In the month after Democratic nominee Joe Biden unveiled his climate plan on July 14, Media Matters tracked related coverage on Fox News, MSNBC, and CNN, and found that Fox dominated the discussion. From July 14 to August 14, Fox maintained a steady stream of hysterical and misleading attacks against the proposal and Biden, including advancing the fake narrative that, if elected, Biden will ban fracking and thus cause the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs in critical battleground states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Texas.
- Fox aired more segments on the Biden climate plan between July 14 and August 14 than its cable counterparts CNN and MSNBC aired combined.
- In the first two days of coverage, including coverage on July 14 that previewed the Biden plan prior to his speech, Fox ran 23 segments on his climate plan -- more than twice as many as CNN and MSNBC combined. CNN and MSNBC ran four and five segments, respectively.
- Between July 14 and August 14, Fox aired seven times the number of segments (35) of CNN (five segments) and more than four times the segments aired on MSNBC (eight segments).
- Among CNN’s five segments on the Biden climate plan, none discussed the climate crisis. And among MSNBC’s eight segments, only one discussed the climate crisis.
- During initial coverage of Biden’s climate plan, at least eight Fox segments pushed a fake narrative suggesting that Biden supports a ban on all fracking.
- Over the course of one month, Fox pushed the narrative that Joe Biden or his administration would ban fracking 37 times. Only one segment on MSNBC fact-checked this claim.
Fox has dominated coverage of Biden’s climate plan -- airing more segments on the plan than CNN and MSNBC combined. This pattern continues the overall trend of Fox dominating climate coverage with misinformation.
On July 14, Biden unveiled his revamped climate plan in a speech that was carried live by all three cable networks, triggering the same sort of hysterical and false claims Fox anchors, hosts, and their guests make about any policy or plan related to the reduction of carbon emissions.
Media Matters analyzed all cable news coverage of Biden’s climate plan from July 14 to August 14. In the first two days of coverage, including coverage that previewed the climate plan prior to Biden’s speech, Fox ran 23 segments on his climate plan -- twice as many as CNN and MSNBC combined. CNN and MSNBC ran four and five, respectively.
Coverage of the plan over a span of one month shows that Fox continued to outpace its counterparts -- airing seven times the number of segments (35) CNN aired (five segments) and four times the segments of MSNBC (eight segments).
Fox’s full-court press coverage of Biden’s climate plan and the fleeting coverage by CNN and MSNBC continue a troubling trend in cable news coverage of proposals intended to address the climate crisis: Fox continues to dominate the climate action narrative with false and misleading information.
In February 2019, Media Matters conducted an analysis of cable media coverage in the days after Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Sen. Ed. Markey (D-MA) introduced the Green New Deal, an ambitious and sweeping climate proposal. We found that Fox covered the Green New Deal more than three times as much as MSNBC and CNN combined. In March 2019, during the week leading up to a Senate vote on the proposal, a similar analysis found that Fox News aired more than twice as many prime-time segments discussing the Green New Deal as MSNBC and CNN combined.
And not only did Fox dominate coverage of the Green New Deal during key newsworthy moments, but it also continues to be the main messenger among TV news networks on the ambitious plan even when the plan is not part of other news stories being covered. For example, over a 43-day period, from March 25 to May 7, Fox mentioned the Green New Deal 100 times. The majority of this coverage falsely claimed that the Green New Deal was proposed as part of the $2 trillion coronavirus relief package. During that same period, MSNBC mentioned the Green New Deal eight times, and CNN mentioned the proposal just three times.
The fact that CNN and MSNBC continue to yield coverage of major climate proposals to Fox News is highly troublesome. Equally problematic is the quality of the little coverage they have dedicated to those proposals and specifically to Biden’s climate plan.
CNN and MSNBC coverage of Biden’s plan has provided very little counterbalance to Fox’s misinformation and false narratives
The vast majority of Fox’s coverage either directly associated Biden’s plan with the Green New Deal -- which the network has framed as a radical agenda based on climate alarmism and pushed by extreme elements of the Democratic Party that will devastate the U.S. economy -- or used similar messaging to describe it.
The majority of CNN and MSNBC segments failed to counter this misinformation. They also did not discuss Biden’s climate plan in the context of the dangerous and costly climate impacts American communities are already facing or the myriad scientific warnings demanding bold climate action.
