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Lisa Hymas

Author ››› Lisa Hymas
  • USA Today claims it doesn't publish climate-denying op-eds. That's not true.

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    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Each editorial USA Today publishes is accompanied by an "opposing view" op-ed that presents a counter-argument. This is a particular problem when it comes to the topic of climate change. As Media Matters has documented on multiple occasions, the newspaper's “opposing view” format regularly leads it to publish climate denial and misinformation from authors who have undisclosed fossil-fuel industry connections.

    USA Today has heard from critics who have called on it to stop running climate-denying op-eds, but instead of changing its practices, the paper's editorial board is trying to defend them. Its defense does not hold up to scrutiny.

    Bill Sternberg, the paper's editorial page editor, put forward that defense in a January 26 piece titled, "Why does USA TODAY pair editorials with opposing views?" From the piece:

    In recent years, perhaps no debate topic has been more controversial than global warming. A number of readers and outside groups have demanded that we stop running opposing views from climate change skeptics.

    We’ve tried to adhere to the rule of thumb put forth by the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New York: Everyone’s entitled to their own opinion, but they are not entitled to their own facts.

    In other words, we won’t run pieces that deny the reality of human-induced climate change. The scientific consensus on that point is overwhelming, and increasingly so.

    But we will run opposing views that disagree about proposed remedies, discuss the urgency of the climate change problem compared to other problems, or raise questions about costs versus benefits.

    And whenever possible, we try to disclose potential conflicts of interest, such as whether the writers, or their organizations, have received money from fossil-fuel interests.

    But in fact USA Today has regularly run "opposing view" op-eds that "deny the reality of human-induced climate change." And many of them have been written by people who have "received money from fossil-fuel interests," which the paper typically fails to disclose.

    A 2016 Media Matters study found that USA Today published five “opposing view” opinion pieces featuring climate denial or misinformation from January 1, 2015, through August 31, 2016. All five were written by individuals with fossil-fuel ties, which USA Today did not disclose to readers.

    For example, Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), the Senate's leading climate denier, argued in a March 2015 "opposing view" piece that "the debate on man-driven climate change is not over," though in fact it is over. There is overwhelming scientific consensus that human activity is causing climate change, as Sternberg admits in his own piece.

    And, in October 2015, then-Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) wrote an "opposing view" op-ed claiming that “temperatures have been essentially flat for 18 years," pushing a favorite climate-denier myth that has been thoroughly discredited. USA Today did not disclose that Inhofe and Sessions had both received substantial campaign contributions from fossil fuel industry interests -- millions of dollars in Inhofe's case and hundreds of thousands in Sessions'.

    More recently, in August 2017, USA Today published an op-ed casting doubt on a federal climate report; the piece was written by Chris Horner, who the paper identified only as "a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute." As Media Matters pointed out at the time, Horner's work has been funded by big fossil-fuel corporations for years. Horner has received payments from Alpha Natural Resources, one of the largest coal companies in the U.S., and has numerous other ties to the coal industry. Horner’s employer, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, has received more than $2 million from ExxonMobil over the past two decades, as well as funding from Marathon Petroleum, Texaco, the American Petroleum Institute, the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers, Koch Industries, and the Koch brothers' charitable foundations, among others.

    But USA Today might be making modest progress on disclosure, at least. In September 2017, an "opposing view" piece by longtime climate denier Myron Ebell did acknowledge some of his conflicts of interest. The bio that ran under his piece read, "Myron Ebell is director of the Center for Energy and Environment at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, which has received donations from fossil fuel interests."

    If USA Today recently adopted a policy of disclosing authors' fossil-fuel industry ties, that would be a modest step in the right direction. But it still needs to do more to fix its problem. Instead of giving a platform to an increasingly small group of climate deniers, whose views are far outside the mainstream, the paper should be inviting more commentary from diverse voices in the business, military, scientific, and other communities who are arguing for different kinds of climate solutions.

    The country desperately needs intelligent debate about the best ways to combat and cope with climate change, not about whether climate change is a serious problem. If, as Sternberg claims, USA Today wants to make its readers "better informed," it should publish more op-eds by people who take climate change seriously and create a vibrant forum for honest and constructive back-and-forth about climate action.

  • Here's why journalists can be more confident reporting on climate change and extreme weather

    The rapidly developing field of climate attribution science gives reporters and meteorologists a valuable tool for educating the public

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    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Journalists too often fail to note how climate change worsens extreme weather events, as Media Matters has documented on multiple occasions. But they should feel increasingly confident doing so. In recent years, climate change attribution science -- research that documents how climate change made specific weather events worse -- has become much more robust.

    Vice News correspondent Arielle Duhaime-Ross reported on the increasing speed and confidence with which scientists can now measure climate change’s impact on individual incidences of extreme weather in a January 3 segment for HBO’s Vice News Tonight:

    ARIELLE DUHAIME-ROSS: This science is really new. The first proper climate attribution study was published in 2004. Before that, scientists had struggled to explain exactly how specific weather events were connected to climate change.

    Now, more and more solid, peer-reviewed studies show how climate change affects the likelihood and severity of extreme weather. And the studies are getting published really quickly after extreme weather events take place.

    Remember that study from 2004? It looked at a European heat wave that took place in 2003, and it took a year and a half to complete. In contrast, just three months after Hurricane Harvey, scientists at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory published a study showing that Harvey dropped 38 percent more rain than it would have without underlying climate change.

    E&E News reporter Chelsea Harvey published an in-depth piece on the fast development of attribution science on January 2:

    Extreme event attribution not only is possible, but is one of the most rapidly expanding subfields of climate science.

    [...]

    Over the last few years, dozens of studies have investigated the influence of climate change on events ranging from the Russian heat wave of 2010 to the California drought, evaluating the extent to which global warming has made them more severe or more likely to occur.

    The Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society now issues a special report each year assessing the impact of climate change on the previous year's extreme events.

    The Bulletin's most recent report, on 2016, found that human-caused climate change was a “significant driver” for 21 of 27 extreme weather events during the year.

