Last July, the Interior Department suspended one of its employees, Arctic biologist Charles Monnett, pending an investigation into allegations of scientific misconduct by an anonymous Interior Department employee. Monnett was best known for co-authoring a peer-reviewed paper on drowned polar bears that was cited in the 2008 decision to list the polar bear as a threatened species, along with many other papers establishing the threat that climate change poses for polar bears.
The right-wing media used the investigation not only to reject Monnett's findings, but also to dismiss all the science on polar bears and global warming. Fox Nation promoted an Investor's Business Daily editorial claiming the Monnett investigation was exposing "the global warming fraud" with the headline "Global Warming Industry Rocked by Polar Bear Fraud." Fox Nation also promoted a New York Post op-ed on the Monnett investigation with the headline "Global Warming Theory Faces Sudden Collapse."
But the Interior Department cleared Monnett of all scientific wrongdoing. Monnett was officially reprimanded for an unrelated issue: forwarding government emails to local government and university officials that "ended up being used in litigation against the government." Jeff Ruch of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, which provided Monnett legal representation, said that Monnett leaked the emails under the Bush administration to expose suppression of scientists' concerns about the environmental risks of offshore drilling in the Arctic.
Steve Doocy promised last year on Fox & Friends to "keep [viewers] posted" on Monnett's case. But so far Fox News remains silent not only on Monnett's case but also on the record arctic sea ice loss this summer that portends danger for polar bears.
UPDATE (12/6/13): The reprimand has been removed from Monnett's file and he has received $100,000 in a settlement with the Department of Interior.
Today CNN aired Newt Gingrich claiming that "the Obama administration is trying to use the EPA to cripple the development" of natural gas. CNN offered no pushback to this claim and instead turned to a farmer who has leased his land to a natural gas company and supports Mitt Romney to assess the impact of EPA regulations. But the Obama administration has embraced natural gas, and the EPA's air pollution and chemical disclosure rules have drawn praise from the industry for their restraint.
From CNN Newsroom:
Contrary to Gingrich's claims, the Obama administration has boosted natural gas development, including a major gas project on federal lands. The Environmental Protection Agency has just begun to regulate a process that is quickly spreading across many areas that have never before dealt with extensive drilling. As National Journal reported, "Obama directed the Interior Department to allow hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, under new rules that are not very different from a law that conservative Republican Gov. John Kasich just signed in Ohio."
The EPA issued a regulation to reduce emissions of smog-forming air pollution that even the right-wing Wall Street Journal editorial board praised for its "restraint." And the EPA proposed a rule that would require the gas industry to disclose chemicals used during fracking on public lands, but gave what the New York Times described as a "significant concession" to the industry by only requiring that companies reveal the composition of fracking fluids after drilling. The EPA also required that the gas industry reduce cancer-causing chemicals released during fracking, a rule that will also reduce the emissions of methane -- a greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change. Bloomberg reported that several companies supported the rule, which could prevent a "backlash" that would shut down production.
If CNN is seeking to inform its audience about the energy policies of the presidential candidates, it should probably be turning to experts. And if CNN is seeking the human face of natural gas drilling, it might also want to talk to landowners who have been stuck with the bill after natural gas companies polluted their land.
Arctic sea ice is declining much faster than scientists expected, which has important implications for the rate and impacts of climate change. But the major TV news outlets have largely ignored the record sea ice loss this summer, while making ample time to cover Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan's physical fitness.
Fox News is ignoring the gasoline savings that newly finalized fuel economy standards will provide for consumers in order to hype the cost of new fuel-efficient cars. The standards, which will substantially reduce our dependence on oil, are expected to provide consumers significant savings at the gas pump that will more than offset the sticker price increase.
Carbon dioxide emissions are not just warming up our atmosphere, they're also changing the chemistry of our oceans. This phenomenon is known as ocean acidification, or sometimes as global warming's "evil twin" or the "osteoporosis of the sea." Scientists have warned that it poses a serious threat to ocean life. Yet major American
news outlets covered the Kardashians over 40 times more often than ocean acidification over the past year and a half.
Rising carbon dioxide emissions have caused the oceans to become around 30 percent more acidic since the Industrial Revolution, and if we do not lower the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere, the ocean surface could be up to 150 percent more acidic by 2100. At that level, the shells of some plankton would dissolve, large parts of the ocean would become inhospitable to coral reef growth, and the rapidity of the change could threaten much of the marine food web. According to the National Research Council, the chemical changes are taking place "at an unprecedented rate and magnitude" and are "practically irreversible on a time scale of centuries."
Despite a boom of recent scientific research documenting this threat, there has been a blackout on the topic at most media outlets. Since the end of 2010, ABC, NBC, and Fox News have completely ignored ocean acidification, and the Los Angeles Times, USA TODAY, Wall Street Journal, MSNBC, CNN, and CBS have barely mentioned it at all.
