Environment & Science

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  • Big Oil Cheerleader Robert Bryce Predictably Misleads On Wind Energy And Eagle Deaths In WSJ

    Blog ››› ››› ANDREW SEIFTER

    Life can be full of surprises, but Big Oil ally Robert Bryce deceptively attacking wind energy in the pages of the Wall Street Journal evidently isn’t one of them.

    On May 6, Daily Kos published a blog post presciently warning that the Journal would provide Bryce with opinion page space to attack wind energy by latching onto newly announced revisions to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) regulations governing the accidental harming or killing of bald and golden eagles. The blog cited Bryce and the Journal as likely contributors to “a fresh round of fossil fuel-penned pieces crying crocodile tears for birds”:

    Bryce wrote op-eds attacking wind power in February, October and November 2013, which are all similar to one he wrote in 2009, and just like what he wrote in 2015. Since he already attacked wind power back in February of this year, one might think the WSJ editors wouldn’t want to go back to him for essentially a rerun of the same op-ed. But the WSJ has published over twenty of his pieces since 2009, all of which are either explicitly anti-wind or pro-fossil fuels.

    On May 15, Bryce and the Journal proved the Daily Kos blog post right with a Bryce op-ed castigating FWS for “trying to make it easier for the wind industry to kill” eagles.

    Bryce complained that the new rules would allow wind energy producers to kill or injure up to 4,200 eagles per year and hyped data showing that wind turbines were responsible for about 573,000 total bird deaths (not just eagles) in 2012. But as the Daily Kos piece explained, it is misleading to cite these figures without explaining that wind turbines are responsible for only “about 3 percent of human-caused eagle deaths” and that other factors -- including the oil and gas industry and climate change -- are a much greater threat to birds than wind energy. From the Daily Kos:

    [A]t present 970 million birds crash into buildings annually, 175 million die after flying into power lines, 72 million killed by misapplied pesticide, 6.6 million from collisions with communications towers, and “as many as 1 million birds die in oil and gas industry fluid waste pits."

    [...]

    Given the massive harm to birds from carbon pollution (an Audubon report found that half of all of America’s birds are at risk from climate change) [Bryce] should be gung-ho about reducing emissions.

    In addition to Bryce’s long record of attacking clean energy, there’s another reason his latest anti-wind screed is so predictable: He’s a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, which has received millions of dollars from oil interests over the years, including $800,000 from ExxonMobil and $1.9 million from a foundation run by the oil billionaire Koch brothers.

    Unfortunately, it was also easy to predict that the Journal editorial board members would allow Bryce to attack wind energy without disclosing his oil industry conflict of interest -- because they did the same thing earlier this year.

  • Experts, Media Say Trump Wrong, Clinton Right About Coal Industry's Decline

    Blog ››› ››› ANDREW SEIFTER

    Media outlets and industry experts are recognizing that Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is wildly off-base when he claims that he can revive the coal industry, and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton is correct when she says that market forces -- not environmental regulations -- are the main cause of the coal industry’s decline.

    Following his victory in the May 3 Republican primary, Trump pledged, “We're going to get those miners back to work,” referencing coal miners in West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Ohio specifically. When asked how exactly Trump would accomplish that feat, a Trump advisor said the candidate would review Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards that affect the coal industry.

    But Trump’s plan to restore coal industry employment is highly unrealistic, as several industry experts and media fact-checkers have recently noted.

    In a May 5 “Fact Check,” the Associated Press reported that while Trump has long claimed that EPA emission standards on coal-fired power plants are “killing American jobs,” experts say “a bigger factor in coal's decline has been cheaper natural gas.” The AP noted that John Deskins, the director of West Virginia University’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research, “said government's ability to boost coal production is limited,” and the AP quoted Deskins saying, “It is very unlikely we will see a return to levels of coal production like we observed in 2008." The AP added: “There is another limitation on coal's future in Appalachia: After decades of heavy production, there is less of it to be mined.”

    Similarly, in a May 10 column in The Hill, contributor and Rice University associate professor Daniel Cohan wrote: “Despite the bold pledge, Trump is about as likely to bring back the heyday of coal mining employment as to cajole Mexico to fund a border wall. Neither is going to happen, no matter who is elected president.” Cohan noted that Appalachian coal mining employment “began to decline in the 1980s,” and that the “financial services firm Lazard estimates that wind, utility-scale solar and natural gas all provide cheaper options for new power generation than coal, even before considering subsidies.” Cohan added that the U.S. coal industry can also no longer count on coal exports, which “have plummeted as demand has waned in Europe and Asia,” particularly in China, where the government is cutting the country’s coal use to address severe air pollution and climate change.

    Additionally, a May 10 ClimateWire article titled “Trump Cannot Bring Back Coal” reported that both Deskins and Chiza Vitta, a Standard & Poor’s credit rating analyst, “see a continuing decline in the coal sector, with no real chance for a major recovery.” ClimateWire reported that Vitta said the coal industry is going to have to “be notably smaller to be profitable again” and added: “We do not view regulations as the primary factor for the decline.”

    As Forbes contributor Tim Worstall put it: “Trump simply isn’t going to bring back all those mining jobs. They’re gone, gone forever.”

    Meanwhile, PolitiFact has ruled that Clinton’s claim that “the market” is responsible for coal industry bankruptcies is “mostly true.”