CNN and MSNBC aired 13 segments combined on the Biden climate plan, but only one segment — on MSNBC — provided any discussion of the climate crisis. During the July 16 edition of MSNBC Live With Stephanie Ruhle, host Stephanie Ruhle asked Biden campaign senior policy adviser Jake Sullivan how Biden plans to pay for his $2 trillion climate plan. In response, Sullivan discussed the cost of not making the investment in job creation and fighting the climate crisis.
Unfortunately, this segment was the exception not the rule for cable coverage. (And even for its merit, it’s an example of the program's guest, not the network's host, illuminating the cost of climate change.)
The majority of CNN’s and MSNBC’s coverage centered on purely political considerations, such as the fact that Biden’s current climate plan is a departure from the less ambitious platform he campaigned on during the primaries and what voting factions the plan is intended to appeal to, rather than the issues it's supposed to address.
Fox News has advanced the lie that Biden would ban all fracking
Fox has used both Biden’s climate plan announcement on July 14 and a July 29 Trump campaign event in Texas to advance a false narrative that if Biden is elected, he will ban fracking, resulting in the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs in critical battleground states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Texas -- and collectively millions of jobs across the country.
The message is grounded in a deliberate mischaracterization of Biden’s position on fracking, which has not changed since the primaries. It seems to be an attempt to recreate the “war on coal” message that helped elevate Trump in swing states during the 2016 election, and it relies on cooked numbers.
In reality, Biden is calling for an end to new permits for drilling on public land. The majority of U.S. production is done on private land, and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management says production on federal land accounted for less than 10% of oil and gas in 2018. Reportedly, even the oil and gas industry has offered measured support for Biden’s plan specifically because it does not promote a ban on hydraulic fracturing.
In late January, an article from The New York Times and one from The Wall Street Journal illustrated the importance of the narrative in the context of the election. The article in the Times, titled “In Crucial Pennsylvania, Democrats Worry a Fracking Ban Could Sink Them,” suggested that a Democratic candidate who embraces a fracking ban would likely lose critical battleground states, like Pennsylvania, and therefore the presidency itself. Similarly, an op-ed in the Journal -- penned by Trump’s former economic adviser and titled “Democrats’ War on Fracking Will Cost Them in Battleground States” -- claimed that a pledge by nearly all Democratic candidates during the primaries (in which he falsely included Biden) to end fracking and consequently all the jobs it created would ensure their loss in swing states.
Biden is not a candidate who has pledged to end fracking. But that hasn’t stopped Fox News -- and its guests -- from arguing that he is.
At least eight of Fox’s 35 segments that covered Biden’s plan misrepresented his stance on fracking, including one on Fox’s purported “straight news" show Bill Hemmer Reports. Shortly after Biden’s climate speech concluded, Fox contributor Karl Rove appeared on the show and claimed that Biden “endorsed the immediate end to fracking,” saying that would “affect a lot of jobs in Texas.”
Notably, in most cases, Fox News hosts, anchors, and guests who argued that a Biden administration would mean a ban on fracking acknowledged, unlike Rove, that it is not actually part of his platform. In those instances, they suggested that Biden’s position on fracking is a smokescreen either because the more radical elements of the Democratic Party that do want a fracking ban are really calling the shots or because his climate plan could not possibly be achieved without the end of fracked gas production.
Segments that aired on July 14 on Tucker Carlson Tonight and the “straight news” program Fox News @ Night with Shannon Bream offer examples of both arguments.
While guest-hosting the July 14 edition of Tucker Carlson Tonight, Brian Kilmeade invited discredited and self-proclaimed “environmentalist” Michael Shellenberger to respond to Biden’s plan. Shellenberger told Kilmeade that fracking is one of the technologies “that have done the most to address climate change and reduce humankind's impact on the natural environment” before going on to say that he was very concerned because it is “opposed by candidate Biden's coalition.”