Over the last year, the Orange County Register has published numerous editorials that falsely portray California's pollution reduction program as costly, ineffective and arbitrarily imposed by state regulators. In fact, the program -- which incorporates a cap-and-trade program -- is part of a bipartisan law expected to benefit the state's economy.
In strikingly one-sided reports, Fox News assailed an anticipated regulation protecting streams from mountaintop coal mining waste. Among other misleading claims, Fox accused the Obama administration of punishing a contractor who said the rule would kill jobs, when in fact, extensive evidence indicates the contract was halted simply because the firm did shoddy work.
Are lawmakers pursuing a "fundamentally misguided" goal when it comes to U.S. energy security? That's the concern voiced by a group of retired military officers and business leaders in a recent report warning that strategies focused on reducing imports of "foreign oil" are missing "the true nature of the problem." This spring, when average U.S. gasoline prices jumped 70 cents, the news media had an opportunity to clarify which policies and candidates actually stand to improve energy security. On the whole, they failed.
The report from the Energy Security Leadership Council (ESLC) says the notion of "energy independence" is "widely misunderstood" in a way that "misdiagnoses the problem as one characterized largely by import levels," when in fact "energy security is almost entirely a function of the importance of oil consumption in the domestic economy." In other words, it's how much oil we need that makes us vulnerable, not where the oil is produced.
After all, countries like Canada and Norway, which have long been net oil exporters, saw the same debilitating price volatility that Americans have faced in recent years. The report, echoed by a subsequent analysis from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, says expanded domestic oil production benefits the trade deficit and employment, but not energy security -- contrary to the claims of industry, politicians, and commentators. Instead, it is vehicle fuel economy standards that the panel identified as "the most important energy security accomplishment in decades."
CONNECTING THE DOTS
While experts agree that policies reducing oil consumption do more to protect Americans from price shocks than policies increasing oil production, this fact has not been clearly communicated by the news media. Our analysis of news coverage of rising gasoline prices earlier this year found that only 2% of broadcast coverage, 4% of cable coverage, and 13% of print coverage mentioned fuel economy standards. Out of 69 print items on gas prices, only three acknowledged that reducing oil consumption is the most effective solution. Instead, the coverage often discussed domestic oil production or the Keystone XL pipeline. There are persuasive arguments in favor of both of these, but energy security and gas prices are not among them. (Unfortunately, energy security and gas prices are two of the arguments used most frequently by proponents and relayed uncritically by reporters.)
Conservative media are once again hyping the amount of oil in the U.S. by including oil shale, ignoring that oil companies have found no profitable way to develop that resource.
The most recent flood of misinformation came after testimony by the Government Accountability Office's Anu Mittal about "oil shale," a sedimentary rock that when heated at high temperatures can produce liquid fuels (except gasoline) with a larger carbon footprint than conventional liquid fuels. While some conservative outlets claimed it was major news, the testimony -- which was based on an October 2010 GAO report -- contained no positive developments for oil shale, which has long been known to exist in large amounts in the U.S. but is not commercially viable. Earlier this year, energy expert Robert Rapier wrote, "It is not at all clear that even at $100 oil the shale in the Green River formation will be commercialized to produce oil." Even an editor at the right-wing blog The American Thinker acknowledged that "any large scale operations" for oil shale development would be "prohibitively expensive at this time." And just recently, Chevron gave up its oil shale lease in Colorado.
Mittal noted in her testimony that no technology to develop oil shale "has been shown to be economically or environmentally viable at a commercial scale." But Fox News' nightly news show and CNSNews.com, a project of the conservative Media Research Center, failed to mention that oil shale is not currently commercially viable. Breitbart.com and Investor's Business Daily incorrectly suggested that oil shale is not being developed because of Obama administration policies, rather than economic considerations. And Powerline suggested that oil shale is in fact viable because of the "advance of extraction technology," seemingly confusing oil shale with tight oil from shale rock, which can be extracted via horizontal drilling and hydrofracking.
It's interesting to see that the same people who dismiss the enormous potential of solar and wind power and attack investment in renewable energy are hyping the potential of oil shale. A December 2011 Congressional Research Service report, which classified oil shale as a "sub-economic" resource, stated that "despite government programs in the 1970s and early 1980s to stimulate development of the resource, production of oil shale is not yet commercially viable."
In a rant described by one scientist as "either incredibly ignorant" or "intentionally misleading," Fox News host Greg Gutfeld denied deforestation and distorted climate science.
Fox Nation has a post up suggesting there is something "FISHY" about record sales of the Chevy Volt:
The post excerpts the first four paragraphs of an article from TheStreet about concerns that the Volt's sales numbers may have been skewed by fleet purchases by GE.
But it doesn't look like the folks at Fox Nation actually read the linked article -- the entire point of the story is that those concerns were off-base and that fleet purchases were only 5 percent of the Volt's sales:
As high gas prices dominate the headlines and pain at the pump multiplies, General Motors' Chevy Volt is finding more consumers willing to buy into the plug-in electric hybrid vehicle concept.
