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We deserve news we can trust

I’ve listened to Dave Lee’s morning show on 830 WCCO AM radio for years. We’re both North Dakotans. Dave grew up in the small town of Hatton, while I was raised in Fargo. Prior to WCCO, Dave worked for Fargo’s news and talk radio station, KFGO The Mighty 790 AM, whose tagline is, “News You Trust.” Over the years, his folksy manner and homespun anecdotes drew me in.  I liked Dave. I trusted Dave. For me, he personified WCCO’s tagline, “The Good Neighbor.”  

Matt Samuel

Recently, he broke that trust. A good neighbor is fair with the facts. Dave wasn’t when he reported on his visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. He told the audience “global warming is interesting and climate warming is interesting.” Then he delivered a whopper: “And if you think it is something new, think again.” He claimed a “parchment” he saw in the museum showed Egypt experienced “climate warming issues back in 21 [sic] B.C.”     

A flash of anger and disbelief hit me as I listened while driving to my downtown office. How could a responsible journalist and trusted voice in our community make such a statement? I thought of my three children and the activities we treasure: outdoor hockey, fishing, and Boundary Waters canoe trips. I thought of the people whose livelihood depends on walleye fishing on Lake Mille Lacs (warmer temperatures mean warmer water, and that means less tullibee, a cold-water fish that is an important source of food for walleye). Surely, all Minnesotans can agree we’re obligated to leave our children and grandchildren the same Minnesota we treasure.   

Not parchment, not ‘climate’

When I arrived downtown, I walked to WCCO and asked for an audio clip of the story. I sent the clip to the museum. A curator in the Department of Egyptian Art confirmed no parchment (an animal skin used as a writing surface in ancient times) existed in the relevant galleries.  Eventually, she determined that what he saw was not a parchment, but a typed, paper sign sitting on a plastic stand in front of several stone tablets and other objects that constituted the museum’s collection of material from the Late Old Kingdom and First Intermediate Period (ca. 2150-2010 B.C.). 

More problematic than telling his listeners he “found a parchment” was Dave’s on-air reading of two sentences from the sign. He read them accurately, except for one word, “climatic.” The sign says “[t]he ancient Near East underwent climatic changes at this time and Egypt became increasingly arid.” Dave read: “[t]he ancient near east underwent climate changes at this time and Egypt became increasingly arid.” In the audio clip he pauses as he begins saying the word “climatic” and then he substitutes the word “climate.” That newly substituted word becomes the cornerstone of his conclusion: “So there you go, climate warming issues in 21 B.C.” He clearly meant 2100 B.C. because he referred to the 2150-2010 B.C. Late Old Kingdom and First Intermediate Period. But a paper is not a parchment. “Climatic” is not the same word as “climate.” Little or no rain (arid) is not warming temperatures. 

The first step in solving a problem is recognizing it. I am an electrical engineer with a law degree. I’ve spent 20 years working with inventors and entrepreneurs. American inventors and entrepreneurs can solve the difficult problems caused by climate change and create new high-tech jobs and industries along the way. But they can’t do that if we don’t acknowledge the problem. 

Sowing confusion

When a trusted and influential voice in our community tells Minnesotans that a “parchment” from ancient Egypt demonstrates people should “think again” about climate change, he makes people less likely to acknowledge the problem. When he substitutes the word “climate” for “climatic” so he can tell his audience, “there you go, climate warming issues back in 21 B.C.,” he sows confusion. And when he equates a natural climatic change that occurred 4,000 years ago with the issues we face today, he causes people to doubt what 97 percent of scientists tell us: Climate change caused by humans burning fossil fuels is real, man-made and dangerous.

Dave’s story was not news that can be trusted.  It certainly was not what a good neighbor does.  Minnesotans need and deserve better. 

Matt Samuel, of Edina, is a trial lawyer and a member of the board of directors of the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy. The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s alone. 

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Comments (12)

  1. Submitted by Joe Smithers on 09/15/2015 - 11:35 am.

    I’m confused

    Is this guy denying that ancient pangea was a very warm time for the earth and that the ice ace was a cool time and that the climate has changed since these times? For a lawyer I’d think he would have some better critical thinking than this.

    • Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 09/15/2015 - 12:39 pm.

      No, He’s Not

      But considering other posts on the subject, I’m not surprised to read one of our “conservative” friends grasping at straws,…

      straws clearly not in evidence in what the author wrote,…

      to push away what the author wrote in order to prevent uncomfortable information from entering his awareness,…

      while revealing a glaring inability to differentiate between climate shifts on the scale of geological epochs,…

      and the very different types of shifts happening in ancient Egypt in the 2100’s BC,…

      which seem likely to have been the result of human-caused deforestation of Northern Africa,…

      and thus may also have been human caused climate shifts.

