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The career of George Monbiot has been meteoric – coming down to earth in a shower of sparks, and leaving a charred hole where the Guardian’s top investigative journalist used to be. From Paul Foot to William Boot in a few carbon-shedding steps.

(For non-Brits: Foot was a campaigning journalist at Private Eye and the Guardian. William Boot is the journalist hero of Evelyn Waugh’s novel “Scoop”, who, after a disastrous episode in which he is sent to Africa to cover a revolution, ends up back in the office writing Nature Notes).

In February 2009 Monbiot initiated a new format blog at Guardian Environment with an attack on Telegraph journalist Christopher Booker. In the article, entitled « Booker’s work of clanger-dropping fiction » he accused his colleague of writing “complete trash, and provided a list of seven claims in an article by Booker which Monbiot attempted to refute.

A second article, two days later, entitled “Pure rubbish: Christopher Booker prize” featured  a photo captioned “Christopher Booker prize 2009 offered for producing clap-trap about climate change”. Readers were invited to nominate articles, and George explained:

“The award will go to whoever in my opinion and assisted by climate scientists and specialists manages, in the course of 2009, to cram as many misrepresentations, distortions and falsehoods into a single article, statement, lecture, film or interview about climate change”.

(Note that Monbiot hadn’t managed to finish his sentence coherently. As many as what?)

There is a note at the bottom of the first article saying “this blog has been amended”. What has been altered is the word “Bullshit” which featured in the original article, and is still visible in the photo of the “award” in the second article.

Of the supposed errors by Booker:

The first concerned the utterly trivial question of whether Dr Theon, who criticised James Hansen of NASA, was Hansen’s “supervisor” when he was head of climate research there and Hansen was working under him.

The second concerned the Hockeystick, about which Monbiot says:

“Far from being discredited, the hockey stick graph of past temperature reconstructions has been supported by a large number of further studies … Those who claimed to discredit it have been comprehensively rebuffed”.

The third was about the BBC’s reporting that Arctic summer ice might soon disappear at a time when, according to Booker, “this winter’s refreezing was about to take ice cover back to a point it was at 30 years ago”. Monbiot attempts to refute this by quoting the ice extent for December, apparently unaware that maximum ice extent is in March/April.

The other four claims were about BBC reporting of a paper by Steig et al suggesting that the Antarctic has been cooling. Booker makes two minor errors, describing the paper as being “based on a computer model run by the creator of the hockey stick (Martin Mann)”, when it was based on some peculiar statistical infilling on very sparse and badly compiled data, and Mike Mann was just one of six authors.

Overall, Monbiot scores a couple of nitpicking points, muffs an attempt to refute Booker over Arctic ice, and, naturally, disagrees about the hockeystick and the Steig paper on Antarctic warming, citing Gavin Schmidt and RealClimate as his authority throughout.

There followed a lively discussion thread, with 332 comments, only three of which were deleted, including one of mine. I seem to remember that several of us reacting vigorously to the use of the word “bullshit”, which I found genuinely shocking, but I can find no comments to that effect. I suspect that they were wiped at the same time that the title and article were amended.

Most of the remaining comments rest within the bounds of decency, except for those by Bluecloud, (a warmist commenter who has been retrospectively allotted a capital “C” for Guardian Contributor of occasional articles). Among his comments one finds:

“.. pile of shite.. Maybe you both simply cannot read.. Your arguments are getting desperate now. Go back to your masters and seek advice. But you may find they’ve taken off to tax-free havens already, so you’d better hurry.. a great deal of farting on the ClimateAudit website.. These are a small, sad bunch who couldn’t string a coherent argument together to save their lives. Some even resort to personal attacks in their desperation, while others are paid blood money to spout corporate rubbish.” etc.

Comments start at  3 February 2009 2:13PM (the article is wrongly dated to 4 February) and a number of bloggers provided point-by-point demolitions of Monbiot’s criticisms of Booker, without Monbiot replying.

