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This item was posted on November 4, 2009, and it was categorized as Climate Change, Climate change policy, Global Warming, Joe Romm, Journalism, blogging, climate change coverage.
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romm_mccarthyIn a post at their Breakthrough Institute blog, Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus offer a full-throated statement of support for journalists like Keith Kloor who have incurred the wrath of influential climate blogger Joe Romm.

As I’ve said here before, Romm’s recent attack on Kloor — headlined “Meet trash journalist Keith Kloor” — was uncalled for, and I applaud Shellenberger and Nordhaus for adding their voices of support.

(An aside: the word “trash” seems to be one of Romm’s absolute favorites. I searched on it at his blog, Climateprogress, and not counting references to actual garbage, I found at least 18 uses of the word in posts linked from the first page of search results.)

Today’s post by Shellenberger and Nordhaus uses the shameful attack on Kloor to make a bigger point: Romm’s tactics carry echoes of the McCarthy era.

What makes this particularly disturbing is that Romm seems to be held in high regard by influential columnists, such as Paul Krugman (who said recently in a blog posting that “I trust Romm on climate”) and Tom Friedman (who called Romm’s blog “indispensable”).

I might add that Time magazine inexplicably named Romm a “Hero of the Environment 2009″ (which would have prompted me to cancel my subscription had I not already done so several months earlier).

Shellenberger and Nordhaus argue that Romm’s bullying tactics are designed to chill free and unfettered inquiry by journalists and others:

These days especially, journalists are an easy mark. Journalists are perhaps the most insecure professionals in America. Reporters fear for their future, and with good reason. Bureaus are closing, journalists and editors are getting laid off, and whole newspapers and magazines are going under. Reporters who are insecure for their futures are easy prey for bullies like Romm, whose attacks are aimed at having a chilling effect on the entire national press corps,

And their comparison of Romm’s approach to McCarthyism is deeply unsettling:

The character assassination, the bullying, the psychological projection — it all adds up to Climate McCarthyism, and Joe Romm is Climate McCarthyite-in-chief. Joe Romm’s “Global Warming Deniers and Delayers” play the same role as Joe McCarthy’s “Communists and Communist sympathizers.” While Romm built a loyal liberal and environmentalist following for attacking right-wing “global warming deniers” — a designation meant to invoke “Holocaust denier” — he spends much of his time attacking well-meaning journalists (e.g. herehere, and here), academics (here and here) and activists (herehere and here) who take the issue of global warming seriously, accept climate science, and support immediate action to address it. His aim is to intimidate and prevent increasing numbers of people from questioning climate policy orthodoxy, and especially Democratic efforts to pass cap and trade climate legislation.

The blogosphere certainly is a rough and tumble place where passions run high, people often say things they shouldn’t, and sometimes there’s lot’s more heat than light. That’s fine. Perhaps out of this raucous give and take, democracy is advanced in fits and starts. But Shellenberger and Nordhaus make a convincing case that Romm has stepped way over the line — that his interest is not simply to argue passionately for what he believes, but also to crush anyone who dares to disagree with him publicly.

In the long run, this can’t be good for democracy or the cause of grappling with climate change.

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This thing has 16 Comments

  1. Posted November 4, 2009 at 4:37 pm | Permalink

    thanks, tom, for bringing this to my attention. i had no idea. i’ve also never liked the climate denier phrase. climate is too complex. denier is to simplistic. always better for journalists to specifically say what someone challenges of disagrees with, or denies.

  2. Mike Lemonick
    Posted November 4, 2009 at 5:18 pm | Permalink

    Nicely done, Tom. Couldn’t agree more.

  3. Posted November 4, 2009 at 5:56 pm | Permalink

    Before we open the bloggers’ ethics panel, please tell Eli whether Romm knew Caldeira well, and had a history of talking with him (we will agree to leave the word friend out here). It appears that you and Kloor and even the esteemed John Fleck appear to believe that Romm acts as a journalist. It would be interesting if you evaluated everyone using that description, but oh well.

    As for Nordberger they are just trying to hop on to the attention train. Things have gone pretty quiet over there.

