The “fake but accurate” climate change news delivered to Trump? It’s fake all the way down.

The “fake but accurate” climate change news delivered to Trump? It’s fake all the way down.

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K.T. McFarland, signaling that everything is, despite all appearances, just fine.(Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Politico is out with story on “Where Trump Gets His Fake News.” The horror within it is so bountiful that although Vox’s Matt Yglesias and Yochi Dreazen have already covered some of it, more remains to be explored.

Let’s focus on the opening anecdote:

Just days earlier, K.T. McFarland, the deputy national security adviser, had given Trump a printout of two Time magazine covers. One, supposedly from the 1970s, warned of a coming ice age; the other, from 2008, about surviving global warming, according to four White House officials familiar with the matter.

Trump quickly got lathered up about the media’s hypocrisy. But there was a problem. The 1970s cover was fake, part of an internet hoax that’s circulated for years. Staff chased down the truth and intervened before Trump tweeted or talked publicly about it.

Beautiful. But it gets better. Later in the piece:

…another White House official familiar with the matter tried to defend it as an honest error that was “fake but accurate.”

“While the specific cover is fake, it is true there was a period in the ’70s when people were predicting an ice age,” the official insisted. “The broader point I think was accurate.”

Obviously, the headline news from this anecdote is that Trump’s aides fed him a hoax and he fell for it.

But is this particular hoax “fake but accurate”?

Ha. No.

As it happens, this particular bit of climate nonsense is not only fake, but one of the oldest, dumbest, most oft-debunked pieces of climate nonsense on the entire internet. The fact that conservatives are still repeating it — still falling for it, still telling the president about it — is a straightforward barometer of how deep into the right-wing bubble they have drifted. That views on climate change at the highest level of government are being shaped by this nonsense is the most horrific part of an already horrific story.

donald trump
“The cooling, the warming, it’s all fake news!”
(Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

The “scientists predicted an ice age in the ’70s” talking point is decades old

Anyone who has written about climate change on the internet has been exposed to a set of climate-skeptic talking points, many of which remained — and remain — unchanged over decades, despite being debunked hundreds of times.

Sunspots. Milankovitch cycles. Water vapor. “The models have been wrong.” “The climate has always changed.” And of course: “In the ’70s, scientists predicted global cooling!”

In the early days, people writing about climate change — mostly scientists, a precious few journalists — felt a kind of holy calling to answer these arguments. They set out to correct erroneous information, point the confused and doubtful toward the facts, and educate the masses.

Hours and hours and hours were spent on message boards, in comment sections, on email lists, debunking the same skeptic talking points over and over and over again. My God, the hours. (I understand now that the vast bulk of that time was wasted — but that’s for another post.)

As a result, it is very, very easy to find debunkings of any particular skeptic argument, including the one Trump fell for.

Back when I was at Grist, we had a series called “How to Talk to a Climate Skeptic” that addressed dozens of the most common skeptic talking points. It is well over 10 years old now, but remains remarkably current, because none of the skeptic arguments ever seem to change. Here is the entry on “scientists predicted global cooling in the ’70s.”

Skeptical Science (a nonprofit educational site) is also a reliable repository of fact-based responses to common skeptic nonsense. Here’s their entry on “what 1970s science said about global cooling.” (Which, according to them, is the No. 7 most-cited piece of climate skeptic mythology.)

Finally, there’s a piece in the journal of the American Meteorological Society by scientists Thomas Peterson and William Connolley, along with journalist John Fleck: “The Myth of the 1970s Global Cooling Scientific Consensus.”

Suffice to say, “they used to predict global cooling” is a deeply stupid argument in the first place. The fact that scientists have been wrong before does not disprove any scientific theory in particular.

Regardless, “scientists” did not predict an ice age. There was no climate science as such, but there were scientists trying to puzzle out the relative atmospheric effects of aerosols (which have a short-term cooling effect) and greenhouse gases (which have a long-term warming effect).

In the midst of this early exploratory science, some journalists plucked results out of context and wrote goofy, over-hyped articles. (Lucky that never happens anymore!) But there was never a consensus, or anything close to it, that a long period of cooling lay ahead.

Instead, the scientists of the time were piecing together a story, helping to build, as the AMA paper puts it, “the foundation on which the cohesive enterprise of modern climate science now rests.”

Scientists are confident that human beings are causing global warming in a way none ever were about a cooling trend. This is obvious to anyone who takes so much as moment to look into it — anyone who cares even the slightest about the truth of the matter.

And therein lies the horror of the Trump story.

“I’ve had it up to here with fake news I tell you!”
(Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

Trump is a blank slate surrounded by idiot scribes

McFarland — a Fox News “analyst” who Trump chose as deputy national security adviser, kept on even when it cost him his first pick for national security adviser (to replace the disgraced Michael Flynn), and finally demoted to ambassador to Singapore — still finds the “scientists predicted global cooling in the ’70s” myth convincing.

In fact, she finds it so convincing she believes it needs to be brought to the urgent attention of the president of the United States. And then Trump fell for it. He didn’t hesitate. And then his staff covered up for him with the “fake but accurate” nonsense.

That’s the cycle the Politico piece describes: Trump the blank slate, led to and fro by grasping morons, protected from consequences by enablers. It’s a veritable layer cake of incompetence and mendacity.

The thing is, there were a few articles in the popular press in the ’70s hyping a coming ice age. But they don’t mean what conservatives think they mean. Trump didn’t fall for something “fake but accurate.” He fell for a fake version of something even faker, a veneer over a rotten core.

Come to think of it, not a bad synecdoche for modern US conservatism.