    In a May 4 interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper, Clinton stated:

    One hundred thousand coal miners in this country lost their lives in the 20th century, so I want people to pay attention to what we, as a nation, need to do to support them. But the market is making this decision. The market has driven down the cost of coal so you have companies going bankrupt. So what I'm offering is a $30 billion plan to really revitalize coal country, to provide support for coal miners and their families, and I think that is the least the country owes these brave people.

    In its May 10 fact check of Clinton’s remarks, PolitiFact determined that it is “mostly true” that “market forces made coal companies go bankrupt.” PolitiFact stated: “We talked to coal industry experts who told us that the primary forces working against coal are market-based, notably the growth of natural gas as a cleaner, cheaper alternative.” In addition to low natural gas prices, Politifact reported that West Virginia University law professor Patrick McGinley cited a “depleted supply” of Appalachian coal and “growing demand and diminishing costs for renewable energy, like wind and solar power,” as significant factors in the coal industry’s decline.

    PolitiFact added:

    But it was a big, failed bet on the international coal market that ultimately pushed companies to a point where they couldn’t pay off their debts, forcing them to file for bankruptcy reorganization.

    About five years ago, the big coal companies  — Arch, Alpha and Peabody — took out massive loans to invest in metallurgical coal, a type found in the Appalachia region. They thought fast-growing Asian countries, particularly China, would want the coal to facilitate economic development.

    But China’s growth slowed, and the demand never materialized. The companies have been unable to pay back their debts on this project, and that’s what sent them into bankruptcy, [University of Wyoming professor Robert] Godby said.

    PolitiFact said that environmental regulations “may make electricity companies apprehensive about investing in coal down the line,” and “may play a larger role” as the coal industry becomes more vulnerable and environmental protections grow. But the article concluded, “Economic forces on both the national and international markets are the main reason coal’s prominence in the American energy sector is now vulnerable, forcing coal-burning plant closures and several high-profile bankruptcies.”

    Indeed, while Clinton’s remarks about the coal industry have been frequently distorted by conservative media, competition from natural gas and renewables, depletion of easily recoverable coal reserves, and advances in mining technology are the most significant factors in the coal industry’s decline -- not environmental protections.

  • Inside The Industry Manufacturing The Lies You Hear Every Day

    Blog ››› ››› JOE STRUPP

    In April, Ari Rabin-Havt and Media Matters released Lies, Incorporated: The World of Post-Truth Politics. The book lays out the “carefully concealed but ever-growing industry of organized misinformation that exists to create and disseminate lies in the service of political agendas.”

    I recently spoke with Rabin-Havt about the group of people -- and their enablers -- feeding false narratives into the media, how we’ve entered an era “where truth doesn’t exist,” and how to fix the problem.

    The below conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

    The book is titled Lies, Incorporated: The World of Post-Truth Politics. What does that refer to?

    Well it refers to two things. It refers to a group of people who I found in this book are at the center of creating a lot of the lies you see permeating through the conservative media. A group of people who have come up with everything from death panels to the notion that children raised by LGBT couples have worse outcomes than children raised by straight couples. It’s a recognition that a group of people exists to create lies for both ideological and financial profit with the express intent of distorting the public policy process. That’s Lies, Incorporated.

    The post-truth refers to the fact that because of this group and because of the media environment that this group feeds off of, we now exist in a world where truth doesn’t exist. Where there’s a truth on the right and a truth on the left, and instead of having debates about issues, we have debates about what is true and what is false, and that’s not a debate that advances us as a country.

    And this is a group that not a lot of people realize exists, with an agenda to argue against the facts?

    Sometimes a group of people, “experts,” who are paid to create the facts, who are paid to manufacture the facts with the express intent -- and this is what’s interesting -- not of advancing their cause, but of taking us to a draw, keeping us at the status quo. It’s not about advancing an ideology, it’s about keeping everything locked in place.

    Because there are certain people who benefit from that, whether it’s a certain political party, or a certain business?

    It’s a certain ideology, it’s a certain business, it’s a certain faction, it’s sometimes a group of people. Sometimes the issues are barely connected. A lot of the scientists who worked against the notion that tobacco causes cancer had issues that were completely unrelated. Some were cold warriors who simply believed that any regulation was a step towards communism. One prominent tobacco scientist was a eugenicist who believed that cancer was caused by genetics and therefore couldn’t be caused by tobacco.

    The book opens with the story that in 1957 the tobacco industry really started it.

    The tobacco industry, they were patient zero here, they really launched this world. What happened is the barons of the tobacco industry met at the Plaza Hotel with John Hill, who was the head of Hill & Knowlton, the legendary public relations firm. John Hill sat them down and said, “You have to stop this advertising that says our cigarettes are the healthiest, you have to cut that out. What we need you to do is start arguing with the science that says cigarettes are unhealthy. And how you do that is we form this Tobacco Industry Research Committee and we do our own science that speaks to our needs.”

    What’s interesting is John Hill knew cigarettes are unhealthy. How do we know that? Because John Hill quit smoking prior to this meeting because of its impact on him.

    You cover a lot of issues in the book, such as cigarettes, climate change, guns, immigration, and abortion. Which issues among the ones in the book seem to have the biggest offenders?

    They’re all very different. The thing I would like to look at is that these lies have an impact on people. We think about death panels for example. This woman, Betsy McCaughey, made up death panels.

    That was in the Affordable Care Act debate.

