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  • New Book Provides Illustrated Guide To Media-Fueled “Madhouse” Of Climate Change Denial

    Blog ››› ››› ANDREW SEIFTER

    Sometimes even the world’s most serious problems are best handled with a little bit of humor.

    Case in point: The Madhouse Effect (Columbia University Press), a new book by Penn State University climate scientist Michael Mann and Washington Post cartoonist Tom Toles, which lays out a plan for media, politicians, and the public at large to “escape the madhouse” of climate change denial before it’s too late.

    There is no shortage of books about climate change. But what makes this one unique is the way it combines Mann’s science communication skills, which help succinctly describe the roots, methods, and implications of climate science denial, and Toles’ illustrations, which provide an equally biting and amusing perspective on the dynamics the book describes. The book speaks to both our left and right brains, with the hope that it will motivate many to push for climate action -- and maybe even convert a few deniers along the way.

    The Madhouse Effect is also a book about media, and it dissects many common media failings that we frequently analyze and write about here at Media Matters.

    First among them is false balance, which the book describes as giving false industry-friendly claims about climate change “an equal place on the media stage with actual science.” As we documented in a recent study of newspaper opinion pages, one place where this problem is alive and well is USA Today, which often pairs scientifically accurate editorials about climate change with “opposing view” op-eds that flatly deny climate change is happening or that it's caused by human activities.

    Several of these climate science-denying “opposing views” in USA Today were written by Republican members of Congress, exemplifying another point Mann and Toles make in the book: False balance is “greatly exacerbated by the increasing polarization of our public discourse.” This can also be seen in print and TV news coverage of GOP presidential candidates’ climate denial, which frequently failed to indicate that the candidates' statements about climate change conflicted with the scientific consensus on the issue.

    Mann and Toles argue that false balance has been further worsened by the decentralization of news sources, particularly the rise of the “right-wing echo chamber” led (at least in the U.S.) by Rupert Murdoch-owned outlets Fox News and The Wall Street Journal. Indeed, climate science denial remains a staple of both outlets, with the Journal editorial board and Journal columnist Holman Jenkins peddling every denialist trope imaginable, and Fox News recently erasing all mentions of climate change (and coincidentally, Mann) from an Associated Press article about Tropical Storm Hermine.

    The Madhouse Effect also pinpoints where these denialist talking points often originate, detailing many of the fossil fuel front groups whose representatives frequently mislead about climate change in major print and TV media without disclosing their glaring conflicts of interest. Among them are leading opponents of climate action such as Americans for Prosperity, the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), the Heartland Institute, and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), all of which have received funding from the oil billionaire Koch brothers.

    The book exposes many of the individual industry-funded operatives known for misinforming about climate change, too, including the Cato Institute’s Patrick Michaels, Heartland’s Fred Singer and James Taylor, editor Steve Milloy, ClimateDepot’s Marc Morano, and CEI’s Chris Horner and Myron Ebell.

    Mann and Toles give special attention to Bjorn Lomborg, a frequent contributor to The Wall Street Journal and USA Today:

    Of Lomborg’s particular style of misinformation, they write:

    Lomborg’s arguments often have a veneer of credibility, but scratch the surface, and you witness a sleight of hand, where climate projections are lowballed; climate change impacts, damages, and costs are underestimated; and the huge current subsidies to the fossil fuel industry, both direct and indirect, are ignored.

    (Unfortunately, after Mann and Toles wrote a September 16 op-ed in the Washington Post profiling Lomborg and other members of the book’s climate “deniers club,” the Post opted to publish its first Lomborg op-ed in nearly two years on its website on September 19.)

    Thankfully, The Madhouse Effect debunks many of the top climate falsehoods promoted by these industry operatives -- and conservative media. These include claiming that addressing climate change will keep the poor in “energy poverty”; citing the global warming “hiatus” or “pause” to dismiss concerns about climate change; pointing to changes in the climate hundreds or thousands of years ago to deny that the current warming is caused by humans; alleging that unmitigated climate change will be a good thing; disputing that climate change is accelerating sea level rise; and denying that climate change is making weather disasters more costly.

    And Mann and Toles detail some of the climate connections that major media outlets often ignore, such as the counterintuitive role of climate change in the winter snowstorms that blanketed the Northeast in early 2015, and the impacts of climate change on national security, the economy, and public health. In part, they attribute this lack of coverage to a modern media environment where very few stories can survive more than a few 24-hour news cycles, which is “prohibitive for raising awareness about slowly growing threats such as climate change.”

