How the Climate Change Summit Will Be Spun

Whatever happens at the UN climate change summit in Copenhagen next week, we can be sure of one result: the entire event will be hijacked by bad actors spreading lies that will become conventional wisdom.

Ahead of the conference, Americans generally support some sort of agreement on emissions, with a plurality hoping congress ratifies a binding treaty. Ahead of the health care debate, Americans broadly supported health care reform, too.

The wheels of disinformation are already spinning. Lou Dobbs went fucking nuts on his radio show today while talking with complete loon Jim Inhofe. The idea of the President attempting to win support for international emissions reductions by promising that the US will attempt to meet similar targets drove Dobbs over the edge.

DOBBS: Who the hell does this president think he is?

INHOFE: I don't know, because you can't do that. And I think it's certainly disingenuous to mislead countries into thinking that a president … You know, this is not a kingdom. He's not able to do that.

DOBBS: Not yet!

If there's one thing repressive, autocratic monarchs are known for, it's attempting to cede their nation's sovereignty to a world government, or something.

Inhofe, of course, believes that global warming is a great big hoax. And here he is commenting on Obama's trip:

"I suspect President Obama is making the trip to Copenhagen in order to ‘save' the climate conference," Sen. Inhofe said. "Yet no amount of lofty rhetoric or promises of future commitments can save it. This is due in large part to the fact cap-and-trade legislation in the Senate is dying on the vine, and, as important, recent revelations of leading climate scientists who appear to have manufactured the climate ‘consensus'-revelations that cast doubt over the entire global warming enterprise.

Right. Those emails. Those fucking emails. You can argue that the emails reveal improper behavior (if you suspect a casual reference to "throwing out the peer-review process" is actual proof of any sort of wrong-doing) but there's actually not anything in any of the emails that suggests that anyone manufactured any data, at all.

But it doesn't matter. The "story," in its easy-to-digest form, is that secret emails prove climate scientists made up global warming.

Naomi Klein's recent Harper's story on the 2001 UN conference on racism was, you know, typical Naomi Klein-in-Harper's stuff (long), but it did brilliantly illustrate how these lies endure: they start with a modicum of truth and then, through enough repetition and distortion, they become ingrained "knowledge" that is wholly wrong.

That conference, popularly referred to as Durban, was supposed to be about Africa. But ahead of the conference, a few Islamic countries asked to include anti-Israel language that also downplayed the Holocaust. That language never had a chance of making it into a final UN document, but it gave the Bush administration a convenient excuse to avoid a conference that they didn't want to participate in in the first place. Then the offending language was removed, a nice little document about how bad racism is was produced, and everyone was happy.

Moreover, Southwick was quite right: after he left, all of the offending language was excised in the final round of negotiations. Which is why, in a detail conveniently excluded by Durban's critics, Israeli foreign minister Shimon Peres praised the Durban Declaration at the time as "an accomplishment of the fi rst order for Israel" and "a painful comedown for the Arab League."

Then, in the post-9/11 recollection of Jewish politicians in America and the right-wing press in Israel, the conference suddenly became an Israel-bashing antisemitic festival of hatred. The genuine anti-semitism on display by some protesters and the legimitate criticisms of Israel's security and citizenship policies were conflated, and "Durban" became both a dirty word and a rousing reminder that threats to the Jewish people were real and pervasive. The story of what happened at Durban spun out of control, with right-wing academics and journalists publishing dozens of stories repeating and exaggerating the myths.

But the worst distortions were in Bayefsky's bellowing full-page ads, which appeared in the Washington Times, the New York Sun, and other papers, and were signed by a long list of notables including Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, orientalist Bernard Lewis, former New York mayor Ed Koch, and Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel. In big bold letters the ads claimed that the final Durban Declaration stated "That ISRAEL, and ONLY ISRAEL, is guilty of racism." Never mind that nowhere in the document was Israel accused, let alone convicted, of racism.

Yes, right. It all got so ridiculous that a spokesman for Israel's foreign minister said the conference's final report called Israel "the most racist state on Earth. When a BBC interviewer read him the actual Durban Declaration, which, of course, did not say any such thing, he was baffled: "even though I don't have the text in front of me, I remember quite precisely some quotes that were completely contrary to those that you've just quoted. So we must be speaking about two different documents." Indeed!

Obama avoided Durban 2, because it was already too poisoned. Here's hoping he can bring a truthful version of what happens at Copenhagen home with him, but we're not holding our breath.