At 3 February 2009 9:09PM I commented:

“Monbiot has a long history of using ad hominem arguments (…) With Booker he has changed tack, no longer appealing to peer reviewed science as the only arbiter, but quoting RealClimate – the gospel according to Gavin – just like any common-or-garden blogger. His criticisms are so feeble that one understands why he has so long avoided entering the arena of debate on the actual facts of climate change. Monbiot’s arguments against Booker have been effectively demolished by HackneyHal at 2.34pm, Hamlet4 at 3.07 and 3.13pm, me at 4.33pm, Don Basilio at 5.06pm and 5.43pm, knife at 5.44pm, and wilddonkey at 8.23pm [+ RonCram at 5.29am 4 February – added in a later comment]

Monbiot must answer these, and CheshireRed’s challenge at 7.28pm to a genuine debate, or lose all credibility”.

Monbiot finally intervened 4 February 2009 12:19PM, nearly 24 hours after the first comment, to say:

“LostTransportation: I’m amazed you cite the Wahl and Ammann study as if it helps the argument against the Mann, Bradley and Hughes palaeoclimate reconstruction (“hockey stick”) work. Here’s what the Wahl and Ammann abstract says:..”

LostTransportation had, twelve hours previously, pointed out that the Wahl and Ammann paper agreed with the findings of McIntyre & McKitrick in terms of the statistical significance of the verification r2 statistic. The key role played by this paper in kicking McIntyre & McKitrick’s criticisms into touch in IPCC AR4 is described in Bishop Hill’s “Caspar and the Jesus Paper

And that’s the end of Monbiot’s contribution to his own blog. He quotes in full the abstract to a paper which has nothing to do with the subject, and then falls silent, leaving his argument in ribbons, demolished by at least seven separate commenters. The thread continued for several days with commenters, as usual, bickering among themselves while the article was largely ignored.

Note that this was the first of a series of articles under a new heading – “George Monbiot’s Blog” – the opening salvo in what was obviously intended to be a year-long campaign – beginning with two articles trashing Booker, and a photo of the “Booker Bullshit Award” taken by George himself – and culminating in a mock presentation to some unfortunate journalist who dared to disagree with George, and the “climate scientists and specialists” who were at his side to assist him in a task which was clearly beyond his capacities.

There were several follow-up articles, (including two, equally nit-picking and tendentious, about George Will of the Washington Post) and the award was finally presented, with a minimum of fuss, to an obscure journalist from Flint, Michigan who said some silly unchecked stuff in an opinion piece for a local newspaper. In the meantime, George had to retract a further false allegation of  clanger-dropping made about Booker in a later article at The Guardian.

Blogging is an ephemeral business, and there’s little point in commenters complaining how unfair it is that their comments get ignored. There isn’t space to reproduce the arguments developed in the thread, but  anyone can go to the articles and check them out for themselves. If the exchange had occurred in print, Monbiot’s reputation as an investigative journalist would have been shattered. As it was, the most visible result was probably that, to casual browsers at Guardian Environment, for nearly a year, the words “Booker” and “Bullshit” appeared regularly in close proximity.

No print newspaper in Britain would stoop to such a level.

The thread rather petered out after Monbiot’s contribution, except for an eminently sane suggestion from Alex Cull that Monbiot might like to conduct some investigative journalism into the Steig / Antarctic warming story. I‘m ashamed to say that I made use of Monbiot’s vulgar outburst to get in a rude and possibly libellous accusation of my own against Monbiot, which remains uncensored. (Alex, I’m glad to say, continued to post in his normal intelligent and good-tempered fashion).

70 Responses to “My Affair with George Monbiot: Part2”

  1. I’ve just noticed that Shub Niggurath reports on a discussion he had with Monbiot at:
    http://nigguraths.wordpress.com/2010/09/30/monbiot-conflicted-environmentalist/
    Monbiot replies to him at:
    http://www.monbiot.com/archives/2010/09/19/the-smear-storm-widens/
    saying:

    the only two contacts I have ever had with Guardian moderators were:
    – a request, relayed through one of the comment editors two years ago, that they stop deleting messages critical of me from the threads. I want to see these comments and I want to respond to them.
    (…)
    My response to criticism or challenge is not to silence it but to answer it.

    [My emphasis]

  2. Geoff

    A very nice piece.

    I’m afraid my opinion of Monbiot is formed by the constant deletion of comments critical of him or the holy science of AGW.

