadline and contact phone number; [n]ame of individual being requested for the interview and purpose of the interview; [a]dditional background about the interview subject, and expertise of requested interviewee on this subject,” and then provide this information to the NWS press office. From there, the request shall be forwarded to the Commerce Department’s public relations office, whose staff will then decide how to handle the media request. According to an unnamed NOAA employee, “prior to this policy change, if a media organization called our office (or any other National Weather Service office) and wanted an interview, we would do our best to accommodate the request as quickly as possible. While often such requests are from local media, local offices do get requests from national media if a weather event is big enough to be a national story.” But NOAA Public Affairs Director Jordan St. John insists that “the policy has been in existence all along,” and that he had rewritten it in June 2004 (see June 28, 2004) with lawyers and Commerce Department policymakers. But NOAA employees tell the Raw Story that they had never been informed of these restrictions before, and some suggest that the timing of Teet’s email may be related to the political impact of hurricane Katrina. According to Raw Story, there is a substantial difference between the June 2004 policy and the one emailed by Teet. “[T]he emailed policy states that routine contact with national media outlets has to be pre-cleared with the Commerce Department, requiring extensive information about the journalist and media outlet [while] [t]he media policy St. John provided does not stipulate such restrictions on interacting with national media. Nor does it state that the Commerce Department must approve media requests,” Raw Story reports. [Raw Story, 10/4/2005; New Republic, 2/11/2006; Union of Concern Scientists and Government Accountability Project, 1/30/2007, pp. 31 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Jordan St. John, National Weather Service, Jim Teet

Timeline Tags: Global Warming

Robert Atlas, director of Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory (AOML), issues a laboratory-wide email instructing staff to review the NOAA media policy that had been issued in June 2004 (see June 28, 2004). Atlas writes that “one important change from the current AOML policy is that Commerce Public Affairs has asked to be made aware of all media interview requests—especially those pertaining to Katrina and Rita.” [Maassarani, 3/27/2007, pp. 16 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Robert Atlas

Timeline Tags: Global Warming

Thomas Knutson, a research meteorologist with the agency’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory in Princeton, NJ, recieves an interview request from CNBC television for its program “On the Money.” Knutson forwards the request to NOAA public affairs officer Kent Laborde for approval, as is required by NOAA’s media policy (see September 29, 2005). Laborde then directs the request to Chuck Fuqua, deputy director of communications at the Department of Commerce, who asks: “What is Knutson’s position on global warming vs. decadal cycles? Is he consistent with [Gerry] Bell and [Chris] Landsea?” (Bell and Chris have views that are more in line with the Bush administration’s position on global warming) Laborde then calls Knutson and asks him about his views on the future trend of Atlantic hurricane activity. Laborde then writes to Fuqua, saying that “he is consistent, but a bit of a different animal. He isn’t on the meteorological side. He’s purely a numerical modeler. He takes existing data from observation and projects forward. His take is that even with worse [sic] case projections of green house gas concentrations, there will be a very small increase in hurricane intensity that won’t be realized until almost 100 years from now.” Two minutes later Fuqua responds, “Why can’t we have one of the other guys on then?” Knutson is then informed that the interview request has been declined. [Wall Street Journal, 2/16/2006; Union of Concern Scientists and Government Accountability Project, 1/30/2007, pp. 30 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Thomas Knutson, Kent Laborde, Chuck Fuqua, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Chris Landsea

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record, US Environmental Record, Global Warming

The US Department of Commerce’s deputy director of communications, Chuck Fuqua, approves a request from the media for an interview with NOAA hurricane researcher Chris Landsea. Landsea believes that global warming has little or no impact on hurricanes. Notwithstanding, Fuqua says in an email to a NOAA official, “Please be careful and make sure Chris is on his toes. Since [redacted] went off the menu, I’m a little nervous on this, but trust he’ll hold the course.” A week later, Fuqua grants a request for Landsea to appear on the NewsHour With Jim Lehrer. In an email concerning the interview, Fuqua writes, “Please make sure Chris is on message and that it is a friendly discussion.” When Richard Mills, the department’s director of public affairs, is later asked by Salon what Fuqua meant by “stay on message,” Mills explains, “Chuck just meant that Chris should be ready and prepared.” [Salon, 9/19/2006]