    The book concludes with a call to action for readers to “leave the madhouse” and help lead the fight against climate change. The authors convey a sense of urgency, writing: “We will not, we cannot, wreck this planet. There is no Planet B.” As with so much else in The Madhouse Effect, that sentiment is also expressed in cartoon-form, via Toles’ illustration of a thermometer for a chapter titled, “Why should I give a damn?”:

  • Why Is USA Today Willingly Confusing Its Readers About Climate Change?

    Blog ››› ››› ANDREW SEIFTER

    The USA Today editorial board is well-versed in the science of human-caused climate change and its impacts. So shouldn’t USA Today make sure that the op-eds it runs alongside its climate-related editorials aren’t scientifically inaccurate?

    In a recent study, we documented that 12 percent of the climate-related opinion pieces that USA Today has published since January 2015 contained climate change denial or other climate science misinformation. Most of these opinion pieces were what USA Today calls “opposing view” op-eds that ran alongside USA Today editorials (“our view”) that accurately reflected climate science.

    The end result was false balance, where a factually accurate statement about climate change was pitted against a factually inaccurate one, and USA Today’s readers were forced to decide which side to believe.

    This dynamic was once again at play when USA Today published a September 8 “opposing view” from Patrick J. Michaels, director of the Cato Institute’s Center for the Study of Science. USA Today deserves some credit for properly disclosing that “Cato has received funding from fossil fuel interests,” but that doesn’t excuse publishing an op-ed containing claims about climate change that USA Today knows to be untrue.

    In the op-ed, Michaels asserted that “glib attributions” of a climate change role in the recent extreme rainfall and flooding in Louisiana are “more wishful than reality.” As purported evidence, he cited a recent study of the contiguous United States by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which found that “no evidence was found for changes in extreme precipitation attributable to climate change in the available observed record.” Michaels then added: “What’s good for the U.S. is also good for Louisiana.”

    The NOAA study Michaels cited did not assess whether the devastating flooding in Louisiana was related to climate change, but another study by many of those same NOAA scientists did. It found, “Human-caused climate warming increased the chances of the torrential rains that unleashed devastating floods in south Louisiana in mid August by at least 40 percent.” And the lead author of both studies, Karin van der Wiel, stated: “We found human-caused, heat-trapping greenhouse gases can play a measurable role in events such as the August rains that resulted in such devastating floods, affecting so many people.”

    USA Today published Michaels’ distortion of NOAA’s climate research despite being well aware of the Louisiana-focused study. In its editorial that ran alongside Michaels’ op-ed, USA Today wrote that the “science of heavy rain events is straightforward” and noted that “a new federal report concluded that human-caused climate change played a ‘measurable’ role in last month’s catastrophic flooding in Louisiana and increases the chances of such torrential downpours by at least 40%.” And a USA Today news article stated that the NOAA study found climate change “played a major role in the historic rainfall that caused catastrophic flooding in Louisiana last month, nearly doubling the chance of such a deluge taking place.”

    Much of the climate science misinformation on the pages of USA Today stems from this “our view”/“opposing view” format, but it doesn’t have to be this way. USA Today would do a service to its readers by committing to fact-checking all of its climate-related opinion pieces -- “opposing view” or otherwise -- to ensure that they don’t contain false claims about climate science. 

    The September 8 USA Today editorial concluded: “There’s plenty of room for debate on the best ways to adapt to climate change, mitigate its effects and curtail greenhouse-gas emissions. After another long, hot, soggy summer, however, neither [GOP presidential candidate Donald] Trump nor any other candidate for public office should be allowed to get away with the argument that climate change is a ‘hoax’ or something not worth sweating over.”

    It’s a good point -- and one that should apply to USA Today’s opinion pages, too.

    Kevin Kalhoefer assisted with the research for this article.

  • Here Are The Big Players In The Inevitable Smear Campaign Against Judge Merrick Garland

    ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    As President Obama reportedly prepares to announce Judge Merrick Garland to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court, media should be prepared to hear from several right-wing groups dedicated to opposing the nominee, no matter who it is. These advocacy groups and right-wing media outlets have a history of pushing misleading information and alarmist rhetoric to launch smear campaigns against Obama's highly qualified Supreme Court nominees, using tactics including, but not limited to, spreading offensive rumors about a nominee's personal life, deploying bogus legal arguments or conspiracy theories, and launching wild distortions of every aspect of a nominee's legal career.

  • A Guide To The Right-Wing Media Myths About Syrian Refugees In The Wake Of The Terror Attacks In Paris

    ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN

    Right-wing media have repeatedly exploited the November 13 ISIS-led terror attacks in Paris to stoke fears about Syrian refugees posing a terror threat in the U.S., falsely claiming that the United States lacks a rigorous refugee vetting system, that most Syrian refugees are adult males "of fighting age," and that, like the attacks in Paris, the Boston Marathon bombing and Ft. Hood shooting were perpetrated by refugees.

