CNN keeps letting guests and paid commentators lie about climate scientists

CNN keeps letting guests and paid commentators lie about climate scientists

It's not true that scientists do climate research to get rich, and CNN knows it

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Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

This post was updated on November 28.

CNN has let at least three commentators argue this week that scientists are warning the public about climate change because they're getting rich by doing so -- a ridiculous and patently false claim. CNN knows it's ridiculous and false because the network ran a fact-checking segment debunking the claim and interviewed a climate scientist who explained why it's wrong. But even that didn't stop the network from continuing to spread the lie.

To make matters worse, the three people who made this lie on CNN -- former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA), former Rep. Tom DeLay (R-TX), and Trump-boosting economist Stephen Moore -- have themselves been the beneficiaries of fossil fuel money, but CNN failed to disclose that information.

CNN lets liars lie

Following the release of the National Climate Assessment, a major government report about the dangers that climate change poses to the U.S., CNN contributor Santorum came on State of the Union on Sunday morning to discuss it. Among other idiotic things, he said:

I think the point that Donald Trump makes is true, which is -- look, if there was no climate change, we'd have a lot of scientists looking for work. The reality is that a lot of these scientists are driven by the money that they receive, and of course they don't receive money from corporations and Exxon and the like. Why? Because they're not allowed to because it's tainted. But they can receive it from people who support their agenda, and that, I believe, is what's really going on here.

Santorum's comments about climate scientists doing it for the money were widely mocked on Twitter. But that didn't stop other conservative commentators from repeating the bogus claim during CNN appearances.

DeLay, who resigned as House majority leader in 2005 after being convicted of money laundering and conspiracy, made similar comments on CNN Right Now on Monday: 

The report is nothing more than a rehash of age-old 10- to 20-year assumptions made by scientists that get paid to further the politics of global warming.

Moore, a right-wing economist with a record of being wrong, echoed those points later on Monday on Erin Burnett Outfront:

We have created a climate change industrial complex in this country, with billions and billions and billions of dollars at stake. A lot of people are getting really, really, really rich off the climate change issue.

CNN does fact-checking, confirms that the lie is a lie

On Tuesday morning, CNN's John Avlon played clips of what Santorum and DeLay said and then proceeded to debunk their claims in a "Reality Check" segment:

JOHN AVLON (POLITICAL ANALYST): Now that talking point you're hearing is a classic bit of distraction and deflection designed to muddy the waters just enough to confuse the clear consensus. In fact, one of the scientists who worked on the climate change report, Katharine Hayhoe, confirms that she and her colleagues were paid, quote, “zero dollars” for their work and could easily make ten times their salaries by working for something like Big Oil. So it turns out that this idea that climate change scientists are rolling in the dough Scrooge McDuck-style is so pervasive that it had to have its own Yale study debunking it.

The Yale study that he referred to is a guide by the Yale Climate Communications group that lists arguments refuting the "persistent myth" that scientists are in it for the money.

CNN then hosted the climate scientist Avlon cited, Dr. Katharine Hayhoe, who laughed at the claim that she and her colleagues are paid to advance an agenda and explained why it's incorrect:

KATHARINE HAYHOE (ATMOSPHERIC SCIENTIST): I got paid zero dollars to write this report. My salary would have been exactly the same if I had or hadn't. And if I were studying astrophysics like I used to, I'd probably get exactly the same salary as well. The reality is that I’ve found people often accuse us of doing what they would often do themselves in our position. If we just cast our eye down the richest corporations in the world on Wikipedia's list, the vast majority of those owe their wealth to fossil fuels, so therefore they have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo as long as possible.

CNN invites liar back on to repeat lie

But even after CNN debunked the lie with its own programming, the network invited Moore back on to double down and repeat the discredited claim. During At This Hour With Kate Bolduan on Tuesday, host Bolduan played Moore a clip of Hayhoe's comments and let him respond:

MOORE: She runs the climate change center at the school in Texas. What keeps those centers alive is the climate change industry. My only point is that the government in the United States and around the world has spent billions and billions of dollars on climate change. It has become an industry. That does call into question some of the partiality of this research. But the bigger point is --

BOLDUAN: You still don't think she is just motivated by science?

MOORE: She may be. I'm not calling out any single person. I'm just saying that the industry is very, very well funded. It’s in the billions of dollars. People have a vested financial interest in talking about armageddon and these kinds of things.

CNN invited Moore back on for yet another appearance on Tuesday, again on Erin Burnett OutFront, in which he continued to repeat specious right-wing talking points about the National Climate Assessment.

And Santorum also got another chance to repeat the lie about climate scientists being motivated by money. During an appearance on Anderson Cooper 360° on Tuesday night, Santorum said:

I said this the other day and I've gotten a -- I've become a very popular man on Twitter in the last couple of days for the comment I made about scientists making money. There would be no chair of the head of climate studies at every university in America if we didn’t have a crisis. These people make money because there's a crisis.

Santorum's appearance on Anderson Cooper 360° was all the more egregious because Cooper interviewed climate scientist Hayhoe for the episode, and even teased the interview during the show, but ultimately didn't air it. Hayhoe revealed this fact in a tweet, part of a longer thread about the experience:

CNN did end up posting the interview with Hayhoe on its website. In it, Hayhoe said:

HAYHOE: What I do take personally is when we are accused of being in it for the money. I got paid zero dollars to write this report, and honestly, I could have spent those hundreds of hours elsewhere. We don't do this for the money. We do it because we're physicians of the planet. We understand that our planet is running a fever. The impacts are serious and will become dangerous, and we have to act now, not for the good of the planet but for the good of every single human who lives on it.

COOPER: I mean, that is something the president has said in the past, that this is a hoax, and that there are people who've said on our air that this is a money-making scheme essentially, this is a money-making venture.

HAYHOE: I would ask them where are they getting their money from.

Great points from Hayhoe. Too bad they didn't make it on the air.

CNN fails to disclose that liars have received fossil fuel money

While CNN lets its commentators falsely accuse scientists of being motivated by graft, the network has failed to disclose that those very commentators have financial motivations of their own: All three have gotten money from fossil fuel interests that oppose climate action.

Santorum received $763,331 in contributions from the oil and gas industry during his time in the Senate from 1995 to 2007. His long career of shilling on behalf of fossil fuel interests paid off after he left Congress and started doing lucrative work as a consultant, including earning $142,500 in 2010 and the first half of 2011 from Consol Energy, a Pennsylvania coal and gas company. Santorum is also currently the co-chair of biofuels advocacy group Americans for Energy Security and Innovation. Anderson Cooper disclosed that Santorum is paid by the biofuels group before his discussion with Santorum, but did not note the fossil fuel money Santorum has raked in over the years.

DeLay received $739,677 in contributions from the oil and gas industry from 1985 to 2008, and gave enormous handouts to the industry during his time in office.

For his part, Moore has worked for many fossil fuel-backed advocacy groups, including the Koch-funded Cato Institute, Club for Growth, and Donors Capital Fund. He was also chief economist at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank that has been funded by ExxonMobil and the Kochs. And just last last month, Moore gave a speech at the annual meeting of the Oklahoma Oil and Gas Association. 

At the very least, CNN should disclose its commentators' conflicts of interest. Better, of course, would be not to give them a platform from which to spew their nonsense. But CNN is more dedicated to showy fireworks and conflict than to the truth.

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