As expected, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform took aim at the Bush administration's "overbearing management of media contacts," as one legislator put it, in its alleged efforts to control administration scientist's media access on the issue of global climate change/warming.
Witness Dr. Francesca Grifo, with the Union of Concerned Scientists, suggested that scientists should have the last review on communications of their findings to the media, with no restrictions on media contacts beyond informing their superiors of the interview and summarizing it afterwords.
Committee Chairman Henry Waxman said the committee had been frustrated in attempts to get the White House to turn over some documents related to its policy on global warming information, and urged it to be more forthcoming. He said the administration had supplied nine documents on the eve of the hearing, but that they were not particularly helpful.
Documents Waxman does have are e-mails that suggested the administration was keeping a government scientist who did not toe the line on the administration's view of global warming and hurricanes from making an appearance on CNBC.
Several witnesses, including Rick Piltz, former senior associate with the U.S. Climate Change Science Program, said that administration officials had edited out of an annual report on Congress information on the potential impacts of global warming, including storms and glacial melting, Piltz resigned in 2005, citing such edits.
"This kind of thing must stop. I will not be mislead," said an angry Diane Watson, Democrat from California.
Dr. Drew Shindell of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, pointed to the chilling effect of a Bush administration policy, instituted in 2004, that scientists providing interviews to the media would have to have a public affairs "minder" present at the interview. He said the stated purpose was to protect them from being misquoted, but that as far as he knew there had been no particular critical mass of complaints about being misquoted.
Grifo said scientists need to be better educated about their free speech rights. "You don't give up your constitutional rights when you become a federal scientist," she said.Ranking Republican Tom Davis suggested that bosses vetting government employee's conclusions was not unusual and was not necessarily a bad thing. Dr. Roger Pielke, Jr., a professor from the University of Colorado environmental Studies Program, agreed, saying that the reality is that politics and science are inseparable.
Christopher Shays (R-Conn.) said he believed there was global warming and that it was man-made, but he also said he was concerned that a difference in policy was being characterized as altering and censoring information.
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Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.
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