Andrew Weaver and Karl Rove-Style Rhetoric

Last year, Karl Rove was reported to have suggested that Hillary Clinton had brain damage:

Karl Rove stunned a conference when he suggested Hillary Clinton may have brain damage. Onstage with Robert Gibbs and CBS correspondent and “Spies Against Armageddon” co-author Dan Raviv, Rove said Republicans should keep the Benghazi issue alive. He said if Clinton runs for president, voters must be told what happened when she suffered a fall in December 2012. The official diagnosis was a blood clot. Rove told the conference near LA Thursday, “Thirty days in the hospital? And when she reappears, she’s wearing glasses that are only for people who have traumatic brain injury? We need to know what’s up with that.”

Rove subsequently denied reports that he said Hillary Clinton may have brain damage. Peter Beinart in the Atlantic dissected Karl Rove’s denial as follows:

Karl Rove now denies reports that he said Hillary Clinton may have brain damage. “I never used that phrase,” he said on Fox News. True. What Rove said was, “Thirty days in the hospital? And when she reappears, she’s wearing glasses that are only for people who have traumatic brain injury? We need to know what’s up with that.” In other words, Rove didn’t say Hillary Clinton has brain damage. He hinted it, thus giving himself deniability while ensuring that the slur lingers in the public mind. Which is what he’s been doing his entire career.

In an unrelated incident, Andrew Weaver was reported as having called for Pachauri’s resignation.  Weaver subsequently denied that he had called for Pachauri’s resignation.  Alert readers may detect some structural similarity in the disputes.

Communications specialist Christopher Witt here, who is definitely not a Rove supporter, used Rove’s verbal (rhetorical) technique as an example of the “rhetoric of deception”.  In today’s post, I’ll show that some of the statements in the Weaver (and other) controversies fall squarely within Witt’s typology. I intend to apply some of these concepts in a future post on the second major count of Weaver’s libel suit: whether he believed that the fossil fuel industry was responsible for break-ins at the University of Victoria.  But in today’s post, I will re-visit a 2003 incident involving Weaver and McIntyre and McKitrick 2003, showing a very clear example of Weaver employing one of the rhetorical techniques listed by Witt.

Christopher Witt’s List

Witt described five ways in which a malicious statement could be made while retaining deniability:

Make a malicious statement so that the idea, image, or phrase you used becomes part of the public discourse.

The statement doesn’t have to be true or supported by logic or the evidence. As a matter of fact, the more outrageous the statement, the more sticking power it has. You can deny having made the statement, or say you were misquoted, or regret having misspoken, or apologize for having offended anyone. But the idea, image, or phrase has been introduced into the conversation — into people’s consciousness — and it will be repeated, if only to be attacked and discredited.

Here are five common ways (you’ll recognized them) to make an malicious statement, without appearing to be a nasty piece of work yourself:

  1. Pose a malicious statement as a question.
    “Is Karl Rove a master of deceit who will say anything, no matter how false or misleading, to advance his political agenda?”
  2. Deny making a malicious statement.
    “I’m not saying that Karl Rove has made himself rich by spreading outrageous lies about his political opponents.”
  3. Attribute a malicious statement to others.
    “Many people have said that Karl Rove wouldn’t recognize the truth if it hit him over the head with a bat.”
  4. Condemn a malicious statement.
    “Those who say that Karl Rove has contributed to the degradation of civil discourse should be ashamed of themselves.”
  5. Quote someone else’s malicious statement (with tepid disapproval).
    “I’m not sure I would agree with Joe Conason when he wrote, ‘Karl Rove is a liar and a scoundrel.’

It’s easy to think up examples in the Climate wars.  Mann sued Mark Steyn and National Review for an example of type #5:

Not sure I’d have extended that metaphor all the way into the locker-room showers with quite the zeal Mr Simberg does, but he has a point.

Weaver used a combination of type #3 and #1 during his interview with Richard Foot (while also making statements that were less subtle/not subtle at all):

Some might argue we need a change in some of the upper leadership of the IPCC, who are perceived as becoming advocates. I think that is a very legitimate question.

