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Evlondo Cooper

Author ››› Evlondo Cooper
  • Climate journalism focuses too much on Trump and not enough on extreme weather, new reports find

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    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Two new studies highlight different troubling trends in climate change reporting. First, a disproportionate amount of climate journalism in 2017 was focused on the Trump administration's actions and statements, meaning that other climate stories got less coverage than they warranted. Second, media last year consistently failed to explain how events such as extreme weather are connected to climate change.

    A research group at the University of Colorado-Boulder, the International Collective on Environment, Culture and Politics (ICE CaPs), produced the findings that illustrate how much climate coverage has been driven by President Donald Trump. It examined coverage last year in five major American newspapers: The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, USA Today, and the Los Angeles Times. In the 4,117 stories in those papers that mentioned "climate change" or "global warming," the word “Trump” appeared 19,184 times -- an average of nearly 4.7 times per article. 


    Credit: Boykoff, M., Andrews, K., Daly, M., Katzung, J., Luedecke, G., Maldonado, C. and Nacu-Schmidt, A. (2018) A Review of Media Coverage of Climate Change and Global Warming in 2017, Media and Climate Change Observatory, Center for Science and Technology Policy Research, Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, University of Colorado

    The researchers argued that Trump-centric coverage can crowd out other reporting on climate change: “Media attention that would have focused on other climate-related events and issues instead was placed on Trump-related actions, leaving many other stories untold.”

    Public Citizen, a non-profit organization that advocates for consumer rights, took a different approach in examining climate coverage in 2017. It searched a wide array of U.S. newspapers and TV and radio news programs for stories on extreme weather and pest-borne illness and then checked whether those stories mentioned climate change. The vast majority did not. At the high end, 33 percent of pieces on record heat included the words "climate change" or "global warming." At the low end, just 4 percent of pieces discussing Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Maria, or Nate mentioned climate change. Or, in other words, 96 percent of stories about 2017’s historic hurricane season did not note the role of climate change in making hurricanes more damaging.

    Public Citizen's findings align with studies done by Media Matters last year that found TV news outlets repeatedly failed to report on how climate change is linked to more intense hurricanes, heat waves, and wildfires.

    These two new alarming reports bolster the argument that we need better reporting on climate change. It is natural that Trump’s statements and actions as president will drive some climate journalism, particularly because his administration is unraveling a wide variety of climate protections. But too often the focus is on Trump himself instead of the ways his administration's moves will affect millions of Americans and others around the world. And the inordinate attention given to even Trump's minor utterances and tweets displaces national discourse around important aspects of climate change, such as its impact on extreme weather.

    No matter what latest Trump scandal plays out on cable news or the front pages of newspapers, climate reporters still need to focus on how climate change is happening in the real world and how climate policy affects real people. In 2017, there were too many underreported or unreported climate stories. Will 2018 be any better?  

  • Pruitt’s war on the press continues as EPA hires firm to create media-tracking "war room"

    Mother Jones reports on EPA’s contract with a Republican firm that specializes in oppo research

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    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    While Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) chief Scott Pruitt enjoys being feted by conservative and alt-right media outlets such as Fox and Friends and Breitbart.com, he and his top aides at EPA are openly hostile toward other journalists. An investigative report published by Mother Jones demonstrates just how committed Pruitt is to waging and winning his war against the press.

    Reporters Rebecca Leber, Andy Kroll, and Russ Choma write about the EPA hiring a GOP-linked public relations firm, Definers Corp., to track and influence media coverage of the agency. From their December 15 article:

    According to federal contracting records, earlier this month Pruitt’s office inked a no-bid $120,000 contract with Definers Corp., a Virginia-based public relations firm founded by Matt Rhoades, who managed Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign. Following Romney’s defeat, Rhoades established America Rising, an ostensibly independent political action committee that works closely with the Republican National Committee and Republican candidates to mine damning information on opponents. Other higher-ups at Definers include former RNC research director Joe Pounder, who’s been described as “a master of opposition research,” and senior vice president Colin Reed, an oppo-research guru billed as “among the leaders of the war on [Sen. Elizabeth] Warren.”

    The PR firm will equip the EPA with sophisticated “war room”-style media technology, the story reports:

    The company also specializes in using the press and social media to “validate your narrative.” According to the company’s website, one of the tools to help do this is its “Definers Console” media-tracking technology. Reed said his firm contracted with Pruitt’s office at the EPA, which is the first governmental client to pay for the Definers Console. The technology promises “war room”-style media monitoring, analysis, and advice, according to marketing materials. A brochure for the Console assures users that they will be able to “monitor for potential crises, as well as to track their message dissemination, relevant responses to their messaging, and what competitors’ actions have been.”

    Media Matters has previously reported on Trump officials’ tendency to appear on far-right and right-wing outlets and stations. Pruitt has been a key player in this trend; during his first six months at the EPA, he gave more interviews to Fox News than to all other major television networks combined.

    At the same time, Pruitt’s EPA has publicly displayed hostility toward reporters at mainstream outlets. In late October, New York Times reporter Eric Lipton asked for comment on a story about the agency’s decision to make it harder to track the health consequences of certain industrial chemicals. EPA spokeswoman Liz Bowman emailed this response: “No matter how much information we give you, you would never write a fair piece. The only thing inappropriate and biased is your continued fixation on writing elitist clickbait trying to attack qualified professionals committed to serving their country.”