    That was horrible, right? But the truth is why it’s horrible is because people aren’t getting insurance today because of that lie. Who isn’t? Well, there was a story in the Washington Post that quoted two women who qualified for insurance under the Affordable Care Act, but weren’t getting it and were paying out of pocket for expensive out-of-pocket costs and when they asked them why, one put her fingers in the shape of a gun and implied that it was death panels.

    You cite several conservative outlets from Fox News to The Daily Caller to Breitbart. What is the role that the right-wing media have in spreading these lies?

    Some of it is laziness, some of it is people are biased towards lies that conform to their world views and confirm their world views. They make us comfortable, they make us feel good. We go to media that doesn’t educate us, that makes us feel good about living in our own world.

    My friend Clay Johnson wrote a book a few years back called The Information Diet. In it, he talks about how pizza tastes better than broccoli. If you had a pizza pie in front of you and a plate of steamed broccoli, which one do you want to eat? Well, 99 percent of people want to eat the pizza. But we know that you can’t just eat pizza, you need to eat your broccoli, too. The fact is, we know that in our food diets. On our information diets, people believe and just ingest only pizza, and that’s part of the problem.

    Has that gotten better or worse in recent years?

    I think it’s gotten worse. Part of the reason is we have a media structure now where you don’t have to get any information other than the information you want.

    Our world now is a world of unlimited bandwidth. Which in the end it is better to have more voices in the process, it’s better to have a world where somebody can create a site like Daily Kos, like Breitbart and rise up based on the ability to attract an audience -- that’s not a bad thing. The question is, if your only source of news is somebody like Breitbart, it’s going to distort your world view.

    Why do you think the Lies, Incorporated group has so much success with these right-wing outlets?

    Sometimes they work for them. You look at certain right-wing outlets, and you’ll see members of Lies, Incorporated writing and working for them. Sometimes it’s because these liars are spreading lies that conform to that world view. And part of that is, a lot of this world blossomed over the past seven years. In the past seven years, we had a Democrat in the White House who was pushing for change that leaned progressive, which meant the people fighting that change were conservative, which meant Lies, Incorporated, whose goal is to keep the status quo in place, was fighting against that. I think that creates the world that you’re talking about.

    How much does the mainstream media enable these lies?

    I think they occasionally do. I think some of it is when you have the ‘he said-she said’ version of reporting, it enables the lies. It’s also enabling to the lies to sometimes just broadcast them in general. Putting Betsy McCaughey on TV at all, even if you’re doing it to call her out, enables her lies. The question is, how do you then structure your coverage, and this is part of the solution, is media need to bear responsibility for broadcasting lies and for putting liars on television. And when they do, this will help to start to solve this problem.

    You mention false equivalency in the book, in which every story has to have two equal sides.

    Sometimes I feel like public policy stories end up getting covered like AP sports stories. An AP sports story has a similar model every time. Two teams played, this was the score, quote from winning team, quote from losing team, close story. When you try to cover public policy that way, you invariably end up injecting lies into the equation.

    People can have differences of opinion. We can look at similar data and have a different view on what that data means. That happens all the time. And there should be differences and we should have a debate about those differences. And we should come to the best conclusions. But the data should be the data and should be upheld and truth should be truth and we should hold it up and we shouldn’t allow people to inject lies in just because they’re doing it under the cover of politics.

    Which lies are the worst culprits on the false equivalency?

    The one that I think rises above all else is climate change, where the false equivalency for years put climate deniers who had no standing in the scientific community at the same level as scientists and in fact advanced some climate deniers further because they weren’t interested in science and accuracy, they were interested in spinning politics.

    Why does it still stick when there is overwhelming scientific agreement that there is man-made climate change?

    The lies are sticky, when people believe what they believe it is very difficult to convince people to look at truth when they have a firmly held belief in their head.

    What is the way to counter this?

    Part of it is a media solution, not giving liars a platform to lie and not allowing them to grow in the media. Part of it is making sure there is a transparency in how issues are covered. Part of it is making sure we don’t cover public policy like we’re covering basketball.

    If we did those three things alone, it would weaken Lies, Incorporated because the practitioners of Lies, Incorporated are hackers, they’re hackers of our small “d” democratic process.

    Hackers exploit weakness in computer systems. These democracy hackers exploit weakness in our media and public policy systems recognizing that they can inject themselves into the debate. Like a patch on a piece of computer software, by closing those loopholes and vulnerabilities, we can shut them out of the system.

    How are these liars making money doing this?

    Some of it is grant money from conservative institutions, some of it is speaking fees, some of it is writing a best-selling book. Some of it is they hold positions that allow them to make money and do this ideologically. Some of them are independently wealthy.

    What is the biggest surprise people might find from the book?

    How interconnected this world is. How all these people kind of all come from the same kernel. How all of this is an interconnected web designed to distort democracy. And how we actually, this is going on behind the scenes and how little coverage it gets.

  • Think Tank Engulfed In "Exxon Knew" Scandal Peddles Discredited Study That Benefits Oil Industry

    ››› ››› DENISE ROBBINS

    Fox News and Fox Business have been promoting a debunked annual report from the fossil fuel front group Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), which claims that federal regulations cost the economy nearly $1.9 trillion each year. But the study has been roundly discredited and debunked, and it is being touted while CEI is under fire for its role in helping fossil fuel companies -- which would benefit from reduced federal regulations -- deceive the public on climate change.

