The Mad Viscount of Brenchly

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At last week's Washington, D.C. Tea Party rally, I had a brief encounter with Lord Christopher Monckton, the eccentric British global warming skeptic, and former Saturday Night Live regular Victoria Jackson (who explained to a clearly confused Monckton that she was, in her words, a Hollywood "has been"). It's a subject on which I am underinformed—on all matters related to climate change I defer to Ron Bailey—so I didn't engage him in matters political or environmental, though I did ask Jackson when she last spoke to Ellen Cleghorne (around 1990).

I did, though, read my former colleague Dave Weigel's blog post on Monckton, detailing the dotty Viscount's skepticism that President Obama was a United States citizen. Digging a little deeper, I see that, while lecturing in Minnesota in 2009, Monckton claimed that the UN summit in Copenhagen would "impose a communist world government on the world." And in the United States, alas, we "have a president who has very strong sympathies with that point of view." All of this led The Spectator's Rod Liddle, a global warming skeptic and enemy of liberal pieties, to characterize the aristocratic Bircher as a "swivel-eyed maniac."

And now I see, via RealClearPolitics, that British journalist Johann Hari is attacking Monckton in the current issue of The Nation. Fair enough, though Hari, who Private Eye once accused of being a fantasist (and this 2002 story strikes me as very Stephen Glass-like), takes a few short cuts in his attack. For instance, he writes that Monckton "falsely claimed he is a member of the House of Lords and a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. When challenged, Monckton has admitted to a weakness for telling 'stories that aren't actually true.'"

As Hari points out, both claims are demonstrably false. But here is the context for that quote, in which Monckton, apparently challenged about the Nobel and peerage, admits a "weakness for telling 'stories that aren't actually true." It can be found in this 2007 Scotsman article, which details Monckton's involvement in the jigsaw puzzle business (seriously):

Mr Monckton told The Scotsman that the story about him being forced to sell Crimonmogate, his 67-room pile near Peterhead, had been invented to boost sales [of his puzzle]. In fact, he said he had made a healthy profit from the first version of the puzzle, despite it being solved so quickly.

"[The house sale] was the story which the PR people dreamed up after we had three months of the best sales that any puzzle had ever had," he said. "They wanted to keep the momentum going to take us through to Christmas.

"I was selling the house anyway and they asked me if I would be willing to tell people I was selling the house because I was afraid somebody might solve the puzzle too fast. I said 'yes'. They said, 'Don't you mind being made to look an absolute prat', and I said, 'No-I'm quite used to that'. History is full of stories that aren't actually true.

It might not seem like a big deal, but journalists are not allowed to bowdlerize quotes in this way. Monckton, who has said so many stupid things in his time that Hari needn't manipulate his sources, was clearly not "admitting a weakness" for lying about his past, but suggesting that history is saturated with stupid PR stunts.

Also, when claiming that the climate deniers are like those industry-funded scientists in the 1950s who denied that smoking caused lung cancer, Hari writes that Clarence Cook Little, who headed an industry funded research team, said "he has discovered insurmountable flaws in the use of statistics and clinical data by 'anti-tobacco' (and quasi-commie) scientists. The press reports the 'controversy,' usually without mentioning that Cook Little is being paid by the tobacco industry." A peek in the archives—AP, New York Times, and a dozen other sources—and no reference to Cook using the term "anti-tobacco" and all mention his link to the tobacco industry. Reporting on his research in 1956, in which he says that his studies were "inconclusive," The Times identifies his industry affiliation in its subhead, and quotes Cook as stating that "it cannot be said that smoking has been absolved of suspicion; neither have the charges that smoking has a role in lung cancer been proven." But such nuance would muck up his lede, I suppose.

Cook Little was doubtless an industry stooge, but there is no evidence that I can find suggesting that, in collusion with the media, he set out to destroy the reputations of "quasi-commie" scientists.

NEXT: Joe Klein: The Howling Beast on the Borderline Separating Speech From Sedition, Since at Least 2009

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  1. Still, that’s a pretty sweet pith helmet, am I right?

    1. Is there any other kind?

      1. Without the pith helmet, the Empire would have been impossible.

        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PSTHMxBttlU

        1. You like Klezmer?

  2. Now that we’ve done away with that tedious “natural-born citizen” requirement for the Presidency, can I just say that this chap seems like a splendid candidate for the job?

    1. He would work better as a VP. The VP should be the guy who says all the things that need to be said but that people are afraid to say. That way it gets said. But when people have fainting fits about it, you can say “oh that was just the VP again, it is not like the President said it.”

      1. I would like to run for vice president. Not President mind you, just vice president. And I don’t want a running mate. We are not following the Constitution now anyway so can anyone see a reason why I can’t do this?

        1. The 12th Amendment is a bit convoluted, but I don’t see any reason why you can’t.

    2. Right. That guy George Bush never released his birth certificate to prove he was a natural born citizen. And the guy before him too!

  3. You know, just as an aside, I thought Young Darth Vader was pretty decent in Shattered Glass. Can Lucas really destroy actors that efficiently?

    I’m rather saddened by the rejection of critical thought that seems more prevalent these days than ever. Whatever side of any debate you may be on, facts seem far less important than smears. Even to some extent in science. Tsk, tsk.

    1. I thought it was Tom Bosley. Or his brother, David Doyle.

      1. I was thinking more a younger Christopher Lloyd.

        1. I thought it was Keith Olberman.

      2. I always confused Mr. C with Bosley.

  4. “swivel-eyed maniac”

    That I like

  5. “History is full of stories that aren’t actually true.”

    I doubt we’ve seen the last of the noble lie, but I’d like to think the interwebs, if nothing else, may have made noble lies all the more difficult to tell.