    Scientists cannot currently determine the impact of climate change on a specific event while that event is happening, but they might be able to in the future. "Some scientists hope to eventually launch a kind of standardized extreme event attribution service, similar to a weather forecasting service, that would release immediate analyses—with the same uniform methods used for each one—for every extreme event that occurs," E&E News reported.

    Oxford climate scientist Myles Allen made the same point in the Vice segment: "We should be able to do this much faster, but in my view, in the long term, this should be part of the duties of the weather service. It's no longer enough for the weather service just to predict the weather. They should be in the business of explaining it as well."

    Journalists too should be in the business of explaining what's behind extreme weather, not just reporting on that weather. Attribution science can help, even before it reaches the point of being able to offer real-time analyses.

    The next time a hurricane makes landfall in the U.S., reporters can go beyond noting that scientists have told us to expect more damaging storms because of climate change. Reporters can point to attribution studies done on Hurricane Harvey, for example, and note that climate change boosted the storm's rainfall and made its extreme rainfall three times more likely.

    Attribution studies don't predict how climate change will affect future storms, but they can help the public understand that climate change is affecting our weather right now. And as attribution science improves, climate journalism has a good opportunity to improve as well.

  • 2017 was a terrible year of climate disasters -- and too many media outlets failed to tell the story

    Blog ››› ››› LISA HYMAS


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    From hurricanes to heat waves to wildfires and beyond, 2017 has been a terrifying year of disasters in the U.S. And too many media outlets have missed a key part of the story: These aren't just natural disasters; in many cases, they're climate disasters.

    Some wildfire coverage explored the climate angle, but much of it didn't

    Even before vicious wildfires tore through Southern California in December, the state had experienced its worst-ever wildfire season, which many scientists said was likely worsened by climate change.

    The Los Angeles Times did a good job of explaining the climate-wildfire link in a December 6 editorial titled "While Southern California battles its wildfires, we have to start preparing for our hotter, drier future." Fires have long been a part of California ecosystems, and many factors have played a role in making the Thomas Fire and other December blazes so destructive, the editorial board noted, but underlying all of that is the brutal fact of global warming: "What should make Southern California fearful is that climate change could mean a future of more frequent and more intense wildfires."

    Indeed, a number of scientific studies have linked climate change to increased wildfire risk in California. PBS's NewsHour aired a segment on December 13 that featured climate scientists explaining some of these links. "I think the science is pretty solid to indicate that wildfire risk is likely to increase in the future due to climate change," said scientist Radley Horton, a professor at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. "I think exhibit A has to be the increase in temperature that we have observed. In California, we have seen about a 1.5-degree increase in temperature over the last century."

    Unfortunately, many media outlets have not been connecting the dots between climate change and wildfires the way the L.A. Times and PBS did.

    When huge fires raged through Montana and the Pacific Northwest this summer, and when fires tore through Northern California wine country in October, the major broadcast TV news programs and Sunday morning talk shows did not air a single segment discussing climate change in the context of those fires, Media Matters found. This despite the fact that scientists have determined that climate change is a major factor in forest fires in the western U.S.

    Media coverage of heat waves and hurricanes often fell short

    Beyond fires, many mainstream media outlets missed critical opportunities this year to discuss how other kinds of disasters are made worse by climate change.

    In June, parts of the southwestern U.S. baked in a record heat wave that brought temperatures up to 119 degrees in Phoenix, so hot that certain types of small planes couldn't get off the ground. The record temperatures coincided with publication of a comprehensive peer-reviewed study that found deadly heat waves are on the rise thanks to climate change. But major television network affiliates in Phoenix and Las Vegas completely failed to discuss how climate change exacerbates heat waves like the one the region was experiencing, according to a Media Matters analysis.

    News coverage of the impact of climate change on hurricanes has been sorely lacking this year, too. Even the unprecedented one-two-three punch of hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria wasn't enough to spur some key mainstream outlets to tell an increasingly obvious story.

    ABC and NBC both completely failed to bring up climate change during their coverage of Hurricane Harvey, Media Matters found. So did the New York Post, one of the highest-circulation newspapers in the country, according to a report by Public Citizen. The Weather Channel, where many Americans turn when weather disasters loom, also failed to address the climate-hurricane connection during Harvey. Worse still, both Fox News and The Wall Street Journal ran more pieces that disputed a climate-hurricane link than pieces that acknowledged it. These findings by Media Matters and others inspired climate activists to launch a Twitter campaign calling on media to end the #climatesilence.

    TV news showed modest improvement at connecting the dots between climate change and hurricanes during Hurricane Irma, but still came up short. And when Maria hit, much of the mainstream media didn't even give adequate coverage to the storm itself or its aftermath, let alone the climate angle, as both Media Matters and MIT Media Lab researchers found.

    Climate change cannot be blamed for wholly causing any one individual weather disaster, but it effectively loads the dice in favor of abnormal and extreme weather, as climate scientist James Hansen and his colleagues have explained.

    And after a weather event has occurred, scientists can analyze the extent to which climate change was a contributing factor. A new set of papers published this month found that human-caused climate change was a “significant driver” for 21 of 27 extreme weather events in 2016, including the year's record-breaking global heat. Some scientists have already done these kinds of attribution studies for 2017's hurricanes and found that climate change increased rainfall from Hurricane Harvey by between 15 and 38 percent.

    As the weather gets worse, we need our journalism to get better

    We all lost big in the climate-rigged dice game this year. There were so many record-setting extreme weather incidents and disasters in 2017 that it's hard to remember them all. Consider a few you might have forgotten:

    • The hottest World Series game in history took place in Los Angeles in late October, with temperatures hitting 103 degrees and staying there past 5 p.m.
    • Hurricane Ophelia traveled farther east than any major Atlantic hurricane on record, and so far north that it went off the storm-tracking maps generated by the National Weather Service. It caused severe damage in Ireland and Scotland even after it had been downgraded from hurricane status.
    • An unprecedented and devastating drought pummelled the Northern Plains states for seven months. It laid the groundwork for vicious wildfires.

