Lots of people have been asking me about tonight’s BBC Four documentary Meet The Sceptics
. Is it going to be fair and balanced? Or another hatchet job?
Ha ha ha ha ha ha. (*laughs darkly*)
Let me tell you the story so far:
Nine months ago, when I was at the Heartland conference in Chicago, I was approached by a louche, affable, dark-haired, public school charmer called Rupert Murray. With his friend Callum he was making a documentary about climate sceptics for the BBC and wondered if I’d like to take part.
“The BBC? Not bloody likely. You’ve come to stitch us up, haven’t you?” I said.
“Not at all,” said Murray. “Look, there’s something you need to realise. I’m an independent filmmaker, I have no big budget for this, so I’m dependent on my work being original and interesting. The very last thing the BBC wants to commission is another hatchet job on sceptics. How boring and predictable would that be?”
Very true, I thought. It really is about time the BBC examined the issue from the other side. They are a public service broadcaster, after all, not a green investment fund. (Ho ho).
Over the next few months I came to like and trust Murray. He was there filming Lord Lawson, Lord Monckton, Lord Leach and me when we debated at the Oxford Union. And he was there to capture our joy and surprise when we won – and to hang out drinking with us, afterwards, like he was our mate. By this stage, we’d all come to accept that Murray was genuinely interested in presenting our case sympathetically. In fact, I must admit, I was really looking forward to seeing the finished product. “God this is going to be fantastic!” I thought. “At long bloody last, the BBC is going to do the right thing – and at feature length too.”
The only reason I had cause to suspect Murray’s real motives was that he had made a campaigning eco documentary called The End Of The Line and that having spent a lot of time with Charles Clover he might well be biased towards the warmist cause. But I put this worry aside because, as I told him, I too am deeply concerned by rampant overfishing. And this was one of the reasons I eventually agreed to be interviewed by him. I wanted to explain to Murray that those of us on the sceptical side of the argument care as passionately about the environment as warmists do. That’s why, for example, we get so very very upset at the destruction of the landscape through biofuels and wind farms. Because we love nature and can’t bear to see it ruined for the sake of what is essentially a political cause not an environmental one.
Murray and his colleague Callum came round to my house (just like a certain Sir Paul Nurse) and I gave a long, interview about why it is that I’m a sceptic, what Climategate meant for the integrity of “climate science”, why there is now room for honest doubt, and what it is that the Green movement actually believes (as evidenced by the writings of The Club of Rome, Teddy Goldsmith, Maurice Strong, John Holdren et al). I was confident and pleased because, it seems to me at any rate, that the Climate Sceptics’ case is so watertight that once any reasonable person has been exposed to it he will be converted.
Murray asked me if he could film me some more, maybe with my children having a barbecue or driving a 4 x 4 in the country. But I was too busy.
Because, yes, you guessed it, Murray’s documentary is another hatchet job. This time the man designated for the chop is Lord Monckton. Except, knowing Monckton as I do, I don’t think he’s going to let this one lie. Sure he’ll probably be made to look a fool, but then as Richard North explains in this superb essay
, this means nothing.
This is the practice of modern documentary makers, who can gather huge amounts of material and then edit and assemble the material in a way that they can present a message, the message the producer wishes to convey. This is irrespective of what is actually said, and what interviewees actually intended.
The process, North explains, works like this:
You write the script first, setting out what you want to say. Then you go out and find the talking heads that will say the words you need to fit the script. You (in this case I) interview them, collect up the words on the tape and then go back to the edit suite and pull out the words that fit.
Murray, it seems likely, had made up his mind what his angle was long, long before he inveigled his way into the sceptics’ circle and passed himself off as a decent fellow just trying to find out the truth. I’ll say one thing for him: he’s very plausible. I only twigged last week, when I rang him up to find out what his documentary would look like and how much I was in it.
“We’ve decided to concentrate on Monckton I’m afraid,” he said.
“Oh never mind,” I said. “I quite understand. Christopher is way more colourful and exciting than I am.”
We then had a chat about peer-to-peer review, in the course of which Murray quoted approvingly one “Dr Trenberth.” “Well Dr Trenberth says….” he began, in a way which suggested regular contact and great admiration.
Anyway, at least I’m not in it, I don’t think. When Calum asked me to sign the release form for my interview, I said that I would quite like to see the programme beforehand. Funny, I haven’t heard from them since.