  4. John Zulauf
    Posted November 5, 2009 at 7:58 am | Permalink

    When did the “Question Authority” generation turn into “the man?” The Who said it best. “Here comes the new boss // same as the old boss”

    It is a sad point of history, in every reformation or revolution eventually the iconoclasts (the real ones destroying things of value) and the crowds chanting “guillotine” emerge. As an AGW skeptic, it raises the issue of intellectual climate change.

    Note how both the LIA and the MWP disappeared in the most recent paleo-climatology result cited by IPCC — it wasn’t an accident. (and woe betide the heretics that point to the man behind the curtain) (quoting)

    During testimony before the Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works Hearing on Climate Change and the Media in 2006, University of Oklahoma geophysicist Dr. David Deming recalled “an astonishing email from a major researcher in the area of climate change” who told him that “we have to get rid of the Medieval Warm Period.” In June of this year, Deming identified the year of that email as 1995 and the source only as a lead author of that month’s Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States report.


    (though many more sources for the Deming quote)


  5. Posted November 5, 2009 at 8:54 am | Permalink

    John: Reasonable skepticism is one thing, but unreasonable skepticism is another. You continue to focus on one data point while ignoring the entire spectrum of data.

    So here’s a summary (by moi) of another piece of research, the cover paper in this week’s Proceedings of the National Academy of Science: http://www.cejournal.net/?p=2247 If this fails to convince you, then I think you can never be convinced — because it gets right to the heart of the argument you are making about the Little Ice Age and Medieval Warm Period. (And please don’t tell me that these scientists are cooking the books. I know the lead author very well.)

  6. Thom
    Posted November 5, 2009 at 5:27 pm | Permalink

    Yulsman, I must cue the applause. You’ve managed to ignore the very pertinent points raised by Eli, and completely dismiss the fact Nature edited Kloor’s original jab at Romm, which got this whole thing going. Here’s the new version after the editors went after it at Nature’s blog. By the way, the handbook for journalists at NYU, where Kloor teaches, cautions against writing about your friends.

    Glad to see that your institution has no such restraints.

  7. Posted November 5, 2009 at 6:46 pm | Permalink


    Are _any_ of Nordhaus, Shellenberger, Kloor, or Yulsman actually old enough to remember the McCarthy era from personal experience?

    I find it hard to believe any of you could recall life in those times, and think some guy on a blog is remotely comparable.

    You’re looking at the television or the words — not the reality of the power McCarthy had.

    You can’t be old enough to remember the reality, and think these are comparable situations.

    I was five years old, a college faculty brat, sitting in front of a tiny little 12″ black and white television, having heard since I started to understand how hard it was for teachers simply to try to teach. My parents and their peers had fought a war, and come back, and started to live — and were afraid, though they didn’t want to show it. McCarthy was powerful and had done great damage.

    I remember this — when it was first broadcast — and I remember the beginning of hope that it gave after people realized it had happened.


    “Card carrying Communist” witch hunts? People losing their jobs on suspicion and anonymous accusation? The blacklists? The utter fear among academics of teaching something that would get them denounced?

    You’re way off base.

    Romm’s maybe a Jerry Rubin or an Abbie Hoffman — he’s theatrical, he’s dramatic, I can’t read him very long, any more than I can read a lot of public bloggers who are so heartfelt they have trouble keeping their heads screwed on straight — though he’s far better than most. Sometimes he’s a flamer, sometimes he’s a clown, often he’s an attention-getter, and, always, he’s got to be more careful of his facts and cite his claims better– like any public speaker on anything important.

    And we’re in the midst of a great extinction, and he knows it.

    And you guys don’t, apparently, or you’d care more and show more knowledge and you’d be scared to death and trying to spend your lives on this problem, and you might even get a little erratic yourself instead of arch and polished.

    But, man, I remember Joe McCarthy
    Joe Romm is no Joe McCarthy.
    Not even close, not even comparable.

    You look at that video, and look at the videos of some of the really slick, sophisticated, anti-environmental spokespeople. You’ll see a similarity, for sure.

    Joe Romm’s not one of those. He’s maybe _trying_ to be that smooth and orgnaized, but he’s just never got the self control to be the kind of sleaze that McCarthy was, and he’s never had anything remotely like the power McCarthy had.