    As USA Today recently put it, "From record flooding to disastrous wildfires, 2017 will go down as one of the USA's most catastrophic years ever for extreme, violent weather that disrupted the lives of millions of Americans."

    But that USA Today piece neglected to note the role climate change played in juicing up 2017's count of big disasters.

    Some news organizations consistently do a better job of reporting on climate change. The New York Times and The Washington Post have published strong reporting and good editorials and opinion pieces on the impact of climate change on disasters. CNN and MSNBC outperformed other TV news outlets in discussing how hurricanes Harvey and Irma were affected by climate change. In one recent segment, CNN invited climate scientist Michael Mann to explain the connection between climate change and hurricane intensity, offering a great model for other outlets:

    But those kinds of segments are all too rare. Many of the most influential mainstream media outlets need to do better at reporting on the connections scientists are finding between climate change and extreme weather. When a disaster hits, that's a prime opportunity to report on climate change, a topic that at other times might not seem newsy. When a long string of unprecedented disasters hit, as happened this year, that's even more of a call for media to tell the story of global warming.

    Good journalism is needed not just to help Americans understand the reality of climate change, but to inspire them to fight the problem by pushing for a rapid shift to cleaner energy, transport, and agriculture systems.

    Let's hope to see more climate-focused, science-driven journalism in 2018.

    -----

    Methodology: To search for broadcast television and Sunday show coverage of the Northwest and Northern California wildfires and climate change, Media Matters searched Nexis using the term (fire! OR wildfire!) w/30 (climate change OR global warming OR changing climate OR climate warm! OR warm! climate OR warm! planet OR warm! globe OR global temperatures OR rising temperatures OR hotter temperatures).

  • Far-right media seize on flawed Bloomberg article to push bogus "deep state" theories

    Bloomberg suggested that climate scientists doing their jobs are trying to "undermine" Trump

    Blog ››› ››› LISA HYMAS


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    A Bloomberg article unfairly portrayed government employees who are producing accurate climate change reports as "quietly working to undermine Trump's agenda." Conspiracy theorists and right-wing media figures quickly pounced on the article as evidence for their paranoid "deep state" theories.

    Bloomberg piece claimed that "bureaucrats" working on climate reports are trying to "obstruct" the president

    The December 18 Bloomberg article argued that "some of the roughly two million career staff [in the federal government] have found ways to obstruct, slow down or simply ignore their new leader, the president." The first and most prominent example in the article involved government reports on climate change:

    In report after report following Donald Trump’s election, career staffers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration [NOAA] kept saying the same thing: climate change is real, serious and man-made.

    That’s surprising because Trump has called global warming a hoax. His political appointees at the Commerce Department, which oversees NOAA, have complained to its staff, but stopped short of demanding changes or altering the findings. So the reports, blog posts and public updates kept flowing. The bureaucrats won.

    By saying that NOAA employees "won," Bloomberg painted them as political operatives engaging in partisan warfare instead of as civil servants employing science in the public interest. The article later acknowledged that NOAA staffers are right on the substance, but still mischaracterized their actions:

    As the case of NOAA illustrates, the most radical example of bureaucratic resistance may also be the simplest: continuing to issue information or reports that are factually accurate, even when they clash with the administration’s policies.

    Issuing factually accurate information to the public should not be characterized as "radical." It should be characterized as people doing their jobs correctly.

    The article also highlights activities by employees at agencies like the State Department and the General Services Administration (GSA), some of whom seem to be trying to make their Obama-era projects align better with Trump-era priorities. The GSA, for example, is now promoting its initiative to buy electric vehicles on economic grounds rather than environmental ones. This, though, is hardly nefarious stuff.

    Right-wing media spun Bloomberg article as evidence for their conspiracy theories

    But while the Bloomberg article doesn't offer much evidence to support its thesis of federal employees mounting "radical … resistance" to Trump, its framing has been enough to get right-wingers and conspiracy theorists excited. They're claiming it supports their belief that career government employees are secretly sabotaging President Trump.

    Infowars, the website run by notorious conspiracy theorist and fake-news disseminator Alex Jones, is touting the story. So is Infowars' D.C. bureau chief:

    The Conservative Daily Post and Before It's News, both of which are known to be fake-news purveyors, wrote up the Bloomberg article on their websites. Drudge Report, the conservative blog Instapundit, and the far-right site American Action News are promoting it too.

    Conservative media figures have also joined in to amplify the story, including a contributor to the Heritage Foundation's Daily Signal website and the editor of the Washington Free Beacon:

    Within the Bloomberg news organization itself, there seems to be disagreement about whether or not the article supports "deep state" theories.

    Aaron Rutkoff, a senior editor at Bloomberg, says no:

    But Alex Wayne, Bloomberg Business' White House editor, says yes:

    When the reporting of basic scientific facts is considered radical and political, then we're in trouble.

    The magazine Scientific American warned about the politicization of science in an editorial published during the 2016 presidential campaign: "A respect for evidence is not just a part of the national character. It goes to the heart of the country's particular brand of democratic government. When the founding fathers, including Benjamin Franklin, scientist and inventor, wrote arguably the most important line in the Declaration of Independence—'We hold these truths to be self-evident'—they were asserting the fledgling nation's grounding in the primacy of reason based on evidence."

    Journalists, of all people, should hold fast to the idea that reporting facts is not an extreme or ideological act. It's simply a necessary one.

  • Fox News guest makes incorrect claims about Native Americans being hurt by national monuments

    MSNBC, in contrast, invites Native American leaders to speak for themselves

    Blog ››› ››› LISA HYMAS

    A guest on Fox News made inaccurate claims when he said Native Americans have been hurt by national monument designations in southern Utah, and his Fox interviewer failed to question or push back against his claims.

