The Times, Fox News and Breitbart still promoting fake news about climate change

Posted on 7 Jun 2018 in

The Times, Fox News and Breitbart have still not admitted that a story about climate change on their websites is fake news, nine months after it an official ruling that it was untrue.

On 5 February 2017, ‘The Mail on Sunday’ published an article by its reporter David Rose which alleged that an important scientific paper by researchers at the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) was based on “faulty data” and had “duped world leaders” at the United Nations climate change summit in Paris in December 2015.

The article was immediately shown to be riddled with inaccurate and misleading claims, but the newspaper printed two further articles repeating the original falsehoods.

Mr Rose has written many other inaccurate and misleading articles about climate changefor ‘The Mail on Sunday’, and enjoys a cosy relationship with the Global Warming Policy Foundation, the lobby group set up by Lord Lawson to campaign against policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel use.

However, my complaint to the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO), a body set up by some British newspapers to deal with complaints, eventually resulted in an official adjudication in September 2017, ruling that Mr Rose’s article was wrong and had breached the so-called “Editors’ Code of Practice”.

IPSO refused to investigate whether the article was factually correct, and instead considered only whether false allegations by Dr John Bates against the NOAA researchers had been accurately represented by Mr Rose.

IPSO decided that the newspaper had misrepresented the views of Dr Bates about the paper by Dr Tom Karl and the other authors on ‘Possible artifacts of data biases in the recent global surface warming hiatus’.

Several months later, in April 2018, ‘The Mail on Sunday’ admitted that its two follow-up articles also misrepresented the views of Dr Bates.

Unfortunately, these tardy admissions of misreporting by ‘The Mail on Sunday’ have been ignored by many individuals and organisations that followed up the bogus attack on the NOAA researchers.

Viscount Ridley, a member of the“Academic Advisory Council”of the Global Warming Policy Foundation, repeated many of Mr Rose’s false claims in his column in The Times. Bizarrely, IPSO decided not to take any action against The Times because Lord Ridley’s inaccurate and misleading article was considered to be just his opinion.

However, the online version of the article, which explicitly cites Mr Rose’s discredited report as the source, still does not acknowledge that it was fake news.

Similarly, articles on the website of Fox News and Breitbart which also repeated Mr Rose’s false claims have still not acknowledged that they are untrue.

The failure of these media organisations to set the record straight partly explains why the damage caused by this fake news story has not been repaired.

An excellent new analysis by Ben Willers of the company Signal Noise, provides a clear picture of how Mr Rose’s story was shared more than 200,000 times through social media.

His poster, which features in an exhibition,‘Data Obscura’, opening in London today, shows the impact of an echo chamber which promoted Mr Rose’s false claims over many months in spite of warnings that they had been discredited.

Mr Willers was inspired by an outstanding article by Zahra Hirji of Buzzfeed who published the results of her investigation in October 2017, soon after the IPSO adjudication.

Ms Hirji approached several news organisations that had replicated Mr Rose’s false claims to find out if they were aware of the adjudication and if they planned to take any action as a result.

It is now apparent that The Times, Fox News and Breitbart do not care that their audiences have been misled by the fake news story.


Bob Ward is policy and communications director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment and the ESRC Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy at the London School of Economics and Political Science.