Entity Tags: Chuck Fuqua, Chris Landsea

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record, Global Warming

The November issue of NOAA Magazine (a publication of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) reports, “There is consensus among NOAA hurricane researchers and forecasters that recent increases in hurricane activity are primarily the result of natural fluctuations in the tropical climate system known as the tropical multi-decadal signal.” [NOAA Magazine, 11/29/2005] In December, Kerry Emanuel, a climate researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who believes that hurricanes are becoming more severe because of rising temperatures, tells a roomful of University of Rhode Island scientists that the NOAA report had censored the views of government scientists who believe there is a link between hurricane intensity and climate change. [Wall Street Journal, 2/16/2006; Providence Journal, 3/26/2006] In February, the Wall Street Journal will similarly report that despite what NOAA contended, several of the agency’s scientists “believed man-made warming was a key cause.” The day before the Journal’s report is published, the NOAA will issue a correction stating that the consensus “represents the views of some NOAA hurricane researchers and forecasters, but does not necessarily represent the views of all NOAA scientists.” [NOAA Magazine, 11/29/2005; Wall Street Journal, 2/16/2006]

Entity Tags: Kerry Emanuel, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record, Global Warming

Officials at NASA headquarters order the agency’s public affairs office to pre-screen all public statements made by James E. Hansen, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies. This restriction applies to all of his forthcoming lectures, papers, postings on the Goddard website, and requests for interviews from journalists. His supervisors are even authorized to stand in for him in interviews with the media. According to Hansen, the agency’s efforts to muzzle him began after a lecture he gave on December 6 in which he said that a US failure to significantly cut emissions could turn the earth into “a different planet.” He had noted in his lecture that businesses could cut emissions using existing technologies, if they wanted to, but that the administration’s and industry’s overriding concern is short term profits. A statement he released on December 15 saying that 2005 was probably the warmest year in 100 years also irked top officials (see December 15, 2005). Officials responded to Hansen’s statements with several warnings that there would be “dire consequences” if he continued. Dean Acosta, deputy assistant administrator for public affairs at the space agency, denies that NASA was trying to silence Hansen. He claims the restrictions on Hansen applied to all National Aeronautics and Space Administration personnel. All scientists are permitted to discuss scientific findings, he argues, but are not supposed to issue statements on policy. [New York Times, 1/29/2006; National Public Radio, 1/29/2006; Washington Post, 1/29/2006] While top officials have always tried to deter scientists from speaking publicly on policy issues, Hansen, in a later interview with the New York Times, says the Bush administration is engaged in an unprecedented level of interference. “In my thirty-some years of experience in government, I’ve never seen control to the degree that is occurring now,” he says. [New York Times, 1/29/2006]

Entity Tags: James E. Hansen, Dean Acosta, National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

James E. Hansen of the NASA’s Goddard Institute of Space Studies posts a statement on the institute’s website saying that 2005 was the warmest year on record. “The highest global surface temperature in more than a century of instrumental data was recorded in the 2005 calendar year in the GISS annual analysis,” it says. The 2005 summation infuriates top NASA officials, who are already annoyed with Hansen because of a December 6 speech he gave criticizing the administration and industry for putting short term profits ahead of efforts to curb greenhouse gases. The officials order Hansen to remove the statement, complaining that it should have been screened by the administration before publication. [Washington Post, 1/29/2006] Additionally, NASA’s public affairs office tells Hansen that there is a “storm of anger at headquarters” over his statement and past remarks (see, e.g., October 26, 2004), and threatens him with “dire consequences.” [Maassarani, 3/27/2007, pp. 34 pdf file]