    Boyd Matheson, president of the conservative, Utah-based Sutherland Institute, was interviewed by host Shannon Bream on Fox News @ Night on December 4:

    BOYD MATHESON: Grazing goes down with these big national monuments. Ranchers are hurt, farmers are hurt. The local Navajo tribes are really hurt because they're not able to access these lands which they use not only for their wood to heat their homes and gathering herbs and berries and doing their spiritual traditions there on the mountain. So it's an important day. This was critical. We got involved in this whole process because those voices weren't being heard.

    The segment aired a few hours after President Donald Trump signed proclamations to dramatically shrink two national monuments in southern Utah -- the Bears Ears National Monument, which was established by President Barack Obama at the end of 2016, and the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, which was designated by President Bill Clinton in 1996. Both designations were made under the Antiquities Act of 1906, which was intended to protect Native American ruins and artifacts.

    Matheson was flat-out wrong to say that national monument protections prevent Native Americans from gathering herbs, foods, or wood on the land. Obama's proclamation establishing Bears Ears calls for the federal government to "provide access by members of Indian tribes for traditional cultural and customary uses ... including collection of medicines, berries and other vegetation, forest products, and firewood for personal noncommercial use." Some Native Americans endorsed the creation of Bears Ears specifically because they saw it as a way to protect their rights to hunt and gather on the land.

    Matheson was also wrong to suggest that Native American communities broadly supported Trump's move to shrink the monuments and roll back protections from about 2 million acres. Some members of the Navajo Nation backed Trump, including a few who were present at the signing ceremony. But Bears Ears has been widely endorsed by Native Americans, many of whom consider the area sacred. The monument was created in response to a proposal from a coalition of five Native American tribes in the region, including the Navajo Nation. The coalition pushed for years to get Bears Ears protected, with the backing of an additional 25 tribes.

    Now the Native American coalition is outraged over Trump's rollback and intends to fight it in court.

    MSNBC does a better job

    Contrast that Fox segment -- which featured a white man pretending to represent Native American views and misrepresenting the impacts of Trump's action on tribes -- with coverage on MSNBC in the wake of Trump's move.

    MSNBC host Ali Velshi conducted substantive interviews with three Native American leaders, all of whom opposed shrinking the monuments: Shaun Chapoose, a member of the Ute Indian Tribe Business Committee; Jonathan Nez, vice president of the Navajo Nation; and Ethel Branch, attorney general for the Navajo Nation.

    Chapoose was interviewed by Velshi on MSNBC Live with Katy Tur:

    SHAUN CHAPOOSE: I sat and listened to the president's speech, and what is interesting is nowhere in that discussion do we as Native Americans even take any recognition as far as protecting our rights. People forget, we were the first residents of the state of Utah, long before it was a state. And the areas in question have historical artifacts, they have graveyards, they have all kinds of things which are sacred to not just my tribe but all the tribes in the state of Utah and outside the state of Utah.

    Nez and Branch were guests on MSNBC Live with Ali Velshi:

    JONATHAN NEZ: It's a sad day in Indian country. It’s a sad day for Americans to where the president says that the law of the land, and Antiquities Act is the law of the land, but he is overstepping his own authority by doing this type of action, and it's quite saddening to see this happen today here in the state of Utah. But for us, we hold that area as [a] historic place.

    [...]

    ETHEL BRANCH: [Trump] is completely missing, completely misunderstanding, what an Indian nation is and is ignoring the fact that we are sovereigns, we're governments, and we expect to be engaged on a nation-to-nation basis, and we have treaties, federal law, federal statutes, federal common law that define that relationship and there's absolutely no understanding of that from the actions we've seen from both President Trump, as well as [Interior Secretary Ryan] Zinke. They think that talking to one Native American person, one Navajo person, constitutes consultation with the Navajo Nation, and they're both gravely mistaken. We have our own tribal laws that define who can speak on behalf of our nation and we want those laws to be respected.

    This would be a good time to reiterate a key lesson from Journalism 101: Don't let a white man speak on behalf of Native Americans or any other communities of color. It's a lesson Fox has long neglected.

  • Bill McKibben on why we should be worried about media consolidation and Facebook

    The author and activist talks to Media Matters about media trends, climate journalism, and his new novel 

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    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    "I think media activism is one of the most important parts of this whole resistance," Bill McKibben, influential climate activist and journalist, told Media Matters in a recent interview. His new novel, Radio Free Vermont, puts a spotlight on the importance of independent media. 

    "Just as we have got to go about the work of building a fundamentally healthy energy system, and a fundamentally healthy agriculture system, we have to go about the long, patient, crucial work of building a healthy information system again on this planet," he said.

    McKibben has published more than a dozen nonfiction books, many of them about climate change and environmental issues, but Radio Free Vermont is his first foray into fiction. It features a band of activist pranksters in Vermont who find creative ways to fight against corporate control and the big retail chains that push out locally owned businesses. The novel's protagonist, Vern Barclay, is spurred to become a rabble-rouser because the local radio station where he works is taken over by a corporation based in Oklahoma.

    McKibben says this aspect of the book was partly inspired by a frightening event that happened in Minot, ND, in 2002. In the middle of the night, a train derailment caused a dangerous chemical release into the town's air, ultimately killing one resident. When police tried to reach someone at the local radio station that was designated as the town's emergency broadcaster, they couldn't get ahold of anyone. Clear Channel Communications, a Texas-based conglomerate, owned that station and all five of the other commercial stations in Minot, and piped in prepackaged content from remote locations.

    "That really struck me," said McKibben.

    Clear Channel, now known as iHeartMedia, is the largest operator of radio stations in the U.S., with more than 850 in its control. Meanwhile, in the TV market, Sinclair Broadcast Group owns more stations than any company in the U.S. and is poised to acquire many more, which would enable it to squelch local voices and spread its right-wing messaging to the biggest media markets in the country.

    McKibben's character Barclay worries about "big media barons" and a federal rule that would "let the big media companies own even more TV and radio stations." He's right to worry: The Federal Communications Commission, now chaired by a Trump appointee, has been making decisions that will benefit Sinclair, such as rolling back a rule that required local news stations to maintain offices in the communities they serve.

