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Lisa Hymas

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  • The Cruz-O'Rourke debate featured no questions on climate change. Will other debates be better?

    Moderators need to be asking questions about climate change

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    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    A version of this post was originally published on Grist.

    Ted Cruz and Beto O'Rourke faced off on September 21 in the most high-profile Senate debate yet of the 2018 election season -- and it did not include a single mention of climate change.

    Cruz, a Republican senator from Texas, and O'Rourke, the Democratic congressman who's challenging him, have starkly different views on the issue, but voters are not hearing enough about those views. Climate change poses huge threats in Texas, including extreme heat, drought, wildfires, and coastal flooding. The Houston area is still recovering from last year's record-breaking Hurricane Harvey, which multiple scientific studies found was made worse by climate change. Long known as an oil and gas powerhouse, Texas now has a big stake in the clean energy economy, leading the nation in wind power and coming in fifth in solar power.

    But the debate’s moderators -- NBC 5 political reporter Julie Fine and Dallas Morning News political writer Gromer Jeffers -- didn't ask any questions about climate change or related energy issues. That was a squandered opportunity.

    "I’m disappointed,” Texas resident Sarah Beasley told ThinkProgress, explaining that she had wanted to hear from the candidates on global warming. Nearly 4 in 10 registered voters surveyed earlier this year said a candidate's position on global warming would be very important when they decide who to vote for in 2018 congressional elections.

    Unfortunately, the Cruz-O'Rourke debate was not an outlier. Of 12 debates in competitive Senate and gubernatorial races that Media Matters has analyzed so far this election season, only one included a question about climate change. That's actually worse than what we saw in the 2016 election season, when Media Matters found that less than a quarter of the debates we analyzed in competitive Senate and governor races featured a climate question.

    The Minnesota governor's race provided the sole debate we've analyzed thus far this year that did address climate change. The moderator, Minnesota Public Radio political editor Mike Mulcahy, asked both candidates -- Republican Jeff Johnson and Democrat Tim Walz -- for their views on climate change, asked a follow-up question, and let the candidates respond to each other's answers.

    The resulting exchange, which went on for more than five minutes, was both substantive and informative. Johnson said that "there is quite a disparate opinion on how much" humans contribute to climate change. (If he was talking about the opinion of climate scientists, that's not true.) He also argued that policies to fight climate change could "cost people a lot of money and hurt people" and might not "make any difference."

    In contrast, Walz said, "We can make a difference. We have to make a difference." He pointed out that shifting to clean energy can lead to a stronger economy and job growth. The debate made the candidates' differing views on climate change crystal clear.

    Attention, debate moderators: We need more exchanges like that. Ask candidates to make clear whether they consider climate change to be a serious problem, and what they propose to do about it. Better yet: Ask how they will respond to climate change's local, state, and regional impacts, which differ around the country.

    Dozens more debates will happen over the next six weeks in the lead-up to Election Day, giving the journalists and others who will act as moderators plenty of opportunities to ask candidates about climate change -- arguably the most pressing issue of our time. Media Matters will be updating a scorecard with details about upcoming debates and contact info for moderators, and after debates happen, we'll report on whether moderators brought up climate change.

    Voters deserve to hear candidates publicly state their views, and the rest of the electorate does too. If there's a debate coming up in your state, let the moderators know that you expect climate change to be on the agenda. In Texas, there are two more chances to get it right: Cruz and O'Rourke will meet again at debates on September 30 and October 16. Houston's ABC13 is asking citizens to submit questions for the next debate. Have any suggestions?

  • USA Today publishes still more climate misinformation, denying a link between climate change and hurricanes

    The paper ran two pieces by climate deniers in two days, despite a previous pledge not to publish climate denial

    Blog ››› ››› LISA HYMAS


    Melissa Joskow/Media Matters

    On September 13, USA Today's editorial page published a piece that denied the settled science of climate change, despite the page's editor pledging earlier this year, "We won’t run pieces that deny the reality of human-induced climate change."

    On September 14, the paper doubled down, running a longer op-ed by another climate denier, Roy Spencer, who argued, "If humans have any influence on hurricanes at all, it probably won’t be evident for many decades to come."

    Spencer's piece was chock-full of misinformation. As numerous climate scientists have explained this week, climate change is increasing the destructive power of hurricanes.

    Climate scientist Michael Mann, director of the Penn State Earth System Science Center, told Media Matters, "There is not a single sentence in that piece, near as I can tell, that is factually defensible. Roy Spencer is an equal opportunity science denier. He denies evolution and he denies climate change."

    Indeed, Spencer has disputed the theory of evolution in his writings and in public testimony, including telling a congressional committee in 2013, "Evolutionary theory is mostly religion.”

    Spencer also has a long history of climate denial. His website claims, "The extra carbon dioxide we pump into the atmosphere is not enough to cause the observed warming over the last 100 years." Spencer has gone on The Rush Limbaugh Show and Fox News to spread misinformation about climate change.

    In addition to being employed as a scientist at the University of Alabama, Huntsville, Spencer is a senior fellow at the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation and a member of the group's advisory board. The Cornwall Alliance is committed to climate denial, claiming, "There is no convincing scientific evidence that human contribution to greenhouse gases is causing dangerous global warming."

    Climate scientists dispute Spencer's arguments

    Three climate scientists contacted by Media Matters disputed the central claim in Spencer's USA Today piece.

    Mann just published an op-ed in the Guardian that lays out the clear links between human-caused climate change and more devastating hurricanes, including Florence. Last year, he co-authored a piece in Scientific American on the same topic. Mann has also been doing media appearances this week to explain the science connecting climate change and stronger hurricanes.

    Scott Mandia, professor of Earth and space sciences at Suffolk County Community College in Long Island, pointed out that Spencer neglected to mention sea level rise in his piece, one of the most clear ways that climate change leads to more damaging hurricanes. Mandia explained in an email:

    ALL coastal storms are now worse due to sea level rise caused by human activities that are warming the climate. A warmer climate means more ice melt, which adds water to our oceans. Warmer water expands and thus rises upward. A double-whammy for sea level rise.

    Imagine a basketball hoop ten feet above the floor and consider a dunk to be a storm over-topping a sea wall or other barrier. Now imagine humans have caused that floor to rise by a foot. It is much easier to dunk a basketball now. More flooding just like we saw in Sandy, Harvey, Maria, Florence and EVERY hurricane from now onward.

    Do not be fooled by Roy Spencer's misdirection. He cannot deny human-caused sea level rise and that is why he chose not to mention it to USA Today's readers.

    Kevin Trenberth, senior scientist in the Climate Analysis Section at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, also explained how climate change affects hurricanes. Trenberth was lead author on a study published in May that determined, “[Hurricane] Harvey could not have produced so much rain without human-induced climate change.”