During the Fox News @ Night’s July 14 edition, anchor Shannon Bream specifically asked guest Larry Kudlow, director of the Trump administration’s National Economic Council, to respond to those who are “talking about the fact that they wanted the vice president’s plan to ban coal, to ban fracking” and are disappointed that it doesn’t. Kudlow responded:
LARRY KUDLOW (GUEST): Well, that may be -- I can't explore the far left of the Democratic Party. I can only say, Shannon, that if you say as vice president, former vice president says that you're going to end carbon emissions by 2035, 15 years from now, that means fracking will be gone. That means the natural gas will be gone. That means oil will be gone, and coal will be gone. Now, voters in those swing states are going to respond negatively to that, in my judgment.
Two segments pushing the fracking narrative appeared during the July 15 edition of Fox & Friends, including a segment with guest Wesley Hunt, a GOP candidate for the 7th Congressional District in Texas. Kilmeade introduced Hunt by saying, “Our next guest says this plan would actually kill energy jobs and be disastrous for his city of Houston, Texas.”
Hunt went on to claim that Biden “is taking his energy cues from [Ocasio-Cortez] and Bernie Sanders, of all people, and that's very dangerous to someone like me living right here in Houston, Texas. And Joe Biden is on the record for saying ‘no new fracking.’"
The July 17 edition of Tucker Carlson Tonight aired a segment that focused on how Biden’s climate plan would impact blue-collar workers. Guest host Lisa Boothe asked guest Justin Haskins, editorial director at the Heartland Institute, whether Biden’s plan to get rid of fossil fuels would have the same impact as Hillary Clinton saying in 2016 “that she was going to put coal miners out of work,” which purportedly cost her “states like Ohio and Pennsylvania.”
During the July 18 edition of The Journal Editorial Report, panel member Daniel Henninger, deputy editor of The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page, explicitly suggested that despite Biden’s stated position on fracking, fossil fuels under a Biden administration are on the chopping block:
DANIEL HENNIGER (DEPUTY EDITOR, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL): Let's make no mistake. Getting rid of fossil fuels in terms of the climate I think is the central goal and the agenda of the progressive Democratic left. I think it's at the top of their list. And it may be that Joe Biden didn't mention fracking in his plan, but if he gets elected and if perchance they were to take control of the Senate, there is going to be a concerted move against fossil fuels. I mean, they've been explicit about it, they've been talking about it for years.
The segment concluded with host Paul Gigot asking the Wall Street Journal’s Kimberly Strassel whether Biden’s plan would cost him Pennsylvania, to which she responded, “Yes and other states.”
Notably, Fox was not the only network to push out the fracking narrative. Just moments after Biden completed his climate speech, Chuck Todd on MSNBC Live posed this question to guest John Podesta, a longtime Democratic strategist:
CHUCK TODD (ANCHOR): What do you tell people in Pennsylvania that have seen good jobs come with fracking and things like that? How do you advise the Biden campaign to respond to that critique -- that look, we get the bigger picture, but these are jobs right now, which of course is always a little bit of the tradeoff. But frankly, in electorally sensitive Pennsylvania, that is something the Trump campaign wants to make hay out of.
The framing of Todd’s question implied Biden will ban fracking, and it illustrates how pervasive this right-wing narrative has become.
Fox News is trying to help Trump manufacture a “war on fracking”
On July 29, at a campaign rally in West Texas, Trump insisted that a Biden presidency would mean the death of fracking in Texas, Pennsylvania, and Ohio. Trump’s Texas event resulted in a new round of coverage about the Biden plan, with Fox elevating the fracking narrative.
In the wake of the campaign event, at least seven Fox News programs echoed this message, often using flawed logical leaps and equivocation to account for the fact that Biden has not called for a ban on fracking. These programs are The Five, The Story with Martha MacCallum, Hannity, The Ingraham Angle, America’s Newsroom, Fox & Friends, and Life, Liberty & Levin.
During the July 29 edition of The Five, which aired shortly after Trump’s speech concluded, co-host Katie Pavlich claimed:
KATIE PAVLICH (HOST): In places like Pennsylvania and Michigan, I think it’s going to be a very tough sell for Joe Biden to be able to kind of capitulate to his far-left base on environmental policies while also trying to somehow make the argument that he's going to keep manufacturing jobs, bring them back from overseas, somehow allow oil and gas and fracking to move forward. I mean, they say that in their outline, but when it comes to actually implementing that kind of policy, I think the left might win on that when it comes to pushing that in terms of legislation if he were to become the president.