    Another big problem with media in the U.S., according to McKibben, is the misinformation being spread via giant social media companies like Facebook, which "seem to be mostly sewers for sort of garbage information."

    "I think that we took the notion for granted that somehow the internet was going to perform this necessary work by itself, that it would accomplish an awful lot. I guess we were wrong," McKibben said with a rueful laugh. Facebook “seems to have introduced us to yet another new circle of hell where we look back fondly on the three monopolistic television networks that ruled our lives."

    Good journalism can break through the cacophony, though, especially when activists help to spread and amplify it, McKibben said. He pointed to investigative reporting by InsideClimate News and the Los Angeles Times in 2015 exposing that Exxon knew the basics of climate science 40 years ago but buried that information and worked to stymie action to fight climate change. The reporting inspired advocates, political leaders, and state attorneys general to pursue investigations and lawsuits to hold Exxon accountable.

    But overall, media coverage of climate change has been lacking in both quality and quantity for decades, McKibben said. "Where it continues to fall down is in making people understand the urgency of the situation that we're in. People continue to perceive it as something that will happen in the future instead of something that is crashing into us now."

    He pointed to the string of record-breaking hurricanes and fires that have hit the U.S. in the last few months. "Those are all precisely the things that scientists have been saying for years will happen as we warm the planet, and journalists have not done a good job at making those connections in every single story as they should, over and over and over again."

    Climate change "is undoubtedly the biggest story of our day," McKibben said, but "the news media doesn't seize onto" that. "Every single day, there's something more dramatic happening than climate change. But every single day, there's nothing more important happening than climate change." So when disasters hit, media need to report on how extreme weather is linked to climate change. "When we have the opportunities to foreground that story, to make people understand the stakes, we should definitely be taking them."

    McKibben made his name as a pioneering climate journalist, but he wishes more reporters would have quickly followed him onto the beat. "When I was writing The End of Nature, the first book about all of this climate change 30 years ago, I was like a tiny bit worried in 1989 that someone else was going to write the book or the big story for The New Yorker or something and scoop me. It turns out I needn't have worried. For much, much longer than I've wanted to, I've had the biggest story on the planet more to myself than I should have."

  • Fox Business ran defense for Scott Pruitt by baselessly attacking a CNN investigation

    CNN reported on the EPA chief helping a mining company. Fox Business Network didn't like that at all.

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    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    The Fox Business Network has aggressively and baselessly attacked a CNN investigation into moves made by Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt that will help a proposed mining project in Alaska. The network aired four segments last week that criticized CNN's story.

    In an October 10 report aired on Anderson Cooper 360°, CNN correspondent Drew Griffin noted that Pruitt met on May 1 with the CEO of the Pebble Limited Partnership, a Canadian-owned company proposing to build a gold and copper mine in southwest Alaska that could threaten a major salmon fishery in Bristol Bay. Just over an hour after that meeting that took place, CNN discovered, Pruitt ordered his staff to withdraw proposed protections for Bristol Bay that had been put forward by the Obama administration, potentially clearing the way for the controversial Pebble Mine to go forward. Also on that same day, Pruitt agreed to settle a lawsuit that the mining company had filed against the EPA, according to CNN.

    On October 18 and 19, Fox Business Network ran four separate interviews that bashed CNN's report, one with the Pebble Limited Partnership's CEO and three with John Stossel, a Fox commentator. Here are the segments:

    • one: on Varney & Co. on October 18, host Stuart Varney interviewed Stossel;
    • two: also on Varney & Co. on October 18, Varney interviewed Pebble CEO Tom Collier;
    • three: on After the Bell on October 18, host David Asman interviewed Stossel;
    • four: on Kennedy on October 19, host Lisa Kennedy Montgomery interviewed Stossel.

    Stossel also slammed CNN's report in a written piece published on the Fox News website on October 18 and in a video posted on October 13 on Reason.com, which is run by the libertarian Reason Foundation. Stossel currently works for the Reason Foundation, which gets funding from the Koch brothers. Stossel also works for the Charles Koch Institute's Media and Journalism Fellowship program. Foundations affiliated with the Koch brothers have funded the Competitive Enterprise Institute, which in 2013 ran a campaign in support of the Pebble Mine.

    On all four Fox Business Network segments, the hosts and interviewees did not dispute any of the specific facts reported by CNN, but they used highly charged language to try to discredit CNN. They repeatedly called CNN's investigation a "smear," and in two of the segments the words "CNN smear" appeared on the screen. Varney derided CNN as the "Clinton News Network," called CNN's report "a hit piece," and said to Collier, "They set you up." Stossel accused CNN of bias: "I don't think they're particularly biased against Pruitt; they're biased against the Trump administration and business." Montgomery said, "It is dishonest reporting."

    With these comments, the Fox Business personalities were echoing President Donald Trump’s persistent attacks on CNN. Trump has called it the “Clinton News Network,” accused it of being “dishonest,” and even tweeted a video of himself attacking a man with the CNN logo superimposed on his head.

    The Fox Business Network has a friendly relationship with Pruitt. The EPA chief has made seven appearances on the network since he took office in February, most recently on October 17.

    The network also has a friendly relationship with Trump. Trump has given two exclusive interviews to Fox Business Network's Maria Bartiromo, one that aired on April 12 and another on October 23. Trump has mentioned or retweeted Fox Business or its hosts at least half a dozen times since becoming president, and never in a negative light. And the White House has linked at least eight times to Fox Business Network articles from the daily news roundup it posts on its website, previously called "1600 Daily" and now named "West Wing Reads."

    As USA Today reported on October 13, the Fox Business Network has been doing well "amid the ascension of Donald Trump into the White House." The article continued, "To some, the network's gains have come by playing a game similar to that of fellow channel Fox News, hitching its star to candidate and now-President Trump and ignoring news that would hurt the president," though it observed that some of the network's hosts have criticized Trump recently. An October 17 story in Business Insider made similar points, noting the network's "lineup of right-leaning programming and embrace of President Donald Trump's economic and cultural vision." Business Insider found that Fox Business Network used phrases like "liberal media" and "left-wing media" as often as Fox News did.