    "Hurricanes are natural, but climate change is supercharging them!" Trenberth wrote in an email to Media Matters. His comments:

    Human-caused increasing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere produced an energy imbalance and its partitioning between atmospheric, ocean, cryosphere and land heat reservoirs govern how the global climate evolves. Most of the imbalance, over 90%, goes into the ocean and accordingly ocean heat content (OHC) provides a primary indicator of climate change, along with sea level rise. 2017 was the warmest year on record for the global OHC down to 2000 m depth and the latest quarter (April to June) is the hottest on record. The heat fuels storms of all sorts and contributes to very heavy rain events and flooding.

    Hurricanes are natural, but climate change is supercharging them! The observed increases of upper OHC support higher sea surface temperatures and atmospheric moisture, and fuels tropical storms to become more intense, bigger and longer lasting, thereby increasing their potential for damage. Sea level is also steadily rising, increasing risks from coastal storm surges.

    While USA Today chose to elevate the perspective of a notorious climate denier, other papers made the more responsible choice to invite well-informed scientists and experts to explain the ways climate change exacerbates hurricanes -- like The Washington Post, which ran a strong op-ed by meteorologist Eric Holthaus.

    Holthaus ended his piece by saying, "It is a time for courageous action." Trenberth echoed that sentiment in his comments to Media Matters, emphasizing that we can and should be reducing greenhouse gas emissions and preparing for the future impacts of climate change:

    The damage and loss of life from such storms does not have to be disastrous, however, if there is adequate preparation. We have the options of stopping or slowing climate change from humans, and/or adapting to and planning for the consequences, but we are not doing enough of either!

    If outlets like USA Today educated people about the real dangers of climate change, instead of propagating climate denial, more Americans might be inspired to demand and implement real climate solutions.

  • USA Today publishes climate denial on its opinion page, nine months after saying it wouldn't

    Blog ››› ››› LISA HYMAS


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    In January, Bill Sternberg, editorial page editor at USA Today, wrote this:

    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.

    Today, USA Today's editorial page is promoting a piece with the teaser “Science is not settled on climate”:

    USA Today has a long track record of publishing climate denial on its editorial page, especially in the “opposing view” pieces that accompany the paper's editorials, as Media Matters has documented on multiple occasions. Unfortunately, it's now clear that trend didn't change after Sternberg made his pronouncement in January.

    The newspaper ran a solid editorial today, noting that there is “reasonably strong scientific consensus” about the ways climate change makes hurricanes more damaging, and stating, “There is no scientific debate that the planet is warming.” Like recent editorials in other papers, it also criticized President Donald Trump for rolling back climate protections.

    But the “opposing view” piece published along with the editorial was full of problems. It consisted of excerpts from four other outlets, first among them from a post on the right-wing website Townhall written by Matt Vespa. The excerpt from Vespa's piece included a number of factually inaccurate claims related to climate change, but this was the most notable: "Sorry, the science is not settled on this matter."

    That's an obvious violation of Sternberg's stated policy not to publish pieces that deny climate science.

    Vespa, an associate editor at Townhall, previously worked for right-wing website CNSNews.com, and he notes in his bio that he was "recipient of Americans for Prosperity Foundation's 2013 Andrew Breitbart Award for Excellence in Online Activism and Investigative Reporting."

    Despite those impressive journalistic credentials, Vespa's piece that USA Today quoted was loaded with old, recycled material. A number of the same claims and phrases appear in a post Vespa wrote in 2015 for the right-wing website Hot Air. For example, he wrote in the 2015 post, "We’re at the most industrialized point in human history–and air quality couldn’t be better, according to the EPA." In his new post, he wrote, "We’re at our most industrialized in the U.S. and air quality couldn’t be better" -- a line included in USA Today's excerpt. Both of those sentences in Hot Air and Townhall linked to a 2010 blog post from the American Enterprise Institute, which has been funded by ExxonMobil and other organizations that have promoted climate denial.

    Vespa's Townhall post included additional climate-denier talking points in a section that was not reprinted by USA Today. From his piece:

    There was global cooling in the 1970s and early 1980s, and now we have global warming. The experts were wrong then, and they could be wrong now, which is why I’m not willing to gamble trillions on a brain trust that consistently shifts. Science is never settled; that’s why there are 40th, 60, and 87th editions of textbooks for chemistry, biology, physics, and so forth. The arrogant position that this is settled science is one that a liberal must take. There cannot be room for questioning, which creates cracks in the narrative that more government control in the hands of fewer people to enact changes gets undercut. It has to be settled in order to break institutions and bend them to do their bidding. That’s progressivism. All bow before Zod. Well, millions of Americans don’t—and we certainly aren’t going to give in to some liberal pet project that gambles with other people’s money on theories that could be as half-baked as when these folks thought glaciation would start again in the 1970s.

    As Hurricane Florence is barreling toward the Carolinas, and numerous climate scientists are explaining how the storm is being worsened by climate change, USA Today chose to spotlight this piece.

    We look forward to the day when USA Today does indeed cease publishing climate denial on its editorial page, but that day has not yet arrived.

  • Here's a Hurricane Florence environmental justice story that media outlets need to tell

    Spills from coal ash pits and hog manure ponds in North Carolina would hurt low-income people of color

    Blog ››› ››› LISA HYMAS


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    A handful of news outlets are reporting about the danger of coal ash and hog manure spilling into North Carolina's waterways when Hurricane Florence hits the state. But so far they're missing an important part of the story -- that African-Americans and other communities of color could be hit particularly hard by such pollution. They're also failing to note that the Trump administration has been loosening regulations and oversight in ways that could make spills of coal ash and hog waste more likely.

    The dangers of coal ash and hog manure pollution

    North Carolina is home to 31 coal ash pits that power company Duke Energy uses to store an estimated 111 million tons of toxic waste produced by coal-fired power plants. North Carolina is also home to thousands of manure pits, known euphemistically as "lagoons," that store approximately 10 billion pounds of wet waste generated each year by swine, poultry, and cattle operations in the state. This information came from Bloomberg, one of the first outlets to report that Florence could cause the waste pits to spill and create serious environmental and public health risks. The Associated Press also reported on the threats:

    The heavy rain expected from Hurricane Florence could flood hog manure pits, coal ash dumps and other industrial sites in North Carolina, creating a noxious witches’ brew of waste that might wash into homes and threaten drinking water supplies.

    Coal ash pits and hog waste dumps have both leaked and flooded in past years, causing devastating spills in North Carolina -- sometimes in the wake of hurricanes.

    Hurricane Floyd, which struck North Carolina in 1999 as a Category 2 storm, washed 120 million gallons of hog waste into rivers, Rolling Stone later reported. As AP noted this week, that was just one part of the mess caused by Floyd:

    The bloated carcasses of hundreds of thousands of hogs, chickens and other drowned livestock bobbed in a nose-stinging soup of fecal matter, pesticides, fertilizer and gasoline so toxic that fish flopped helplessly on the surface to escape it. Rescue workers smeared Vick’s Vapo-Rub under their noses to try to numb their senses against the stench.