Entity Tags: James E. Hansen, National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

Dr. James Hansen, the director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies and a top climate scientist, reveals that the Bush administration ordered NASA’s public affairs staff to review his lectures, papers, Web site postings, and interview requests after he gave a lecture calling for the reduction of greenhouse gases linked to global warming. “They feel their job is to be the censor of information going out to the public,” Hansen says, and he promises to ignore the restrictions. NASA denies trying to silence Hansen, saying the restrictions apply to all NASA officials, and adds that it is inappropriate for government scientists to make policy statements (see Between June 2003 and October 2003, (January 2006), and (Late January 2006)). [Savage, 2007, pp. 106] This is not the first time Hansen has gone public about government attempts to censor and muzzle him and his fellows (see October 2004, October 26, 2004, and February 10, 2006).

Entity Tags: Goddard Institute for Space Studies, Bush administration (43), National Aeronautics and Space Administration, James E. Hansen

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record, Global Warming, Domestic Propaganda

NASA officials attempt to discourage Washington Post reporter Juliet Eilperin from interviewing James E. Hansen, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, for an article she is doing about global warming. The officials say that Hansen can only speak on the record “if an agency spokeswoman listen[s] in on the conversation,” Eilperin reports. [Washington Post, 1/29/2006]

Entity Tags: National Aeronautics and Space Administration, James E. Hansen, Juliet Eilperin

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record, Global Warming

In its 2007 budget request, NASA proposes canceling or delaying a number of significant earth science programs that scientists consider critical to understanding global climate change. The Plain Dealer reports that these cutbacks are being made “in order to pay for human spaceflight projects.” [Plain Dealer (Cleveland), 5/28/2006; Boston Globe, 6/9/2006] The Bush administration has pledged that the US will launch manned space flights to the moon by 2020, and eventually to Mars. (see January 11, 2004)

Entity Tags: National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record, Global Warming

James E. Hansen, speaking before an audience at the New School university in New York, says that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) wants to implement a new rule requiring that minders be present for any media interviews with its scientists. “It seems more like Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union than the United States,” he says. Hansen caused a stir in late January when he accused Bush administration officials of suppressing information on global warming and placing restrictions on his communications with the media (see After December 6, 2005). The officials were upset about a speech he had given on December 6, in which he said that commitments to short term profits were taking precedence over curbing greenhouse gases. He repeats this statement in his remarks during the panel discussion at New School. [New School, 2/10/2006 pdf file; Washington Post, 2/11/2006] In his presentation, Hansen also says that the administration is misleading the public about the potential links between global warming and hurricane intensity. He makes the charge that the “public, by fiat, received biased information” when “the NOAA took an official position that global warming was not the cause of hurricane intensification” (see November 29, 2005- December 2005). [New School, 2/10/2006 pdf file]

Entity Tags: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, James E. Hansen

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record, Global Warming

Warren Washington, a senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, Colorado, accuses the Bush administration of suppressing climate change data, limiting journalists’ access to government scientists, and rewriting news releases on global climate change. According to Washington, Bush administration officials are “trying to confuse the public.” He says these tactics are taking place at numerous federal agencies, including NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA ), and the US Forest Service. NOAA spokesman Jordan St. John denies the allegations. “NOAA is an open and transparent agency,” he says. “It’s unfair to the people who work at this agency that this kind of characterization keeps being made. Hansen said it once (see After December 6, 2005), and it took on a life of its own and just keeps getting repeated.” [Rocky Mountain News, 6/8/2006]

Entity Tags: Warren Washington, Bush administration (43), Jordan St. John

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record, Global Warming

A group of 14 Democratic lawmakers, led by Senator Frank R. Lautenberg, sends a letter to the inspector generals of both the Commerce Department and NASA requesting formal investigations into allegations that Bush administration political appointees suppressed evidence linking global warming to increased hurricane intensity (see 2005, October 16, 2005, October 19, 2005, and November 29, 2005- December 2005). [Office of Senator Frank Lautenberg, 9/29/2006; Associated Press, 11/2/2006]