    So it shouldn't come as a surprise that Fox Business Network went to bat for Pruitt and attacked CNN for its report on Pebble Mine.

    But all four segments Fox Business aired on the Pebble Mine contained errors in fact, as outlined below.

    Fox Business Network got its facts wrong

    False: Salmon are nowhere near the proposed mine site.

    "This mine is 100 miles from those salmon," Stossel said on Kennedy. "The fish are nowhere near where the mine is anyway," Asman said on After the Bell. Collier and other Fox Business personalities also noted that the site is at least "100 miles" from Bristol Bay.

    True: The proposed mine site sits right within salmon habitat.

    While the proposed mine site is more than 100 miles from Bristol Bay, it's entirely false to say that the mine site is 100 miles away from the salmon. The mine site is in a wetland area right in the middle of salmon habitat. Salmon not only inhabit Bristol Bay but migrate through and spawn in the rivers and tributaries that feed into the bay. As the EPA noted in a 2014 assessment of the potential impacts a mine could have in the area, "the Pebble deposit is located in the headwaters of tributaries to both the Nushagak and Kvichak Rivers," and, "Approximately half of Bristol Bay’s sockeye salmon production is from the Nushagak and Kvichak River watersheds."

    Damaging the salmon's habitat or Bristol Bay's watershed, even many miles from the bay itself, could have major impacts on the fishery. The EPA determined that the Pebble Mine could cause "irreversible" habitat loss because of "the extent of streams, wetlands, lakes, and ponds both overlying the Pebble deposit and within adjacent watersheds."

    Bristol Bay is home to the largest sockeye salmon fishery in the world, producing 46 percent of the world’s sockeye salmon, generating an estimated $1.5 billion in economic activity a year, and supporting more than 14,000 jobs. The salmon also play a central role in sustaining the cultures of local Native Alaskan tribes that stretch back at least 4,000 years.

    False: The Obama administration completely blocked the Pebble Mine.

    During his first segment, Varney said, "This was the EPA under President Obama saying no, before you even think about submitting a plan, don't do it because you’re not going to get it." In the second segment, Varney said the mine project "was rejected, out of hand, right from the get-go" by Obama's EPA. Collier agreed, saying, "Obama wouldn't even let us file a permit application." Stossel then claimed during the third segment, "they didn't even let the guy submit a proposal."

    True: The Obama administration did not block the mining company from filing a permit application.

    In 2014, the Obama EPA proposed environmental standards that a mine tapping the Pebble deposit would have to meet, after the agency conducted a three-year, peer-reviewed scientific assessment that found a large-scale mine would pose serious threats to the Bristol Bay fishery. The EPA has the authority under the Clean Water Act to restrict projects like proposed mines that would threaten water quality in Bristol Bay.

    But the Obama EPA did not block the mining company from submitting a proposal or permit application for Pebble Mine. If a mine proposal met the restrictions EPA laid out for the Bristol Bay area, it would be able to move forward in the process, as EPA made clear when it proposed the restrictions in 2014: "Proposals to mine the Pebble deposit that have impacts below each of these restrictions would proceed to the Section 404 permitting process," the agency wrote.

    Earthjustice, a nonprofit environmental law firm that has worked to prevent Pebble Mine, explains further:

    EPA proposed to ban, not the Pebble Mine itself, but the unacceptable habitat loss from any proposed mine.

    [...]

    Any version of the Pebble Mine which would not cause the habitat loss EPA proposed to ban could proceed to the ordinary permitting process.

    In other words, the agency proposed reasonable, tailored restrictions necessary to protect the Bristol Bay ecosystem and fisheries.

    [...]

    If the Pebble Mine can be built without causing those impacts, the EPA’s protective action is no obstacle to it.

    As The New York Times reported in May of this year, the Obama EPA's process "concluded with the determination that the mine, as planned, would risk the long-term health of the ecosystem, but it did not wholly block the granting of a permit."

    It's worth noting that the mining company had been promising to file a permit application and release its plans since 2004, during the George W. Bush administration, but it never carried through. In 2013, Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski was so frustrated by the delay that she wrote a letter chastising the company for "failure to describe the project and submit permit applications," noting that "years of waiting" had fed "anxiety, frustration and confusion" in local communities.

    False: The Obama EPA's decision was driven by "collusion" with "rich green lawyers" and environmental groups that have no scientific expertise.

    Stossel and Fox Business hosts repeatedly characterized the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), a nonprofit environmental organization that has opposed the Pebble Mine, as a "rich" group that had been "colluding" with Obama's EPA. "NRDC is not scientists, it's mostly lawyers," Stossel added. Varney referred to "rich green lawyers driving this train."

    True: The Obama EPA's decision was based on a transparent multi-year scientific process.

    Under Obama, the EPA spent three years conducting an extensive scientific assessment to determine the potential impacts on the Bristol Bay fishery of a large-scale mine to tap the Pebble deposit. The review went through two drafts, two rounds of peer review, and a public comment period. The EPA's decision to propose restrictions on a mining development in the area was based on this in-depth review. Pruitt's move to withdraw those restrictions, in contrast, was made without consulting EPA's scientific staff. As CNN reported, "according to multiple sources, he made that decision without a briefing from any of EPA's scientists or experts."

    Varney talked about "rich green lawyers driving this train," but opposition to the mine has been led by locals and Alaskans. According to the EPA website, the agency "initiated this assessment in response to petitions from nine federally recognized tribes and other stakeholders who asked us to take action to protect Bristol Bay’s salmon populations." And it's not just tribes who are opposed: 62 percent of likely Alaskan voters opposed the Pebble Mine in a 2014 poll, and 85 percent of commercial fishers in the Bristol Bay area opposed it in a 2011 poll. State leaders are not fans of the mine either, as The New Yorker reported in July of this year: "Governor Bill Walker, an independent, has spoken out against the mine, and the G.O.P.-dominated state legislature has grown increasingly skeptical—a particularly important development, since a 2014 ballot measure, supported by two-thirds of voters, gave it veto power over any mine proposal in Bristol Bay."