    I am astonished if he claims that he did not know of this. Surely an investigative journalist must be aware of whats happening so close to home?

    I’m afraid I don’t read him or bother about the Guardian any more. If they fix their house I might bother to engage again.

    Tonyb

  3. Tonyb #2
    Have a look at Monbiot’s reply to Shub which I link above. I believe him when he says he wants to keep critical comments up. His opposition to censorship and supression of information is perfectly genuine, as shown by his immediate reaction to the UEA emails, calling for Jones’ resignation.
    The problem arises from
    1) the wide criteria for deletion allowed for in the Guardian’s “report abuse” system,
    2) possibly over-zealous moderators and
    3) nervous lawyers.
    I still bother with the Guardian, because it’s important to get the message out to the mainstream, and the dear old Graun, with its five articles a day (!) on climate change, seems a good outlet.

  4. Geoff,
    I would like to think we really ‘handed it back’ to Monbiot with that episode.

    When I say: “handed it back” – I mean the simple fact that he was made to realise that deleting comments that are offered on a blog, is not necessarily a trifling matter, especially when said comments mainly contain uncomfortable questions or uncomfortable facts. But the fact remains that we were able to make him realise this, if at all, was only because I happened to watch the whole deletion thing happen in front of my own eyes, and the good Bishop gave us our platform to tell the story.

    Any passerby reading the comments in that thread otherwise, would only think Monbiot challenged his ‘denier’ commenteriat to come up with hard evidence of Pachauri’s alleged corruption and nothing happened by way of reply.

    In retrospect, what a stupid, stupid thing it was for Monbiot to ask for! “Please provide me details of Pachauri’s corruption from his bank balances”!!! That he would ask such questions says so much about him really.

    The larger picture of course, is that the TERI-Europe mess is not resolved to date.

  5. Geoff

    I agree with your 1-3 but if Monbiot was not aware of what was going on in his blog when even the most casual observer did-he should stop pretending to be a journalist. I remember suggesting in reply to a article here (last year?) that this was happening and pehaps someone ought to write by snail mail to him if it was believed he didn’t know what was happening. That was the time that Dhoganza came visiting here-do you remember that event?

    You are right to engage of course, but you are trying to nail jelly to a wall with Monbiot.

    Tonyb

  6. Shub #4
    Your article certainly gave George an uncomfortable moment, and I’ve been blogging in the hope that a succession of such uncomfortable moments might persuade him finally to choose investigative journalism over AGW activism. He has, after all, changed his mind over biofuels and nuclear energy, but only, I think, the better to protect his core belief in the impending end of the world. He seems to have given up entirely on AGW at the Guardian now, and writes about badgers and recipes for organic apple juice.
    The occasional confrontations I’ve had on the net with the great man, where he’s deigned to answer a question, makes me think about the nature of the blogging relationship. It’s a commonplace to say that it’s a democratic medium, etc, but in fact I think the net is intensely feudal. Yes, you have a more direct relationship with the Great and the Good, in the sense that you can put your questions directly to a host of journalists and other personalities, just as the feudal serf had a direct contact with his lord and master, and was free to petition him and confront him directly every Michelmas or whatever. But all the strings are in the hands of the site owner (here, the Guardian) and since it’s free, you can’t even cancel your subscription.
    Monbiot retired from investigative journalism when he swallowed Pachauri’s account of TERI Europe, and again when he accepted the Climategate reviews without question. But Guardian Environment has many facets, and I shall badger on, until the Great Cull (not you, Alex).

    TonyB #5
    Monbiot’s said quite clearly how he stands with Guardian moderation, and I see no reason to doubt his word. The combination of irate warmist trolls, nervous lawyers, and inexperienced (possibly biased, who knows?) moderators, is sufficient to explain some of the peculiar things that go on.
    Jelly to the wall is right, but that’s because he’s up against it, and quivering with Fear and Warming.
    No, I don’t remember Dhoganza. What have I missed?

  7. Bishop Hill has some interesting remarks about the Guardian in his latest post. It turns out that when Andrew Holding wrote an article with the title
    “The importance of minority viewpoints”,
    a Guardian editor changed the title to
    “Opening up climate science can cut off the skeptics”.

