The final installment of the U.N.'s top climate report, which calls for prompt, extensive action to avoid calamitous impacts from climate change, garnered relatively little attention from the major print, cable and broadcast media outlets compared to the first installment. However, coverage of the third report rightfully gave far less space to those who cast doubt on the science.
A new report from the Union of Concerned Scientists analyzed major cable network coverage of climate change in 2013, and found that CNN covered the topic even less than Fox News, and that both featured a significant amount of misleading coverage that "weaken[s] the public's ability to understand and grapple with the risks of climate change."
The latest media analysis from the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) found (perhaps unsurprisingly) that Fox News misinformed their audience a great majority of the time when discussing climate change. Meanwhile, CNN devoted a paltry amount of airtime to global warming in 2013, and when they did cover the topic, the network frequently presented the science demonstrating global warming as an issue up for debate by pundits. Here are some of UCS' most significant findings:
UCS found that even though Fox News overwhelmingly misled their audience on climate science, the network still covered the topic more than CNN in 2013. On the primetime weekday shows and weekend morning programs that UCS examined, CNN aired 43 segments on climate change, Fox News aired 50 segments, and MSNBC towered over the two with 133 segments -- more coverage than the CNN and Fox combined:
According to UCS' analysis, MSNBC's coverage was 92 percent accurate; the analysis labeled 8 percent of MSNBC's coverage "inaccurate," saying these segments overstated the connection between certain extreme weather events and manmade global warming or the severity of sea level rise.
Climate "skeptics" have latched on to a myth that scientists predicted global cooling in the 1970s. However, as even a Fox News anchor pointed out in 2006, there was never a consensus on cooling in the 1970s the same way there currently is on global warming -- in fact, the majority of the scientific literature at the time was predicting warming. Yet that hasn't stopped Fox from regurgitating this myth ad nauseum:
While some on Fox News have claimed that "global cooling was the consensus" in the 1970s to dismiss the current climate science consensus in its entirety, a realistic examination of the scientific literature shows the opposite is true. In 2006, the American Meteorological Society (AMS) took a look at published papers from the 1970s and found that a consensus around global warming -- not cooling -- was beginning to emerge. Of 71 peer reviewed studies on climate change from 1965 to 1979, only seven articles predicted global cooling -- less than ten percent -- while well over half (44 studies) predicted global warming. Even 40 years ago, predictions of global cooling were only on the fringe of climate science.
There were indeed a couple of magazine articles published in that era that overhyped theories of "global cooling," but they were cherry-picking the science. For instance, Newsweek ran a nine-paragraph, back-page article titled "The Cooling World" in 1975 and Time magazine ran an article titled "Another Ice Age?" in 1974. Despite these magazine articles' infamy among climate "skeptics," they never made the cover as Fox News or internet hoaxes would have you believe.
If there was a global cooling "scare," it was more of a media wrongdoing than a failure of scientists.
Time's Bryan Walsh accurately summarized the situation:
The reality is that scientists in the 1970s were just beginning to understand how climate change and aerosol pollution might impact global temperatures. Add in the media-hype cycle -- which was true then as it is now -- and you have some coverage that turned out to be wrong. But thanks to the Internet, those stories stay undead, recycled by notorious climate skeptics like George Will. Pay no attention to the Photoshop. It's the science we should heed -- and the science says man-made climate change is real and very, very worrying.
The video in this report was created by Coleman Lowndes and John Kerr with voiceover by Todd Gregory.
From the March 7 edition of Fox News' Your World with Neil Cavuto:
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From the February 14 edition of Fox News' Special Report:
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CNN gave a platform to "toxic and divisive" Marc Morano to dismiss global warming on its new program, The 11th Hour. But the network did not disclose that Morano, who has no scientific expertise, is paid by fossil fuel companies to cast doubt on the scientific consensus on climate change, as he did on CNN.
On December 10, The 11th Hour host Don Lemon tweeted a preview of the show: "Is #climatechange real? We discuss tonight on @The11thHour on #CNN." Such a "debate" over verifiable facts is often counter-productive, but if CNN is going to air it, the network needs to at least disclose if any of its guests have a financial incentive to deny the facts on climate change.
