A behind-the-scenes look at the making of propaganda, the kind that paints the world we see

Summary: Today we have a brief fascinating look behind the scenes at the creation of propaganda, the primary tool shaping not just the opinions but the worldview of 21st century Americans. Continuing my pattern of alternating between sides, today’s post looks at an example on the Left.

Lies and Truth


Our elites have discovered our gullibility, and built pretty organizations to exploit it, spinning professionally-produced stories that match our biases and feed our fears. Such as Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, providing advice to journalists and commentary to the public.

Today we review two articles in which they take us behind the scenes to show the making of climate propaganda.  First, “TV News and Extreme Weather: Don’t Mention Climate Change“,  18 December 2013 — Excerpt:

Dramatic weather-related disasters are ready made for TV news. But what’s not on the screen? The human-made climate change that is affecting, and in some cases exacerbating, that extreme weather.

A new FAIR survey of the national network newscasts (CBS Evening News, NBC Nightly News, ABC World News) finds that extreme weather is big news. In the first nine months of 2013,  there were 450 segments of 200 words or more that covered extreme weather: flooding, forest fires, tornadoes, blizzards, hurricanes and heat waves.

But of that total, just a tiny fraction–16 segments, or 4% of the total–so much as mentioned the words “climate change,” “global warming” or “greenhouse gases.”

… It’s almost as if the altered climate and the weather were happening on two different planets.

What odd definition of extreme weather includes all forms of flooding, forest fires, tornadoes, blizzards, hurricanes and heat waves? These are all normal weather. The IPCC special report about extreme weather defines it more narrowly:

The occurrence of a value of a weather or climate variable above (or below)a threshold value near the upper (or lower) ends of the range of observed values of the variable. (see Box 3.1 for more detail)

How does F.A.I.R. show a connection between global warming and these incidents of quite normal weather? This second article explains: “Attributing Weather Events to Climate Change Is the Easy Part“, Jim Naureckas (bio here), 14 November 2013 — Excerpt:


Ministry of Truth

There’s a phrase that comes up a lot in news reports that do discuss the relationship between climate change and extreme weather that get the connection completely backward. Here it is in the New York Times story (11/12/13) Peter quoted:

Yet scientists remain cautious about drawing links between extreme storms like this typhoon and climate change. There is not enough data, they say, to draw conclusions about any single storm.

And on NBC Nightly News (11/11/13): “While scientists can’t say whether climate change contributed to this particular typhoon, they believe global warming is making storms stronger.”

Here’s Bryan Walsh on Time‘s website {“Time Ignores Climate Change to Paint a ‘Golden Age’ of Fracking, FAIR, 15 May 2012}: “The reality is that it remains extremely difficult to attribute specific weather events to climate change.” {“Climate Change Didn’t Cause Super typhoon Haiyan“, Time, 11 Nov 2013}

And Brad Plumer in the Washington Post (“What a deadly typhoon in the Philippines can tell us about climate adaptation, 12 Nov 2013“):

Detecting a clear trend here is difficult, as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concluded. And it’s even harder to say whether the strength of a single storm like Haiyan can be attributed to man-made climate change.

The reason  all these statements are backwards is that attributing particular weather events to climate change is ridiculously easy: Every weather event in the modern world is attributable to climate change.  This is because weather is a chaotic system, which is to say it varies wildly based on initial conditions. Once we raised global temperature by a degree Celsius – which is an enormous intervention in the physical world – we irrevocably changed all weather, producing an entirely different set of events than the ones that would have otherwise occurred.

So climate change caused Typhoon Haiyan – in the sense that Haiyan would not have happened in the absence of climate change. Note that this is the most basic and obvious meaning of the word “cause.”

This is high-quality propaganda, the sort of which has reduced the public’s confidence in newspapers from a low 38% in 1983 to a is-this-a-business 23% in 2013 (per Gallup). A new poll by YouGov shows that only 12% trust science reporters “a lot”, 57% trust them “a little”, and 26% “not at all”. How sad that Naureckas protests journalists’ efforts to regain their credibility.

His story misleads in several ways.

