The Washington Times is trying to expand the National Public Radio secret video story, which just brought down NPR's chief executive. The Times claims that, on a tape made by conservative activist James O'Keefe, NPR fundraisers "compare deniers of climate change to birthers and flat earth believers," as they explain that NPR's Science Desk accepts that "climate change is happening," but that its Washington desk covers both sides of the political debate on the issue.
But, unlike some of the other outrageous material in the video, these statements are easily defensible. Those who deny the basic fact that the Earth has experienced a warming trend over the past several decades are screaming against gigatons of formidable evidence -- land and sea thermometer readings, animal migration patterns, shrinking glaciers and sea ice, longer growing seasons, and so forth. As the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration wrote last year, "If the land surface records were systematically flawed and the globe had not really warmed, then it would be almost impossible to explain the concurrent changes in this wide range of indicators produced by many independent groups."
It is reasonable for a news organization to say, and it's fair to interpret the NPR fundraisers' meaning to be: Warming is a fact. The science still isn't 100 percent clear on precisely how much an additional unit of anthropogenic carbon dioxide contributes to this -- though "not at all" almost certainly isn't the answer -- or exactly what the varied consequences will be. Yet there's a political debate related to this trend that we must cover with reference to those who disagree with scientists on these and related points. My anecdotal experience with NPR climate change coverage is that it generally conforms to these sensible guidelines.
Of all the things to get exercised about in O'Keefe's latest Borat-esque trap, this seems to be the least concerning.