    NRDC -- which has been active in opposing the mine project, working in tandem with local communities -- does have lawyers on staff, but it also has a Science Center and employs at least 60 scientists who have PhDs or master's degrees in their fields.

    False: The Pebble Mine is an energy project.

    Host Montgomery misrepresented the proposed mine as an energy project, talking about the importance of "extracting the energy" from Alaska and wondering whether environmentalists "want us to rely on Saudi Arabia forever."

    True: The Pebble Mine would extract minerals including gold and copper.

    The mining project proposed by the Pebble Limited Partnership would extract copper, gold and molybdenum, not oil, gas, or coal. Stossel did not correct Montgomery’s apparent misunderstanding, but instead joined in to bash the environmentalists who want people to rely on "magical wind power and solar power."

  • California newspaper editorials connect the dots between climate change and wildfires

    Blog ››› ››› LISA HYMAS


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    When hurricanes Harvey and Irma hit the U.S. earlier this year, conservatives including Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt and Fox News personalities argued that it wasn’t the right time to talk about climate change. But a number of local leaders and journalists in the storm-hit states of Texas and Florida disagreed. They called for attention to the fact that climate change is making disasters worse, even as they worked to address and report on the immediate needs of their affected communities.

    Now many political leaders and newspapers in California are following the lead of those in Texas and Florida -- demanding that we recognize the threat of climate change and how it’s exacerbating weather events like the wildfires that have been blazing through parts of Northern California for the last week and a half, the most deadly and destructive fires in the state’s history.

    Many scientists have pointed to climate change as a significant factor that’s intensifying fires like those in California. Columbia University bioclimatologist Park Williams, who co-authored a study last year that found climate change was markedly worsening wildfires in the American West, talked to McClatchy about the California fires last week: “The fingerprint is definitely there,” Williams said. “The connection between temperatures and fire is one we see again and again in the correlation analyses we do.”

    California Gov. Jerry Brown emphasized the connection last week: “With a warming climate, dry weather and reducing moisture, these kinds of catastrophes have happened and will continue to happen,” he said.

    And five of California’s biggest papers have published editorials clearly connecting the dots between this year’s out-of-control wildfire season and climate change.

    The Los Angeles Times, the largest newspaper in California, published an editorial on October 12 explaining how the fires fit into a broader pattern of weather disasters that scientists have been telling us to expect as the world warms:

    When this is over, it may well be the state’s worst fire catastrophe in recorded history by any measure.

    This is not just bad luck. Coming on the heels of other large-scale natural disasters — Houston inundated by a slow-moving tropical storm, swaths of Florida and the Caribbean ripped to shreds by a monster hurricane, much of Puerto Rico leveled by an equally powerful hurricane, a handful of Western states swept by massive fires that burned up millions of acres — one can’t help but see a disturbing pattern emerge. Those superstorms that scientists warned would result from climate change? They are here. The day of reckoning isn’t in the future. It is now.

    The Sacramento Bee made similar points in a strong October 10 editorial and put the heat on President Trump for ignoring climate change:

    Puerto Rico is in ruins. Thousands are displaced in Houston. The Gulf Coast is bracing for a fresh round of hurricanes.

    Now, epic wildfires are incinerating California.

    [...]

    Climate change is doing what scientists predicted — amplifying storms and lengthening wildfire seasons. … If it wasn’t clear last year — or the year before, or the year before that — it is obvious now that a new normal is at hand.

    Given that, it’s ironic, if not delusional, that the Trump administration would pick this, of all weeks, to move to repeal Obama-era limits on greenhouse gases, which drive global warming.

    The San Francisco Chronicle, The Mercury News (San Jose), and The San Diego Union-Tribune all published editorials arguing that governments need to be better prepared to fight wildfires, in part because climate change is making fires more of a danger.

    Of the six largest-circulation California newspapers that publish editorials, only The Orange County Register -- whose editorial board has a record of climate denial -- failed to make mention of climate change in its editorial about the ongoing fires.

    Editorial boards beyond California are picking up the thread as well. The Miami Herald, a major paper in a state recently hit by Hurricane Irma, made note of wildfires in an editorial last week that criticized President Trump’s reversal of the Clean Power Plan, a key Obama-era policy to fight climate change: “Ironically, the repeal is being announced at a time when the impact of climate change is too powerful to deny — in hurricanes of unprecedented frequency and power, in increasing droughts, in expanded wildfires.” The Washington Post and The New York Times ran editorials last week making similar points.

    Papers in disaster-afflicted areas are right to explain the connections between climate change and extreme weather. They have a responsibility not just to report on-the-ground happenings, but to put critical events in context -- especially in their editorials.

    Newspapers and networks with national audiences should do the same, following the lead of The Washington Post and The New York Times. The U.S. has suffered through a stunning string of disasters in recent months, exactly the kinds of extreme weather events that scientists have said we'll see more of as the climate continues to heat up. Media outlets have a duty to explain that climate change is driving some of the damage and will drive far more in the future if we don't curb our greenhouse gas emissions and better prepare our communities for disasters.

    This job is all the more important given that we have a president who not only denies basic climate science, but fails to take many disasters seriously. Trump has shown callous disregard for hurricane-devastated Puerto Rico, and he has almost entirely ignored the California wildfires. He hadn't even tweeted about the fires until today, 10 days after they started. Major media outlets need to step in and help fill that void.

    -----

    This post was updated to reflect the fact that President Trump tweeted about the wildfires on October 18.

  • EPA chief Scott Pruitt's official schedule omitted many right-wing media appearances

    Blog ››› ››› LISA HYMAS


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    The Environmental Protection Agency has grudgingly released partial schedules showing how Administrator Scott Pruitt has been spending his time, but many of his media interviews were omitted -- including at least 12 interviews with right-wing media.