(a)  Does the IPCC believe global warming is “making storms stronger”? From the IPCC report Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation (SREX) (approved November 2011), section about Climate Extremes and Impacts:

There is low confidence in any observed long-term (i.e., 40 years or more) increases in tropical cyclone activity (i.e., intensity, frequency, duration), after accounting for past changes in observing capabilities.

From the report of IPCC AR5 Working Group I, Chapter 2:

“Current datasets indicate no significant observed trends in global tropical cyclone frequency over the past century … No robust trends in annual numbers of tropical storms, hurricanes and major hurricanes counts have been identified over the past 100 years in the North Atlantic basin”

“In summary, confidence in large scale changes in the intensity of extreme extratropical cyclones since 1900 is low.”

(b)  Note the moving pea, conflating natural climate change (the omnipresent natural processes) with anthropogenic climate change (i.e., from emission of CO2 and aerosols, land use changes, etc) — especially anthropogenic global warming (the dominant warming driver since after WW2. So even natural climate change becomes a reason for radical political action — to the gullible.

(c)  Naureckas says “Every weather event in the modern world is attributable to climate change … So climate change caused Typhoon Haiyan – in the sense that Haiyan would not have happened in the absence of climate change.”  Is this true? We can interpret this in two ways.

  • If the climate did not change since WW2, would we have hurricanes of the same frequency and strength (i.e., would Hurricane Haiyan have happened?).  FAIR’s statement is clearly false. The IPCC said there is low evidence that hurricane frequency and strength have changed, hurricanes continue to be a natural phenomenon.
  • Did the 1.3°F (.7°C) of anthropogenic warming since WW2 cause Hurrican Haiyan? Climate scientists tend to be quite adamant against making such connections, especially about quite normal weather.

The remarkably misnamed Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting seeks to make weather reports a vehicle for daily propaganda about climate activism. Here we see one dimension of a large project, a barrage of fear on the public that grows more intense as the pause in warming continues (now 15 to 17 years long, depending on the metric used) and their past predictions of extreme weather increasingly prove false (e.g., hurricanes, tornadoes, droughts, global sea ice).

Think of this as a test. We have a clear consensus of climate scientists — clearly communicated through the IPCC and other climate-related agencies. Opposing them are activists seeking to arouse fear to increase public support for public policy changes they desire — and on the other side by political activists seeking to discredit scientists (along with government officials and many other civil institutions).

Who will we listen to? We face many issues like climate change — with more to come in the 21st century. To cope we must learn to sort experts from activists, facts from fiction — no matter how appealing the stories created to deceive us.

A few key things to remember about global warming!

While cheering for their faction of scientists, laypeople often lose sight of the big picture — the key elements for making public policy about this important issue.

  1. The work of the IPCC and the major science institutes are the best guides for information about these issues.
  2. The major global temperature measurement systems tell — broadly speaking — the same story since the 1970s: two decades of cooling, two of warming, followed by a pause (see summaries of the growing body research about it here, and the IPCC’s view here).
  3. This is consistent with the larger firm conclusions of climate scientists: two centuries of warming, coming in pulses (ie, waves), with anthropogenic factors becoming the largest (not the only) driver since roughly 1950.
  4. There is a debate about the attribution (causes) of past warming — which probably varied over time — between natural drivers (eg, rebound from the Little Ice Age, solar influences) and anthropogenic drivers (eg, CO2, aerosols, land use changes). Other that that stated in #3, the IPCC’s reports make few claims about attribution of climate activity, as this remains actively debated in the literature.
  5. There is an even larger debate about climate forecasts, both the extent of future CO2 emissions and the net effects of the various natural and anthropogenic drivers.

For the past five years my recommendations have been the same:

  1. More funding for climate sciences. Many key aspects (eg, global temperature data collection and analysis) are grossly underfunded.
  2. Wider involvement of relevant experts in this debate. For example, geologists, statisticians and software engineers have been largely excluded — although their fields of knowledge are deeply involved.
  3. Start today a well-funded conversion to non-carbon-based energy sources by the second half of the 21st century; for both environmental and economic reasons (see these posts for details).
Un-American Words in the New America
Un-American Words in the New America

For More Information

(a)  Posts about extreme weather:

  1. Looking into the past for guidance about warnings of future climate apocalypses, 17 October 2010
  2. Run from the rising waves! (The latest climate catastrophe scare), 27 June 2012
  3. Ignorance and propaganda about extreme climate change, 10 July 2012
  4. A look behind the curtain at the news of extreme climate events in the US, 22 August 2012
  5. Hurricane Sandy asks when did weather become exceptional? (plus important info about US hurricanes), 28 October 2012
  6. Has global warming increased the frequency & virulence of extreme weather events?, 10 February 2013
  7. The Oklahoma tornadoes can teach us about our climate, and ourselves, 22 May 2013
  8. The IPCC gives us straight talk about Extreme Weather, 4 October 2013

(b)  Propaganda about climate change in the media:

  1. The media doing what it does best these days, feeding us disinformation, 11 February 2008 – About sea ice
  2. Quote of the day – hidden history for people who rely on the mainstream media for information, 12 February 2010
  3. Run from the rising waves! (The latest climate catastrophe scare), 27 June 2012
  4. Ignorance and propaganda about extreme climate change, 10 July 2012
  5. Mother Jones sounds the alarm about global warming! This time about the north pole., 10 December 2012
  6. Lessons the Left can learn from the Right when writing about climate change, 12 December 2012 — Propagandist Phil Plait
  7. Fierce words about those “wacky professional climate change deniers”, 20 January 2013 — More by propagandist Phil Plait
  8. We can see our true selves in the propaganda used against us, 14 May 2013 — Skillful actually inaccurate article in The Guardian
  9. A powerful story about global warming in Alaska that’s set Twitter aflame, 23 June 2013
  10. Climate lies are the tool of choice by both sides to influence your opinion. Why is that?, 11 July 2013
  11. The North Pole is now a lake! Are you afraid yet?, 3 August 2013
  12. Climate science deniers on the Left, captured for viewing, 29 September 2013


The Truth is Out There




16 thoughts on “A behind-the-scenes look at the making of propaganda, the kind that paints the world we see

  1. The scientific consensus wasn’t that it actually WILL be a crisis,
    only “could be” a crisis
    but that’s ok because now you are a former believer
    because now you know that science never believed it “will” be an “inevitable” crisis as you had believed,
    only “could be” a crisis
    as not one IPCC warning says it WILL be or is “eventual”.

    30 years of “maybe” proves it “wont’ be” and means YOU can’t say it WILL be until science does.


  2. An undeniable truth that yes “the truth is out there” but, there is an unending pile of lies, partial truths and misinformation one must wade through to get to it. People (I believe) are lazy by nature, and most are not willing to do the research necessary to unravel the truth from the lies. In the case of GCC there is the added element of needing to have a basic understanding of the science before you can even begin to wade through the information provided.

    We have entered a time when we can no longer trust educated professionals because everyone has a price. Buy the individuals who have the ability to dupe the masses because PhD is the prefix to their name, and you can control people unable to understand the concepts they are selling. It works, always has always will, this goes back to an earlier discussion of our ability to govern our selves.

    So how does one go about informing people of a truth they are already convinced they have?


    1. KAWeit,

      That’s an important point; thanks for bringing it up.

      “We have entered a time when we can no longer trust educated professionals because everyone has a price.”

      Sad, but true. I have written about this with respect to professionals aiding the government to commit crimes against our laws and the Constitution:

      1. About attorneys: We are alone in the defense of the Republic, 5 July 2012
      2. About doctors: More symptoms of decay: professional associations abandoning their standards and obligation to protect us, 4 May 2011

      There is a second level to this, which I have long thought about it — but never written about. Many of the greatest delusions afflict our best-educated people more than the broad body of America. I’m not a fan of William Buckley, but I too would rather be governed by the first few hundred names in the Cambridge telephone book than the Harvard faculty. In fact, I suspect that is more true today than when Buckley said this 50 years ago.


    2. “Many of the greatest delusions afflict our best-educated people more than the broad body of America.”

      It’s amusing that you make this statement, for just this afternoon I had a similar conversation after watching a program on the birth of our universe. It was stated, that even in all his capacity for abstract thinking, Einstein could never except the theory of an expanding universe. It was suggested that this was the result of his own romanticized belief in a static universe from which he drew comfort.