    After Floyd, North Carolina taxpayers bought out and closed down 43 hog factory farms located in floodplains, aiming to prevent a repeat disaster. But in 2016, when Hurricane Matthew hit the Carolinas as a Category 1 storm, at least 14 manure lagoons still flooded.

    Soon after Matthew, The New York Times’ editorial board warned that such flooding could become more of a threat in the future as storms are supercharged by climate change:

    In states where hog farmers use waste lagoons, like North Carolina and Illinois, flooding is a serious hazard that may become more frequent as climate change leads to more severe storms.

    Unless North Carolina and other states require agriculture companies to change their waste-disposal methods, what happened after Hurricane Matthew will happen again.

    In this week’s Bloomberg article, the head of the North Carolina Pork Council dismissed the significance of the 14 breaches in 2016 and downplayed the threat of spills triggered by Hurricane Florence.

    There's an environmental justice component to this story

    Even if they're not widespread, hog waste spills can still be devastating to those who live nearby -- and many of the unfortunate neighbors are low-income people of color.

    Two epidemiology researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill published a paper in 2014 with a straightforward title: "Industrial Hog Operations in North Carolina Disproportionately Impact African-Americans, Hispanics and American Indians." They wrote, "Overflow of waste pits during heavy rain events results in massive spills of animal waste into neighboring communities and waterways."

    Tom Philpott explained more about that research in Mother Jones in 2017:

    As the late University of North Carolina researcher Steve Wing has demonstrated, [North Carolina's industrial hog] operations are tightly clustered in a few counties on the coastal plain—the very part of the state that housed the most enslaved people prior to the Civil War. In the decades since, the region has retained the state’s densest population of rural African-American residents.

    Even when hurricanes aren't on the horizon, activists are pushing to clean up industrial hog operations. “From acrid odors to polluted waterways, factory farms in North Carolina are directly harming some of our state’s most vulnerable populations, particularly low-income communities and communities of color,” Naeema Muhammad of the North Carolina Environmental Justice Network said last year.

    Poor and rural communities of color are heavily affected by coal ash dumps as well. The New York Times reported last month on an environmental-justice campaign against coal ash pollution in North Carolina. Lisa Evans, a lawyer with the environmental group Earthjustice, told the Times, “Coal ash ponds are in rural areas, particularly in the Southeast. Those communities have less power and less of a voice.”

    The Trump administration recently loosened rules on coal ash disposal

    The first major rule finalized by Andrew Wheeler, acting head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), loosened Obama-era requirements for coal-ash disposal. The change, which will save the power industry millions of dollars a year, could lead to more dangerous pollution. The Washington Post reported on Wheeler’s move in July:

    Avner Vengosh, a Duke University expert on the environmental impacts of coal ash, said that scaling back monitoring requirements, in particular, could leave communities vulnerable to potential pollution.

    “We have very clear evidence that coal ash ponds are leaking into groundwater sources,” Vengosh said. “The question is, has it reached areas where people use it for drinking water? We just don’t know. That’s the problem.”

    The Trump administration is also going easy on factory farms like the industrial hog operations in North Carolina. Civil Eats reported in February that there's “been a decline in the number of inspections and enforcement actions by the [EPA] against concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) since the final years of the Obama administration.” Last year, more than 30 advocacy groups filed a legal petition calling on Trump's EPA to tighten rules to protect communities from factory farms.

    North Carolina Republicans aren't helping things either -- they've gone easy on coal plants and hog operations. And in 2012, the GOP-controlled state legislature actually passed a law banning state officials from considering the latest science regarding sea level rise when doing coastal planning. ABC reported on the development at the time:

    The law was drafted in response to an estimate by the state's Coastal Resources Commission (CRC) that the sea level will rise by 39 inches in the next century, prompting fears of costlier home insurance and accusations of anti-development alarmism among residents and developers in the state's coastal Outer Banks region.

    ...

    The bill's passage in June triggered nationwide scorn by those who argued that the state was deliberately blinding itself to the effects of climate change. In a segment on the "Colbert Report," comedian Stephen Colbert mocked North Carolina lawmakers' efforts as an attempt to outlaw science.

    "If your science gives you a result you don't like, pass a law saying the result is illegal. Problem solved," he joked.

    As Hurricane Florence bears down on North Carolina, journalists should make sure that their stories include the people who'll be hurt the most by waste spills and other impacts, as well as the businesses and lawmakers who have been making such environmental disasters much more likely to occur.

  • Major media outlets dropped the ball last year on connecting climate change to hurricanes. Will they do better this year?

    Blog ››› ››› LISA HYMAS


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Major media outlets gave Hurricane Harvey plenty of attention when it hit Houston and surrounding areas just over a year ago, but too little of that coverage mentioned that climate change can make hurricanes more destructive and dangerous.

    A 2017 Media Matters study found that neither ABC nor NBC aired a single segment on their morning, evening, or Sunday news shows from August 23 to September 7 that mentioned the link between climate change and hurricanes like Harvey. An analysis by Public Citizen echoed that point, finding that many major newspapers and TV networks did not give the climate change connection appropriate coverage during their reporting on Harvey. Coverage of Hurricane Irma also fell short on incorporating climate science, and the media did a terrible job of covering Hurricane Maria at all, let alone how climate change might have affected the storm.

    Four months after Harvey hit, two groups of scientists published studies that connected the hurricane's record-breaking rainfall to climate change. Harvey had stalled out over the Houston region and dumped more than 60 inches of rain in some areas. One of the studies estimated that climate change made Harvey’s rainfall 15 percent heavier than it otherwise would have been, while the second offered a best estimate of nearly 38 percent. A third study published in May also connected the hurricane to global warming, concluding that "Harvey could not have produced so much rain without human-induced climate change."

    Scientists are now warning that Hurricane Florence could be affected by climate change in some of the same ways Harvey was, leading to massive amounts of rain over North Carolina and adjacent states.

    Will mainstream media do a better job of explaining the links between climate change and hurricanes this time around?

    There are some encouraging signs. A number of outlets have published or aired good pieces this week that explained the climate science around hurricanes, and some have also taken the Trump administration to task for rolling back climate protections while we are in peak hurricane season.

    NPR's Morning Edition on September 11 included a good segment by science reporter Rebecca Hersher reviewing some of the relevant research:

    Slow-moving storms like Harvey are getting more common. A study published earlier this year by [atmospheric scientist James] Kossin found that tropical cyclones around the world have slowed down 10 percent in the past 70 years.

    ...

    Kevin Trenberth of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., says global warming also affects the size and intensity of storms like Florence.

    Axios science editor Andrew Freedman wrote a strong piece on September 11 that explained, "There are several characteristics of the changing climate that are helping to increase the risks of damage from Hurricane Florence, even though global warming is not directly causing such a storm to spin up." His article included a quote from Texas Tech climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe:

    Hurricanes are absolutely being affected by our changing climate, in many ways. As the world warms, the rainfall associated with hurricanes is becoming more intense; they are getting stronger, on average; they are intensifying faster; they are moving more slowly; and, as sea level rises, the storm surge from these events can be more damaging.

