From Spin to Outright Lie

The other day, I was prompted by a story at The New York Times to write a post about how the spin of a subject changes with the social and political landscape. Today, I noticed that writer Sam Stein at the Huffington Post picked up NYT’s spin and promptly pushed it over the line into lie land.

The May 7, 2014 piece at The New York Times begins:

MIAMI BEACH — The sunny-day flooding was happening again. During high tide one recent afternoon, Eliseo Toussaint looked out the window of his Alton Road laundromat and watched bottle-green saltwater seep from the gutters, fill the street and block the entrance to his front door.

“This never used to happen,” Mr. Toussaint said. “I’ve owned this place eight years, and now it’s all the time.”

The NYT piece about climate change uses an episode of “spring tides,” which regularly cause flooding in parts of Miami, to suggest that this is a new phenomenon. They don’t explicitly say such flooding is new, but they certainly imply that and reinforce that implied message with the anecdotal observations of a local laundromat owner.

In today’s Huffington Post piece, Sam Stein refers to the NYT piece this way:

A New York Times report noted last week that global warming was already having an effect on everyday life, like leading to flooding on streets that never used to flood.

So, what was originally an anecdotal observation of the flooding situation of Alton Road in Miami has been morphed into an apparent fact: Alton Road never used to flood, until global warming came along!

So … Let’s have a look!

Oct. 24, 1973, The Miami News

“We usually get flooding when there are high tides,” she said, “but this year it seems particularly bad.”

and …

“We try to do the best we can to alleviate the problems, but in some areas it’s really difficult,” Aymonin said. “Parts of Miami Beach have settled six inches, and there are those who say the ocean water is rising, anyway.”

Nov. 8, 1978,  The Miami News

This happens every year, say forecasters swamped with queries, complaints

and …

“Every year at this time it’s the same thing,” said Fort Lauderdale police spokesman John Cochrane. “There are a few streets along Las Olas Isles that get flooded every year. I’ve been here 20 years and it’s been the same every year. I’m sure long after I’m gone it will still be the same.”

Oct. 16, 2012, NBC Miami

The main reasoning behind this is what we call spring tide it’s when the moon is closest to the earth which increases your gravitational force, ” said Alex Gibbs with the National Weather Service.

All of these news articles are about flooding of the same sort — resulting from “spring tides” as opposed to tropical storms or rain events. They pretty much all discuss sea water backing up through storm drains in the impacted areas, and they discuss Alton Road as being among the hardest hit low areas. These are not the only news articles to have been written about the subject over the past hundred years or so, but they are among the most easily found with a simple Google search.

In the 41-year span between that 1973 article on this subject and now, mean sea levels have risen about 3 inches, or a little over 7.5 centimeters, which is pretty much the same rate that the sea level rose for the 60 years prior to 1973. It’s not the fact that sea levels are rising that I object to: It’s the goddamn spin that gets tied to every weather event great and small. No doubt the extra three inches of water since 1973 isn’t helping, but give me a break here!

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