As already discussed, Weaver also made statements that have less wiggle room (“I think he has crossed the line, and I would agree it’s time to move on”; “in the case of Pachauri, I agree with what is being said in Der Spiegel”), but Weaver’s argument, as I understand it, is that his statement with Karl Rove deniability superceded the other two statements.  As we’ve discussed on the other thread, it’s hard to reconcile the statements, but, regardless, today’s quote fits neatly within Witt’s exemplars of the “rhetoric of deception”.  In saying this, I am not opining as to whether Weaver subjectively or objectively meant to “deceive” Foot; only that when Weaver used a rhetorical technique falling within Witt’s exemplars of the “rhetoric of deception”, he can hardly complain if Foot misunderstands him.

Rhetorical questions (type #1) are common. Here is an example from Rand Simberg in Mann v Steyn et al:

We saw what the university administration was willing to do to cover up heinous crimes, and even let them continue, rather than expose them. Should we suppose, in light of what we now know, they would do any less to hide academic and scientific misconduct, with so much at stake?

CEI and Simberg argued that they were just asking a question.  Mann argued that they could not avoid actionability merely by framing their assertion as a rhetorical question.  On this narrow point, I think that Mann’s argument is better, though I obviously think that CEI has many other valid defences.

Lucia drew attention to the following rhetorical question by Andrew Weaver’s close associate, Elizabeth May, as illustrative of a technique of conspiracy theorists:

Strange, isn’t it that media are not wondering about who hacked into the computers and who paid them?   Or why Dr. Andrew Weaver’s office in Victoria has been broken into twice.

Lucia observed that there was nothing strange about it all, but that conspiracy theorists frequently posited something as “strange” that wasn’t strange at all.  In this particular example, Elizabeth May removed any doubt about her adherence to conspiracy theory in her next sentence:

My guess is that all the computers of all the climate research centres of the world have been repeatedly attacked, but defences held everywhere but East Anglia

One sees numerous examples of this sort of rhetoric in connection with whether Weaver believed that the fossil fuel industry was responsible for the UVic break-ins, a topic that I will get to.

How Weaver Slagged McIntyre and McKitrick (2003)

In 2003, in an interview with UBC Thunderbird, s student newspaper, Weaver used rhetorical techniques described by Witt to slag McIntyre and McKitrick 2003. (In a future post, I’ll also tie this incident to some inaccurate commentary in J Burke’s history of events.)

The UBC Thunderbird article was mostly about false balance in Oreskes lineage – Weaver being a staunch opponent of false balance.  Here’s an extended excerpt from the article, containing the parts relevant to MM2003:

 This article [McIntyre amd McKitrick 2003] is a good example of the behind-the-scene issues surrounding climate change, which include access to reputable science and data about the problem. Peer-reviewed, academic journals, are the primary method that scientists to communicate their findings and express their opinions. Journalists tend to look to the respected ones for their background information on scientific issues like climate change. The issues arise when journalists go to journals that aren’t vetted by reputable scientists knowledgeable about the debate.

For instance, Patterson describes Energy and Environment as a “prestigious British journal,” while global warming proponent Weaver disagrees with this characterization. “It’s not a science journal,” he says, pointing to the fact that the paper was written by an economics professor and a Toronto-based analyst, not climate scientists. “If that paper had been submitted to a science journal, it would have been rejected.”

Weaver believes that giving equal space to both sides in a dispute can be dangerous, particularly when applied to scientific matters. “They [SM: Energy and Environment ?] let these random diatribes of absolute, incorrect nonsense get published,” he says. “They’re not able to determine if what’s being said is correct or not, or whether it’s just absolute balderdash.”

In the above interview, Weaver introduced the derogatory phrases “random diatribes of absolute, incorrect nonsense” and “absolute balderdash” into people’s consciousness in connection with our research, all the while, like Karl Rove, purporting to maintain clean hands in terms of direct accusation.  In my opinion, Weaver’s technique here – though probably instinctive rather than intentional – here comes straight out of the playbook described above.  Terry Corcoran, among others, as I’ll discuss in a follow-up post, interpreted Weaver’s above comments as “condemning” our research as “rubbish” – an interpretation that, on re-examination of the material, seems to me to be an entirely justified interpretation of Weaver’s comments.

In closing, I’ve excavated this older issue not to re-litigate it, but in an attempt to fully understand in a non-litigated example why Weaver seems to have been so frequently “misunderstood” by National Post reporters, other incidents (each involving a different reporter) including whether Weaver had called for Pachauri’s resignation, whether Weaver believed that the fossil fuel industry was responsible for the UVic break-ins and whether Weaver believed that McIntyre and McKitrick 2005 was “absolute balderdash”.   In future posts, I’ll return to the central issues of the Weaver case.

