As you may have heard, Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), who astonishingly enough is chairman of the Senate's Environment and Public Works Committee, brought a snowball to the floor of the U.S. Senate last week to debunk "all this hysteria about global warming."
He stated, "In case we have forgotten, because we keep hearing that 2014 has been the warmest year on record, I ask the chair — you know what this is? — it’s a snowball. Just from outside here. So it’s very very cold out. Very unseasonable. So Mr. President, catch this." He tossed the snowball to a waiting page, and then gave a triumphant "Um, hmm!" The video is here.
Over at NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sunday morning, Inhofe's performance was thought to be good clean fun, grist for a round of chortles at our zany all-American politics. Here's how host Chuck Todd introduced the Inhofe clip (the segment can be streamed here; skip ahead to about the 48:35 mark):
"A little lighter note here. Sen. Jim Inhofe used a fun little prop to make his point, apparently, on global warming, claiming it was a hoax, this week. Here he is."
They ran the clip, and then Todd came back on.
"Now, I'm not going to use that to get into a climate change debate," Todd said dismissively, as though a "climate change debate" would just muck up the cheery good fellowship of the "Meet the Press" panel and maybe cause glumness for its Sunday morning audience. "I am actually going to use it because I think the House and Senate floor sometimes get some fun moments."
Let's allow that to sink in a bit.
"Meet the Press" likes to swank around as though it's our premier network public affairs program. Yet somehow its producers and host think it's all right to treat a manifestly ignorant statement about climate change as "a fun moment" involving a "fun little prop" -- and to pander to American anti-intellectualism by implying that the global warming debate is just too serious and boring to waste time on, like high school kids grousing about having to go to math class. One can almost hear the producers of "Meet the Press" going, "What, climate change again? Cue up the escaping llamas."
How low can the news departments of our major networks sink? We've already reported on the decline of journalistic standards at CBS' "60 Minutes," in the context of its flawed and credulous reporting on disability and the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. And now "Meet the Press," by endorsing a display of pure ignorance about an urgent issue of public policy as a "fun" prank, cedes the last shred of its credibility.
It's true that there's room for levity in reporting on politics, but this effort was spectacularly tone-deaf. Ridiculing or minimizing climate change as a topic only wonks care about -- or conniving with our least-informed political leaders to do so -- is an abandonment of every principle "Meet the Press" should stand for.
That Inhofe chairs a committee involved with science policy is a national embarrassment. His assertion that finding a snowball in wintertime Washington, D.C., counters the immense accumulation of scientific data establishing the existence of climate change is cause for a national face-palm. Confusing "weather" with "climate" is a hallmark of scientific illiteracy. Inhofe should be condemned, not encouraged.
It's proper to note that this episode follows by only a few days a new study of sea-level rise in 2009-2010, published in Nature on Feb. 24. The study documents a rise in the sea level outside New York City by a magnitude "unprecedented (a 1-in-850-year event) during the entire history of the tide gauge records."
Still think climate change is a big joke, "Meet the Press"?