    [TonyN: Startling! You can find the Bishop’s take here.]

  8. Geoff

    You no doubt saw comment 7.

    You will remember that Gordon Brown cancelled the 10p tax rate then claimed to be startled at the effect this meassure would have on those with lower income. It had taken me (and many others) two seconds to work out the end result of his policy when announced at the budget.

    So either;

    a) Gordon Brown was monumentally incompetent in not realising, or;
    b() He was lying.

    If Monbiot was unaware of what was happening on his blog when even the most casual observer such as me (and many others) could see it, then he follows a) and should not be employed as an investigative journalist. If b) he will be in company with many others and if he was honourable should resign.

    Take your choice. I do not share your belief in his inherent goodness and credibility.

    Anyone else here remember the Dhoganza episode when he paid HS a visit as a result of what we tried to post on the Guardian?

    tonyb

  9. TonyB #8
    Can you give a link for the Dhoganza episode, or at least a rough date so I can track it down?
    I’m far from believing in Monbiot’s “inherent goodness and credibility”.
    Shub’s article highlights the uneven playing field of CiF, but Monbiot’s explanation that it was due to nervous lawyers sounds plausible to me, more plausible than the idea of Monbiot phoning up from the depths of Wales and demanding that some poor moderator delete mails he doesn’t like. He can’t be expected to keep up a 24 hour watch on the thread and answer every comment, so I can’t see that the deletion, however convenient to him, can be considered as proof of malpractice, or even of poor journalism.
    The thread which is the subject of the article above is evidence for the fact that, at least sometimes, comments which could be considered highly embarrassing to the journalist stay up.
    Blogs and their comment threads are meant to be ephemeral. This allows a propagandist like Monbiot to get away with behaviour (insults, poor arguments, errors uncorrected, valid objections unanswered etc.) which would not be possible in a printed article or a debate. My modest aim in resurrecting this material was simply to demonstrate to anyone who’s interested that the essential matter can be extracted from a blog and presented in such a way as to reveal the qualities of the argument, much as Shub did over the Pachauri article. I don’t want to go any further than the evidence demonstrates. I don’t know what Monbiot gets up to behind our backs. What he does in front of our noses is quite damning enough, in my opinion.

  10. Shub’s article highlights the uneven playing field of CiF, but Monbiot’s explanation that it was due to nervous lawyers sounds plausible to me, more plausible than the idea of Monbiot phoning up from the depths of Wales and demanding that some poor moderator delete mails he doesn’t like. He can’t be expected to keep up a 24 hour watch on the thread and answer every comment, so I can’t see that the deletion, however convenient to him, can be considered as proof of malpractice, or even of poor journalism.

    I agree with this entirely.

    But the curious thing about the whole episode is, the moderators let the original question from Monbiot asking for ‘evidence against Pachauri’ stand. What is also curious, is that they nixed Julian’s comments from the page, but did not erase them entirely.

    Consider the detailed layout Monbiot provides for the kind of ‘evidence’ he wants anyone to provide. Why? Was he baiting? Knowing a bit of the background and history surrounding the events made us very cautious.

    In the specific case, Monbiot’s claim was “show me a direct monetary transaction to prove that there is ‘conflict of interest'”. This is exactly how ‘conflicts of interest’ are not judged or examined.

  11. Shub #10
    You ask: was Monbiot baiting with his highly detailed question? What for? To trap some commenter into commiting libel? Since he apparently thinks we’re all highly paid oil shills, I suppose it’s possible.
    To continue with the conspiracy theory: I’ve often wondered why the Guardian’s only invited sceptic at their Climategate debate was Douglas Keenan, whose input to the sceptic “movement” has been relatively minor, though it did involve a clearly libellous accusation to Dr Wang of the University of New York. They subsequently eliminated Keenan’s contribution from their audio recording. If McIntyre hadn’t turned up like the bad fairy at the feast, the warmists would have had a clear round in the media report.

  12. I can’t remember the visit by dhogaza – isn’t he more of a RealClimate denizen than a CiF’er? – but I do recall nefastus dropping by, one time. Really cannot remember when this was, though.

