Frontline’s ‘Climate of Doubt’ — Enough Time for ‘Skeptics’ to Self-Destruct?

A PBS ‘Frontline’ documentary features many of the most well-known climate ‘skeptics.’ But one can wonder if the ample air time helped or hurt them with how their positions are viewed by the public.


An October 23 public broadcasting “Frontline” one-hour documentary probably gave as much national “prime time” air-time to those generally associated with climate change “skepticism” as they could possibly expect … or have ever had.

The question for some is whether the program and correspondent John Hockenberry set out — or ended up — giving his subjects enough rope to figuratively hang themselves. And whether, in the eyes and minds of viewers, they then did so. Hockenberry left little doubt throughout the program that most of the established climate science community overwhelmingly rejects the views expressed by his skeptical interviewees.

Those who missed the original airing of “Climate of Doubt” can see it online and draw their own conclusions. What they’ll find are a series of one-on-one Hockenberry interviews with the full panoply of the most widely quoted persons — some of them scientists — expressing distrust of climate science and the scientists responsible for it. Fred Singer, Lord Monckton, James Taylor, Myron Ebell, Pat Michaels, Joe Bast and more get air time. Viewers also will find footage from a 2012 Heartland Institute annual climate change conference in Chicago.

‘Hold-Outs Among Urban Bi-Coastal Elite’ 

“There are holdouts among the urban bi-coastal elite,” the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s Ebell tells Hockenberry when asked about public attitudes on climate change. “But I think we’ve won the debate with the American people in the heartland, the people who get their hands dirty, people who dig up stuff, grow stuff, and make stuff for a living, people who have a closer relationship to tangible reality, to stuff.”

Hockenberry described Ebell’s Cooler Heads Coalition as “one of a team of skilled policy advocates driving a remarkable turnaround that has already changed the U.S. political landscape,” and he later showed how that turnaround led to the defeat two years ago of a conservative South Carolina Republican Congressman, Bob Inglis, who was overwhelmingly defeated in a Republican primary despite his strong conservative voting record and credentials.

The “mainstream media” of course come in for their fair, and unfair, share of criticism and scorn. Singer says he is motivated by his commitment to “scientific truth,” and Monckton at one point complains that “green is the new red.”

Scattered amidst the nearly one-hour documentary are interviews with some “mainstream” climate scientists — Andrew Dessler of Texas A&M University and Gavin Schmidt of NASA/GISS — who in their own way, and in limited time on air, illustrate what they see as the compelling evidence on human-caused warming and seek to debunk many of the points made by the “skeptics.”

The PBS “Frontline” website, including a Thursday, October 25, live-chat, includes additional material beyond that broadcast, including detailed Q&As with a number of those included in the broadcast and links to related programs.

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2 Responses to Frontline’s ‘Climate of Doubt’ — Enough Time for ‘Skeptics’ to Self-Destruct?

  1. xchopp says:

    “Andrew Dessler of Texas A&M University and Gavin Schmidt of NASA/GISS ”

    – and Katherine Hayhoe (Texas Tech University) and… Ralph Cicerone!! Hayhoe, Cicerone, Schmidt and (especially) Dessler were really excellent in this documentary.

    It might have included clips from the AGU Fall Meeting — usually attended by almost 15,000 scientists — to contrast with the skimpy audience at the delayers’/deniers’ “conference”.

    It might also have included more scientists, they are not difficult to find. How about more from Hardball? (my nickname for Dr Richard B. Alley — it’s in there, you just have to look!).

    Also: real scientific conferences are not usually conducted in hotel ballrooms with participants sitting around a dining table… with white tablecloths… I found that just weird: it shows they are more used to business meetings than science conferences. I think that Singer is delusional, while Ebell and others are simply ideologues and do not care about anything except “free markets”.

  2. xchopp says:

    Also: he goes to John Kerry for the Democrat position? Are there not more appropriate spokespeople on that side? Ed Markey? Surely others?