On June 16, a startling front-page article in the Times reported that Alaska's mean temperature rose 7 degrees over the past 30 years. Sullivan checked with Alaska weather authorities and wrote that the Times figures were greatly exaggerated. The Times published a correction, stating that Alaska temperatures rose 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit, not 7, over the past 30 years. But the Alaska Climate Research Center said the correction was incorrect. The Times correction of 5.4 degrees was still double the real temperature increase.
Sullivan argued that the Times had "cherry-picked" data for maximum effect, measuring the 30 years between 1966, one of the century's four coldest years, and 1995, one of the hottest. A report from the Center for Global Change said Alaskan temperatures did not rise consistently over the 20th century -- the pattern was back and forth: warming until 1940, cooling until the 1960s, then warming again.
Sullivan was also one of the bloggers who attacked the anti-Bush polling story run by the Times on July 18 under the headline "Poll Finds Concerns That Bush Is Overly Influenced by Business." That story seemed like an attempt to turn a poll favorable to the president into a vague vote of no confidence. The story focused on a "surge" of Americans who think the country is on the wrong track.
But Sullivan noted that the poll found Bush's approval rating remaining very high at 70 percent, while 68 percent agreed that the president "cares about the needs and problems of people like yourself" and 80 percent said Bush shares their moral values. A similar poll ran the previous day in The Washington Post under the headline "Poll Shows Bush's Ratings Weathering Business Scandals." That's the straightforward way to report a poll.
Jack Shafer of Slate joined the Times-bashing bloggers, complaining about a July 1 story, "Bush Slashing Aid for EPA Cleanup at 33 Toxic Sites." That story misrepresented a partisan squabble over whether cleanups of "orphaned sites" (whose owners have gone bankrupt) should be financed by tax revenues or a revival of the Superfund tax, phased out in 1995. Shafer wrote that funding has remained steady in recent years and the Bushies want a modest increase for 2003, so the headline could have been, "Bush Superfund Budget Grows Slightly."
Keep an eye on bloggers. The main arena for media criticism is not going to be books, columns or panel discussions, and it certainly won't be journalism schools. It will be the Internet.