The CNN segment featured Marc Morano, who currently runs a climate skeptic website paid for by a fossil fuel-funded lobbying group, alongside the Sierra Club's Michael Brune and Earth Echo International's Philippe Cousteau. However, Morano commandeered the majority of the segment -- at one point Lemon joked to Cousteau, "Philippe, you've got to be aggressive if you want to get in on these guys because they're really fired up about this." Morano, who previously made a living by feeding misleading talking points on global warming to Rush Limbaugh and Senator James Inhofe, used his CNN airtime to claim that the "most pro-child thing you can do" in poverty-stricken areas is to build coal plants -- despite the fact that many countries are struggling with fatal levels of air pollution from those plants. After Morano rattled off his usual talking points, dismissing any trend of increasing extreme weather events, Lemon said, "We get your point. You don't think [climate change] is real." Morano responded, "Scientific journals don't think it's real."
To which scientific journals might Morano have been referring? Currently, 97 percent of all papers that take a stance on climate change have found that human activities contribute to global warming.
A study of coverage of the recent United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report finds that many mainstream media outlets amplified the marginal viewpoints of those who doubt the role of human activity in warming the planet, even though the report itself reflects that the climate science community is more certain than ever that humans are the major driver of climate change. The media also covered how recent temperature trends have not warmed at as fast a rate as before in nearly half of their IPCC coverage, but this trend does not undermine long-term climate change.
Bloomberg News gave a platform for a fossil-fuel funded climate misinformer to advance groundless allegations against scientists -- the second time this year it has drawn a false equivalence between top climate scientists and climate deniers.
In an article on the recently leaked draft of a climate change report authored by the world's top scientists, Bloomberg News quoted Marc Morano, who runs the industry-funded blog Climate Depot that Bloomberg described as "skeptical of climate change" (New York Times reporter Andrew Revkin has called it "divisive and toxic"). Morano has no scientific background, yet Bloomberg gave him space to baselessly assert that the report by the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is based on "predetermined science" and will "add very little to the scientific debate." The global panel of scientists actually determined with over 95 percent certainty that human activities are the primary drivers of climate change, and found that global sea levels are rising swiftly, potentially adding 3 feet by the end of the century and bringing devastating impacts to several parts of the world including three major cities in the United States.
Bloomberg's article paralleled Fox News' coverage of the report, which also quoted Morano in an effort to cast doubt on the IPCC's findings. In the article, FoxNews.com promoted Morano's claim that "all of these fatuous figures are pulled out of the air to support the IPCC ideologies and not based upon any statistical analysis or science." (The report is actually based on the synthesis of the peer-reviewed scientific literature by hundreds of top scientists.)
This is the second time this year that Bloomberg has given false balance or "false equivalence" to claims that run counter to established climate science, even though the facts lie squarely in one camp. In May 2013, Bloomberg also gave a platform to Morano, uncritically repeating his absurd claim that catastrophically high carbon dioxide levels should be "welcomed" because "plants are going to be happy."
Following the April 15 bombings at the Boston Marathon, radio host Alex Jones was quick to suggest the attacks may have been a "false flag" operation staged by the U.S. government. Jones' reaction is far from surprising; he has made a career out of pushing outlandish conspiracy theories.
Among other conspiracies, Jones has blamed the U.S. government for perpetrating, coordinating, or otherwise being involved in the 9-11 attacks, the Aurora movie theater shooting, the Sandy Hook elementary school massacre, the Oklahoma City bombing, and the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster. But despite Jones' well-known history, he is regularly validated by conservative media figures, politicians, and prominent activists that frequent his program, as well as by right-wing websites that promote his work and mainstream outlets that host him on their networks.
In recent years, former Rep. Ron Paul and current Sen. Rand Paul; Fox News figures Lou Dobbs and Andrew Napolitano; gun activists Ted Nugent and Larry Pratt; and climate misinformer Marc Morano have all repeatedly appeared on Jones' show. His immensely popular website Infowars is also frequently promoted by conservative websites like The Drudge Report.
Shortly following the April 15 Boston attacks, Jones tweeted that "our hearts go out to those that are hurt or killed," but added that "this thing stinks to high heaven" and suggested it was a "false flag" operation.