  • Meet The Utah Columnist Shining A Light On Fossil Fuel Front Groups

    Blog ››› ››› DENISE ROBBINS

    In recent decades, fossil fuel interests have been funding front groups to advance their ideological and political goals, and key to these groups’ success is concealing their industry backing. But Utah columnist Paul Rolly has been working to shine a light on the industry backing behind the most influential front groups in his state. In an interview with Media Matters, Rolly discussed the importance of following the money.

    Rolly has been a columnist at The Salt Lake Tribune for the last 20 years, and he has stood out because of his work exposing fossil fuel front groups operating in Utah. He has uncovered the oil industry fingerprints behind campaigns to seize public lands from the federal government, attack renewable energy, and promote an industry-friendly agenda in higher education.

    Why is it so important to Rolly to educate his readers about Big Oil’s involvement in these fights? “It’s our job,” he said, explaining that it’s vital that readers know “what the sources of bills are, where they’re coming from, who they benefit, who’s behind them, who’s making money, and who’s making campaign contributions.” He hopes this information will give his readers the ability to “make informed decisions when they vote.”

    Utah is ground zero for many of the fossil fuel industry’s campaigns, making Rolly’s work invaluable. One of the most prominent fossil fuel-backed campaigns in recent years has been the effort to transfer control of federal lands to state governments, which would greatly benefit fossil fuel interests, as states would likely open up more areas to oil and gas drilling and coal mining.

    State Rep. Ken Ivory (R-UT) has played a leading role in the public land grab movement in the west, and Rolly has been paying close attention. In 2012, Ivory co-founded a group called the American Lands Council (ALC), which aims to “secure local control of western public lands by transferring federal public lands to willing States.” Utah, Rolly explained, is the only state that has passed legislation setting aside taxpayer funds to sue the federal government over control of public lands, like those managed by the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service. The lawsuit was recommended by a legal team hired by a Republican-dominated commission of Utah legislators, even though the lawyers acknowledged that the lawsuit “could cost up to $14 million, take years to play out in the courts,” and is “far from a sure victory,” according to the Associated Press.

    Rolly has repeatedly pointed out that Ivory has taken a six-figure annual salary from the ALC, which is largely funded by counties in Western states. The ALC’s tax forms reportedly indicate that Ivory and his wife have pocketed almost half of the group’s total revenue. Rolly believes that the negative attention Ivory received over his salary at ALC may explain why he stepped down as the organization’s president in December. (He remains an unpaid member of its executive committee).

    Rolly has devoted several columns to exposing the fossil funding behind ALC and other groups that are engaged in the public lands campaign. He's pointed out that Federalism in Action, where Ivory currently heads the “Free the Lands” project, is affiliated with the oil billionaires Charles and David Koch. And he's documented that the firm hired by the Utah legislature to promote the land transfer agenda, Strata Policy, also has financial ties to the Koch brothers. As the Los Angeles Times has noted, ALC has also received financial support from Americans for Prosperity, which was co-founded by the Kochs and continues to spearhead their agenda.

    The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a corporate front group that connects fossil fuel executives with legislators to push model bills that serve industry interests, is also highly influential in Utah and has a heavy hand in the public land grab movement. And, as Rolly told Media Matters, “the Koch brothers are a big deep-pocket force behind ALEC.” Ivory is an ALEC member and was even awarded the group’s “Legislator Of The Year” award in 2014.

    In addition to the public lands battle, Rolly has turned his attention to the Kochs’ influence in local universities. He said national stories about the Kochs' investments in higher education led him to examine their efforts at Utah State University, where Strata co-founder Randy Simmons was previously the Charles G. Koch professor of political economy and currently supervises a Koch-funded scholarship program. As Rolly reported: “The Kochs have extended influence to institutions of higher education, setting up grants at universities to hire professors that teach the Kochs' anti-tax, anti-regulation business and political philosophies to mold young minds to fall in step with the Kochs' industrial wishes going forward through the 21st Century.”

    Too often, media fail to disclose these important ties, Rolly noted. ALEC, for one, “probably doesn’t get the attention it should” in the national media, nor do its “ties to the Koch brothers, and their deep-pocket influence, and what happens to state legislatures.” Many valuable resources that provide context are “underused,” in Rolly’s opinion, including legislators’ conflict-of-interest and financial disclosure forms, which he examines to see if there’s any connection between “who’s giving them money” and “what they’re doing as a legislator.” He said he also examines the tax filings of nonprofits such as ALC.

    But he also noted the difficulties that newsrooms face as the journalism industry struggles financially, resulting in increased pressure and reduced resources. Newspapers have been shutting down all over the country, and the ones that remain have had to greatly cut down on staff (including the Salt Lake Tribune). When that happens, Rolly noted, “the first thing to suffer is investigative reporting” because it requires so much time and staff resources. He added: “The industry is in peril right now.”

    There are also structural difficulties that further complicate the task of investigative journalism, Rolly noted, such as Citizens United v. FEC, the 2010 Supreme Court ruling that protects a corporation's right to make unlimited expenditures in support of political candidates as a form of speech. Because of that ruling, Rolly said, super PACs can “basically take over [political] campaigns” and “you have no idea who’s contributing the money.”

    It’s worth keeping in mind that even as newspapers are facing increased financial pressures, reporting like Rolly’s can be good for business. His columns are among the newspaper’s most viewed pieces online, he says. And he recently received the “Making Democracy Work” award from the League of Women Voters for his work at the Tribune.