    I’d like to think that, but I won’t, of course, unless it actually turns out to be true.

    Nobel Prize winners! Yellow-cake in Niger, secret birth certificates in Hawaii!

    Who knows? Without all that, maybe the future will be dull. But I think I could learn to live without that.

    1. “I’d like to think the interwebs, if nothing else, may have made noble lies all the more difficult to tell.”

      Nope.

    2. I chopped down a cherry tree.

      1. I just burned my tongue.

  6. Really, Moynihan? You want to go down the journalism paraphrasing ethics road? Remember when Naomi Wolf’s quote:

    I was invited by the Ron Paul supporters to their rally in Washington last summer and I loved it. I met a lot of people I respected, a lot of “ordinary” people, as in not privileged. They were stepping up to the plate, when my own liberal privileged fellow demographic habituates were lying around whining. It was a wake-up call to the libertarians that there’s a progressive who cares so much about the same issues. Their views of liberals are just as distorted as ours are of conservatives.

    JS: Why do you think the sides don’t understand each other?

    NW: Frankly, liberals are out of the habit of communicating with anyone outside their own in cohort. We have a cultural problem with self-righteousness and elitism. Liberals roll their eyes about going on “Oprah” to reach a mass audience by using language that anyone can understand even if you majored in semiotics at Yale. We look down on people we don’t agree with. It doesn’t serve us well.

    went through the Moynihan filter and became:

    At Ron Paul rally in Washington, D.C., Wolf met “a lot of ‘ordinary’ people, as in not privileged” and advises her fellow leftists to communicate with limited government plebs “by using language that anyone can understand even if you majored in semiotics at Yale.”

    1. Doesn’t strike me as being all that misleading. Perhaps the bit about “limited government plebes”, but that was pretty clearly Moynihan’s characterization (and not completely uncalled for, in context).

      1. The “semiotics at Yale” bit was about Oprah Winfrey’s audience, not tea partiers. Not much overlap between the two.

        And the careful excision of “people I respected” and the other compliments Wolf gives to the Ron Paul supporters so that the reader gets the impression she’s criticizing or condescending to them.

        But then again, my previous experience has shown that the RC filter is similar to the Moynihan filter, so I shouldn’t be surprised.

        1. The “semiotics at Yale” bit was about Oprah Winfrey’s audience, not tea partiers. Not much overlap between the two.

          Actually, it wasn’t. It was about reaching a mass audience by going Oprah. The tea party is never mentioned.

          Still, I will admit you have a point that Moynihan managed to leave out all the bits about how she just loved her some libertarians. Of course, he also left out the bits about how condescending the liberal cognoscenti are.

          1. It was about reaching a mass audience by going Oprah. The tea party is never mentioned.

            Exactly! So why is Moynihan casting her quote as advice on how to speak to “limited government plebs”?

  7. I love jigsaw puzzles!

  8. I saw Victoria too, and she asked me a question I can’t answer:

    “Why is Tina Fey getting all my press?”

  9. YouTube’s got a great rap battle video between Lord Monckton and Al Gore.

    Six and a half minutes of hilarity.

  10. What a shame so delightful a fellow should abandon his metier as a first class cricketer – a Cambridge captain and President of Marylebone, no less, and drudge off to fecklessly deny thermodynamics.

    I have suggested to Zak Goldsmith that in deference to Monckton’s astonishingly profound scientific illiteracy the climate wars should be settled not by debate, but a test between teams assembled by The Ecologist and National review’s egregious Planet Gore blog.

    Monckton’s old Harrow science master would make the ideal referee.

  11. Moyhihan is misrepresenting the quotation from Monckton. Monckton also said “I’m used to that.”, implying that he is used to being caught telling tales. The next sentence (“history is full”) is a justification – he is saying that everyone does it.

    And note this. Hari writes:

    “It was a minor footnoting error–but when a denialist blogger named Richard North noticed it, he announced he had found the IPCC making fake predictions. He tipped off the Sunday Times, owned by Fox king Rupert Murdoch. The newspaper’s journalists quoted Dr. Simon Lewis, a leading rainforest expert, who explained that it was a very minor mistake and that the core claim is accurate. The paper ignored the bulk of his comments and mangled his quotes to make it sound like he agreed that the IPCC had been talking rubbish–and ran the “story” under the headline “UN Climate Panel Shamed by Bogus Rainforest Claim.” It gave credit for “research by Richard North.” The story was then zapped all over the United States as Amazongate, and as a result millions of people are now under the impression that the Amazon is in no danger. The Sunday Times refuses to admit it made a whopping error–in a story that attacks the IPCC for supposedly making a whopping error.”

    This falsehood about the IPCC was repeated by Ron Bailey right here. Do you think it has been corrected? Hell no.

    1. Tim,

      Your commentary reveals your biases:

      Richard North = “denialist blogger”
      Sunday Times = “owned by Fox king Rupert Murdoch”
      Dr. Simon Lewis = “leading rainforest expert”

      May I suggest that you focus on evaluating arguments on the basis of their facts and merits, rather than prejudging arguments based simply on their sources.

      1. The Nation is the leading investigator of man-made global anthropogenic climate warming. They may sound like drooling retards, but that one chick what appears on MSNBC is deliciously milfish, so I’ll take their word on it.

  12. I would love to see more progress (It does not have to be progressive) from our leaders this mid-term season then I would poor content in a bid to get noticed. It frustrates me.

    Also, I know its more common then not but I have become to weary of the word “inconclusive” when used by scientist who are paid by one side or another.

  13. Great post thought. read it again and had to look up the Fantasist word. haha

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