    Geoff: “I still bother with the Guardian, because it’s important to get the message out to the mainstream…”

    True, but I’m just wondering whether it will have to move behind a paywall at some point, at which moment CiF would vanish for ever. Someone on one of the threads today (cannot find it now) was wishing fervently that it would happen soon, to keep out people like ourselves. I don’t think (s)he had quite considered all the implications, though.

    Also, thanks for the kind words [blushes].. :o)

  13. About the baiting, I am not really sure whether that was going on.

    I think Monbiot’s anger at North, for instance, was probably due to what he percieved as racially motivated prejudice directed at an Indian. He was pulling out posts from the Euref forum to make this point. Only this can explain why he (and the Guardian) put so much stock in the KPMG report, to exonerate Pachy, i.e., he was ready to throw anything back at his supposedly scummy tormenter(s).

    But the KPMG report, coming from Pachy’s buddies, ‘reviewing’ a year and a half of his self-submitted accounts, put together with the utmost carelessness – how could it serve Monbiot’s purposes at all? But it did. All he needed was this joke report to come raging back. Anything would have sufficed at the time. This was a point when Pachy had made his point with libel lawyers in tow – a moment to hit back.

    But the real problem was that Monbiot had not perhaps paid attention to the nature of the problem with Pachauri. The carbon company links were potential conflicts of interest; and the Booker and North article in question was siezed upon by Carter Ruck for its overzealousness and language, thus bringing it down.

    But a real documented potential conflict lay with TERI India lining up to be funded to study glaciers, based on the very IPCC claim. And the shabby bookkeeping at TERI-Europe paid put to any righteous waving of the KPMG report. So when Julian gently pointed out the often-forgotten connection between the glacier error and TERI, many commenters bit in, and there were many responses, but no real answer. Only a lot of taunting – “why doesn’t North provide more evidence?” etc etc.

    In response, when he posted the TERI-Europe numbers – bam, no response. About an hour-and-half after he put in the numbers, abruptly enough, the whole thread was shut down. By then the mods had performed complicated surgery on the thread – a great deal of his posts, their responses and everything relating to TERI-Europe were all deleted.

    So, one way of looking at this – Monbiot believed the KPMG report and never did his homework (he wanted to believe in the goodness of Pachy). I guess this was a some kind of a noble cause corruption and blinding of his investigative eye(to put it charitably).

    To be fair, I do not believe that Pachy is squirreling away dollars or lining his pockets. Nor do I believe North is racist either.

  14. Geoff

    Not sure about the timing. TonyN might remember as I think he advised us not to respond and Dhoganza eventually went away.It was after a couple of you guys went over the top into Guardian land and several of us came with you.

    tonyb

    [TonyN: So far as I can see, no one using that name has ever posted a comment here.]

  15. There’s a good example of Guardian mod censorship happening now on this thread.

    The very first comment, at 9.35 AM by TofuEater, was removed by the moderators.

    This was noticed by our friend Barelysane, who commented thus at 4:01PM:

    Barelysane
    30 November 2010 4:01PM

    @GuardianMods

    Here is the post my TofuEater you removed (you can thank google cache)

    TofuEater
    30 November 2010 9:35AM

    Snr Salon,
    The reason why Can’tCun will fail to find and accord is that people of the world aren’t taken in by all this alarmist rhetoric any more. You say:

    Visible evidence of climate change is all around us.It can be found almost daily on the TV screens of people in rich countries – Pakistan’s floods, Russia’s heatwave,

    when recent study shows that this was more likely to have been caused by a shift in the jetstream caused by a quiet sun

    I sense, in the UK press at least, a mood change away from hair shirt demonising Carbon and comfortable lifestyles towards geo-engineering and adaption. This is sensible in my view. Rather than fight a battle you can’t win, fight one you can.

    Perhaps you would care to explain just why this was removed. It breaks no house rules and directly relates to the article. Or are you simply indulging in censorship yet again.

    Barelysane’s comment has been deleted entirely, without even a “gravestone” to mark where it used to be.