      Perhaps we expect our highly educated to be free from the indulgence of beliefs based on emotional preference. But, by our very design does it not it make more sense that these individuals would have the most need of them. With every new bit of knowledge we obtain, our reality becomes that much more complex.

      I believe that people build their beliefs as a kind of wall, a protection from that which they cannot fully understand. Perhaps it can be deduced that the more we know the stronger our walls must be and therefore the more educated an individual the stronger his/her convictions (walls) must be.


    3. KAWeit,

      I see this problem as a unique one in US history, although such cross-generational comparisons can only be speculative.

      It might be unique in western history.

      The usual problem is the ignorant superstitions lower classes vs the sensible educated upper classes. Now the lower classes are often (not always) more sensible.

      Just guessing, of course.


    4. To use yet another of those ridiculous clichés, ignorance is bliss. I had a dream some time ago that was really quite remarkable, but to save on word count I will only relay here what I believe my subconscious was saying.

      Most systems of governance are very much like a pyramid scheme. At the top sits the “all seeing eye” or leader of the pack if you will. The success of that system depends on what the eye sees.

      When our leaders look down the slope of the pyramid and peer at the bottom stones do they see a people whose propose is to provide them (the leader) with provision? Or do they see people whose provision provides society with a foundation on which we all stand?

      This plays on an earlier remark I made about the roles of government and any government that is doing it’s job sufficiently does not only allow the sheep to sleep but protects them as they do. But that is just my opinion, and perhaps I see utopia where one can not exist.


    5. “The usual problem is the ignorant superstitions lower classes vs the sensible educated upper classes. Now the lower classes are often (not always) more sensible.”

      Are they more sensible, or just under less pressure to be right and maintain controll? I don’t know, but it would seem that many of our “educated” leaders and professionals not only have a few screws loose but several missing alltogether.


    6. It would seem that two of your statements above get to the core of at least one of the issues in society.

      “professionals aiding the government to commit crimes against our laws and the constitution”

      “Where I can at least make reasonable guesses”.

      We have allowed our system of governance to function on a quarter to quarter basis. In stead of looking at where we are headed as a society we look to where our profits are headed. Lost in this fog of short sightedness one can not hope for reason to be applied to minds that only see dollar signs.

      I view obamacare as one of many good examples of this. We did not institute a form of health care that actually improved said care, but simply instituted a way for those at the bottom to continue getting a free ride, those at the top to continue amassing wealth while those in the middle support the whole.

      Though I would hate to be labeled socialist, it would appear that capitalism and democracy/republic do not work well together.


  3. “Our elites have discovered our gullibility, and built pretty organizations to exploit it, spinning professionally-produced stories that match our biases and feed our fears. ”

    Full disclosure: my first career was as a documentarian and journalist in NYC, and in one capacity or another I worked for just about every news outlet in NYC in the 1990’s (this was before Fox had it’s dedicated news channel, so I only worked for the Fox local).

    Then, as now, I’m a Libertarian, which meant that I was more or less ALWAYS the most “conservative” guy in the office. I can’t tell you how many times this or that producer or associate producer would come to me for advice on “the counter point” to whatever story they were working on, from gun control to abortion to ‘Intelligent Design’ or whatever. Put simply, people who identify themselves as Progressives, in my experience, are intellectually lazy, and dislike defending their pet ideologies with rigorous and/or logical debate. This is one of the reasons the Federalist Society debates in Law schools across the Country almost never have Progressive intellectuals show up to represent and debate with true “conservatives” and Libertarians… it’s not because they’re not invited; they just don’t want to expose their beliefs to non “Right Wing” questioning.

    For example, to take the “global warming” issue. There is a LOT of data on climate change, some of it spurious, some valid. The political progressives adopt both categories of data without distinction for political reasons, because it fits a preconceived POLICY they favor, and tar anyone who attempts to differentiate between the two data sets with ad hominem and straw man attacks. The scientific progressives (including many scientists) are a different matter; on one hand, they often have a dog in the race, so to speak, (the Idol of the Cave), and so interpret the [valid] data in a convenient form for typically NON scientific reasons, such as their grants being controlled by a sect of political progressives, or due to the well documented peer pressure that exists in that field of academia. If someone like myself were to point out that large swaths of their key data could be better explained BY SHORT TERM SOLAR ACTIVITY, and/or collection bias, they might concede my points privately, but were they to do so professionally, they’d not only have to contradict or correct much of their past work… they’d also have to delve OUTSIDE their scientific specialty in order to educate themselves on how solar patterns and ‘space weather’ interacts with the Earths climate trends.

