After promoting anecdotes from a firefighter to claim that polar bears are "doing just fine," Fox News has ignored new research that confirms they are still existentially threatened by climate change. This divide in coverage is illustrative of what University of Alberta scientist Dr. Ian Stirling called a "new element" of media -- "the deliberately misleading, and sometimes downright dishonest, treatment of the science around polar bears when it relates to climate warming." In conversations with Media Matters, Stirling and other leading polar bear scientists outlined eight tips for media outlets seeking to accurately cover the plight of the polar bears.
In February, Fox News repeatedly promoted a book by firefighter Zac Unger on his time in Churchill, Manitoba to claim that "the polar bears are doing just fine." Even though bears in that region are actually among the subpopulations in decline, Fox News suggested that the book undermined climate science. Dr. Andrew Derocher, a scientific advisor to Polar Bears International, called that premise "flawed" and told Media Matters that "scientific literature shows very clearly the loss of sea ice in the satellite record and the projections (many many scientific papers) show that the future will be particularly challenging for polar bears as the sea ice disappears." He added, "I've worked on polar bears for 30 years and the changes are incredibly easy to see but as scientists, we don't just look at bears, we measure them and analyze the data."
Stirling criticized Unger for "a very sad piece of deliberately misleading and dishonest writing" that "tells only parts of the story that suit him." Similarly, Derocher said it was "unfortunate" when "someone who clearly doesn't understand a subject well botches up the science." Furthermore, media should not rely on anecdotal information when there is "a lot of data" on sea ice and polar bear body condition. He added:
The book you mentioned was written by someone who spent a few months in 1 place with his family talking to people. What I did on my last trip to Kentucky doesn't qualify me to rewrite the history [of] the eastern US. I've worked on polar bears for 30 years. Many of my colleagues for even longer. You don't go to a plumber for heart surgery but when it comes to polar bears "everybody is an expert". In science, an expert has to demonstrate expertise. Hanging around in Churchill for a few months talking to the locals doesn't qualify as an expert. Our last paper on polar bears in Conservation Letters had something like 200 years of cumulative polar bear expertise. How it can be that media put the scientific perspective on par with a casual observer is beyond me.
In fact, some reports that rely on polar bear sightings to conclude they are doing "fine" may be unwittingly underscoring the urgency of sea ice melt. As lost habitat drives bears from their hunting grounds, they sometimes wander into towns and garbage dumps. This may lead to more contact with humans, and an overall impression that polar bears are abundant, even to the point of being a nuisance. In fact, as Dr. Steven C. Amstrup, a former polar bear project leader at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), told Media Matters, a bear sighting in a new place "probably means the bears are having a hard time making a living where they used to make a living."
Unger promoted the popular media claim that polar bear populations have increased -- or are even "exploding" -- since the 1960s or 1970s, but those reports omit necessary context. Many of the starting-point estimates are based on a Russian calculation from the 1950s -- 5,000-8,000 bears -- that has never been broadly accepted by scientists. Amstrup told Media Matters that "we really don't know how many polar bears there were in the 60s [or 70s]" and it is "important to set the record straight." In 2008, Stirling told then-CNN Executive Producer for Science Peter Dykstra that the estimate was "almost certainly much too low."
In some places, thanks to conservation efforts like the Marine Mammal Protection Act and a subsequent international agreement, it does appear that polar bear populations have increased. According to Amstrup, Alaskan populations are a good example of such managed recovery. But in other areas, such as western Hudson Bay and the southern Beaufort Sea, populations are thought to be declining. And as Derocher pointed out, conservation biology is concerned with the future, normally examining issues three generations down the road. By this measure, polar bears are indeed in trouble, and looking back to the 1960s or 70s makes no sense:
What climate deniers like to pull out is that there are more polar bears now than in the 1960s. That doesn't matter and just because we've corrected excessive harvest rates (commercial hunting for example) in the 1960s doesn't make this argument any more relevant to the conservation of the species today moving forward in time.
Amstrup echoed this point, saying "the population on the Titanic was doing just fine until just before it slipped beneath the waves." Overall, the USGS has projected that changes in Arctic ice conditions could result in "loss of approximately 2/3 of the world's current polar bear population by the mid 21st century."
From the April 3 edition of Fox News' The Five:
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From the April 2 edition of Fox News' The Five:
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From the April 1 edition of Fox News' The Five:
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Fox News spent an entire week hyping a supposed "War on Easter," pointing to the decision made by a few school boards to hold "Spring egg hunt[s]" instead of Easter egg hunts. In seven days, Fox devoted 10 segments to what host Bill O'Reilly called the continued "war on Judeo-Christian tradition."