    The need for the media to disclose the industry backing that’s behind fossil fuel front groups is clear. Dark money groups like DonorsTrust and Donors Capital Fund exist solely to hide these funds. And research shows that organizations funded by Exxon and the Koch brothers are “more likely to have written and disseminated texts meant to polarize the climate change issue." Yet Media Matters has shown time and time again that fossil fuel front groups are getting away with promoting anti-environmental agendas while hiding the real voices behind their misleading messages.

    In the words of the Tribune, Rolly told the League of Women Voters that “democracy best works when the public is informed.” Reporters would do well to follow Rolly’s example by digging a little deeper to uncover the dark money behind special interest campaigns occurring all around the country.

  • Inside The Fossil Fuel Industry's Media Strategy To Drill And Mine On Public Lands

    ››› ››› DENISE ROBBINS

    A handful of fossil fuel industry front groups are engineering media campaigns aimed at persuading the public that the federal government should relinquish control of public lands to western states, claiming it would benefit the states economically. But evidence actually suggests that these land transfers would harm state economies, and the industry front groups are hiding their true motivation: opening up more public lands to oil drilling and coal mining while sidestepping federal environmental laws.

  • Coalition Of Scientists Takes Novel Approach To Grading Accuracy Of Climate Change Coverage

    Blog ››› ››› ANDREW SEIFTER

    A group of scientists from around the world is using new web-based technology to assess the accuracy of media coverage of climate change, and the organization spearheading these efforts is looking for support to take its work to the next level.

    The organization, known as Climate Feedback, uses what’s known as web annotation technology to layer scientists’ comments directly onto articles and opinion pieces, so that readers can easily understand whether -- and to what degree -- the pieces are consistent with scientific understanding of climate change. Climate Feedback then assigns a credibility score known as “feedback” to each media piece, which serves as an overall guide to its accuracy -- or lack thereof.

    The result looks like this:

    At Media Matters, we’ve given scientists a forum to set the record straight when media distort their climate studies. Now Climate Feedback is further improving the media conversation by giving scientists the opportunity to respond to a wide variety of climate change coverage, as founder Dr. Emmanuel Vincent explained in an email to Media Matters.

    “We think scientists need to have a voice of their own in the media,” Vincent said. “Not as a replacement of journalism, but as a way to ensure that scientific results are not misunderstood or distorted.”

    The approach Climate Feedback employs is unique in several respects. It borrows from the peer review process used to evaluate scientific research papers, ensuring that media coverage of climate science receives a similar level of scrutiny. “After an article is selected for review, scientists with relevant expertise are invited to provide their feedback directly” using the web annotation platform, Vincent said. “Reviewers then fill [out] a short questionnaire with their rating and appreciation of the overall credibility of the piece that are all revealed at the same time to guarantee the independence of scientists’ reviews.”

    Vincent noted that Climate Feedback usually solicits comments from five to 10 scientists for each media evaluation, which is substantially higher than the two to three reviewers typically involved in a classic peer review of scientific literature. “This distributes the workload among scientists who can focus on discussing what they know best,” and helps “convey a more robust sense of the consensus when there is one.”

    Climate Feedback also ensures that only highly qualified experts weigh in on the accuracy of the media reports it analyzes. According to Vincent, contributors must have been the lead author of an article published in a top-tier peer-reviewed scientific journal within the last three years, and they must have a doctorate in a relevant discipline. Depending on the nature of the claims made in the article, Climate Feedback may seek comments from experts in a variety of subjects including biogeochemistry, oceanography, climate variability, paleoclimatology, climate impacts on ecosystems, human health and beyond.

    Once an evaluation is published, Climate Feedback shares it with the reporter or columnist via email or social media. As an example of his group’s success, Vincent pointed to an article in London’s Telegraph newspaper, which “appended a correction and made major modifications” to its original article, “withdrawing 5 sentences, in such a way that the title of the article announcing an imminent ice age is not supported anymore.” Additionally, one Climate Feedback evaluation formed the basis of an open letter from a group of scientists to The Wall Street Journal, criticizing an opinion piece for “attempt[ing] to throw clouds of uncertainty around the hard facts about climate change.” And just last week, members of the British House of Lords referenced another Climate Feedback evaluation while calling on The Times of London to more accurately cover climate science.

    Since Climate Feedback launched in late 2014, Vincent has observed several common media failings, including using flawed reasoning, making logical fallacies, cherry-picking data, and offering misleading or imprecise statements. One example he highlighted was a May 2015 Forbes column by “merchant of doubt” James Taylor, of the Exxon- and Koch-funded Heartland Institute, which misleadingly denied the impact of global warming on polar ice. Vincent noted in his email that Taylor’s column received “almost a million views and is by far Forbes’ most influential climate article in 2015 – which gives an idea of the scale of the problem we’re tackling.”

    Indeed, because the challenge is so great, Climate Feedback is ramping up its efforts via a crowdfunding campaign this week. The aim is to raise enough funds to hire a scientific editor and build a “Scientific Trust Tracker,” which will aggregate the group’s ratings to assess the overall credibility of various news sources. According to Vincent, the new tool “should provide a healthy incentive for more accurate science reporting,” because “building trust is essential for news sources and scientists’ endorsements can help journalists with integrity to get ahead.”

