Conservative media have been quick to rush to the defense of climate science denier Willie Soon, a scientist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics who has recently come under fire for accepting over $1.2 million from the fossil fuel industry without disclosing this conflict of interest in most of his scientific papers. Among the most impassioned defenses of Soon was an article penned by a writer at the Daily Caller with connections to some of the organizations that funded Soon's research.
Documents obtained by Greenpeace and the Climate Investigations Center detail the extensive and problematic relationship between the fossil fuel industry and Soon, one of the contrarian scientists often cited by prominent climate science deniers like Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK). The documents reveal that Soon described many of his scientific papers, which largely focus on the claim that the sun is primarily responsible for recent global warming, as "deliverables" produced in exchange for money from fossil fuel interests. The revelations, which were recently covered by several media outlets, reveal a potentially serious breach of scientific ethics in at least eight of the papers Soon has published since 2008, and the Smithsonian Institution has directed the organization's Inspector General to investigate Soon's ethical conduct.
Several right-wing media outlets are already aggressively defending Soon. Shortly after the initial reports, the Daily Caller published an article criticizing the "attack campaign" against Soon by "firm believers in global warming." The article's author, PG Veer, dismissed the criticisms of Soon, claiming that opponents "are looking for conflicts of interest" rather than challenging Soon on "the facts."
Yet Veer himself is a former fellow at the Charles Koch Institute, which was created from the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation -- one of the organizations that provided money for Soon's research. Veer currently works for the Franklin Center, which has received significant funding from Donors Trust, another organization that bankrolled Soon.
Breitbart has also carried Soon's water, defending him in at least five different articles so far. Columnist James Delingpole defended Soon for "telling the truth" about climate change, writing that the latest news is a "continuation of a vendetta which has been waged for years against an honest, decent, hardworking -- and incredibly brave -- scientist who refuses to toe the official (and increasingly discredited) line on man-made global warming."
While discussing Oregon's recent political scandal, conservative media are reviving their favorite renewable energy bogeyman - the solar panel manufacturer Solyndra -- to push the false narrative that the clean energy industry is an economic failure that is widely infected with "crony capitalism." Contrary to these claims, Solyndra was never a scandal, and renewable energy sources are increasingly cost-competitive with fossil fuels -- despite historically receiving far less in government subsidies.
When former Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber announced he would resign due to the controversy surrounding undisclosed consulting fees his fiancée received while advising him on energy policies, conservative media were quick to compare the controversy to the government loan guarantee and bankruptcy of solar firm Solyndra. As Politico recently explained, the conservative strategy is to use the Kitzhaber scandal as "ammunition" against Democrats and environmentalists who they claim "have propped up failed clean-energy projects" and provided government aid that "ends up financially benefiting only the politically connected companies lobbying for it." Bloomberg News similarly stated that whether or not it is accurate, "[t]he argument being made is that clean energy lobbying is a way for Democrats to get rich."
That's exactly what we've seen in the conservative media. The Washington Times claimed the Oregon scandal once again brings to light "the failures of taxpayer-funded green energy companies such as Solyndra that had political ties to party bigwigs." The National Review Online linked the situation in Oregon to Solyndra and what it claimed were other "green-energy scandals that piled up during [the Obama administration's] first term." The Daily Caller alleged that in the case of both the Kitzhaber scandal and Solyndra, "government supported green energy programs based on political connections." And Fox News also highlighted Solyndra while discussing the Oregon controversy -- twice.
But the simple truth is that the Solyndra episode was never a scandal, a fact that has been proven time and time again. The solar energy firm, which received a federal loan from the U.S. Department of Energy, filed for bankruptcy as a result of plummeting prices for solar panels, as detailed by Greenwire, among others. Conservative media responded by pushing baseless claims that Solyndra used unethical influence in the Obama administration to receive its loan, but an extensive investigation by House Republicans turned up no evidence of wrongdoing.
In addition to pushing the cronyism charge, conservative media have also used the Oregon scandal as an opportunity to broadly claim that renewable energy is not economically viable in the marketplace. For example, National Review Online purported that these sources of energy can't "survive in the marketplace without giant subsidies or special tax favors." During an interview on WSJ Live, Competitive Enterprise Institute's Myron Ebell similarly claimed that "wind and solar and ethanol really cannot survive without handouts from government."
But the reality is that wind and solar power have become increasingly cost-competitive with fossil fuels -- and are actually cheaper than coal and natural gas in some markets -- despite having received far less in government subsidies over the years.
After a massive oil tanker derailed in West Virginia, several members of Fox News claimed that the accident demonstrates the need to build the Keystone XL pipeline because it is supposedly "safer" to transport oil by pipeline than by train. However, pipelines spill even more oil than trains, and when a major pipeline spill recently occurred near Keystone XL's proposed route, Fox News barely mentioned the spill and didn't once connect it to legitimate safety concerns about Keystone XL.