On March 21, O'Reilly lambasted President Obama and the White House for empowering "secular progressives" to pressure school districts around the country to eliminate terms like "Easter bunny" and "Easter egg." O'Reilly complained that "the war on Judeo-Christian tradition continues in some public school districts," citing districts in five states that he said "are having Spring egg events. Moderated by a Spring bunny":
O'REILLY: I know it's stupid. You know it's stupid. But it's happening, and there is a reason why it's happening. Secular progressives are running wild with President Obama in the White House. They feel unchained, liberated and they are trying to diminish any form of religion. The goal is to marginalize religious opposition to secular programs.
In the past week, several Fox shows followed O'Reilly's lead, airing segments that criticized the "P.C. police" and focused on "assaults" that have put Christianity "on the run in this country":
From the March 19 edition of Fox News' The Five:
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From the March 12 edition of Fox News' The Five:
ERIC BOLLING: Check this story out. A town in Georgia has proposed a new law requiring every head of a household to possess a firearm. The town is Nelson, Georgia, population 1,000. They have only one police officer, and that guy works one eight-hour shift. So I'm on board with this.
GREG GUTFELD: Mandatory gun ownership? The next thing you know we have mandatory health care. Weird. And why is this so radical? At least the town is doing this legally, unlike Detroit and Chicago, where you have mandatory gun ownership -- it's called gang membership. Look, if an outlaw is going through the country and looking for a town to hit, he's going to drive right past this one and he'll find a gun-free zone. It's just like we talked about the theater shooter. He found a place where there were no guns.
BOLLING: Dana, 90 percent of the town agrees with this. By the way, it isn't a law yet, it has to go through the city council. It's proposed right now. I believe there will be a vote April 1st. Ninety percent of the town agrees with it and the one police officer agrees with it, too.
DANA PERINO: Yeah, so I'm for local control and for Washington to mind its own business. The local control that was tried here in New York City yesterday was about soda drinking. I think that this one -- if this town feels that this is what they need to do to protect themselves, I'm for it. Plus, if it's mandatory, people will be trained, they'll have the background checks. and all the laws will be covered.
BOLLING: And Bob, If you don't like it, if you object, if you have a conscientious objection to it, you don't have to have the gun. It sounds like a good idea.
BOB BECKEL: It sounds to me like one of the worst ideas I've heard. I mean, the idea that you're going to mandatory -- it's mandatory if you don't object and you don't have a religious problem with it or you're not -- whatever. That you have to buy a gun when you may not like guns --
BOLLING: Well, you can object --
GUTFELD: Replace that with health care, Bob.
BECKEL: Let's not talk health care. The idea -- why don't we next make it mandatory for over the have a bazooka on their roof. I mean --
GUTFELD: Or health care.
BECKEL: You know who's behind this? This is an NRA-sponsored deal. They've done this before. Georgia seems to be --
BOLLING: This has nothing to do with NRA.
GUTFELD: Replace NRA with AARP, and you have health care.
ANDREA TANTAROS: As much as I love they're doing this and I understand that the next town over has the same law on the books -- so I love the law in theory. I actually don't like being mandated to do anything. And so, that's like someone saying, OK, we mandate you to exercise your First Amendment all the time, and to exercise it you must say, 'I love Obama.'" And what if you live in a town with 90 percent of the people -- or maybe New York -- believe that way? So I try to put the shoe on other foot.
PERINO: That was all those Philadelphia counties -- Pennsylvania counties.
BOLLING: A hundred percent, right? A hundred and one percent, actually.
BECKEL: Why don't you just make it nationwide? Why doesn't everybody make it mandatory --
BOLLING: It'd be a safer country.
BOLLING: By the way, If you're a criminal, Bob -- honestly you're driving down the road, looking to rob, stick up a house -- are you going to go to the town where you know every house, every door you knock on or break into has a gun behind it? You're going to go to the next town where --
BECKEL: I don't think, first of all, they're going to stop and read The New York Times and figure out who's got a town like that.
GUTFELD: You know, the police exist primarily to respond to crime, not to prevent it. It's up to you to prevent it.
Zeb Colter, an anti-immigrant character from World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) that has recently drawn the ire of right-wing pundits like Glenn Beck, would be right at home in the conservative media. Many of Colter's bigoted and flawed arguments have been the right's stock-in-trade for years.
Beck targeted the Colter character on his radio show, arguing that Colter is "demonizing the Tea Party." Beck also accused the WWE of "mocking me for standing up for the Constitution." Beck's co-host Stu Burguiere complained: "It seems that the villain, the guy you're supposed to hate, is this stereotype of a conservative that I've never met."
