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At 2 TV Stations in Maine, What Al Gore's Movie Says Isn't News

by: Joseph B. Treaster    10 November 2006

How important is global warming in Maine? Not important enough for local television.

Michael Palmer, the general manager of television stations WVII and WFVX, ABC and Fox affiliates in Bangor, has told his joint staff of nine men and women that when "Bar Harbor is underwater, then we can do global warming stories."

"Until then," he added. "No more."

Mr. Palmer laid out his policy in an e-mail message sent out during the summer. A copy was sent to The New York Times. Mr. Palmer did not respond to a phone message left with an employee of the stations nor to an e-mail message. But a former staff member confirmed the e-mail message that went out during the summer after the stations broadcast a live report from a movie theater in Maine where Al Gore's movie on global warming, "An Inconvenient Truth," was opening.

Mr. Palmer began his e-mail message: "I was wondering where we should send the bill for the live shot Friday at the theater for the Al Gore commercial we aired."

Mr. Palmer said he wanted no more stories broadcast on global warming because: "a) we do local news, b) the issue evolved from hard science into hard politics and c) despite what you may have heard from the mainstream media, this science is far from conclusive." Mr. Palmer said in his e-mail message to his operations manager and two women who served as a news anchor and a reporter that he placed "global warming stories in the same category as 'the killer African bee scare' from the 1970s or, more recently, the Y2K scare when everyone's computer was going to self-destruct."

Dr. James Hansen, the director of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Goddard Institute for Space Studies at Columbia University, said in an interview yesterday that the station's policy on coverage was irresponsible.

"If you wait until Bar Harbor is underwater, it's too late," Dr. Hansen said. "It won't be just Bar Harbor that is underwater, but many places around the globe including parts of Florida, Bangladesh and the Nile Delta."

Dr. Hansen said the nonpartisan National Academy of Sciences made it "very clear that this is a real issue and we need to address it very promptly."

Dr. Hansen added that "fortunately, there is more than one" source for information on global warming around the country and that he assumed "that the people of Maine will have at their disposal other sources of information."