In keeping with blog policy, I remind readers to refrain from editorializing on either Karl Rove or Hillary Clinton (though I must confess that I watched her press conference on emails today.)


  1. Posted Mar 10, 2015 at 6:18 PM | Permalink

    Some people, not Harold to be sure, like to combine Witt’s methods #2 & #3.

  2. joe
    Posted Mar 10, 2015 at 6:38 PM | Permalink

    As a point of comparison:
    -snip- [Steve: sorry, I’m going to draw a very hard line on mentions of Clinton and Rove]
    Anything Steyn, CEI, NR has to say about Mann whether factual or false will have near zero influence on Mann’s reputation among his supporters.
    On the other hand, raising questions about Weavers allegiance to the Team will have an influence on Weaver’s ability to remain a member of the team.

  3. Posted Mar 10, 2015 at 7:19 PM | Permalink

    It’s a frequent and increasingly lampooned technique to use a headline to pose a question related to some surprising, alarming or controversial assertion:

    “Will the Oceans Boil By 2020?”

    The answer is invariably “no” when presented this way, but the headline’s good for a quote.

    Neither the headline nor sub-headline of the SpeigelOnline article use this device: they state the position baldly.

  4. Posted Mar 10, 2015 at 9:54 PM | Permalink

    Just to say it, “brain damage” is not the same as “a brain injury”. The former implies permanence the latter implies temporariness.

  5. Posted Mar 10, 2015 at 10:00 PM | Permalink

    I think the interesting information to come out of your summary (from the point of view of any appeal against the Weaver victory) is the number of times Weaver has been misunderstood.

    At some point you have to look at the mouth that roared instead of the ears you say have been plugged.

    • DaveS
      Posted Mar 11, 2015 at 7:31 AM | Permalink

      Similar, perhaps, to the number of Climategate e-mails which their defenders claimed were being taken out of context?

  6. MikeN
    Posted Mar 10, 2015 at 10:05 PM | Permalink

    I don’t see anything deceptive about Weaver’s statements on M&M. He haas no deniability, as the quotes are his alone.

    • Sven
      Posted Mar 11, 2015 at 7:27 AM | Permalink

      No, the quotes are not his own. Here’s what he said
      “They [SM: Energy and Environment ?] let these random diatribes of absolute, incorrect nonsense get published,” he says. “They’re not able to determine if what’s being said is correct or not, or whether it’s just absolute balderdash.”

      “These…diatribes” that “they” let publish is an abstract enought notion. And “They’re” not able to determine…

      • MikeN
        Posted Mar 12, 2015 at 9:58 AM | Permalink

        How is that different than saying MM is random diatribe of absolute, incorrect nonsense, absolute balderdash?

        • dcardno
          Posted Mar 13, 2015 at 11:15 AM | Permalink

          Mike – Because he didn’t say it. If accused of calling MM “absolute, incorrect nonsense… absolute balderdash” his response is ‘oh, no; of course not – that’s one of the only half-decent papers they’ve published.’ Who isn’t able to ‘determine what is correct’ is also unclear; and if challenged, he will use the same ruse to escape being shown to have misstated facts.

  7. Rob
    Posted Mar 10, 2015 at 10:15 PM | Permalink

    Classic skills of a born politician. Careful speaking as they say. Whenever I heard Weaver on the radio (either speculating about the break-ins or speaking with absolute confidence about how the world climate would be in 50 years on CBC’s Quirks and Quarks), I always thought he definitely could be a politician! Lo and behold, a few years later, he became an MLA.

  8. Posted Mar 10, 2015 at 10:44 PM | Permalink

    Interesting post, thanks. IMO, the most damning statement from Weaver was one that wasn’t bolded:

    Weaver believes that giving equal space to both sides in a dispute can be dangerous, particularly when applied to scientific matters

    That’s pure advocacy, not science.

    Steve: opposition to “false balance” is a longstanding issue with Oreskes and her spawn. Judy Curry has many threads on climate communications and better to discuss it there.

  9. Cortlandt
    Posted Mar 10, 2015 at 11:11 PM | Permalink

    RE: The quote from the UBC Thunderbird
    “They [Energy and Environment ?] let these random diatribes of absolute, incorrect nonsense get published,”

    This seems to be another class of rhetoric. In this case mis-direction via an implicit reference. It has not been explicitly stated that McIntyre amd (sic) McKitrick 2003 was a random diatribes of absolute, incorrect nonsense

  10. Posted Mar 11, 2015 at 7:31 AM | Permalink

    Karl Rove now denies reports that he said Hillary Clinton may have brain damage.