    The Baltimore Sun published a hard-hitting editorial on September 11 that noted the influence of climate change on hurricanes and called out the Trump administration for undoing policies to limit greenhouse gas emissions:

    While one can’t say Hurricane Florence is entirely a product of climate change (severe weather existed long before people started burning fossil fuels), it is safe to say that climate change is a major reason why Florence may be bigger and stronger and why there are likely to be more such monster storms in our future. Meanwhile, it’s also quite safe to say that President Donald Trump and his current set of minions, anonymous or on the record, are exceedingly disinterested in lifting a finger to do something about global warming.

    Already this year, the Trump EPA has rolled back limits on emissions on vehicles and coal-fired power plants, two major sources of greenhouse gases. [Weakening methane rules] completes the administration’s trifecta of climate ignorance. And doing so as the Southeast faces such an ominous threat rises above chutzpah into something Nero-like in its lack of caring for the possible suffering of Americans.

    The Washington Post also published a forceful editorial on September 11 titled "Another hurricane is about to batter our coast. Trump is complicit." It cited scientific research about climate change exacerbating hurricanes, and it criticized the Trump administration for its policies that will make climate change worse:

    With depressingly ironic timing, the Trump administration announced Tuesday a plan to roll back federal rules on methane, a potent greenhouse gas that is the main component in natural gas. Drillers and transporters of the fuel were supposed to be more careful about letting it waft into the atmosphere, which is nothing more than rank resource waste that also harms the environment. The Trump administration has now attacked all three pillars of President Barack Obama’s climate-change plan.

    As we watch how Hurricane Florence develops, we'll be looking for other outlets -- including ABC and NBC -- to put the storm in its proper context, reporting on climate science and the Trump team's efforts to undo climate protections.

  • Facebook has a climate-denial problem

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    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Facebook, well-known as a breeding ground for misinformation, has a particular problem with disseminating false and misleading messages about climate change science. The platform spreads climate-denying videos and other posts, hosts climate-denying ads, and officially partners with climate-denying media outlets and organizations.

    Climate-denier videos get millions of views on Facebook

    A recent video promoting false arguments against climate change science got more than 5 million views on Facebook, The Guardian's Dana Nuccitelli reported last week.

    The video -- posted in June by The Daily Signal, an arm of the right-wing Heritage Foundation -- is titled "Why Climate Change Is Fake News." It features Marc Morano, a longtime spokesperson and blogger for the climate-denial cause, who outlines three things that "the left gets wrong about climate change." Nuccitelli points out that all three are common and easily debunked myths.

    Nuccitelli notes that Facebook's viewership numbers are likely inflated, but the video has still reached a lot of people:

    Fortunately, the exposure to Morano’s misinformation video is not as bad as it seems at first blush. Although Facebook implies the video has been viewed over 5m times, a “view” is counted after just three seconds, and videos on the site play automatically.

    Nevertheless, the video has been shared over 75,000 times, so it has certainly reached a wide audience. Facebook needs to come to terms with the fact that there is an objective reality. Even if Marc Morano sincerely believes humans aren’t causing global warming, that belief is false, and by continuing to host his myth-filled video, Facebook is misinforming tens of thousands, perhaps even millions of its users.

    As of this writing, the Daily Signal video has now been "viewed" 6.3 million times and shared 102,000 times.

    Other denier videos get traction on Facebook as well. For example, one titled "GLOBAL WARMING IS THE BIGGEST FRAUD IN HISTORY," which features a rant by a climate-denying retired businessman, has gotten at least 2 million views by Facebook's count.

    Facebook is partnering with climate-denying organizations

    In an interview with Recode published on July 18, Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that Facebook shouldn't remove content just because it's wrong. Using the example of Holocaust denial, he said it's “deeply offensive,” but “I don’t believe that our platform should take that down because I think there are things that different people get wrong. I don’t think that they’re intentionally getting it wrong.”

    Zuckerberg tried to clarify his views two days later, writing, "Our goal with fake news is not to prevent anyone from saying something untrue — but to stop fake news and misinformation spreading across our services. If something is spreading and is rated false by fact checkers, it would lose the vast majority of its distribution in News Feed."

    Joe Romm at ThinkProgress pointed out that Zuckerberg's approach is a major problem when it comes to climate denial, a particularly pernicious form of disinformation.

    One of Facebook's official fact-checking partners, the conservative magazine The Weekly Standard, has at times been dismissive of climate science and the need for climate action. A piece from July 2017, headlined "Dadaist Science," cast doubt on research that found a scientific consensus around the human causes of climate change. A piece from June 2017 criticized arguments being made on behalf of the Paris climate agreement. A long feature in the magazine from 2014 lauded climate-denying scientist Richard Lindzen.

    As Romm put it, "How can Facebook stop climate misinformation when its ‘fact-checkers’ are deniers?"

    Meanwhile, Facebook is partnering with the Heritage Foundation to determine whether the platform displays liberal bias -- a persistent but blatantly false claim made by conservatives. Heritage gets funding from the Kochs and other fossil fuel interests, and it has a long history of spreading climate denial. It brought us the "Why Climate Change Is Fake News" video mentioned above.

    And the Facebook Watch initiative, in which Facebook partners with media companies to produce original videos, has teamed up with Fox News, despite the network's long history of climate denial. Last month, when Facebook Watch debuted a slate of news shows from eight news publishers, Fox got more than twice as many slots per week as any other outlet.

    Facebook hosts climate-denying ads

    Late last year, a climate-denier blogger tried to buy ads linking to his site on five social-media platforms and found that Facebook was the only one that ran them with no pushback or questions asked.

    Leo Goldstein writes a blog at DefyCCC.com that focuses on what he calls "climate realism." The CCC in the URL stands for "cult of climate change." He also writes periodically for WattsUpWithThat, a more well-known climate-denial blog. He claims that climate change is a "pseudo-scientific fraud" and that "real scientists are against climate alarmism."

    Goldstein attempted to buy ads linking to his DefyCCC site. "In November and December 2017, I experimented with distributing the climate realism message using advertising options on Google and some other platforms," Goldstein wrote in a December 31 post on WattsUpWithThat. In a follow-up post the next day, Goldstein described the outcome of his experiment. The short version: Twitter refused to run his ads. Google ran some of his ads for a period of time. Facebook ran his ads with no pushback.

    "Facebook has been acting squeaky clean," Goldstein wrote. "None of my messages have been banned for content." Facebook is the only platform that gave him no problems, he reported.

    Since then, Goldstein has continued to place ads on Facebook, often under the banner of the Science For Humans and Freedom Institute. One ad he ran on Facebook in July claimed, "CO2 is the gas of life, not a pollutant. Climate alarmism is a dangerous cult":

    Facebook's advertising policies prohibit "deceptive, false, or misleading content," but the company has still allowed Goldstein to purchase space for ads like this.