    Climate Feedback is doing this work at an important time. Major U.S. media outlets continue to give undue attention to those who deny the scientific consensus that fossil fuel pollution and other human activities are causing global warming, while scientists remain vastly underrepresented in some of the most high-profile media discussions of climate change, such as those taking place on the broadcast networks’ Sunday shows. And revelations of Exxon’s climate change deception exemplify the ability of the fossil fuel industry to inject misinformation into the media to undermine climate policies. As the fossil fuel industry continues to wage war on the Clean Power Plan, the Paris climate agreement, and other major climate initiatives, too many Americans remain confused about the causes of climate change (although the trend is positive), and not enough recognize the urgent need for action.

    As Vincent explained, “We now have growing evidence that corporate interests have been using the same playbook as Tobacco companies a few decades earlier: using the media to sow doubt about the science of the smoking-cancer connection then and of climate change now in order to confuse the public and undermine democratic support for dealing with the issue.”

    Climate Feedback is a valuable resource to counteract the fossil fuel industry’s harmful influence and encourage media consumers to “stand with science” to achieve more accurate climate change coverage.

  • STUDY: CNN Viewers See Far More Fossil Fuel Advertising Than Climate Change Reporting

    Following Temperature Record Announcements, Oil Industry Ads Outpaced Climate-Related Coverage By Almost 5-To-1

    ››› ››› KEVIN KALHOEFER

    CNN aired almost five times as much oil industry advertising as climate change-related coverage in the one-week periods following the announcements that 2015 was the hottest year on record and February 2016 was the most abnormally hot month on record. Specifically, CNN aired 23.5 minutes of American Petroleum Institute ads during its morning, afternoon, and primetime coverage over those two weeks, compared to just five minutes of coverage about climate change or the temperature records. That disparity does not even account for dozens of Koch Industries ads that also ran on CNN, which were not energy-focused but did serve to boost the image of the oil billionaire Koch brothers’ primary corporation.

  • Six Years After BP Oil Spill, Media Highlight Research On Spill’s Continuing Toll

    Blog ››› ››› DENISE ROBBINS

    Six years after BP’s offshore oil rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, media outlets are detailing new research that shows how the spill continues to harm wildlife and the local environment. These reports stand in stark contrast to the countless times conservative media defended BP and downplayed the disaster’s catastrophic impacts.

    The Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded on April 20, 2010, killing 11 workers and causing the worst oil spill in U.S. history, which devastated the region’s ecosystem and economy. The magnitude of the spill was so great that new evidence of its long-lasting impacts continues to surface six years later in research and media coverage.

    US News & World Report: The BP Spill Is Responsible For A “Die-Off Of Baby Dolphins.” On April 12, U.S. News & World Report covered a recent study by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) finding that “[m]ore than 170 stillborn and juvenile bottlenose dolphins found stranded in recent years along the Gulf Coast were likely killed by oil from the April 2010 explosion of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig.” The article further reported:

    Scientists observed a spike in stranded stillborn and juvenile dolphins along Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana's shores from 2010 to 2013. Researchers now believe the dolphins' mothers suffered chronic illnesses after being exposed to oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill off the coast of Louisiana.

    "Our new findings add to the mounting evidence from peer-reviewed studies that exposure to petroleum compounds following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill severely harmed the reproductive health of dolphin living in the oil spill footprint in the northern Gulf of Mexico," veterinarian and study co-author Teri Rowles, head of NOAA's Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program, said in a statement.

    The oil spill's long-term effects on dolphins' reproduction remain unclear.

    More than 1,400 dead dolphins and whales – collectively referred to as cetaceans – have washed up on the Gulf's shores since the disaster, far more than the average before the spill. Federal officials have declared an "unusual mortality event" for cetaceans in the region, which remains ongoing.

    The Tampa Tribune: Spill May Have Long-Term Effects On Fish Health. The Tampa Tribune reported on April 18 that researchers at the University of South Florida (USF) are just “beginning to chart the long-term effects of one of the biggest environmental disasters in history.” For one, the scientists are examining the long-term effects on both shallow and deepwater fish:

    No contaminated fish have made their way to the seafood market, said Steven Murawski, a professor of population dynamics and marine ecosystem analysis at USF, but researchers are still trying to figure out how many generations of fish may be affected by the spill.

    [...]

    Now, researchers are working to determine if the spill has had any long-term effect on fish DNA by attempting to grow second generations of affected fish at Mote Marine in Sarasota. The production of baby red snapper has fallen in the eastern gulf, for example, but researchers can’t yet say if that’s a result of the spill or natural cycling.

    The fish can metabolize some oil components and were only exposed to lower, sub-lethal concentrations of toxins because the oil that escaped the well was a light form of crude, but there are still questions surrounding the effects of long-term exposure, [USF scientist David] Hollander said.

    “It’s like if you stick your head in a paint can and smell the fumes you would get a headache, but what are the results if you painted a room and went to sleep in it so you’re breathing those fumes for a lot longer?” Hollander said.

    National Geographic: The Oil Spill Was Even Bigger Than Previously Thought. On April 20, National Geographic reported on a new study finding that the BP oil spill was even bigger than previously thought -- 19 percent bigger, to be exact. From National Geographic:

    Scientists from the federal government's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and several private research companies found oil along 1,313 miles (2,113 kilometers) out of 5,930 miles (9,545 kilometers) of surveyed shoreline after the spill, an increase of 19 percent from previously published estimates. That makes the disaster the largest marine oil spill in history by length of shoreline oiled, the team reported in the journal Marine Pollution Bulletin.