    In September, Associated Press reporter Michael Biesecker co-wrote a story about flooded toxic waste sites in Houston. The EPA then made the unprecedented move of criticizing the reporter by name in a press release:  “Unfortunately, the Associated Press’ Michael Biesecker has a history of not letting the facts get in the way of his story.”

    Pruitt's EPA has also barred reporters from events, dropped them from press release distribution lists, and refused to give them his schedule.

    Pruitt’s decision to hire Definers Corp. again demonstrates his willingness to go all-in on the Trump administration’s larger campaign to manipulate and undermine the free press.

    The backing of this high-tech media firm will empower Pruitt to continue rebuffing basic public transparency, spinning the consequences of his deregulatory agenda, and muddying his climate science denial. The press will need to be ever vigilant, even while it's under attack.

  • Media ignore Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore’s other extremist belief: climate change denial

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    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Roy Moore, Republican Senate candidate in Alabama, has drawn media attention for his extreme and dangerous views on homosexuality, birtherism, and the role of Christianity in government (even though much of the coverage has been inadequate and misleadingly framed). But one of his extreme positions has received almost no major media attention at all: his absolute denial of climate science.

    Media Matters has found that, from the time Moore announced his candidacy on April 26 to October 31, the major broadcast evening news shows, prime-time cable news programs, and national newspapers have all neglected to report on Moore's views on climate change, one of the most significant issues he would face if elected to the U.S. Senate. Over the same period, four of the top five largest-circulation newspapers in Alabama also failed to report on Moore and climate change.

    The Montgomery Advertiser is the outlier: The Alabama newspaper asked Moore's campaign about climate change but didn't receive an answer. In July, the paper ran an article about climate change and the Senate race, reporting that "Moore’s campaign declined to answer questions on the subject." In August, the Advertiser again reported that Moore "declined to answer questions on the issue."

    Both Advertiser articles refer to Moore's campaign website, which lists a brief position on energy but makes no mention of the climate: "To gain independence from foreign oil, we need to foster development of our own natural resources involving nuclear, solar, wind, and fossil fuels. Coal mining and oil drilling should be encouraged, subject only to reasonable regulations."

    However, despite his recent reticence on the subject, Moore has made his climate denial clear in the past. In 2009, he published an op-ed about climate change on fringe website WorldNetDaily, as HuffPost’s Alexander C. Kaufman recently pointed out. From the WND op-ed:

    Not only is there no constitutional authority for Congress to regulate carbon emissions, but the premise of “global warming” and “climate change” upon which such environmental theories are based does not have the support of a scientific consensus.

    [...]

    Not only do scientists disagree on “global warming,” but there is little hard evidence that carbon emissions cause changes to the global climate.  

    This is an extreme manifestation of climate science denial, and it’s outright false.

    Moore -- who identifies as a Southern Baptist and addressed the Southern Baptist Convention’s Pastors' Conference in 2005 -- has a denialist position on climate change science that aligns with the Convention’s stance, as do his positions on same-sex marriage and displaying the Ten Commandments in government buildings. In 2007, the Southern Baptist Convention issued a resolution on global warming that cast doubt on climate science and opposed climate action: 

    WHEREAS, Many scientists reject the idea of catastrophic human-induced global warming;

    [...]

    RESOLVED, That we consider proposals to regulate CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions based on a maximum acceptable global temperature goal to be very dangerous, since attempts to meet the goal could lead to a succession of mandates of deeper cuts in emissions, which may have no appreciable effect if humans are not the principal cause of global warming, and could lead to major economic hardships on a worldwide scale;

    And in December 2016, as Kaufman reported, 12 former Southern Baptist Convention presidents joined other evangelical leaders in signing a letter in support of Scott Pruitt's nomination to head the Environmental Protection Agency, defending Pruitt's call for "a continuing debate" on climate science.

    Mainstream media have a history of inadequate reporting on climate change, especially during political campaigns. But global warming is expected to have serious negative effects on Alabama including more severe drought, sea-level rise, and increased dangerous heat days, and many national and international leaders have called climate change one of the greatest challenges of our time.

    In order to provide a full, fair picture of the Alabama Senate race and Moore’s fitness to be a senator, media should report on his climate denial in addition to his other extreme and disturbing beliefs. And there's a clear contrast to draw, as Moore’s Democratic challenger, Doug Jones, has made addressing climate change a key part of his platform.

    Methodology: Media Matters conducted a Nexis search of print and television outlets using the search terms “Roy Moore” and “climate change” or “global warming.” Our search covered the time period between April 26, 2017, the date Roy Moore announced his candidacy, and October 31, 2017. For television, we searched transcripts of the broadcast evening news shows on ABC, CBS, and NBC and transcripts of prime-time, weekday programs on CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News. For print coverage, we searched pieces published in The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Today, The Birmingham News, Press-Register (Mobile), The Huntsville Times, The Tuscaloosa News, and Montgomery Advertiser. We also searched Factiva for pieces published in The Wall Street Journal.