    Zuckerberg talks the talk about climate change, but doesn't walk the walk

    Zuckerberg has expressed concern about climate change, arguing last year that the U.S. should not pull out of the Paris climate agreement and noting that rising temperatures are melting the glaciers at Glacier National Park.

    But he is not using the immense power of his platform to halt misinformation about climate change. To the contrary, Facebook is enabling and disseminating climate denial on multiple fronts. In addition to the problems outlined above, the platform helps bogus climate stories to spread -- like a hugely popular climate-denial story from YourNewsWire, a fake news site that Facebook refuses to ban even though fact-checkers have debunked its stories at least 80 times. And one of Facebook's most high-profile scandals involved handing user data over to Cambridge Analytica, a shady political consultancy that has close ties to fossil fuel companies and climate deniers.

    Media Matters named Zuckerberg as its misinformer of the year in 2017 for leading a company that is spreading misinformation far and wide. In the first half of 2018, he and Facebook have not changed their ways. Rather, Facebook is currently bending over backward to cater to conservatives who falsely claim that they're discriminated against on the platform, when in fact right-leaning Facebook pages get more interactions than left-leaning ones.

    Combating fake news is key to combating climate change. As an editorial in the journal Nature Communications argued last year, "Successfully inoculating society against fake news is arguably essential" if major climate initiatives are to succeed. Facebook could be a big part of the solution. But by kowtowing to conservatives, prioritizing profits over accuracy, and maintaining open-door policies toward misinformation, Facebook is entrenching itself as a major part of the problem.

  • How should media cover Andrew Wheeler? Take a lesson from coverage of Scott Pruitt

    Pruitt's silly scandals got more attention than his weighty misdeeds and regulatory rollbacks

    Blog ››› ››› LISA HYMAS


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    A version of this post was originally published on Grist.

    Andrew Wheeler, new acting chief of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), has gotten a soft reception from the media during his first couple of weeks on the job. The honeymoon phase needs to end now.

    Wheeler is benefiting from comparisons to his disgraced predecessor, Scott Pruitt, who was flamboyantly corrupt and unprecedentedly adversarial toward the press. Wheeler keeps a lower profile than Pruitt and has given interviews to mainstream journalists instead of insulting them, so his different style has generated positive pieces and headlines.

    But being more sober and civil than Pruitt is a very low bar to jump over. Wheeler doesn't deserve praise for clearing it.

    Wheeler received glowing press just for saying he would listen to EPA employees. “When it comes to leadership, you can’t lead unless you listen,” he said during his first address to agency staff on July 11. That quote was featured in the headlines and introductions of stories in The New York Times and The Washington Post by reporters who had done some of the most aggressive coverage of Pruitt's scandals and regulatory rollbacks.

    But, as Mother Jones reporter Rebecca Leber pointed out, Pruitt had used the exact same line during his first address to agency staff in February 2017: “You can’t lead unless you listen.”

    This is a stark example of how journalists have been quick to paint Wheeler as a departure from Pruitt even when he's doing exactly what Pruitt did.

    The media need to stop focusing on the minor stylistic differences between Wheeler and Pruitt and start homing in on substance. The new EPA chief has already implemented his first major rollback of an environmental protection. Wheeler, a former lobbyist for a coal company, signed a final rule that will make it easier for power plants to dump toxic coal ash in ways that could pollute groundwater. And Wheeler has pledged to carry forward the rest of Pruitt's agenda.

    What media got wrong in covering Pruitt

    So how should the media be covering Wheeler? To help answer that question, take a look back at how they covered Pruitt.

    Journalists at many outlets did excellent reporting on a wide range of Pruitt's scandals and regulatory moves, particularly the teams covering the EPA at The Washington Post and The New York Times. The problem was that only some of that good original reporting got amplified by other media outlets and ultimately seen by wide audiences, and too often it was the least important stories that got the most attention.

    Media Matters analyzed TV news coverage of Pruitt during a period in June in which a number of EPA regulatory rollbacks and Pruitt scandals were revealed.

    For each of the following stories, we looked at how much coverage major prime-time TV news programs devoted to it in the week after it was first reported:

    • Rollback: The EPA decided not to examine air, water, or ground contaminants when determining the health and safety risks of potentially toxic chemicals, as The New York Times reported on June 7.
    • Rollback: The EPA took the first step toward changing the way it calculates the economic costs and benefits of regulations, with an eye toward making regulations appear more expensive, as The Washington Post reported on June 7.
    • Rollback: The EPA put forth a detailed plan to scale back a major Obama-era regulation on water pollution, as The New York Times reported on June 14.
    • Substantive scandal: Pruitt had close ties with a coal baron and big GOP donor, Joseph Craft. Craft got Pruitt good basketball tickets, while Pruitt made policy moves that benefited Craft's company, as The New York Times reported on June 2.
    • Silly scandal: Pruitt spent $1,560 on 12 customized fountain pens emblazoned with the EPA seal and Pruitt’s signature, as The Washington Post reported on June 1.
    • Silly scandal: Pruitt had an EPA aide try to obtain a used mattress from the Trump International Hotel, as The Associated Press reported on June 4.
    • Silly scandal: Pruitt used his EPA security detail to help him find fancy lotion at Ritz-Carlton hotels, as The Washington Post reported on June 7.

    The first four stories -- the ones involving policy changes likely to lead to more pollution -- got markedly less attention on TV news than the scandals surrounding Pruitt's bizarre personal misbehavior.

    How the media can do better in covering Wheeler

    Pruitt getting the boot opens up an opportunity for journalists to do a better job covering the EPA, as Wheeler seems unlikely to suck up all the oxygen by making goofy moves like buying tactical pants” or using sirens to speed to his favorite restaurant.

    Last month, some reporters on the EPA beat expressed frustration that Pruitt’s scandals were serving as distractions:

    Now they’ll have more time to chase stories about serious ethics questions at EPA and, most importantly, the regulatory rollbacks that could make Americans sick and kill us.

    There will be plenty to cover, like:

    • Wheeler’s ties to industry: He, too, has a long-established, cozy relationship with a coal baron. And he has lobbied for natural gas, chemical, uranium, nuclear, and utility interests, so we could see him cultivating close ties to those industries.
    • Wheeler’s rollbacks that benefit industry: He has already made a major policy move that serves the interests of coal and utility companies, as mentioned above, and he’s poised to take heat off automakers by rolling back auto fuel-efficiency rules and trying to revoke California's authority to set tough standards for pollution from cars and trucks.
    • Wheeler’s ethically questionable decisions: He kept on two top EPA aides who have ethics problems, as HuffPost's Alexander Kaufman recently reported. Green groups are digging for more potential missteps.

    During Wheeler's reign at the EPA -- which could last years -- reporters will need to stop comparing him to his predecessor and instead bird-dog the agency's deregulatory moves and dig for the ethics and corruption stories that aren't as ridiculous and simple as those Pruitt routinely offered up. We're counting on journalists assigned to the national environment beat to do just that.