    [...]

    The scientists found the majority of the oiling in Louisiana, with significant oiling in Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, and, to a lesser extent, Texas.

    National Geographic also reported that approximately “30 percent of the oil thought to have been spilled is still unaccounted for,” adding that some scientists think “it must have sunk to the ocean bottom, where it may be harming communities there.”

    h/t Americans United for Change

  • Koch-Backed NFIB Smears Merrick Garland As A Radical With Dishonest “Scorecard” Attacking His Judicial Rulings

    Blog ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON

    The National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) -- a Koch-backed front group that is opposing the nomination of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court -- released a misleading “scorecard” on Garland’s rulings as a judge on the D.C. Circuit, claiming that Garland is not “moderate” because he supposedly sides too often with federal agencies to the detriment of business interests.

    But what NFIB fails to mention in its “scorecard” is that many of the decisions involving federal agencies that NFIB has selected for criticism -- namely the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Department of Labor (DoL), and National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) -- were unanimous rulings where Garland was often joined by fellow D.C. Circuit judges appointed by Republicans.

    While claiming to speak for small businesses, NFIB is actually a front group that has received millions of dollars from the Koch brothers network and other large corporate interests, and its opposition to Garland is part of a campaign against environmental, labor, and healthcare policies that most small businesses support.

    On April 12, NFIB released a “judicial scorecard” purporting to analyze Garland’s career as a judge on the D.C. Circuit. The group promoted its “scorecard” with a press release that asserted Garland’s judicial record indicates he “would overwhelmingly rule in favor of the government, unions, and environmental groups at the expense of small businesses.” According to an NFIB official quoted in the press release, “When you look at Judge Garland’s record on the bench, it is absolutely impossible to conclude that he is anywhere near a moderate."

    But NFIB’s attempt to scandalize Garland’s record, which is widely viewed as moderate, dishonestly omits important context.

    According to a Media Matters analysis of the 35 cases cited by NFIB concerning Garland’s judicial opinions on the EPA, DoL, and the NLRB -- issues highlighted as the most important in NFIB’s press release and classified as “wins” for the government by the NFIB -- judges appointed by Republicans were on the same side as Garland in 28 out of 35 -- or 80 percent -- of the cases.

     

    In fact, in 17 of the 35 EPA, DoL, and NLRB cases NFIB complains about in its scorecard, Garland wrote the majority opinion for three-judge panels that were composed of him and two judges appointed by Republicans. In only one of the 35 cases did Garland write a majority opinion for a panel composed entirely of judges appointed by Democrats.

    NFIB’s attempt to scandalize Garland’s judicial opinions for siding with government agencies more often than not also ignores the longstanding Chevron Deference doctrine, which “raised the issue of how courts should treat agency interpretations of statutes that mandated” agency action, where the “Supreme Court held that courts should defer to agency interpretations of such statutes unless they are unreasonable” -- meaning that there is nothing unusual about agencies often prevailing against challenges to their interpretation of law.

    Below, Media Matters provides the context to the cases NFIB attempts to scandalize with its scorecard, demonstrating how a strong majority of the EPA, DoL, and NLRB cases NFIB cites to claim Garland is not “moderate” involved Garland’s agreement with Republican appointee judges:

    Environmental Protection Agency

    The NFIB scorecard suggests that Garland has been overly deferential to the EPA by claiming that the agency “wins 94% of cases” before Garland, citing eight EPA “wins” versus one “split decision.”

    The scorecard does not mention that in six of the EPA’s “wins,” Garland was in agreement with at least one Republican-appointed judge. NFIB’s scorecard also doesn’t tell the full story or misleads on the other two cases it cites.

     

    The NFIB scorecard includes the 1999 decision American Trucking Ass'n v. EPA. Garland did not actually participate in the ruling in this decision, so it does not merit inclusion in NFIB’s scorecard. Instead, Garland later joined several judges in voting in favor of rehearing the case en banc before the entire D.C. Circuit. Legal scholars have said a vote to rehear a case en banc is not a ruling on the merits of the case, and as a matter of law, does not signify a “win” for the EPA, although the NFIB scorecard baselessly claims that “Garland would have ruled for EPA.”

    The scorecard also includes the 2002 decision American Corn Growers Ass'n v. EPA. Garland issued an opinion concurring and dissenting in part with the majority opinion, which was issued per curium on behalf of a panel with two Democratic appointees and one Republican appointee. In his opinion, Garland noted that his concurrence applied to “most of” the majority opinion, which included the Republican-appointed judge.

    Of the six cases cited by NFIB that could actually be reasonably characterized as EPA “wins," Garland was joined in his opinion by at least one Republican appointee every time:

    • In Allied Local and Regional Manufacturers Caucus v. EPA, Garland issued a unanimous opinion on behalf of a three-judge panel that also included Judges Ginsburg (Reagan appointee) and Tatel (Clinton appointee).
    • In Appalachian Power Co. v. EPA, a per curium opinion authored by Garland and Judge Wald (Carter appointee) was joined by Henderson (H.W. Bush appointee).
    • In Cement Kiln Recycling Coalition v. EPA, Garland issued a unanimous opinion on behalf of a three-judge panel that also included Judges Henderson (H.W. Bush appointee) and Randolph (H.W. Bush appointee).
    • In Chamber of Commerce of U.S. v. EPA, Garland issued a unanimous opinion on behalf of a three-judge panel that also included Judges Henderson (H.W. Bush appointee) and Brown (W.Bush appointee).
    • In National Association of Home Builders v. EPA, Garland issued a unanimous opinion on behalf of a three-judge panel that also included Judges Rogers (Clinton appointee) and Williams (Reagan appointee).
    • In Utility Air Regulatory Group v. EPA, Garland issued a unanimous opinion on behalf of a three-judge panel that also included Judges Rogers (Clinton appointee) and Kavanaugh (W. Bush appointee). Kavanaugh also filed a separate concurring opinion.