    Politics is a dirty business but Rove surely never thought of suing for libel those who claimed he had explicitly said this. Honour amongst thieves and all that. He’d sowed the harmful meme in public consciousness and was now denying anything explicit. The public he knew would judge him on the whole arc of the story, some no doubt as a slimeball, others perhaps a fearless sayer of the otherwise unsayable. But surely suing for libel didn’t even cross his mind.

    What’s interesting with Weaver and those like him is that he uses the same techniques as Rove but does sue someone who takes a very fair interpretation of his words. He then of course publicly rejoices when he wins a verdict any fair observer would see as very harmful to free speech. Here we have the all-too-common sight of the climate elite behaving like slimeballs but thinking the moral highground remains theirs by right, whatever they have done. Annoying though this is to see again the implications of judges backing such a warped view has historical echoes for me that make venting an unaffordable luxury. Somehow we have to win.

    • JD Ohio
      Posted Mar 11, 2015 at 8:19 AM | Permalink


      • FrancisChalk
        Posted Mar 13, 2015 at 6:23 AM | Permalink

        Absolutely, and of course, Karl Rove is a 100% partisan political operative and never is presented as, or thought to be, anything else. Professor Weaver, however, is supposedly a “man of science” and thus, is allegedly bound be data, facts, proof and the scientific method. As such, Weaver and his ilk are presented to the public as objective arbitrators of complex scientific matters that we can trust precisely because they are not like the Karl Roves of the world. Sadly, the dividing line between a Rove and a Weaver is far more murky than should be expected.

        • Posted Mar 13, 2015 at 9:54 AM | Permalink

          Well put. It seems from a distance that the judge took it as read that Weaver was objective arbitrator and fitted the rest of the ‘facts’ around that fixed point.

  11. John Francis
    Posted Mar 11, 2015 at 8:55 AM | Permalink

    Well done, National Post

    • Posted Mar 11, 2015 at 1:31 PM | Permalink

      Indeed “well done” and very welcome news.I wonder if the National Post is fully in the picture regarding the extremely helpful information in support of their case that has been assembled here on Climate Audit.

  12. michael hart
    Posted Mar 11, 2015 at 10:54 AM | Permalink

    Yes. As Lady Bracknell might scold Weaver, to be misunderstood once may be regarded as a misfortune; to be misunderstood half a dozen times looks like carelessness.

  13. Matt Skaggs
    Posted Mar 11, 2015 at 10:56 AM | Permalink

    Looks like you have some more work planned on Andrew Weaver. I’m hoping someone will blog on this paper:

    “Ocean currents generate large footprints in marine palaeoclimate proxies”
    Nature Communications

    Paywalled of course. Chris Turney pops up in the author list, adding a bit of intrigue.

  14. Gerald Machnee
    Posted Mar 11, 2015 at 11:30 AM | Permalink

    I was Secretary in a committee meeting. One member speaks, “I’m just saying ….etc.”
    So is that a definitive statement? Do I record that as a statement, or write – we had a discussion?

    • Steven Mosher
      Posted Mar 11, 2015 at 1:44 PM | Permalink

      “During the reign of a king, professional historiographers maintained extensive records on national affairs and the activities of the state. They collected documents and wrote daily accounts that included state affairs as well as diplomatic affairs, the economy, religion, meteorological phenomena, the arts, and daily life, among other things. These daily accounts became the Sacho (“Draft History”). Great care was taken to ensure the neutrality of the historiographers, who were also officials with legal guarantees of independence. Nobody was allowed to read the Sacho, not even the king, and any historiographer who disclosed its contents or changed the content could be punished with beheading. These strict regulations lend great credibility to these records.[4] Yet at least one king, tyrannical Yeonsangun looked into the Annals, and this led to the First Literati Purge of 1498, in which one recorder and five others were cruelly executed because of what was written in the Sacho. This incident led to greater scrutiny to prevent the king from seeing the Annals. In the Later Joseon period when there was intense conflict between different political factions, revision or rewriting of sillok by rival factions took place, but they were identified as such, and the original version was preserved.