On a special webcast of his show that aired the night of April 15, Jones elaborated on his suggestion, saying, "You saw them stage Fast and Furious. Folks, they staged Aurora, they staged Sandy Hook. The evidence is just overwhelming. And that's why I'm so desperate and freaked out. This is not fun, you know, getting up here telling you this. Somebody's got to tell you the truth."
As Jones uses yet another national tragedy to push baseless, absurd conspiracy theories, it's worth asking whether there's anything he can say or do to lead media figures, politicians and activists to stop validating him.
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Fox News is claiming that a top climate scientist said global warming "doesn't equal warming," when he actually pointed out that much of recent warming has gone into the oceans.
A recent study published in the journal Nature Climate Change concluded that much of the warming since the year 2000 has been absorbed by the ocean. In a story on the new findings, Reuters quoted Kevin Trenberth, a climate scientist with the National Center for Atmospheric Research, as saying "Global warming is continuing but it's being manifested in somewhat different ways":
"Global warming is continuing but it's being manifested in somewhat different ways," said Kevin Trenberth, of the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research. Warming can go, for instance, to the air, water, land or to melting ice and snow.
Warmth is spreading to ever deeper ocean levels, he said, adding that pauses in surface warming could last 15-20 years.
However, on Tuesday's edition of Special Report, Fox's flagship nightly news show, Trenberth's words were warped beyond recognition. Claiming that there may be "a breach in the wall of climate science," Fox News played a clip of industry-funded climate misinformer Marc Morano alleging that Trenberth "is announcing that global warming doesn't mean rising temperatures. In other words, that warming doesn't equal warming."
Actually, Trenberth noted that air temperatures make up only a small fraction of the way we measure climate change. As this chart from a study published in Physics Letters A shows, oceans have absorbed much of recent warming -- a factor that Fox News completely ignored:
Fox Business host Stuart Varney and guest Marc Morano falsely suggested higher truck sales in March translate into a rejection of more fuel efficient vehicles by American consumers. In fact, the driving force behind higher truck sales is a rebounding construction sector, and sales of more fuel efficient vehicles have also been robust.
A group named Donors Trust has been funneling far more money than ExxonMobil ever did to climate denial groups, but because the source of the funds remains largely hidden, the public has been unable to pressure the donations to stop as they did with Exxon. A small portion of Donors Trust's funding was recently revealed by the Center for Public Integrity, yet even that small portion has significant ties to the Koch brothers and other fossil fuel interests.
Between 2008 and 2011, Donors Trust doled out over $300 million in grants to what it describes as "conservative and libertarian causes," serving as "the dark money ATM of the conservative movement." Donors Trust enables donors to give anonymously, noting on its website that if you "wish to keep your charitable giving private, especially gifts funding sensitive or controversial issues," you can use it to direct your money.
One of the "controversial issues" that Donors Trust and its sister organization Donors Capital Fund have bankrolled is the campaign to cast doubt on the science of climate change and delay any government action to reduce emissions.* The following chart created by The Guardian based on data from Greenpeace shows that as ExxonMobil and the Koch Foundations have reduced traceable funding for these groups, donations from Donors Trust have surged:
Several of these organizations have sown confusion about the science demonstrating climate change. The Heartland Institute, which The Economist called the "world's most prominent think tank promoting skepticism about man-made climate change," received over $14 million from Donors Trust from 2002 to 2011, making up over a quarter of Heartland's budget. in 2010. In 2012, Heartland launched a billboard campaign comparing those that accept climate science to The Unabomber, Charles Manson, and Fidel Castro. Several corporate donors distanced themselves from the organization, but Donors Trust made no comment. Heartland removed the billboard soon afterward but refused to apologize for the "experiment."
Meanwhile, The Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow (CFACT) received over $4 million from Donors Trust from 2002 to 2011, accounting for over 45 percent of CFACT's budget in 2010. The highest-paid member of CFACT's staff is Marc Morano, who runs a website that pushes misleading attacks on climate science. Morano defended Heartland's billboard and said that climate scientists "deserve to be publicly flogged." Despite Morano's sordid background, CNN twice hosted him to "debate climate change and if it is really real" without disclosing that he has no scientific training and is paid by an industry-funded organization. CFACT lists the Forbes columns of Larry Bell, who calls global warming a "hoax," as "CFACT research and commentary." The organization is advised by several prominent climate misinformers, including Lord Christopher Monckton and Willie Soon.