    But here's the potentially trickier part: After original reporting comes out on Wheeler's actions, other journalists and commentators and TV news producers will need to amplify those stories, writing articles and producing segments that will get the news in the public eye. Will they do it now that the EPA is no longer run by an absurd character with a proclivity for dramatic self-sabotage? 

    While Pruitt’s silly scandals were a distraction for some media outlets, they were a lure for others, drawing their eyes to an agency they might not cover often or in-depth. For instance, Vanity Fair -- not traditionally a source of EPA news -- published numerous pieces that highlighted Pruitt's scandals and also noted the more important fact that he'd been gutting regulations and suppressing science.

    We need Vanity Fair to keep it up during the Wheeler era, and we need NBC Nightly News and CNN's Situation Room and so many others to join in.

    Quiet deregulation and allegiance to industry are easy to ignore in the loud, lewd age of Trump, but everyday Americans who eat, drink, and breathe can't afford for the media to miss the most important stories about the EPA.

    -----

    Methodology: Media Matters conducted a Nexis search of transcripts for prime-time (5 p.m. through midnight) programs on CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News, as well as the broadcast network nightly news programs: ABC’s World News Tonight, CBS Evening News, NBC Nightly News, and PBS NewsHour. We examined a week’s worth of coverage for the seven stories in the first bullet-pointed list above. We identified and reviewed all segments that were captured by searching for the words Pruitt, EPA, or Environmental Protection Agency within 50 words of cost, benefit, calculate, calculation, economic, chemical, health, safety, toxic, water, pollute, pollution, rollback, regulate, regulation, rule, policy, pen, jewelry, mattress, Trump Hotel, lotion, moisturizer, moisturizing, dry cleaning, security, scandal, ethics, or ethical.

    Chart by Melissa Joskow. Research assistance by Kevin Kalhoefer.

  • New EPA chief Andrew Wheeler has a fondness for right-wing media and climate-denier blogs

    But will he be as combative toward the mainstream press as Scott Pruitt was?

    Blog ››› ››› LISA HYMAS


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Scott Pruitt, ousted administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), had cozy relationships with right-wing media outlets and combative relationships with the mainstream press. Andrew Wheeler, who's stepped in as acting administrator, has also shown a fondness for right-wing media and signs of disdain toward some mainstream media. But Wheeler has not interacted with the press in the same hostile and tribal ways that Pruitt did. Will Wheeler's approach to the media shift now that he's at the helm at EPA?

    On the topic of climate change, it’s easier to predict whether Wheeler will change course: probably not. Like Pruitt, Wheeler has long been skeptical of climate science and climate action, as evidenced not just by Wheeler’s public statements but also by his Twitter account. He has tweeted out links to climate-denying blog posts, including one post that declared, “There is no such thing as ‘carbon pollution.’”

    Pruitt leaned heavily on right-wing media

    Throughout his tenure at the EPA, Pruitt made heavy use of right-wing media outlets to spread his preferred talking points and fight back against media coverage he didn't like. During his first year, Pruitt appeared on Fox News more than twice as often as all other major TV networks combined, Media Matters found, and Fox was less likely than other networks to cover Pruitt's scandals. Pruitt was also a frequent guest on national right-wing talk-radio shows, where he received soft treatment.

    After Pruitt got unexpectedly tough questions during an April interview with Fox's Ed Henry, he retreated to right-wing outlets that were even more likely to give him good press, giving interviews to the Sinclair Broadcast Group, the Washington Free Beacon, and a Mississippi talk-radio show.

    Pruitt cultivated a particularly cozy relationship with right-wing outlet The Daily Caller, giving the site exclusive quotes and information. The Daily Caller in turn repeatedly defended Pruitt against scandals and attacked people who released damaging information about him. Even after Pruitt resigned, The Daily Caller continued to act as his attack dog, publishing pieces with headlines including "Source: A torrent of negative press ended Scott Pruitt's career at EPA" and "Jilted former EPA aide with sordid history takes full credit for Pruitt's resignation."

    Pruitt attacked and stymied mainstream media outlets

    Under Pruitt, the EPA press office repeatedly attacked, stymied, and manipulated reporters at mainstream news outlets, as Media Matters documented. The agency refused to release basic information about its activities, blocked journalists from attending official agency events, favored reporters who would provide positive coverage, and publicly insulted and retaliated against reporters and outlets whose coverage officials didn't like.

    One of many such attacks came in September, when the EPA sent out a press release that personally maligned Associated Press reporter Michael Biesecker, accusing him of having "a history of not letting the facts get in the way of his story." Another attack happened in June of 2018, when EPA spokesperson Jahan Wilcox called an Atlantic reporter "a piece of trash” after she asked for comment on one of Pruitt's aides resigning. 

    Pruitt appeared to attack the media on his way out the door, too. His resignation letter blamed "unprecedented" and "unrelenting attacks" on him.

    Wheeler liked tweets from right-wing media figures, defended Milo Yiannopoulos

    Wheeler, for his part, has also demonstrated an affinity for right-wing media figures and outlets, but he's done it in a different way -- via his personal Twitter account. He has "liked" many tweets by conservative media figures, including ones that criticize mainstream or liberal media outlets.

    Wheeler "liked" a July 3 tweet by Donald Trump Jr. that linked to a Daily Caller post lauding Fox News's high ratings and mocking CNN's lower ones:

    He "liked" a June 11 tweet by NRATV host and Fox regular Dan Bongino that bashed MSNBC:

    Wheeler "liked" a June 1 tweet by libertarian talk show host Dave Rubin that criticized a HuffPost story: "HuffPo isn’t a place of journalism, it’s a place of Far Left activism." (Media Matters rebutted the misleading claims of right-wing figures who criticized the story.)

    He "liked" a May 22 tweet by NRATV host and NRA spokesperson Dana Loesch that knocked Planned Parenthood.

    He "liked" an April 3 tweet by conservative Wall Street Journal columnist Kimberley Strassel that inaccurately claimed Obama EPA officials spent as much on travel as Pruitt did.

    He "liked" a January 6 tweet by Fox News personality Brit Hume that mocked Al Gore.

    Wheeler has "liked" tweets from frequent Fox News guests Charlie Kirk and Candace Owens of the conservative group Turning Point USA, including this one:

    According to Daily Beast reporter Scott Bixby, in 2016 Wheeler tweeted out a conspiracy theorist's video that defended Milo Yiannopoulos, an alt-right troll and former Breitbart editor, but Wheeler later deleted the tweet:

    In August 2016, Wheeler publicly defended alt-right troll Milo Yiannopolous after the latter was banned from Twitter for encouraging users to harass actress Leslie Jones. In a now-deleted tweet, the lobbyist linked to a six-minute video, “The Truth About Milo,” produced by InfoWars editor-at-large and noted conspiracy theorist Paul Joseph Watson, in which Watson posited that conservatives might be “banned from using the internet altogether if they trigger your butthurt.”

