"Un-Journalism" at the New Yorker
Jude Wanniski
May 9, 2005

 

Memo To: David Remnick, editor
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Global Warming

I did wade through all three parts of Elizabeth Kolbertís ďThe Climate of Man,Ē hoping to find a scrap of redeeming social value in the series on Global Warming. Yes, you will put it up for a Pulitzer and it will probably get one. The Pulitzer Committee loves to hand out prizes for political three-parters in a magazine as distinguished as The New Yorker and they will not be able to resist. If you recall, though, I did send you an e-mail protest after the first two parts appeared in your April 24 and May 2 issues. It wasnít that the articles were not beautifully written, as Ms. Kolbert does have a way with words. It was that she began the series by announcing that the scientific community has now concluded that mankind in a significant way is producing the carbon dioxide that is cooking the atmosphere. Then you show a bunch of pictures of glaciers melting, although the reader cannot tell from looking that the glacier is melting because too many of us are driving SUVs or because solar activity in the last part of the 19th century heated up the earth by a degree or two, and the icecaps are still melting as a result.

Now I am not going to spell out all the arguments on why I do not believe in anthropogenic (mankind) causes of GW. Thatís something Elisabeth Kolbert should have done before she traveled around the planet to watch ice melt. If you want the articles in your magazine to persuade readers of political positions you have already arrived at, you of course will instruct the writers you assign to only tell half the story. But I know you are a better man than that, David, one of the best journalists Iíve observed over the last 15 years, a big reason why I subscribe to the New Yorker at home and read it the same evening it shows up.

There are occasional lapses in your judgment, though. You did this, remember, when you assigned Jeffrey Goldberg in 2002 to write up Saddam Husseinís genocide of the Iraqi Kurds at Halabja in March 1988. Even then you ran photographs of mangled bodies of adults and children with captions asserting flatly that they were killed by poison gas from Saddamís air force. Goldberg later was asked by Roger Trilling of the Village Voice why he did not mention the 1990 report of the Army War College that those in the photos were killed by Iranian artillery firing poison gas at the Iraqi army. Goldberg replied that the War College report had been so discredited that he saw no need to mention it. Of course, the folks who discredited the report were the neo-cons who cleared the way for him to go to Kurdistan and talk to Kurds opposed to Saddam who told him what they wanted him to write. Even before it hit the streets, the article was being promoted by the neo-cons who had obviously seen it before it went to press. And before the ink was dry, President Bush was extolling its merits in a White House briefing and Vice President Cheney was flogging it on Meet the Press. In other words, your lapse helped lead to the war.

To be fair, David, I do think that if you had assigned yourself the story on Iraq or on Global Warming, you would have produced genuine Pulitzer material. You are truly a great reporter. You would not have begun the reporting process by deciding on all the questions you would not ask and all the relevant material someone had said was discredited that you would not look at. Your lapse was as an editor in not raising red flags on the stories submitted. Goldberg and Kolbert did not commit plagiarism and make up stories and interviews in place of honest reporting. They committed what I can only call Un-Journalism, which is becoming a common practice in the Fourth Estate, probably the greatest reason why the opinion polls show the American people have a lower regard for the new media than for Congress.

Here are the three articles in the series, which I post without further comment, except to invite my website readers to check them out if they wish and look for any evidence that Ms. Kolbert did anything other than write a long editorial on behalf of government intervention to stamp out carbon dioxide. Before you submit the series for a Pulitzer, I suggest you assign yourself the story and see what you come up with..