    Now I submit to you readers: Does it seem more likely that human activity on a tiny satellite of Sol is the principal contributor to recent meteorological trends… or rather that the GIANT STAR whose ‘corona sphere’ (atmosphere) our planet actually exists WITHIN, is the Alpha and Omega of ALL planetary trends on Earth? Ockham’s Razor should inform any remotely educated person that some hiccup in the solar process is both the simplest answer, and requires fewer random extra contributing factors to explain the phenomena in question (like methane from Beef Cows! Or Hairspray! lol).

    This posited, the problem for both political progressives AND scientific advocates of the human first cause (although it should be noted the “climate change convention” was careful to merely say that “human activity was A CONTRIBUTING FACTOR”… a point which is undeniable… a butterfly in China is a ‘contributing factor’ to hurricanes in the Atlantic, but not much of one!). First, humans barely understand the Sun and it’s various cycles and processes, and certainly aren’t in any technological state to do anything but watch our Star as it goes about it’s own business; and THIS fact is not something people like to hear, because it reminds them how powerless we are. Second, to concede that humans are NOT the primary contributing factor to global meteorological trends would require accepting a lower prioritization on various environmental issues that certainly DO have an impact on LOCAL ecological systems and everyday life, but which wouldn’t (and shouldn’t) be afforded a fraction of the social merit, regulation, and funding they receive in relation to other civic issues without the “END OF LIFE AS WE KNOW IT” hysteria currently preached to average citizens. The fact is we should be spending ten times more studying the Sun and how the Earth fits into the environment of the solar system, and ten times LESS on ‘environmental studies’ and the like obsessing over species of owls or how best to regulate/tax the worlds industries.

    Back to the dissemination of information by the Press. The vast majority of Producers and Editors today, are of a lower intellectual quality and less educated than they were during the Cold War. It’s really boils down to economics… those individuals today who start in that profession with the most wit and intelligence, quickly learn that they can earn ten to A HUNDRED times more money producing a ‘reality show’ about bimbos or Donald Trumps HAIR, then they would if they stayed in hard news. This strips the hard news industry of talent to the point that only those with BOTH an ideological dedication to serious journalism, AND the ability to resist (or justify) the lure of A LOT OF MONEY, end up staying on long enough to rise to editorial power. I can say this without qualification… every single (younger) producer or senior editor I respected eventually left hard news to make a bundle on some mindless reality show, always promising that ‘once they had some real money’, they’d go back to doing serious work. lol. In practice, only ideologues with marginal ability stayed.

    Had producers and journalists of the highest caliber remained, and had cable not created niche news rooms that run stories chosen and created to placate their own particular viewer demographic, those individuals might have had the wit to cut through the dross their subordinates and researchers dig up in the short time allocated, and managed to minimize the Public Relations effect and Special Interest lobbying that’s an ever-present factor in putting together content. C’est la vie. It’s sort of depressing me to think about it, so I’ll sign off with that..

    A. Scott Crawford


    1. A Scott Crawford,

      Thank you for sharing your experience in journalism. Two quick comments.

      (1) “he vast majority of Producers and Editors today, are of a lower intellectual quality and less educated than they were during the Cold War. It’s really boils down to economics”

      I agree. Technological change has brought all the nations’ and even the world’s journalists to each America. That has created a massive oversupply. It’s easily seen in the coverage of major events — often vast crowds of reporters, all filing almost identical stories. Excess supply means less profits, which means less wages. The business has to shrink, a lot.

      (2) “Does it seem more likely that human activity on a tiny satellite of Sol is the principal contributor to recent meteorological trends… or rather that the GIANT STAR whose ‘corona sphere’ (atmosphere) our planet actually exists WITHIN, is the Alpha and Omega of ALL planetary trends on Earth?”

      You are confusing levels and flows. This is a heavily researched subject.