    Get real, kids. You’re not repeating history here.

    Look at it. Think. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lAur_I077NA

  8. John Zulauf
    Posted November 6, 2009 at 9:09 am | Permalink

    @Tom – come on, dude. Briffa presents a *flat* graph for a period that we have solid, consistent, historical evidence was *not* flat. The paper *selected* a subset of trees that don’t correlate to the external historical evidence (Greenland, Mesa Verde, et. al.). http://www.climateaudit.org/?p=7168 That’s cherry picking and a smart guy named Tom Yulsman recently condemned it in his excellent blog.

    The academic/political history is equally troubling. Overpeck “calls” for a removal of the MWP in 1995. Briffa et. al. start publishing papers that debunk MWP about that same time. 1995 Nature paper by Briffa, Schweingruber et al., they reported that 1032, was the coldest year of the millennium – right in the middle of the MWP.

  9. Steve Bloom
    Posted November 7, 2009 at 1:21 am | Permalink

    Is that Carl Pope being symbolically silenced by Romm at the same time he’s being cast in the Roy Cohn role? If so we are *very* amused.

  10. Posted November 8, 2009 at 8:01 am | Permalink

    Breakthrough Watch, Day Three
    “Posted November 5, 2009 at 6:46 pm
    Your comment is awaiting moderation.”

    “Delay is the deadliest form of denial.”

  11. Posted November 8, 2009 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

    Hank: My apologies for the delay in getting your comments posted. This blog has an automatic filter that holds comments with four or more links in them for moderation (on the theory that they are more likely to be spam). And I’ve been working pretty much day and night on a huge project: an online course of journalists on climate change for News University (part of the Poynter Institute). That work has kept me away from the blog.

    You can be sure that there will be no McCarthy comparisons in the climate course! As to your specific questions, I only remember my parents talking about McCarthy. My father spoke reverently of Edward R. Murrow (and in fact took pictures of him for Life or Look, I can’t remember which). In any case, your point is well taken. However, I think Shellenberger was arguing that Romm uses McCarthyite tactics to silence people. And I’ve seen those kinds of tactics used against Roger Pielke, Jr. by others, in which he has been villified for — the horror! — testifying before Congress at the request of a Republican and writing something that was cited by the Cato Institute. You have to read these diatribes to hear the echoes of McCarthyism.

    But no, of course Romm is not equivalent to McCarthy. For one thing, much of what he writes is actually interesting, informative and substantive. But then there are those rage-filled eruptions — and yes, I have to say I do indeed hear echoes of McCarthy in some of them.

  12. Posted November 8, 2009 at 8:44 pm | Permalink

    Like Hank, Eli was there (a bit older), and Hank is right. In many ways this it the Jonah Goldberg variation, take something that was truly evil and arising out of your side of the political spectrum and project it onto others on the other side who were actually the victims (this assumes that Schellenberger sees Romm as a leftist, YMMV). Say it often enough and you get Joerg Zimmerman’s New Model Strawman :

    “The pseudo-argument is a claim brought into the discussion without any evidence that later is treated as if it had been proved, even though never substantiated or quantified. Trolls are particularly fond of using an already refuted allegations again and again ignoring the refutation, thus turning it into a pseudoargument. This strawman is not so much directed against the opponent, but is dragged in as an artifice of support.”

  13. Posted November 9, 2009 at 1:26 am | Permalink

    I can`t stand Romm`s bullying either, Tom, but Hank and Eli are both absolutely right: Romm is no McCarthy. He`s got whatever influence he`s earned, but no power to investigate, call witnesses etc, so the comparison is invidious – but sure to be made much of by our friends the “skeptics”.

  14. Posted November 9, 2009 at 8:25 am | Permalink

    Okay, kids, history lesson.
    You know, the stuff that if you don’t know it, you’re likely to be living through it again? The stuff that clobbers you harder the next time if you didn’t learn?

    The world has lots of people who get angry and blog;
    formerly they spoke or wrote irate letters to the editor.

    The world has people who have powerful official
    positions and use them to destroy their enemies.

    McCarthy went from being an outsider with a bee in his bonnet, to being a powerful Senator heading a committee with the ability to subpoena, to ruin by mere accusation, and a stated dedication to filling up the federal prisons with those he considered enemies.