      The original recorders recorded every word and act of the king in the Sacho although not all details were included in the final version. For instance, King Taejong fell from a horse one day and immediately told those around him not to let a recorder know about his fall. A recorder wrote both Taejong’s fall and his words not to record it. In another instance, Taejong was recorded to complain about a recorder who eavesdropped on him behind a screen and followed him to a hunt behind a disguise.”

      • Gerald Machnee
        Posted Mar 11, 2015 at 6:09 PM | Permalink

        A colleague of mine was doing a live radio interview. After making a comment or prediction, he said, But don’t quote me on it.”
        Heard by many people.

      • Beta Blocker
        Posted Mar 12, 2015 at 4:54 PM | Permalink

        There exists substantial historical precedent for this kind of thing. For example, in his own time, the literary giant William Shakespeare sought the favor of the Tudors through his portrayal of Richard III as God’s final curse on England.

      • Macumazan
        Posted Mar 13, 2015 at 12:49 PM | Permalink

        Great quote Mosh. Are you going to provide the source reference, or do we all assume you just made it up?

  15. Posted Mar 11, 2015 at 12:02 PM | Permalink

    Some Conservatives are as scummy as many Democrats.

    Thanks for highlighting a common tactic of the slippery.

  16. CaligulaJones
    Posted Mar 11, 2015 at 1:04 PM | Permalink

    My dad used to say:

    “I didn’t you were lazy. I said I couldn’t tell the difference between you and a lazy person.”

    As always, look for the distinctions without differences when dealing with rhetoric.

  17. Hoi Polloi
    Posted Mar 11, 2015 at 1:54 PM | Permalink

    As “fart blossom” Rove says:

  18. Brad Keyes
    Posted Mar 11, 2015 at 9:33 PM | Permalink

    Mark Steyn’s alleged use of tactic #5 (‘Not sure I’d have extended the metaphor that far but he does have a point’ or words to that effect) is mitigated by the facts that:

    — It was written, not spoken, which reduces the possibility of confusion in the text-recipient’s mind as to who ‘owns’ the insulting remark. (Note that the study of rhetoric is traditionally fixated on the oral, not only for historical reasons but also because it’s easier to play tricks on a listener’s memory than a reader’s. Indeed most of Witt’s examples appear to be transcriptions of rhetoric that was originally spoken, don’t they?)

    — Steyn has the reproductive maturity to explicitly ‘own’ that fraction of Simberg’s remarks with which he does agree (‘but he does have a point’), and can therefore not be accused of the cowardice normally associated with the technology of plausible deniability.

  19. Posted Mar 12, 2015 at 2:46 PM | Permalink

    As a stark contrast to Weaver’s weasel words, apparently throughout his career, how about this from a courtroom in the UK today?

    The Hillsborough police match commander has agreed he was incompetent and his “mistakes” and “oversight” caused the deaths of 96 fans.

    Earlier in the week David Duckenfield also admitted he had lied about the circumstances at the gate that was opened leading to the disaster. Relatives of victims present were reported to have gasped at his candour. It’s high time after 26 years but at least the truth is finally being told. And now for climate.

  20. Posted Mar 13, 2015 at 2:56 AM | Permalink

    Reblogged this on I Didn't Ask To Be a Blog.

  21. Steve McIntyre
    Posted Mar 13, 2015 at 11:43 AM | Permalink

    in reviewing my files, I noticed that Weaver had threatened Climate Audit in 2005 for supposedly making defamatory comments about Weaver. I asked Weaver to explain why the comments were supposedly defamatory. I’m doing a post on the incident. As I interpret Weaver’s explanation, it would be a tort in Canada to make fun of an academic, even if that academic has involved himself in pubic controversy. Wait and see,

  22. Beta Blocker
    Posted Mar 13, 2015 at 12:08 PM | Permalink

    For those students at the University of Victoria who might be inclined towards making fun of their professors while they lounge around the Student Union Building shooting the breeze with each other — should these students be watching what they say about Professor Weaver if they don’t want to be sued?

3 Trackbacks

  1. By How Mann tricked Weaver « Climate Audit on Mar 11, 2015 at 12:52 PM

    […] « Andrew Weaver and Karl Rove-Style Rhetoric […]

  2. […] days ago, Canada’s National Post reported [h/t John Francis via Climate Audit] that it is launching an appeal against newbie Judge Emily Burke’s $50,000 award in the case […]

  3. […] in an interview about our earlier (2003) article (as previously discussed at CA here), Weaver had unequivocally  said that our article “would have been rejected” by a […]

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