    Since being named acting head of the EPA last week, Wheeler appears to have deleted 12 more tweets from his feed.

    Wheeler tweeted links to climate-denier blog posts

    While EPA watchers have predicted that Wheeler is likely to differ from Pruitt in his demeanor, Wheeler has displayed the same attitude as Pruitt toward climate change.

    In 2011, when Wheeler was a lobbyist for the Murray Energy coal company, he tweeted a link to a post on the climate-denial blog JunkScience.com. The post, written by the site's founder and longtime climate denier Steve Milloy, argued that information from the American Lung Association should not be trusted because the organization "is bought-and-paid-for by the EPA."

    Wheeler retweeted a Milloy tweet from 2015 that took a shot at Huffington Post founder Arianna Huffington and highlighted projections about India's rising coal use.

    In 2009, Wheeler sent a tweeted promoting a climate-denying blog post published on the conservative American Thinker site:

    On at least two occasions, Wheeler has tweeted links to posts on RealClearPolitics that questioned the science of climate change. A tweet in 2009 linked to a post titled "A Reason To Be Skeptical," and the tweet included the hashtag #capandtax, a conservative smear against cap-and-trade policies. The piece he linked to, which also appeared in The Denver Post, promoted “Climategate,” a bogus, manufactured scandal in which conservatives claimed that hacked emails showed climate scientists were fabricating evidence of warming temperatures. 

    And a tweet in 2015 praised a RealClearPolitics essay that argued, "There is no such thing as 'carbon pollution.'”

    This piece, which Wheeler called "great," largely dismissed climate science and criticized the media outlets and peer-reviewed journals that regularly report on climate change:

    Of course, we don’t have good data or sound arguments for decarbonizing our energy supply. But it sounds like we do. If you read Scientific American, Science, Nature, National Geographic, the New York Times, the Washington Post, or any of thousands of newspapers and magazines, and you take them at face value, you would have to agree that there is a strong likelihood that serious climate change is real and that decarbonization or geo-engineering are our only hopes.

    Wheeler gives interviews and quotes primarily to mainstream outlets

    Though Wheeler's Twitter account seems to show a preference for right-wing outlets, he does not exhibit the same ideological bias when he gives interviews or quotes to media. Most of the interviews he's given during his career in Washington, D.C., have been to mainstream outlets.

    Media Matters has identified eight interviews Wheeler has granted to media outlets since October 5, 2017, when President Donald Trump nominated him to serve as deputy administrator of the EPA:

    During his years as a lobbyist from 2009 to 2017 -- when he worked for coal, nuclear, chemical, and utility companies, among others -- he was quoted at least eight times by E&E News, a subscription-based news organization aimed at professionals working in the energy and environment fields, and he sat for one video interview with E&E. He also gave quotes at least twice to another inside-the-beltway news organization, Politico, as well as to The New York Times and FoxNews.com.

    From 1995 to 2008, when Wheeler worked for Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), he gave at least four more video interviews to E&E News. He was also quoted in a Washington Post article in 2008.

    Right-wing media are already leaping to Wheeler's defense

    Whether on not Wheeler starts giving interviews or information to right-wing outlets, right-wing outlets are likely to defend him against criticism. They've already started.

    The Daily Caller, which had a tight-knit relationship with Pruitt and his press office, published a story on July 5 titled "Pruitt has been gone for less than a day and his replacement is already getting attacked." And Breitbart ran a piece on July 5 that quoted conservatives praising Wheeler and argued that "the media is already attacking him in much the same relentless fashion it did Pruitt."

    What's next for Wheeler and the EPA press office?

    It's not surprising that Wheeler gave quotes and interviews primarily to mainstream and inside-the-beltway publications while he was working for Inhofe and representing his lobbying clients. He was trying to reach influencers and mold public opinion.

    In contrast, Pruitt, who has been rumored to be plotting a run for Oklahoma governor or senator, has spent his time in D.C. trying to raise his profile and burnish his image with GOP donors and the conservative base of the Republican Party. He often turned to highly partisan right-wing outlets to achieve those ends.

    Now that Wheeler is the boss setting the agenda and determining strategy, will he continue his conventional approach of talking to mainstream media, or will he follow Pruitt's recent example and turn primarily to highly partisan right-wing outlets like Fox News and The Daily Caller? And under Wheeler's leadership, will the EPA's press office treat reporters more professionally than it did under Pruitt, or will it continue to be highly combative with the media?

    In the few days since Wheeler was announced as interim EPA chief on July 5, he seems to have taken a more traditional and conciliatory approach. He's given two substantive interviews to major newspapers, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal. And according to Politico, Wheeler will be taking a different approach from Pruitt in terms of dealing with the press: "Wheeler will announce where he is speaking or traveling in advance, he will publish his full calendars 'frequently,' without litigation from groups pursuing public records, and he and other top political appointees will hold briefings for the media on major policy announcements."

    But even if the media approach changes, the policy approach won't. "EPA's agenda remains largely unchanged," Politico continued. "Wheeler will still pursue much the same policy platform — fighting the courts to roll back a slate of Obama-era regulations on climate change, air pollution, stream protection and more."

    Ted MacDonald, Evlondo Cooper, and Kevin Kalhoefer contributed research to this post.

  • Pruitt's EPA replacement, Andrew Wheeler, is a former coal lobbyist who promoted an Infowars video defending Milo Yiannopoulos

    Now Wheeler is trying to sound like a defender of environmental justice

    Blog ››› ››› LISA HYMAS

    Andrew Wheeler will be the acting administrator at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) now that Scott Pruitt has resigned. Wheeler is a former lobbyist for coal, natural gas, chemical, and utility companies, and was a long-time aide to the Senate's most ardent climate denier, Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK).

    Wheeler once promoted a conspiracy theorist's video that defended Milo Yiannopoulos, an alt-right provocateur who actively promoted neo-Nazi and white nationalist views as an editor for Breitbart. From an April Daily Beast article about Wheeler by reporter Scott Bixby:

    In August 2016, Wheeler publicly defended alt-right troll Milo Yiannopolous after the latter was banned from Twitter for encouraging users to harass actress Leslie Jones. In a now-deleted tweet, the lobbyist linked to a six-minute video, “The Truth About Milo,” produced by InfoWars editor-at-large and noted conspiracy theorist Paul Joseph Watson, in which Watson posited that conservatives might be “banned from using the internet altogether if they trigger your butthurt.”

    Wheeler felt compelled to delete another social media post from that year. In February 2016, he shared very negative feelings about then-candidate Donald Trump on Facebook. That post is no longer visible on Facebook, but is captured in this tweet:

    Despite that post, Trump nominated Wheeler to the EPA's No. 2 spot in October, and the Senate confirmed him in April. Since the beginning of this year, Wheeler has not posted anything publicly on Facebook, and all of his tweets have been retweets except for one praising Trump's State of the Union address:

    Wheeler had also avoided talking to reporters this year, but he broke his silence last week:

    On June 27, The Hill, the Washington Examiner, and Bloomberg all published articles based on interviews with Wheeler, and on June 28, the Journal-News, a paper from Wheeler's hometown area in Ohio, published an article based on an interview with him as well.