      While the sun is the largest influence, it is quite a stable influence. The fluctuations are too small to substantially influence Earth’s climate by any known mechanism. There are theories, but as yet with support of only a tiny minority of solar and climate scientists. There are theories about historical correlations between climate and solar activity , but these are hampered by lack of a agreed-upon record of solar activity.

      For links to research about this see sections 6 and 7 on this Reference Page, and the posts listed in section 2 here.


  4. Climate change

    Recent research by Henrik Svensmark and his group at the Danish National
    Space Center points to the real cause of the recent warming trend. In a
    series of experiments on the formation of clouds, these scientists have
    shown that fluctuations in the Sun’s output cause the observed changes in the
    Earth’s temperature.

    In the past, scientists believed the fluctuations in the Sun’s output were
    too small to cause the observed amount of temperature change, hence the need
    to look for other causes like carbon dioxide. However, these new
    experiments show that fluctuations in the Sun’s output are in fact large
    enough, so there is no longer a need to resort to carbon dioxide as the
    cause of the recent warming trend.

    The discovery of the real cause of the recent increase in the Earth’s
    temperature is indeed a convenient truth. It means humans are not to blame
    for the increase. It also means there is absolutely nothing we can, much
    less do, to correct the situation.

    Thomas Laprade


    1. Thomas,

      “series of experiments on the formation of clouds, these scientists have shown that fluctuations in the Sun’s output cause the observed changes in the ”

      I do not believe that many solar or climate scientists would describe the results that strongly. Perhaps none would. It is a theory, with almost every aspect still contested.

      The Wikipedia page on Svensmark provides an adequate summary of the debate.

      Time will produce more evidence, as this is a subject of investigation by many groups of scientists around the world.


  5. The problem with, ‘did climate change cause weather event XYZ’ is that the question itself includes an erroneous assumption. No weather event is ever “caused” by just ONE thing. A rain storm is ’caused’ by clouds, temperatures, and air flows… each of which are themselves ’caused’ by dozens of other things… each of which have their own causes. Take out humidity under the right circumstances and you lose the clouds… and then the rain storm doesn’t happen even though the temperatures and air flows are still right.

    Climate change impacts many of these variables in different ways and the climate today is notably different from that of the 1800s. Thus, it is reasonable to say that climate change ’causes’ ALL current weather events…. if we still had the climate of the 1800s it is absolutely guaranteed that the exact storm called Typhoon Haiyan would not have occurred. In theory there might still have been a typhoon around the same time and place and we might still have named it Haiyan, but the conditions would not be identical and more likely the weather would have matched that of a ‘usual’ day for the region. However, that is essentially meaningless. ALL weather is a product of the climate it occurs in… by definition. Climate is weather in aggregate. If the climate has changed then the weather has as well.

    The real issue should be HOW has the weather changed. What kinds of weather events have become more/less likely, or more/less extreme. There was a recent paper by Hansen showing that high temperature events have become more common and more extreme while low temperature events have become less common and less extreme. That’s a fairly obvious/inevitable weather shift under global warming. Other weather events are a lot more complicated due to the importance of factors other than temperature (though many of those are themselves altered by temperature changes). We also don’t have as much data on past storms as we do on past temperatures and thus it is more difficult to detect trends. There are some studies suggesting droughts are intensifying and increasing in duration, hurricanes are increasing in strength, tornadoes are shifting in range (and possibly becoming stronger on average but also less frequent), et cetera. However, none of these rise to the level of ‘near certainty’ because of the limited data available.

    How should such uncertain trends be reported? The IPCC has always been very restrained and thus states that there is insufficient evidence for a firm conclusion. Advocates cite the studies suggesting changes are underway as established. The truth is certainly somewhere in between. We know the weather MUST change as the climate does. There are some indications of HOW it is changing, but we will need more time to get a definitive picture. Indeed, the changes may themselves change… tornados could get stronger for a while due to increasing water vapor in the atmosphere, but then weaken due to a decreased temperature differential between the equator and poles. Or vice versa. However, it IS certain that the weather WILL change and that these changes will be significant. That could mean things get ‘better’ for some areas (e.g. Greenland is enjoying improved growing seasons and increased land availability as the ice melts away), but plants and animals adapted for one set of conditions may not all be able to adjust or migrate when conditions change.


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