      The difference between ancient, climate shifts occurring over hundreds of thousands if not millions of years is in time scale,…

      our current shifts, caused by human-induced changes in the proportions of atmospheric gasses, are occurring in the blink of an eye, by comparison.

      As to the “Good Neighbor to the Northwest,”…

      WCCO AM has been nothing of the kind since way back when CBS bought them out and destroyed what had been the largest market share AM station of any in a major metropolitan area in the US,…

      with, for those of us who were paying attention, a clear agenda to turn what had been a very influential moderate-to-liberal voice through much of the state,…

      to a far more right wing agenda.

      The reality of that agenda was underlined when, even though firing the talent and changing the perspective caused a precipitous drop in listeners,…

      no attempt was made to recover what had been lost,…

      and no effort to return to what had been so massively successful was made.

      The “Good Neighbor to the Northwest” died with that takeover and will never be resurrected.

      When I moved to NW Minnesota in 1980, I set up a length of wire as an AM antenna so I could continue to listen to WCCO.

      Later I moved back to the Metro area and continued to listen to ‘CCO for a time, but by the time I moved back out to NW Minnesota there was no point in putting up a new antenna.

      There was nothing and nobody left on ‘CCO worth hearing,…

      and I hadn’t tuned my dial to 830 for months.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 09/15/2015 - 01:48 pm.

      Now I’m Confused

      Are you saying that that a story discussing an absurdly inaccurate report about an Egyptian “parchment” denies that the earth’s climate has changed over time? Because I didn’t see that mentioned anywhere (perhaps my “critical thinking” is not up to snuff).

  2. Submitted by Patrick Tice on 09/15/2015 - 12:05 pm.

    Confused –

    Nice try, but scientists do understand climatic variations over time and have reached consensus on AGW. Mr. Samuel rightly calls out sloppy, biased reporting that was designed to forward an agenda.

  3. Submitted by jason myron on 09/15/2015 - 12:16 pm.

    Dave Lee is a talking head.

    He’s a guy blessed with a great set of pipes who makes his living hawking Country Hearth bread, water softeners, frightening seniors about the weather and trying to make Tommie football sound titillating. My only confusion is to why anyone would give any credence to his opinion on climate. That question has already been answered for anyone with the ability of cognitive thought. Of course it’s real and it’s the major issue of our time.

  4. Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 09/15/2015 - 12:46 pm.

    Thank you!

    I’ve long since lost faith in “news you can trust” no matter what the tagline is. But, Matt, you’ve found an excellent example of journalism biased in the opposite direction of reality, or at least “balanced” to the point of meaninglessness. Don’t get me wrong, the current era of “news journalism” isn’t the first or only time the “news” was little more than gossip. But, for the first time, it’s reached an almost instantaneous global audience at the same time it also claims “reliability,” “fairness,” “balance,” and “trustworthiness.” In other words, the news isn’t just not storytelling, it’s storymaking…to millions of people confused by the glut of information available to them. The moment Dave “fudged” that little fact in the name of a story, the story became fiction. Dave is not alone. Every day, “journalists” fudge the facts intentionally or unintentionally, in big and in small ways. From staging to bald-faced lies. Regardless of the level and intent, the aura of believability has blurred the lines between reality and reality TV–the differences between which are vast and should readily be recognized as such by competent adults. Yet, even though news organizations regularly screw up the facts, they rarely retract, and if they do, it’s hidden in a back corner of their website, not brought up in front of their audiences. So, even when the news organization KNOWS they were wrong, they fail to inform their audiences.

    One word. One big suggestion. This time, Dave’s single “misspoken” word, taken in the context he provided, not only fails to convey the facts, but suggests something wildly different than reality. Regardless of your position on whether global warming is man made, the facts show that the current warming and rate of warming are unprecedented during any era that supported complex life, and that the warming is at least heavily coincident with human activities that, assuming a closed system (which our planet is) are proven to cause warming. If humans are the cause, we have the power to reduce that trend. If we aren’t the cause, and we make an effort, we don’t lose anything. But, if the warming continues on this trend, life as we know it will change for our progeny. Fine, you can plan to pass along your wealth, but you should at least take into consideration whether it will matter in a world where the lakes have no walleye, where the beaches are all gone, where war and famine are even more common, and where all those people on the current coasts are packed into the centers of our continents where we should be growing food (if we’re lucky).