  • Conservative Media Defend Corporations' "Right" To Deceive Public On Climate Change

    ››› ››› DENISE ROBBINS

    Conservative media are defending the "right" of fossil fuel companies to knowingly deceive the public about climate change, after a group of climate scientists and members of Congress called for an investigation of such companies under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO). Contrary to claims by conservative media that these advocates are seeking to "shut down free speech," RICO would only apply to those who purposefully misled the public about climate change, with some Congressmen pointing to recent reports that ExxonMobil funded climate science denial for decades after discovering that fossil fuels drive climate change.

  • Fox Uses Misleading Cato Data To Falsely Claim Federal Workers Are Overpaid

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX MORASH

    Fox Business' Stuart Varney cited misleading research from the Cato Institute to disparage federal employees, claiming they make 78 percent more than private sector workers. In fact, when compared to private sector workers in similar occupations and with similar levels of education, government employees are often paid less than their private industry counterparts.

    On the October 9 edition of Fox Business' Varney & Co., host Stuart Varney and Fox contributor Tammy Bruce used a misleading report from the right-wing Cato Institute to mockingly claim that federal workers are paid too much. Without any discussion of the different types of jobs performed by government and private sector employees, Varney and Bruce slammed "super, super rich" federal workers for contributing to economic inequality in Washington, D.C.:

    TAMMY BRUCE: Well look, they're better than us, aren't they? And they deserve more money because they do such-- much more difficult work, and they're just more important and better people. Look, these are the people that all this-- those are the only people politicians really see. Its unionized of course. It goes through the framework of government and politicians wanting to spend more, make things bigger, make things worse. And they're right on that track.

    STUART VARNEY: Look what is on the screen. Six of the top--of the richest neighborhoods are right around Washington, D.C.

    BRUCE: But that's very small area of D.C., of course. And the talk about the distance between the poor and the wealthy. You see it. Government--super, super rich. And then those other neighborhoods in Washington, D.C, the poverty, the unemployment, the abandonment. That's classic big government where everybody else get pushed out and the people who genuflect, who pay allegiance to that big federal government get all the money, and everyone else suffers.

    According to Cato's October 2015 report, total salary and compensation for an average federal worker in 2014 was $119,934 -- compared to just $67,246 for the average private sector worker. Cato's analysis blamed supposedly generous pay for driving federal budget deficits and demanded that compensation for federal jobs be reduced to better reflect the private sector. Cato even acknowledged that federal workers typically have higher levels of education and professional experience than the private sector as a whole, but still recommended that their compensation be arbitrarily reduced -- a common refrain among right-wing think tanks.

    In reality, federal and private sector workers are compensated differently because they perform different jobs and have strikingly different levels of education, on average. According to a January 2012 report from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), "33 percent of federal employees work in professional occupations, such as the sciences or engineering, compared with only 18 percent of private-sector employees" and "21 percent of federal employees have a master's, professional, or doctoral degree, compared with 9 percent of private-sector employees."

    The same CBO report found that after accounting for education and other "observable characteristics," average federal wages were only 2 percent higher than would be expected in the private sector.

    According to the findings of an exhaustive November 2014 review by the Federal Salary Council, federal employees nationwide face an average pay disparity of 35 percent compared to private sector counterparts performing "the same levels of work."

    Federal worker occupations and levels of education are too different from that of the private sector to easily compare side-by-side, a fact that even Cato's Chris Edwards -- who authored the study used by Varney & Co. -- readily admitted in a July 23, 2012 interview with The Washington Post:

    Chris Edwards, director of tax policy studies at the Cato Institute, a conservative think thank [sic],and author of several papers concluding that federal workers are overpaid, acknowledged Monday that "it's hard to make an overall sweeping assessment" of whether private- or public-sector employees make more.

  • Media Run With Discredited Nativist Group's Research To Claim More Than Half Of Immigrant Households Receive "Welfare"

    More Questionable Research From The SPLC-Labeled Nativist Group, The Center For Immigration Studies


    Numerous conservative media outlets are parroting the misleading conclusions of a September 2015 report by an anti-immigrant nativist group, the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), which claims that "immigrant households use welfare at significantly higher rates than native households." Like previous flawed CIS studies, these findings have been called into question by immigration experts for failing to account for the economic hardship of some immigrant families, lumping American-born beneficiaries into "immigrant household" categorizations, and conflating numerous anti-poverty programs with so-called "welfare."

  • Right-Wing Media Desperately Smear Scientists To Defend Climate Deniers' Virtue

    Blog ››› ››› DENISE ROBBINS


    Who is more likely to be influenced by money: The vast majority of climate scientists who agree with the scientific consensus that human activities are driving global warming, or the small pool of climate change deniers funded by the fossil fuel industry? The answer probably seems obvious, but some deniers are doing their best to play the "conflict of interest" card against respected climate scientists. 