Entity Tags: Frank R. Lautenberg, Hillary Clinton, Maria Cantwell, Thomas R. Carper, Harry Reid, James Jeffords, Jeff Bingaman, Robert Menendez, Barbara Boxer, Joseph Lieberman, Dianne Feinstein, Richard (“Dick”) Durbin, John Kerry, Barbara Mikulski

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record, Global Warming

Officials at NASA and the Department of Commerce confirm that the inspectors general of both agencies have begun investigations into whether the White House has sought to prevent government climate scientist from conveying their findings to the public. The investigations were prompted by a request from 14 Democratic senators in late September (see September 29, 2006). The inquiries are expected to be completed by early 2007. [Scientists Say Findings Were Suppressed, 11/2/2006]

Entity Tags: Office of the Inspector General (NASA), Office of the Inspector General (DOC)

Timeline Tags: Global Warming

Bill Sammon, the Washington managing editor for Fox News, sends an internal email instructing his journalists and producers to slant their coverage of climate change stories in favor of questioning the validity of climate change claims. Sammon’s order is given during a series of global climate change talks, and less than 15 minutes after Fox News correspondent Wendell Goler told viewers that the UN’s World Meteorological Organization (WMO) had announced that 2000-2009 was “on track to be the warmest [decade] on record.” Sammon’s email says in part: “Given the controversy over the veracity of climate change data… we should refrain from asserting that the planet has warmed (or cooled) in any given period without IMMEDIATELY pointing out that such theories are based upon data that critics have called into question. It is not our place as journalists to assert such notions as facts, especially as this debate intensifies.” The email also comes amidst a steady promotion by the network of the so-called “Climategate” scandal, which hinges on misrepresentations of emails sent between climate scientists and supposedly casts critical doubts on the science behind the claims of climate change and global warming. Ultimately, all independent inquiries will clear the accused scientists of misconduct and manipulation, though these reports will receive less attention from Fox. And, though Sammon portrays his directive as an attempt to be fair and balanced, the “debate” is largely in the media, and fueled by conservative politics and by corporations and investors that would be impacted by regulation of greenhouse gas emissions. No national or international scientific body disputes that global warming is caused by human activities, and it is the consensus view of the vast majority of the world’s climate scientists that greenhouse gas emissions are the cause of the rise in the Earth’s average temperature since the 19th century. Goler had noted during his broadcast that in spite of “Climategate” claims, data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) prove that the climate is indeed heating up due to a man-made increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Despite the facts, minutes after Goler’s report, Sammon sends his email to the staffs of Fox News’s “straight” news shows and others, ordering them to report that claims of human-caused climate change are controversial. That evening, news anchor Bret Baier introduces another report by Goler by saying in part that as “Climategate-fueled skeptics continued to impugn global warming science, researchers today issued new and even more dire warnings about the possible effects of a warmer planet.” After Goler’s evening report, Baier tells viewers that “skeptics say the recordkeeping began about the time a cold period was ending in the mid 1800s and what looks like an increase may just be part of a longer cycle,” and runs a clip by American Enterprise Institute scholar Kenneth Green impugning the credibility of climate change science. And a few minutes later, correspondent James Rosen falsely claims that climate scientists “destroyed more than 150 years worth of raw climate data” in order to promote the theory of climate change. [Media Matters, 12/15/2010]
Sammon Previously Manipulated Fox News Reporting - Less than two months ago, Sammon ordered journalists and producers to use the term “government option” instead of “public option” to describe a specific health care proposal by Senate Democrats, as his preferred term had been shown to be less favorable to that proposal (see October 27, 2009 and After).

Entity Tags: Kenneth Green, Bill Sammon, Ben Dimiero, Bret Baier, James Rosen, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Fox News, World Meteorological Organization, Wendell Goler, National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Timeline Tags: Global Warming, Domestic Propaganda

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