    You should be able to tell the difference.

    The difference:

    – stating opinion, however obnoxious and unpopular
    – misuse of actual power to destroy lives on suspicion

    If you can’t tell the difference, find someone who can help you.

    Read, please: http://ahivfree.alexanderstreet.com/View/529262/clip/1273
    (you can also watch the video, recommended in addition to reading)

    Snippet, but you should read the whole thing — and much more — if you’re too young to understand what this is really about:

    Donald I. Rogers
    Senator McCarthy , you’re probably the most controversial figure on the American political scene. McCarthy and McCarthyism are well-known words. Our, I’m sure our audience is very much interested in your political career, so I suppose we start right out. …..


    Joseph R. McCarthy
    …. Let me say this, that ah, if the Republican should take over the senate, I happen to be the ranking member on the investigating committee. That means that McCarthy would become chairman of the senate investigating committee. And if, if he does, I’ll, I’ll make you one promise, that Leavenworth would hold him, Mr. Huie .

    William Bradford Huie
    You’re gonna use the same tactics that you have used right along, Sir?

    Joseph R. McCarthy
    Well, now, and you said the same tactics. You see, if you, if you have a committee, the power to subpoena, investigators, (crosstalk)

    William Bradford Huie

    Joseph R. McCarthy
    you don’t use the same tactics you used when you have no, no ah, committee, no power to subpoena. We’ve got to dig and route out the Communist and the crooks, and those were bad for America . (crosstalk)

    William Bradford Huie
    Yes, yes.

    Joseph R. McCarthy
    Where you, where you have a committee, ah, so if you have a power of subpoena, you can get the records. And if we have a Republican president, ah, we’ll be able to get those records, I’m sure. Ah, it will be a less spectacular fight, but much more effective. You see, it’s, it’s difficult when you’re all alone ah, with ah, the entire power of this federal bureaucracy against you, difficult to dig them out. Even with that, you see, we have ah, exposed definitely government 11 ah, ah, laws I originally named. (crosstalk)

    Well, the. (crosstalk)

    Joseph R. McCarthy
    Some, some of them have been convicted, others before the grand jury, but all out of the government under the loyalty program.

    Joseph R. McCarthy
    Very good reasons, and may I suggest that you just watch what happens over the next few weeks and few months, and understand why.

    William Bradford Huie
    Now, let me understand these two predictions that you’ve made, Senator. They sound very important to me. You are predicting for our viewers that within the next few weeks, the State Department will use its influence to get Professor Lattimore outside the country.

    Joseph R. McCarthy
    That’s correct….


    William Bradford Huie
    I see. And you were, also made the prediction that ah, if you get control of that committee, that ah, you expect to, ah, and fill up Leavenworth and a few more of the federal prisons. Is that correct?

    Joseph R. McCarthy
    Yes. I, I think, I think, Mr. Huie , that any good American in charge of that investigating committee… (crosstalk)

    William Bradford Huie
    Senator, there’s one other. (crosstalk)

    Joseph R. McCarthy
    ah, would, would do that.

    William Bradford Huie
    You’ve mentioned a book, and there’s one book here that ah, we should call our viewers’ attention to. It’s your book that is published today, I believe.

    Joseph R. McCarthy
    Yes. Uh hmm

    William Bradford Huie
    Now, ah, in, in effect, what’s the, what’s the message of this book ah, to the people of America , sir?

    Joseph R. McCarthy
    Who’s, who, we’ve called that “McCarthyism: The Fight For America.” It is ah, a carefully documented history of the fight to expose Communist, ah, ban security risks, and the dupes and stooges of the Kremlin who have been and still are in our federal government.

  15. Posted November 10, 2009 at 9:23 am | Permalink

    As long as we are doing history, Eli found one thing to disagree with Hank on. McCarthy was not smooth, he was a drunk, and, it was his lack of control that caused him to crash and burn. Think Sen. Glenn Beck.

One Trackback

  1. Posted November 4, 2009 at 5:19 pm | Permalink

    [...] Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus at the Breakthrough Institute have thrown down the gauntlet on Joe Romm. Tom Yulsman picks up the thread. [...]

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