    Right-wing media are promoting the myth that scientists who agree with the consensus of human-caused climate change have been "corrupt[ed]" by "massive amounts of money." Most recently, National Review published an op-ed from the Cato Institute's science director, Patrick Michaels, who wrote that the U.S. government disburses "tens of billions of dollars" to climate scientists "who would not have received those funds had their research shown climate change to be beneficial or even modest in its effects."

    Here's the bizarre thing: After arguing that money "corrupts" science that supports the consensus on man-made climate change, Michaels then tried to defend the industry funding behind the research that's used to deny climate change. Michaels wrote: "Are the very, very few climate scientists whose research is supported by [the fossil fuel] industry somehow less virtuous?"

    It should come as no surprise that Michaels himself works for an organization funded by the fossil fuel industry. The Cato Institute was co-founded by the oil billionaire Koch brothers and has received millions from the Koch family, while also receiving funding from ExxonMobil and the American Petroleum Institute.

  • REPORT: Fox News Enlists Fossil Fuel Industry To Smear EPA Carbon Pollution Standards


    A Media Matters analysis of Fox News coverage of the Environmental Protection Agency's proposed carbon pollution standards finds that long after a report from the Chamber of Commerce was discredited, Fox News continued to cite it. In addition, Fox News only hosted politicians who opposed EPA standards and who have altogether received over $1.6 million in contributions from fossil fuel industries in 2014.

  • Myths and Facts About EPA's Carbon Pollution Standards

    ››› ››› DENISE ROBBINS

    The Environmental Protection Agency's forthcoming regulations on greenhouse gas emissions will provide legally required protection for the health and welfare of Americans at a cheap cost, while allowing states flexibility -- contrary to media fearmongering about the landmark standards.

  • George Will Applauds Old Lawsuit Everyone Else Thinks Is "Stupid"

    Blog ››› ››› MEAGAN HATCHER-MAYS

    Washington Post columnist and Fox News contributor George Will joined right-wing media celebrating a lawsuit he believes will "blow [the Affordable Care Act] to smithereens," even though legal and policy experts agree that the theory the lawsuit is based on is ridiculous.

    In a January 29 column, Will cheered the efforts of Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, who is challenging the legality of tax credits the IRS provides to consumers who buy health insurance on the new federal exchange. According to Pruitt's lawsuit, which is the brainchild of Michael Cannon of the conservative Cato Institute and the National Review Online's Jonathan Adler (also a blogger at the right-leaning Volokh Conspiracy, which makes him a  new colleague of Will's), the IRS has no authority to offer the tax credits in the federal exchange. Instead, according to the theory, Congress somehow intended the credits only for exchanges set up by the states.

    Will ignored the fact that a federal court recently ruled against this type of far-fetched challenge.

    Yet the case still sounds pretty good to Will, who used his column to not only celebrate this dubious lawsuit, but to complain about the IRS' "breezy indifference to legality":

    The four words that threaten disaster for the ACA say the subsidies shall be available to persons who purchase health insurance in an exchange "established by the state." But 34 states have chosen not to establish exchanges.

    So the IRS, which is charged with enforcing the ACA, has ridden to the rescue of Barack Obama's pride and joy. Taking time off from writing regulations to restrict the political speech of Obama's critics, the IRS has said, with its breezy indifference to legality, that subsidies shall also be dispensed to those who purchase insurance through federal exchanges the government has established in those 34 states. Pruitt is challenging the IRS in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Oklahoma, and there are similar challenges in Indiana, Virginia and Washington, D.C.

    The IRS says its "interpretation" -- it actually is a revision -- of the law is "consistent with," and justified by, the "structure of" the ACA. The IRS means that without its rule, the ACA would be unworkable and that Congress could not have meant to allow this. The ACA's legislative history, however, demonstrates that Congress clearly -- and, one might say, with malice aforethought -- wanted subsidies available only through state exchanges.


    Congress made subsidies available only through state exchanges as a means of coercing states into setting up exchanges.

    In Senate Finance Committee deliberations on the ACA, Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.), one of the bill's primary authors, suggested conditioning tax credits on state compliance because only by doing so could the federal government induce state cooperation with the ACA.

  • What Media Should Know About The Anti-Immigrant Movement's Economic Attacks On Reform


    Mainstream media outlets should be aware of damaging economic attacks leveled by anti-immigrant groups in an attempt to derail comprehensive immigration reform. In reality, research indicates that comprehensive immigration reform would improve the U.S. economy, create jobs and boost American wages. Moreover, new findings show that immigrants are less likely to rely on public benefits than native-born Americans.