Conservative media outlets are broadly attacking clean energy and the environmental movement by falsely alleging that prominent environmental philanthropist Tom Steyer has "deep ties" to the recent scandal involving Cylvia Hayes, the fiancée of former Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber who failed to publicly disclose that she was being paid by a clean energy group while also advising Kitzhaber on clean energy issues. In reality, there is no evidence that Steyer funded Hayes, or that Steyer has any other connection to the scandal.
Fox News' Special Report used a story about a train derailment and oil spill in West Virginia to push for the passing of the Keystone XL pipeline, a common pattern for Fox, which has a long history of exploiting tragedies to push for the pipeline's construction.
From the February 10 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Bret Baier:
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Taking their cues from the Drudge Report, right-wing media are echoing a London Telegraph columnist's false claim that scientific agencies intentionally adjusted years of weather station data to show a global warming trend that isn't really there, which the author dubbed the "biggest science scandal ever." But far from being a scandal, historical temperature records are routinely subject to peer-reviewed adjustments to account for changes to measuring instruments, the time of day measurements are taken, and other factors -- and they do not negate a global warming trend.
Conservative media revived their Solyndra scandal-mongering to attack the proposed clean energy funding in President Obama's budget. But contrary to their claims, Solyndra did not receive the clean energy tax credits included in the President's budget, and the budget doesn't increase funding for the largely successful loan guarantee program that did support Solyndra.
MSNBC host Joe Scarborough claimed that "there is still a debate" in the scientific community about "how much man contributes" to climate change, but the reality is that the vast majority of climate scientists agree human activities are the dominant cause of global warming. Although Scarborough frequently stresses that he believes humans play a role in climate change, this isn't the first time he's made a statement that conflicts with established climate science.
The Associated Press reported that national groups including the Heartland Institute and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) are heralding the repeal of West Virginia's alternative energy mandate as a lynchpin to repeal stronger renewable energy standards in other states. But the AP identified the Heartland Institute and ALEC only as "national small government groups," ignoring their significant ties to the fossil fuel industry.
West Virginia will likely soon become the first state to repeal an alternative energy standard, following a multi-year campaign by fossil fuel interests to target more environmentally-friendly renewable energy standards in statehouses across the country. In recent days, both chambers of the West Virginia state legislature easily passed a bill repealing the state's Alternative and Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard, which requires 25 percent of the state's energy to come from alternative power sources (including non-renewable sources) by 2025.
The AP reported on January 31 that groups including the Heartland Institute and ALEC "argue renewable energy plans limit free market choices and could result in higher electricity costs," but did not reveal that these groups are tied to fossil fuel interests that would benefit from repealing clean energy standards:
After West Virginia legislators voted to delete a law that counts burning tires and some coal as alternative fuels, national small government groups are turning the uncontroversial repeal into a rally cry to remove more stringent energy standards in other states.
National small government lobbies, including The Heartland Institute, still heralded the repeal's passage in West Virginia in early January as a win and a call to action.
"One can only hope other states follow West Virginia's sensible lead," H. Sterling Burnett, Research Fellow, Environment & Energy Policy for The Heartland Institute, said in a news release after the state House passed the bill Jan. 22.
The groups argue renewable energy plans limit free market choices and could result in higher electricity costs. But for years, the American Legislative Exchange Council and others have failed to get any states to delete their standards.
As The Washington Post has noted, "In many cases, the groups involved [in efforts to undermine renewable energy standards and other environmental initiatives] accept money from oil, gas and coal companies that compete against renewable energy suppliers." The anti-renewables campaign by Heartland and ALEC is a case in point.
Fox News host Bill Hemmer claimed that job losses due to sequestration "apparently ... did not happen," ignoring that hundreds of layoffs across industries like national security and education were attributable to sequestration's budget cuts.
On the February 3 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom, host Hemmer took issue with a statement made by President Obama in February 2013 in which he asserted that if sequestration happened, "thousands of Americans who work in fields like national security, education or clean energy are likely to be laid off." Hemmer replied "so, apparently that did not happen."
In fact, a wide range of organizations related to national security were forced to lay off employees, among them defense contractors, workers at a nuclear site, army depot employees, and employees at a company that repairs U.S. Navy ships.
In the field of education, which Obama mentioned, the effects of sequestration included teacher layoffs in states like Florida, Illinois, Minnesota and New Jersey. Valuable educational programs, like Head Start, were unable to get funding, which resulted in widespread teacher job losses.
Another field that was heavily hit by the effects of sequestration was science and medical research, with hundreds of scientists, including those working on cancer and HIV research, laid off due to the resulting budget cuts.