The Center for Public Integrity (CPI) has revealed the sources of approximately $18.8 million of Donors Trust's funding from 2008 to 2011, culled from Internal Revenue Service filings. That leaves over $281 million in anonymous funds during that period, assuming that the organization gives out approximately as much as it takes in each year.
While the individuals and corporations funding Donors Trust remain largely hidden, we know that at least five separate foundations connected to Koch Industries have given over $3.8 million to Donors Trust in recent years. Koch Industries, owned by brothers Charles G. and David H. Koch, is the largest privately owned company in the U.S. and controls several oil refineries and pipelines.
CNN anchor Piers Morgan hosted a "debate" on climate science between Bill Nye "The Science Guy" and professional climate misinformer Marc Morano. As Morano spewed myths about climate change, CNN failed to disclose that he has no scientific training and is paid by an industry-funded organization.
Offering two "viewpoints" about temperature data and suggesting that scientific facts are up for "debate" is misleading in and of itself. During the segment, Morano claimed that we "have gone 16 years without global warming according to UN data." Nye pushed back, saying "This will be the hottest two decades in history, in recorded history. So when you throw around a statement like the UN says it's not the hottest 20 years, I got to disagree with you." But the audience was left unaware that Morano was highlighting a short time period to obscure the overall warming trend, as illustrated by this chart from Skeptical Science:
Despite the overwhelming consensus among climate experts that human activity is contributing to rising global temperatures, 66 percent of Americans incorrectly believe there is "a lot of disagreement among scientists about whether or not global warming is happening." The conservative media has fueled this confusion by distorting scientific research, hyping faux-scandals, and giving voice to groups funded by industries that have a financial interest in blocking action on climate change. Meanwhile, mainstream media outlets have shied away from the "controversy" over climate change and have failed to press U.S. policymakers on how they will address this global threat. When climate change is discussed, mainstream outlets sometimes strive for a false balance that elevates marginal voices and enables them to sow doubt about the science even in the face of mounting evidence.
Here, Media Matters looks at how conservative media outlets give industry-funded "experts" a platform, creating a polarized misunderstanding of climate science.
The Economist has called the libertarian Heartland Institute "the world's most prominent think tank promoting skepticism about man-made climate change." Every year, Heartland hosts an "International Conference on Climate Change," bringing together a small group of contrarians (mostly non-scientists) who deny that manmade climate change is a serious problem. To promote its most recent conference, Heartland launched a short-lived billboard campaign associating acceptance of climate science with "murderers, tyrants, and madmen" including Ted Kaczynski, Charles Manson and Fidel Castro. Facing backlash from corporate donors and even some of its own staff, Heartland removed the billboard, but refused to apologize for the "experiment."
Heartland does not disclose its donors, but internal documents obtained in February reveal that Heartland received $25,000 from the Charles Koch Foundation in 2011 and anticipated $200,000 in additional funding in 2012. Charles Koch is CEO and co-owner of Koch Industries, a corporation with major oil interests. Along with his brother David Koch, he has donated millions to groups that spread climate misinformation. Heartland also receives funding from some corporations with a financial interest in confusing the public on climate science. ExxonMobil contributed over $600,000 to Heartland between 1998 and 2006, but has since pledged to stop funding groups that cast doubt on climate change.
Despite their industry ties and lack of scientific expertise, Heartland Institute fellows are often given a media platform to promote their marginal views on climate change. Most visible is James Taylor, a lawyer with no climate science background who heads Heartland's environmental initiative. Taylor dismisses "alarmist propaganda that global warming is a human-caused problem that needs to be addressed," and suggests that taking action to reduce emissions could cause a return to the "the Little Ice Age and the Black Death." But that hasn't stopped Forbes from publishing his weekly column, which he uses to spout climate misinformation and accuse scientists of "doctoring" temperature data to fabricate a warming trend. It also hasn't stopped Fox News from promoting his misinformation.