    Wheeler told the Examiner and The Hill that he wasn't looking to take Pruitt's job. (He got it anyway.) He told Bloomberg that, because he used to lobby for the coal industry, he was recusing himself from broad deliberations over taking emergency steps to save coal plants. And he talked to the Journal-News about the EPA's current focus on cleaning up contaminated sites via the Superfund program.

    Most of what Wheeler said in his recent spate of media interviews was unremarkable, but one thread was surprising. Wheeler -- who's fully on board with the EPA's current agenda of rolling back public health protections -- claimed in two of those interviews to be concerned about environmental justice.

    Wheeler told The Hill that he wants to improve the way the EPA communicates environmental risks to the public:

    That is particularly important, Wheeler said, in areas with high concentrations of minority populations. They are often closest to manufacturing and other polluting sites, and the EPA has an “environmental justice” responsibility to consider the unique impacts of pollution on them.

    Wheeler made a similar point in his interview with Bloomberg:

    "I don’t think the agency historically has done a consistent job of describing what the risk is that Americans face," Wheeler said, citing statements about air quality in New York after the 2001 terrorist attacks and the integrity of drinking water in Flint, Michigan. Wheeler said the burden falls disproportionately on the poor, "who often live the closest to facilities."

    Environmental-justice advocates might be surprised to hear those kinds of statements from a man who has endorsed Pruitt's environmental agenda. As Wheeler told The Hill, "I’m here to help Administrator Pruitt with his agenda and President Trump’s agenda for the agency." Their agenda has been to sideline, rather than prioritize, environmental justice.

    Experts recently projected that the changes Pruitt and Trump have proposed to environmental regulations could lead to tens of thousands of premature deaths over a decade and hundreds of thousands of cases of respiratory infections in children. Given that air pollution hits minority communities harder than white ones, many of those suffering from EPA rollbacks would be people of color.

    Wheeler's comments about environmental justice seem like an attempt to soften his image and allay very real concerns about what he'll do at the agency. He made a more flippant attempt to soften his image during his interview with the Journal-News, saying, “Yes, I represented a coal company, but I also represented a cheese company.”

  • Media failed on climate and extreme weather coverage last year. Will they do better in 2018?

    Al Roker gives us reason to be a bit optimistic

    Blog ››› ››› LISA HYMAS

    A version of this post was originally published on Grist.

    Everyone knows that the U.S. got gobsmacked by hurricanes last year. But if you rely on mainstream media for your news, you might not know that climate change had anything to do with it.

    In 2017, the major broadcast TV news programs mentioned climate change only two times total during their coverage of the record-breaking hurricanes that made landfall in the U.S. The climate-hurricane link came up once on CBS, once on NBC, and not at all during ABC's coverage of the storms, Media Matters found. All in all, major TV news programs, radio news programs, and newspapers mentioned climate change in just 4 percent of their stories about last year’s big hurricanes, according to research by Public Citizen. Many major media outlets also neglected to weave climate change into their reporting on 2017's heat waves and wildfires

    Will coverage in 2018 be any better?

    Al Roker has given us reason to feel slightly optimistic. Last week, Roker, the weather forecaster on NBC's Today show, demonstrated one good way to put an extreme weather event into proper context. While discussing the devastating flooding that recently hit Ellicott City, MD, he explained that heavy downpours have become more common in recent decades thanks to climate change, using a map and data from the research group Climate Central:

    As we roll into summer -- the start of the season for hurricanes, wildfires, droughts, and heat waves -- that's just the kind of connect-the-dots reporting we need.

    The New York Times helped set the scene with its recent map-heavy feature on places in the U.S. that have been hit repeatedly by extreme weather. "Climate change is making some kinds of disasters more frequent," the piece explained, and "scientists also contend that climate change is expected to lead to stronger, wetter hurricanes."

    But it's one thing to report on how climate change worsens weather disasters in general, as the Times did in that piece. It's another thing to report on climate change while covering a specific storm or wildfire, as Roker did -- and many journalists still seem to be squeamish about it. They shouldn't be; science has their back. In addition to what we know about the general links between climate change and extreme weather, there's a growing area of climate research, called attribution science, that measures the extent to which climate change has made individual weather events more intense or destructive.

    Consider the research that's been done on Hurricane Harvey, which dumped more than 60 inches of rain on the Houston area this past August. Just four months after the storm, two groups of scientists published attribution studies about it: One study estimated that climate change made Harvey's rainfall 15 percent heavier than it would have been otherwise, while another offered a best estimate of 38 percent.

    Broadcast TV news programs did not report on this research when it came out, but they should have. And the next time a major hurricane looms or makes landfall, media outlets should make note of these and other studies that attribute hurricane intensity to climate change. Scientists can't make these types of attribution analyses in real time (at least not yet), but their research on past storms can help put current and future storms in context.

    Of course, in order to incorporate climate change into hurricane reporting, journalists have to be reporting on hurricanes in the first place. They failed miserably at this basic task when it came to Hurricane Maria and its devastation of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Maria got markedly less media coverage than hurricanes Harvey and Irma, according to analyses by FiveThirtyEight and researchers from the MIT Media Lab. The weekend after Maria made landfall, the five major Sunday morning political talk shows cumulatively spent less than a minute on the storm. And just last week, when a major new study estimated that Maria led to approximately 5,000 deaths in Puerto Rico, as opposed to the government's official death count of 64, cable news gave 16 times more coverage to Roseanne Barr's racist tweet and her canceled TV show than to the study.


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Hurricane Maria overwhelmingly harmed people of color -- Puerto Rico's population is 99 percent Latino and the U.S. Virgin Islands' population is 98 percent Black or African-American -- so it's hard not to see race as a factor in the undercoverage of the storm. The authors of the MIT Media analysis attributed the lack of coverage to a “cultural gap” and suggested that more minorities working in media might have alleviated the problem. Not only are minorities less likely to be employed in newsrooms; they're also less likely to be included in media discussions of climate change.

    The lack of reporting on Maria sets a scary precedent, as climate disasters are expected to hurt minority and low-income communities more than whiter, wealthier ones. Unless mainstream media step up their game, the people hurt the most by climate change will be covered the least.

    Ultimately, we need the media to help all people understand that climate change is not some distant phenomenon that might affect their grandkids or people in faraway parts of the world. Only 45 percent of Americans believe climate change will pose a serious threat to them during their lifetimes, according to a recent Gallup poll. That means the majority of Americans still don't get it.

    When journalists report on the science that connects climate change to harsher storms and more extreme weather events, they help people understand climate change at a more visceral level. It's happening here, now, today, to all of us. That's the story that needs to be told.