When a member of the baby boomer generation like myself sees someone describe environmentalist author Ross Gelbspan as the “Columbo of climate change,” it’s a bit sad that the description is basically lost on the younger generations who probably have no idea who Lieutenant Columbo was. I loved that old ’70s-’80s television series, where viewers routinely saw the guest star’s character commit the “perfect crime,” only to be caught in the sights of homicide detective Columbo, played by Peter Falk. He would always begin asking ordinary questions as a matter of standard police inquiry, but ultimately pestered the criminal with unrelenting sporadic follow-up questions until the crime was exposed. It was priceless to see the pained look on the criminal’s face every time Columbo’s unexpected appearance was followed by his trademark “I don’t mean to bother you, but there’s just one more thing…”
I’m also a bit troubled by the uncontested claim that Gelbspan is any kind of Lt. Columbo. Yes, the book accompanying Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” movie said Gelbspan was “a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who discovered a 1991 coal industry internal memo” with a phrase sounding like a top-down directive for skeptic scientists to deliberately portray global warming as unsettled science. Gelbspan is highly praised in viral form across the internet for his 1997 The Heat is On book, in which this “discovery” supposedly frames skeptic scientists as hopelessly corrupt.
The problem is, literally anyone who undertakes a search at the Pulitzer organization’s web site will soon discover Gelbspan is not listed as a Pulitzer winner.
Kind of makes you want to knock on Gelbspan’s door and say, “Excuse me, sir, sorry to bother you, but about Gore’s claim that you are a Pulitzer winner. It does say that right here in the sleeve of your 1997 book’s dust jacket, and here on the front of your 2004 hardcover book. Were those printing errors?”
The 1991 “reposition global warming as theory rather than fact” memo phrase, shown in red letters full screen in Gore’s movie, got one of the two biggest applause responses when the audience saw the next screen comparing it to prior tobacco industry campaigns’ attempts to say the science was unclear about the harmful effects of smoking. A very convincing one-two punch.
However, a problem arises when anyone does a reasonably good internet search of that phrase. We see in short order (ignoring results from my own recent articles and blogs) that Gelbspan is widely credited with making the phrase famous in his 1997 book, but it is also plain to see he did this after the phrase was published in a 1994 book by Curtis Moore and Alan Miller, and after several newspaper and magazine articles authored by others in 1991, most notably the NY Times.
“Oh, Mr. Gelbspan, I’m glad I found you here today. Forgive me for the intrusion, I know you are a busy man. Just a couple more things are bothering me. I’m trying to make sense of this idea that so many people say you discovered this memo.”
What we also see in various searches of the phrase is a complete lack of any web links to the entire page where the “reposition global warming” phrase can be seen in its complete context, except in my own articles. In fact, of all the web pages proclaiming this phrase to be the smoking gun indictment of skeptic scientists, it’s impossible to even find a single page that makes the effort to show it as a scanned image.
“Good evening, Mr. Gelbspan, I hope I’m not disturbing your dinner, sir, but forgive me, this one question will only take a minute. This 1991 memo that so many talk about…you’d think we’d see it everywhere, where you could read the whole thing top to bottom. You know, sir, it turns out to be so hard to find, and I’ve been wondering why…”
This 1991 memo is even referred to — but not shown — in two of the three major global warming nuisance lawsuits, and a lawyer in one of these two is also a primary one in the Supreme Court case that will decide whether it should move forward.
Then there’s this other problem.
“Mr. Gelbspan! I’m glad I could catch up with you. I’m trying to get a handle on all this, sir, and there’s just one more thing that’s bothering me. Your two books here, it’s fascinating stuff, really scary weather that will happen if we don’t stop global warming. But you’re saying skeptic scientists who claim man is not causing it are paid by coal and oil companies to say that. Well, you do have proof their claims are pure fabrications, where you can trace exact money figures to a specific science conclusions that other scientists can easily disprove… correct? You see, I can’t seem to find any evidence of that in your books…or your lectures…or in any of your articles. You do see the problem here, sir?”
I’m not a police detective, nor do I play one on TV. All I am is a semi-retired idiot graphic artist. And I’m not suggesting I’m any kind of Lt. Columbo. What I am suggesting is that the mainstream media has not done enough to question Gelbspan’s accusations.
The theory of man-caused global warming is supported by only two legs, one saying the consensus of scientific opinion is unimpeachable, and the other proclaiming skeptic scientists should be ignored because they’re corrupt. The skeptic scientists are continually asking tough questions about the first leg. It’s time for professional journalists to start asking pesky questions about the second one, to see whether Ross Gelbspan is the “Columbo” he’s said to be, or is someone who would rather avoid Columbo-like questions.
Russell Cook is a semi-retired graphic artist living in the USA who fully intends to return to his original goal of leisurely creating eclectic graphic designs after the so-called global warming crisis gets completely steered back in the right direction. His collection of writings on this issue can be seen at “The ’96-to-present smear of skeptic scientists — or at least what I’ve dredged up.”