Host Martha MacCallum, on the July 29 edition of her show, briefly addressed the issue of fracking for both presidential candidates. But she failed to mention Biden’s actual position on fracking, instead pivoting to acknowledge the position of “many in his party” who “do want to ban fracking and as a result that could lead to job losses in the neighborhood of hundreds of thousands.”
Sean Hannity, on the July 29 edition of his eponymous show, made several false claims including that Biden’s platform contains a pledge of trillions of dollars for the Green New Deal and would cause the loss of tens of millions of jobs in the energy sector. Hannity called out Pennsylvania specifically as a state that would suffer from a Biden presidency.
On the July 29 edition of America’s Newsroom, Fox chief White House correspondent John Roberts teed up a Trump clip by saying, “The president is taking a swing at Joe Biden, saying his proposals would decimate the oil and gas industry and take the nation way to the left.” The clip he then aired was of Trump telling the West Texas crowd, “No fracking, no drilling, no oil. Is that OK? … No fracking, that’s part of this platform.” Neither Roberts nor anchor Sandra Smith corrected Trump’s statements by pointing out that Biden’s plan does not call for the end of fracking.
The July 30 edition of Fox & Friends featured two segments discussing Biden’s stance on fracking. One segment featured an interview with Donald Trump Jr. in which the presidential son suggested that Biden’s plan is “sort of Green New Deal in another name only,” regardless of Biden's position and said that it “would destroy the economy in Texas, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Ohio.” Trump Jr. also called Biden “a puppet of the left.” In the other segment, co-host Pete Hegseth pushed the Trump campaign narrative that Biden “is a vessel of far leftism that wouldn’t police our streets and would let our energy go elsewhere.” Kilmeade responded that though Biden says he will not back fracking, the left wing of the Democratic Party will not support him unless he does, so he may be “lying to us.”
The August 2 edition of Life, Liberty & Levin featured Hannity, who claimed that a Democratic presidency will mean the end of energy independence and that “fracking in Pennsylvania, fracking in Ohio, fracking in Texas, oil production, coal production, it will be over.”
Overall, the network pushed this narrative 37 times from July 14 to August 14.
The July 30 edition of MTP Daily was the only cable program to push back against this false claim. Interestingly, the fact check came from anchor Chuck Todd, who two weeks earlier had suggested that Biden’s stance on fracking could hurt him in Pennsylvania:
Notably, Todd still got it wrong. Biden wants to stop new permits for fracking on public land, where less than 10% of U.S. fracking production occurs.
Fox News is shaping the narrative around climate action -- and that is bad.
Fox News has kept up a continual drumbeat that proposals intended to address the climate crisis will kill jobs and destroy the economy. It is a narrative based on misinformation and it sets up a false dichotomy between a healthy planet and a thriving economy.
And it is too rarely challenged by Fox’s counterparts at CNN and MSNBC.
The fact is, unchecked climate change comes with an enormous financial cost -- one that we are already paying -- that will dwarf the price tag of even the most ambitious climate proposal.
But we don’t hear enough about this cost or the opportunities and benefits inherent in responding to the climate crisis. Until we do, Fox will continue to shape the discourse around climate action.
To analyze cable network coverage of Joe Biden’s climate plan, Media Matters searched the Snapstream video database service for the terms “climate” or “clean energy” along with “Biden” on CNN, Fox News Channel, and MSNBC shows airing from 4 a.m. to midnight EDT from July 14 to August 14, 2020.
We included segments any time there was significant discussion of Biden’s climate plan. We defined significant discussion as a back-and-forth between two or more people. We coded passing mentions of the climate plan as mentions. We did not include previews for upcoming segments in the analysis.
All segments were also coded on three criteria: whether they asserted Biden supports a ban on fracking, whether they compared Biden’s plan to the Green New Deal, and whether they contained significant discussion of the climate crisis.
An additional search was conducted on SnapStream video database service for the terms “frack” along with “Biden” on CNN, Fox News Channel, and MSNBC shows airing from 4 a.m. to midnight EDT from July 14 to August 14, 2020. We coded for whether segments asserted that Biden supports a ban on fracking and whether Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris’s stance on fracking was discussed.