Colter currently appears on WWE programming alongside wrestler Jack Swagger, spouting a lot of heated anti-immigrant rhetoric in the middle of a scripted feud with Mexican-born wrestler Alberto Del Rio. According to WWE, Colter's rhetoric is intended to "to build the Mexican American character Del Rio into a hero given WWE's large Latino base."
WWE explains that in order "to create compelling and relevant content for our audience, it is important to incorporate current events into our storylines."
Conservative media voices have insisted that an increase of the federal minimum hourly wage from $7.25 to $9 would harm the economy. However, a wealth of economic evidence disputes the claims that minimum wage hikes are job killers, that the minimum wage is already high, and that it only applies to jobs held by relatively young workers.
From the February 8 edition of Fox News' The Five:
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From the February 6 edition of Fox News' The Five:
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Following news that the economy had contracted slightly at the end of 2012, Fox News figures claimed both that government spending had not decreased, and that it had decreased because of President Obama's desire to cut military spending. Both are false -- the contraction in GDP came from a dramatic decrease in government spending, largely due to normal cycles in defense spending and the end of two wars.
Fox's The Five covered a report by the Bureau of Economic Analysis which found that the economy contracted by 0.1 percent in the fourth quarter of 2012. Co-hosts Dana Perino and Eric Bolling attempted to blame Obama for the decline in defense spending that contributed to the decrease in GDP, claiming that "the defense cut was actually the White House's idea in the first place" and was "part of sequestration, which started in the White House." Co-host Andrea Tantaros later claimed "Spending actually didn't go down in the fourth quarter. It actually increased in the fourth quarter":
But all three are wrong. Despite Tantaros' claim that government spending increased in the fourth quarter of 2012, the BEA report clearly indicates that it decreased dramatically, a factor that strongly contributed to the contraction in the economy:
Fox News co-host Greg Gutfeld attacked President Barack Obama for connecting wildfires to climate change. But scientists say climate change has increased fire risks in parts of the Western U.S. by promoting warmer and drier conditions, and the number of wildfire acres burned each year is on the rise.
In his second inaugural address, Obama called for action to avoid the destructive impacts of climate change, saying, "Some may deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms." On the January 29 edition of Fox News' The Five, Gutfeld criticized Obama for suggesting that wildfires were "somehow linked" to climate change, claiming that there were "a third fewer U.S. wildfires in 2012":
Gutfeld's statistic came from a Washington Post column by George Will that compared the number of U.S. wildfires in 2012 to 2006 -- a year that saw the most wildfires since 1982. By cherry-picking data from that year, Will obscured the upward trend in acres burned from wildfires. In fact, the number of acres burned by wildfires in 2012 was the third-highest on record in the U.S., and the National Research Council states that "large and long-duration forest fires have increased fourfold over the past 30 years in the American West" as increased temperatures have dried soils and plants and boosted tree-killing beetles. While wildfires are influenced by numerous factors, the U.S. Global Change Research Program stated that "Wildfires in the United States are already increasing due to warming":
Fox News struggled to consistently cover President Obama's endorsement of marriage equality during his second inaugural address, at times agreeing with his position while still looking for ways to criticize his comments.
On January 21, President Obama became the first president in U.S. history to mention gay rights during an inaugural address, stating:
We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths - that all of us are created equal - is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall...
It is now our generation's task to carry on what those pioneers began. For our journey is not complete until our wives, our mothers, and daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts. Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law - for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well. [emphasis added]
Yet, when it came to Obama's support for marriage equality, the network shied away from the anti-gay talking points one might expect to hear on Fox.
Fox News' Eric Bolling selectively cropped footage of Sen. Dianne Feinstein discussing her proposed ban on assault weapons in an attempt to claim she flip-flopped on gun control.
On The Five, the co-hosts took up the topic of Feinstein's new proposed legislation to ban semi-automatic assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition clips. Bolling aired a one sentence from Feinstein's press conference introducing the assault weapons ban, in which she said, "Our weak gun laws allow these mass killings to be carried out again and again and again in our country." Bolling then claimed, "But the senator wasn't always so anti-gun." The next video showed Feinstein in 1995 testifying before the Senate, in which she explained she once carried a concealed weapon for self-defense after being targeted by terrorists.
Bolling declared that this was "a perfect example of political hypocrisy."
A look at Feinstein's full press conference disproves Bolling's claim. In the portion of her remarks Bolling chose not to air, Feinstein emphasized (at about 5:25 in the video): "[In the bill] we have tried to recognize legal hunting rights. We have tried to recognize legal defense rights. We have tried to recognize the right of a citizen to legally possess a weapon. No weapon is taken from anyone. The purpose is to dry up the supply of these weapons over time.