In fact, initial concerns that the record sales number posted by the Chevy Volt in March was driven by a big fleet purchase from GE were premature and didn't reflect just how quickly the Volt's fortunes shifted in March.
It's fair to say the Volt ran right over those cautious assumptions. Between the high gas prices and headlines about a Volt battery fire earlier this year possibly receding from the consumer landscape, the sales picture improved.
The Volt -- a month after GM temporarily shuttered production of the car -- reached sales of 2,289 in March, 50% higher than December 2011, which previously was the vehicle's best month since launch. More importantly, only 160 of the purchases were by fleet buyers, while 2,129 Volts were purchased by retail car buyers. The fleet buying was only 5% of Volt sales.
Back to the drawing board, Fox Nation.
Following a lengthy investigation, the national Oil Spill Commission concluded in January 2011 that "the root causes" of the BP disaster were "systematic and, absent significant reform in both industry practices and government policies, might well recur." This week the same panel of experts found that Congress "has yet to enact any legislation responding to the explosion and spill." Rather than implement the panel's recommendations, the House has actually "passed several bills" with provisions that "run contrary to what the Commission concluded was essential for safe, prudent, responsible development of offshore oil resources," said the commissioners.
So far ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN and Fox News have ignored the panel's assessment report, issued just days before the second anniversary of the worst oil spill in U.S. history. MSNBC's Dylan Ratigan was the exception, running a segment on the panel's findings and the ongoing impacts of the spill.
Rush Limbaugh responded today to former GM executive and fellow conservative Bob Lutz, who has repeatedly called out Limbaugh and other right-wing commentators for relentlessly attacking the Chevy Volt, a vehicle he championed at GM.
Lutz took a shot at Limbaugh during an appearance earlier this month on The Colbert Report. And in a speech at the Hudson Institute yesterday, Lutz criticized conservatives' "knee-jerk reaction" to "the idea of vehicle electrification," when they should support "shifting portions of the American mobile sector onto a more efficient and domestically produced power source."
Citing a recent study by the government of Nunavut in Canada, conservative media are claiming that the number of polar bears is "increasing." The takeaway, according to these media outlets, is that concerns about the fate of polar bears in a warming world are overblown. But polar bear scientist Steven Amstrup says these commentators are mistaken.
The polar bears located west of the Hudson Bay are one of 19 polar bear subpopulations, and one of 8 subpopulations that are thought to be shrinking, according to a comprehensive review conducted in 2009. (One population was found to be increasing, three are stable, and there isn't enough data to assess the other seven). Amstrup and others previously analyzed bears captured from 1984-2004 and found that the West Hudson Bay population declined from 1,194 in 1987 to 935 in 2004.
But a new survey by the government of Nunavut, a largely Inuit territory in Northern Canada, puts the population size as of last August at 1,013, according to a widely circulated article in Canada's Globe and Mail. This new estimate is derived from a plausible range of 717 to 1,430 bears and, importantly, comes from an aerial survey, unlike the previous studies which involved capturing and recapturing bears.
Amstrup said media outlets claiming the aerial survey shows an increasing population are mistaking a single point estimate for a trend. "The population size is just a number. It is a valuable number to have, but from the standpoint of population welfare, it is the trend in numbers that is critical," he wrote in an email. Because previous estimates used a different methodology, and covered a different geographic area, they cannot be easily compared to the latest figures, contrary to the media narrative. When the aerial survey is repeated in later years, it will then be able to tell us more about how the population size is changing. In the meantime, the Canadian government is expected to release its latest capture-recapture data next month.
Population estimates are used to determine how many polar bears can be killed each year. Hunting polar bears is a significant source of income among the Inuit, who have been skeptical of dire predictions of popopulation decline.
Amstrup emphasizes that "in the bigger picture, whether any one population is currently declining, stable or increasing is beside the point," adding, "it is criticial to remember that our concern about polar bears is focused on the future." The scientists who spend their lives studying polar bears have been unable to envision how the population numbers can withstand the long-term decline of the sea ice.
More detailed responses from Amstrup below:
Last night Bill O'Reilly claimed that a Media Matters video about Fox News' 2008 gas price coverage "lied" and called him a "hypocrite" because he "didn't hammer President Bush when gas prices rose during his tenure." But the video was not a critique of Fox's 2008 coverage -- in fact, we chose clips from 2008 where Fox's statements "mirrored the facts."
To be sure, O'Reilly is off-message at Fox on gas prices these days, frequently railing against speculators, oil companies, and the Obama administration, while his colleagues try to keep the focus on Obama.
But in 2008, O'Reilly stressed a basic truth that has not made its way on to The O'Reilly Factor or Fox News lately: that reducing oil consumption is the only way to reduce our vulnerability to gas price spikes. In fact, O'Reilly even called for government mandates requiring fuel efficient and alternative vehicles. This year O'Reilly has not once brought up the recent increases in fuel economy standards during his gas price coverage.