  5. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 09/15/2015 - 04:54 pm.

    Climate

    I am sure Dave Lee is less than accurate on occasion, but that’s inevitable when you are on the air as much as he is. As for the substantive issue, the fact is, the climate changes a lot for lots of reasons. My unauthoritatative source for this is the TV show “Cosmos” currently available on Netflix streaming, where Neil DeGrasse Tyson, a strong supporter of the view that the climate is changing because of man made causes, went into great detail about how Earth’s environment has changed over time.

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 09/16/2015 - 09:22 am.

      Substance?

      I think the substantive issue is a radio voice taking it upon himself to challenge a scientific consensus with a bogus observation of a non-existent “parchment”. This is about integrity and guy like that knows climate change is a hot button so he should know what he’s doing when he blabs about it on the radio. The truth is this guy is playing to his audience, and THAT tells us something about CCO, or at least who CCO is trying to reach.

      • Submitted by Hiram Foster on 09/16/2015 - 10:26 am.

        WCCO

        I don’t know if they still call it that, but when I was growing up, the catchline for WCCO was “Good Neighbor to the Northwest”. The author above is doing a little straw man work, casting Dave Lee, who is just a guy on the radio, as some sort of journalist in the vein of Edward R. Murrow. He really isn’t. He is just the media equivalent of your next door neighbor who is just talking casually at a neighborhood barbecue. And so the question is, Ot what’s the best and most effective way to correct such serial misinformers. The lawyer above wants to go all legal on his rear end, cross examining his misuse of the word parchment, and analyzing his misuse of language in the Minnpost equivalent of an appellate brief. That’s one approach certainly, and in some forums, maybe it’s effective. Intellectual brute force has it’s uses. But the fact is, at least as I see it, is that advocates of those views on climate change have done that a bit too much with a notable lack of effect. If they haven’t lost the argument already, it is certainly true that they are well along the way to losing it. Hence my modest proposal. Lay off the thundering tones, the self satisfied quibbling over language. Lay out the case in more modest tones, and understand the case the other side makes, and be prepared to respond to it. And know your forum and your audience. Dave Lee isn’t a journalist, he is an entertainer. When approaching him be an entertainer not a scientist, and certainly not a lawyer. Other tactics are failing, so why not try something different?

  6. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 09/16/2015 - 06:26 am.

    A modest propsal

    I don’t know Dave Lee, but if I had a problem with something he said on the air, here is what I would do. I would send him an email, laying out the issue in a non confrontational positive way. I would avoid quibbling over the difference between words like climate and climatic, and focus on the one or two things that are really significant. And I would make a suggestion. I would say, why don’t you put on somebody who can discuss climate issues in a serious but also a lively and interesting way? Someone who can respond to issues raised by ‘CCO listeners in a persuasive way. A guy who is a a member of the board of directors of the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy should have a list of such people at the ready at all times. I don’t guarantee that Lee will say yes, but my experience with these guys is that they just about always respond positively to these kinds of guys of suggestions.

  7. Submitted by Bob Petersen on 09/16/2015 - 08:45 am.

    Sowing More Confusion?

    Love it that this article is based upon a misstatement from Dave Lee is cause to do a whole public bashing when this writer does the same exact thing about falsifying facts is purely representative of the whole climate change topic.
    There is no doubt climate changes on our planet. It’s changed since the very existence of it. Heck, if it weren’t for climate change, we’d be living on large glaciers right now freezing our rear ends and never seeing a summer.
    To state that 97% of all scientists think that climate change is being caused by man is pure fallacy. More scientists every day are beginning to go away from that it is caused by humans. They acknowledge that change is happening, but question the very premise of how it’s being caused. If you go back to the 1970s, there were calls that the earth was too cold and something needed to be done…oh, yeah, and it was ’caused by humans.’
    There is no doubt that we need to take care of our environment. Everyone is for that. But this whole human caused theory that has been far from proven has become more of a religion for many people than truly looking at the facts for a short amount of temp readings from the last 100+ years as compared to millions of years. (some call this statistically insignificant) It hasn’t mattered that many studies on global temperatures, especially the last 10 years, have been manipulated and changed to fit a still unproven theory.
    Facts are always funny things. And the sheer elitism and hypocrisy that Dave Lee needs to be essentially publicly shamed for a making a misstatement when promoting a pure fabrication of fact is so telling.

  8. Submitted by David Rostad on 09/19/2015 - 09:16 am.

    Climate change

    VERY well said Matt.

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