  16. It’s a particularly weird thread with regard to moderation. They seem to be almost randomly deleting posts. I’ve had some that were off topic disappear, some stay, some replies to deleted comments have remained and so on.
    I’m beginning to think they’ve got someone new doing the moderation, or they simply hire from the shallow end.
    Either way, a complaint about censorship has gone off (not that i have any illusions about the good it’ll do). As they say, i may disagree with what you say (looking at you PeterM), but i’ll defend to the death your right to say it.

  17. Alex #15, Barelysane #16
    As you say, particularly weird and immoderate moderation. It’s quite current to wipe out all comments which call into question the moderation, but that can leave later commenters apparently talking to phantoms. Perhaps when things start to get out of hand they just stop deleting, to avoid the thread degenerating into nonsense.
    (I can easily imagine an overzealous junior mod promising to zap the first sceptic, then having to be rescued from the ensuing mess by a superior).
    I’ve noticed before that moderating appears to be stricter on articles by important guest writers. This one’s an ambassador, so perhaps they want to spare his feelings from too much scepticism. One of the pleasures of commenting at CiF is imagining the nasty surprise felt by Very (self) Important People when they discover that blog audiences are not impressed by their titles or qualifications.

  18. @Geoffchambers

  19. let’s try this again :)

    @Geoffchambers
    That was one of my first thoughts as well. But on the other hand, why would a UN ambassador be bothering to look through the comments section on a Guardian website. Plus you’d think an ambassador would be capable of ignoring anything they don’t like anyway.

  20. Barelysane #18
    Probably the ambassador doesn’t read comments, but maybe somebody does for him. (I notice that Monbiot’s personal assistant had her own article on CiF recently. She got short shrift and hasn’t been back).
    Anyway, I bet the Guardian is a bit nervous about the comments on VIP vanity posts. The politicians, intellectuals and other establishment figures who frequently grace the pages of Guardian Environment know nothing about global warming beyond what is fed to them by the green propaganda machine. Simply discovering that there is another point of view may make them think again.
    One of the wonders of the warmist movement is the way precisely the same absurdities are voiced by the Bolivian Ambassador and – say – the Astronomer Royal. It’s not as if they belonged to the same club or anything.

  21. TonyN #14

    Try the spelling dhogaza

  22. @AlexCull

    Just received this reply to my complaint.

    > Dear xxx,
    >
    > Thanks for your interest. However, we do not discuss the moderation of a
    > user’s comments with third parties.
    >
    > Best wishes,
    > Sarah
    >
    > Moderator

    Kind of what i expected, in other words “we’re unaccountable to you and will do as we see fit”.

  23. @Barelysane

    All I’ve had so far is an acknowledgement from the comments team that they’re forwarding my e-mail to the moderators. But it’s likely I’ll eventually get the same reply from the mods that you did!

  24. George Monbiot is linked to TWO ‘climate Change Deniars – Photo – Halls of Shame’

    One in the Guardian, whose founders must be spinning in their graves) Pictures and text

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/gallery/2009/mar/09/climate-change-deniers-monbiot-cards

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/georgemonbiot/2009/mar/06/climate-change-deniers-top-10

    And to PROVE he is a TOTAL activist..

    He is president (Hon) of the Campaign Against Climate Change..
    http://www.campaigncc.org/whoweare

    Who have their own Hall of Shame, with of course Booker and Delingpole in it…

    http://www.campaigncc.org/hallofshame

    They also troll other blogs with their Skeptic Alerts..
    http://www.campaigncc.org/node/384

    Bishop Hill Blog (A J montford author of – The Hockey Stick Illusion’ has taken over as their number one blog to send thier activists too…

    Shamless Plug, for my new blog
    http://www.realclimategate.org/2010/11/bishop-hill-targeted-sceptic-alerts/

    Bishop Hill:
    http://bishophill.squarespace.com/blog/2010/11/29/cacc-notices-bishop.html

  25. Barry Woods #24
    The Guardian “playing cards” article was particularly obnoxious, since it is based on the Pentagon’s propaganda gambit in Iraq, leading to the arrest and execution of war criminals. The resemblance is obviously deliberate, and belongs in the warmist propaganda “Hall of Shame” alongside the 10:10 “No Pressure” movie.
    There’s a lot one could say about the Campaign against Climate Change. I’ll save it for a comment on your blog to which you so kindly and shamelessly link.

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