    Journalists, activists, and members of Congress have been pushing the EPA for months to release Pruitt's calendar. Pruitt's predecessor, Gina McCarthy, and other past EPA administrators had their calendars posted publicly. Reporters and representatives of public interest groups have filed dozens of requests under the Freedom of Information Act for access to part or all of Pruitt's schedule. In response to one such request from E&E News, the EPA in June released a version of the administrator's schedule for February 21 to March 31, albeit with numerous redactions. Then last week, the agency posted to its website a skeletal outline of Pruitt's schedule for April 3 to September 8. 

    Media Matters identified 13 media interviews Pruitt gave that were not accounted for on these publicly released schedules, and 12 of these interviews were with conservative or right-wing outlets.

    The more recent, bare-bones schedule lists 52 occasions on which Pruitt gave interviews to media outlets over the five months covered. For 51 of them, the outlets are not specified; the events are simply listed as “media interview” or "media interviews." (The only outlet named on this schedule is The Associated Press.) But even these vague listings of media interviews don't encompass all of Pruitt's media appearances, Media Matters has found. We identified six media interviews Pruitt gave that were omitted from the calendar:

    The more detailed schedule that the EPA had earlier released for February 21 to March 31 did list some specific media outlets the administrator spoke with, including Fox News, CNBC, and CNN, but Media Matters identified another six interviews that were omitted:

    One more media appearance was not listed on public schedules because EPA didn't share any of Pruitt's calendar information for April 1-2:

    Pruitt has shown a strong preference for right-wing media. As Media Matters documented previously, Pruitt appeared 12 times on Fox News during his first six months in office, twice as many times as he appeared on CNN, MSNBC, ABC, CBS, and NBC combined. The hosts at Fox and other right-wing outlets often ask Pruitt softball questions, giving him a comfortable platform from which to repeat his favorite talking points and push items on his agenda. Pruitt made some of his earliest mentions of his idea to create a sham red team/blue team exercise on climate science on The Savage Nation, a fringe right-wing talk show hosted by conspiracy theorist Michael Savage, and on the Breitbart News Daily radio show.

    In addition to national TV and radio programs, Pruitt also gives interviews to conservative local programs, like a talk radio show in North Dakota. These kinds of appearances are more difficult to track and tally, so it's unclear how many such interviews Pruitt has given and how many have been included on or omitted from his publicly released schedules.

    The EPA under Pruitt has been unprecedented in its secrecy, as The New York Times, The New Republic, and other outlets have reported. Journalists and advocates are continuing to push for the release of Pruitt's full calendar, emails, and other information about how the agency and its administrator operate.

    The omission of so many media appearances from Pruitt's public calendar is yet another sign of a pervasive and troubling lack of transparency at the EPA.

  • Here's a textbook example of how climate misinformation spreads through right-wing media

    Blog ››› ››› LISA HYMAS


    Dayanita Ramesh / Media Matters

    In February of this year, the conservative British tabloid newspaper The Mail on Sunday ran a mistake-laden article that attacked climate scientists who published a paper refuting the idea of a global warming "pause." Written by reporter David Rose, the article ran under a sensationalized headline -- "Exposed: How world leaders were duped into investing billions over manipulated global warming data" -- and alleged misconduct by scientists and leaders at the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

    Media Matters, among other outlets, swiftly debunked the story.

    Now the Mail article has been more formally discredited. The Independent Press Standards Organization (IPSO), an independent media regulator in the U.K., ruled that "the newspaper had failed to take care over the accuracy of the article ... and had then failed to correct ... significantly misleading statements." The Mail was required to publish IPSO's reprimand, which it did a little more than a week ago.

    This episode tells us a lot about how climate denial and misinformation spread through the right-wing media ecosystem, as environmental scientist and writer Dana Nuccitelli explained in a good piece in The Guardian:

    The [Mail's] attack was based on an interview with former Noaa scientist John Bates.

    […]

    Essentially, Bates had expressed displeasure in the way the data from a Noaa paper had been archived at the organization. Rose and the Mail blew this minor complaint into the sensationalist claim that “world leaders were duped into investing billions over manipulated global warming data.” It would be hard to find a better example of fake news than this one.

    [...]

    Rose’s story seemed to have all the climate denial components that biased conservative media outlets crave. A lone wolf scientist whistleblowing his former colleagues with accusations of data manipulation for political purposes? Despite the glaring errors in the story that were immediately called out by climate scientists and reputable science journalists, this narrative proved irresistible to the conservative media: Breitbart, Fox News, Drudge Report, Rush Limbaugh, The Daily Caller, The Washington Times, and more ran with Rose’s story. Meanwhile, legitimate news outlets like The Guardian, The Washington Post, Carbon Brief, E&E News, Ars Technica, Science Insider, RealClimate, and numerous other science blogs quickly debunked Rose’s falsehoods.

    Climate denier Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) further amplified the right-wing media misinformation. The House science committee, which Smith chairs, put out a press release that drew from the Mail article and provided a quote of Smith praising Bates. Smith also played up the faux scandal at a committee hearing a few days later, even though the article had been debunked by then, and soon thereafter sent a letter to NOAA's acting administrator that cited the Mail article and requested documents related to the disputed study. More from the September 25 Guardian piece:

    That Smith still tried to exploit the story, that it reverberated throughout the right-wing media echo chamber, and that the Mail published it in the first place tells us a lot about the narrative this group wants to push.

    [...]

    Usually they get away with it. This time the Mail on Sunday’s “significantly misleading statements” were so bad that they were censured, though not before they had misinformed millions of people. However, the Ipso ruling tells us which media outlets are reliable sources on the subject of climate change. Those that blindly echoed David Rose’s misinformation are not; those that debunked the Mail on Sunday’s distortions are.

    It's reassuring that IPSO did its job in this case. Unfortunately, the United States doesn't have an equivalent organization, so a number of inaccurate articles published by American outlets about Bates and the NOAA study still stand uncorrected.