    Department of Labor

    The NFIB scorecard suggests that Garland has been overly deferential to the DoL by claiming that the agency “wins 87% of cases” before Garland, citing eight DoL “wins” versus two “losses.”

    The scorecard does not mention that in six of the DoL’s “wins,” Garland was in agreement with at least one Republican appointee judge.

     

    Here are the Republican appointees who joined Garland’s opinions in favor of DoL in six of cases cited by NFIB:

    National Labor Relations Board

    The NFIB scorecard suggests that Garland has been overly deferential to the NLRB by claiming that the independent agency “wins 78% of cases” before Garland, citing 19 NLRB “wins” versus five “losses” and one “split decision.”

    The scorecard does not mention that in 16 of the NLRB’s “wins,” Garland was in agreement with at least one Republican appointee judge. In the other three cases, FedEx Home Delivery v. NLRB, Northeast Bev. Corp v. NLRB, and Ross Stores, Inc. v. NLRB, the NFIB scorecard doesn’t tell the full story -- in all three cases Garland only partially dissented, agreeing in part with his Republican-appointed colleague's majority ruling.

     

    Here are the other 16 cases cited by NFIB where at least one Republican appointee agreed with Garland’s decision in favor of the NLRB:

    • In Assoc. of Civ. Tech., Puerto Rico Army v. FLRA, Garland issued a unanimous opinion on behalf of a three-judge panel that also included Judges Tatel (Clinton appointee) and Griffith (W.Bush appointee).
    • In Antelope Valley Bus Co., Inc. v. NLRB, Garland issued a unanimous opinion on behalf of a three-judge panel that also included Judges Tatel (Clinton appointee) and Williams (Reagan appointee).
    • In Ark Las Vegas Restaurant Corp. v. NLRB, Garland issued a unanimous opinion on behalf of a three-judge panel that also included Judges Henderson (H.W. Bush appointee) and Randolph (H.W. Bush appointee).
    • In Bally’s Park Place, Inc. v. NLRB, Garland issued a unanimous opinion on behalf of a three-judge panel that also included Judges Sentelle (Reagan appointee) and Ginsburg (Reagan appointee).
    • In Ceridian Corp. v. NLRB, Garland issued a unanimous opinion on behalf of a three-judge panel that also included Judges Sentelle (Reagan appointee) and Griffith (W. Bush appointee).
    • In Dean Transportation, Inc. v. NLRB, Garland issued a unanimous opinion on behalf of a three-judge panel that also included Judges Henderson (H.W. Bush appointee) and Randolph (H.W. Bush appointee).
    • In Flying Food Group, Inc. v. NLRB, Garland issued a unanimous opinion on behalf of a three-judge panel that also included Judges Henderson (H.W. Bush appointee) and Kavanaugh (W.Bush appointee).
    • In Halle Enterprises, Inc. v. NLRB, Garland issued a unanimous opinion on behalf of a three-judge panel that also included Judges Sentelle (Reagan appointee) and Tatel (Clinton appointee).
    • In ITT Industries, Inc. v. NLRB, Garland issued a unanimous opinion on behalf of a three-judge panel that also included Judge Randolph (H.W. Bush appointee) and Judge Roberts -- a Bush appointee who is now Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
    • In Lee Lumber and Bldg. Material Corp. v. NLRB, Garland issued a unanimous opinion on behalf of a three-judge panel that also included Judges Sentelle (Reagan appointee) and Rogers (Clinton appointee). Sentelle also filed a separate concurring opinion.
    • In Mohave Elec. Co-op, Inc. v. NLRB, Garland issued a unanimous opinion on behalf of a three-judge panel that also included Judges Ginsburg (Reagan appointee) and Henderson (H.W. Bush appointee).
    • In Pacific Bell v. NLRB, Garland issued a unanimous opinion on behalf of a three-judge panel that also included Judges Ginsburg (Reagan appointee) and Williams (Reagan appointee).
    • In Pacific Coast Supply, LLC v. NLRB, Garland issued a unanimous opinion on behalf of a three-judge panel that also included Judges Griffith (Bush appointee) and Kavanaugh (Bush appointee).
    • In Shamrock Foods Co. v. NLRB, Garland issued a unanimous opinion on behalf of a three-judge panel that also included Judges Henderson (H.W. Bush appointee) and Tatel (Clinton appointee).
    • In Spectrum Health -- Kent Community Campus v. NLRB, Garland issued a unanimous opinion on behalf of a three-judge panel that also included Judges Henderson (H.W. Bush appointee) and Griffith (Bush appointee).
    • In Spurlino Materials, LLC v. NLRB, Garland issued a unanimous opinion on behalf of a three-judge panel that also included Judges Williams (Reagan appointee) and Randolph (H.W. Bush appointee).

    Charts by Oliver Willis.