A Media Matters review of several major newspapers found that their coverage of congressional efforts to force approval of the Keystone XL pipeline has been missing an essential component of the story: the hundreds of millions of dollars that the fossil fuel industry spent in the midterm elections to elect members of Congress who support Keystone XL and other aspects of the oil industry's agenda. Of the newspapers reviewed, only The New York Times tied congressional support for Keystone XL back to the fossil fuel industry's campaign contributions.
ABC News contributor Laura Ingraham falsely suggested there's a link between vaccines and autism, which flies in the face of substantial scientific evidence and her own employer's reporting on the issue.
A domestic measles outbreak has highlighted the rising numbers of American parents who disregard medical recommendations and choose not to vaccinate their children, often for religious or personal reasons.
On February 2, Ingraham spoke with a caller on her radio show who claimed that vaccinations had "something to do with" her child getting autism. Ingraham suggested that this might be a compelling reason to forgo vaccinating children, saying that there has been "anecdotal evidence" pointing to "overnight change" in children who have been vaccinated.
Contrary to Ingraham, ABC News reported just the day before that the science is clear: there is no link between autism and vaccines.
As ABC's This Week explained on February 1, a "now discredited study" published in 1998 originally gave rise to this myth about autism. The Lancet, the medical journal which published the study, retracted it in 2010, while The British Medical Journal called the research "fraudulent" and authorities stripped the doctor of his license. Multiple studies since then have confirmed that vaccines are safe.
"Study after study has shown that there are no negative long-term consequences," CDC Director Dr. Thomas Frieden told ABC. Measles, he said, is a "serious disease, and it would be terrible if we have preventable illness, even death, from this disease that's preventable with a safe and effective vaccine."
A New York Times report explained how irresponsible media coverage has played a role in perpetuating this dangerous myth about vaccines. Right-wing media figures, including Fox & Friends, Sharyl Attkisson, and now Ingraham, have long helped prop up discredited science and baseless fearmongering about the safeties of vaccines. Glenn Beck and multiple Fox News figures have repeatedly floated debunked claims vaccines may be linked to autism. Rush Limbaugh even declared in 2009 that it was "hard to disagree" with claims that the swine flu vaccine was "developed to kill people."
During her radio show, Ingraham went on to claim that measles is "not generally a deadly disease" -- ignoring the fact that "measles is one of the leading causes of death among young children" worldwide -- and to baselessly speculate that undocumented immigrants were to blame for spreading infectious diseases such as measles and TB in the U.S.
ABC News hired Ingraham as a contributor in April 2014, despite her long history of inflammatory and misinformed rhetoric.
CBS News reported that a "coalition of big oil companies, environmental groups and food companies have been aggressively lobbying" against the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) "amid concerns that it is doing little to address climate change and is having unintended environmental consequences." However, major oil and food companies oppose the RFS out of concern for their own economic well-being, not concern for the environment, and some prominent environmental groups support the standard.
In 2014, PBS NewsHour provided far more climate change-related segments and interviewed far more climate scientists than the nightly news programs at ABC and NBC, while also outperforming CBS. Additionally, like CBS Evening News, PBS NewsHour managed to avoid airing any segments that provided a platform for climate science deniers, whereas NBC Nightly News and ABC's World News Tonight both featured a segment in which a guest either denied that climate change is occurring or questioned the scientific findings of the National Climate Assessment.
Although it airs for twice as long as its broadcast network counterparts, PBS NewsHour's number of climate segments and scientists more than made up for this difference, particularly in comparison to ABC's World News Tonight. PBS NewsHour, which runs for 60 minutes, aired 45 reports last year that covered climate change. By comparison, CBS Evening News, NBC Nightly News, and ABC's World News Tonight, which are each 30 minute programs, aired 22, 14, and 11 climate-related reports in 2014, respectively. PBS NewsHour's 45 climate-related reports were a substantial increase over 2013, when the program aired 35 such reports.
PBS NewsHour also provided scientific perspectives in climate change stories more often than any of the other major networks, interviewing or quoting 27 scientists over the course of the year. In comparison, CBS Evening News and NBC Nightly News interviewed or quoted 11 and 7 scientists, respectively, while ABC's World News Tonight interviewed or quoted just two scientists.
Scientists lent their insight on a range of topics on PBS NewsHour, providing perspective on landmark reports on climate change, describing the impact of climate change on wildlife habitats, and illustrating how climate change is already having an impact on communities in places as disparate as Alaska and Florida. For example, in a two-part special on climate change's impacts in Alaska, PBS NewsHour interviewed paleoclimatologists, geophysicists, oceanographers, and ecologists to detail how climate change is threatening local wildlife and a centuries-old way of life for many Alaskans.
The recent announcement by NOAA and NASA that 2014 was the warmest year on record should serve as the starkest reminder yet that climate change is an issue deserving of mainstream media coverage. The networks' nightly news programs -- and ABC's World News Tonight in particular -- would do well to follow PBS NewsHour's lead by improving the quality and quantity of their climate change coverage.