Intrepid British journalist George Monbiot has a piece in The Guardian today that absolutely smashes the London Sunday Times’ handling of its botched ‘Amazongate’ story. The Times was forced to retract essentially its entire January article, which badly mischaracterized the work and words of rainforest expert Dr. Simon Lewis, to whom the paper sheepishly apologized earlier this week.
Monbiot took some time to try to figure out how the Times could have possibly allowed the sham story to run in the first place, but his efforts were met with aggressive stonewalling by Times’ editors, who trampled transparency in order to cover their own behinds.
Exactly who at the Times was responsible for re-writing the story after a totally different version was read back to Dr. Lewis over the phone by the reporter Jonathan Leake, remains a mystery.
Monbiot doesn’t think Leake is to blame for the hack editing job, writing that:
“the interesting question is how the Sunday Times messed up so badly. I spent much of yesterday trying to get some sense out of the paper, without success. But after 25 years in journalism it looks pretty obvious to me that Jonathan Leake has been wrongly blamed for this, then hung out to dry. My guess is that someone else at the paper, acting on instructions from an editor, got hold of Leake’s copy after he had submitted it, and rewrote it, drawing on North’s post, to produce a different – and more newsworthy – story. If this is correct, it suggests that Leake is carrying the can for an editor’s decision. The Sunday Times has made no public attempt to protect him: it looks to me like corporate cowardice.”
The whole ‘Amazongate’ episode began with the horrible mischaracterizations by climate denier Richard North of a WWF report that was referenced in the IPCC’s fourth assessment report regarding the projected impacts of climate change on the Amazon. North started the engine on the ‘Amazongate’ train, which eventually wrecked under the lightest of scrutiny, leading to the retraction and apology by the Times.
Monbiot explains how North’s lies were spread around the world without any one of the countless other climate deniers who trumpeted the tale actually bothering to check its veracity.
While North – and the denier sheep who echoed him – asserted that the WWF report said nothing about the potential vulnerability of 40% of the Amazon’s forests threatened by reduced rainfall due to climate change, it took Monbiot all of ten seconds to discover that North’s spin about the WWF report was a total sham.
I used a cunning and recondite technique known only to experienced sleuths: typing “40%” in the search bar at the top of the page [of the WWF report PDF]. This stroke of genius took all of 10 seconds to reveal the following passage:
“Up to 40% of the Brazilian forest is extremely sensitive to small reductions in the amount of rainfall.”
Who says investigative journalism is dead?
None of North’s suckers had bothered to carry out this complex procedure. They hadn’t bothered because they didn’t want to spoil a good story.
While the Times’ retraction was a necessary and welcomed step toward clearing the air, it remains baffling that the Times would continue to hide the whole truth about how the story was completely re-written prior to publication in the first place. After issuing a retraction and apology, what more could it take to simply come clean with the truth about what really happened and who was responsible?
Check out Monbiot’s post for further details, but don’t hold your breath for a mea culpa from the Times’ editors. They’ve clearly circled the wagons.