Climate activist group People vs. Fossil Fuels led a series of protests last week in Washington, D.C., to demand the Biden administration halt approval for fossil fuel projects and immediately declare a climate emergency. Although there were a few confrontations between law enforcement and protesters, the largely peaceful protests led by Indigenous activists were a model of nonviolent civil disobedience.
But Fox News, operating from its well-worn playbook, chose to downplay the legitimate climate demands of the Indigenous-led protests and to overplay the few instances of conflict, depicting climate activists as violent extremists and “insurrectionists.” And it’s not hard to understand why the network’s coverage was so eager to dismiss their cause: Fox News has long been a key cog in the fossil fuel industry’s disinformation network.
Fox shows amplified the small-scale conflicts of the climate protests, while ignoring its urgent and necessary demands
From October 12-18, at least nine Fox shows mentioned the wave of climate protests in D.C.
The network’s early mentions on October 12 were brief reports that tried to shoehorn the protests into narratives focused on Democratic infighting over the Biden administration’s pending spending bills, which possibly represent one of the last chances to pass meaningful climate policy at the federal level, especially as the window for climate action is rapidly closing. They also mentioned the protesters’ vandalization of a statue of former President Andrew Jackson. The words “Expect Us” were written on the statue as a form of protest specifically to draw attention to the epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous women. However, the network’s coverage became increasingly unhinged toward the end of the week into the weekend, coinciding with news reports of aggressive police action during a sit-in staged by Indigenous activists at the Interior Department on October 14.
According to The Washington Post, both protesters and security personnel sustained injuries as the climate activists attempted to gain entry to the main Interior building. But according to social media accounts, most activists were peacefully exercising nonviolent civil disobedience:
But Fox has always had a difficult time letting the facts interfere with its favored narrative. That is why, during the October 15 episode of his eponymous show, Sean Hannity named the protesters his “villain of the day” and claimed they were “literally assaulting officers in front of the Department of the Interior headquarters and trying to barge their way in. Doesn’t seem so peaceful to me.”
During the October 18 episode of Gutfeld!, host Greg Gutfeld made a half-hearted attempt to draw an equivalency between the climate protesters at Interior and the pro-Trump rioters who stormed the Capitol building on January 6.
But the most egregious Fox segment about the climate activists aired during the October 16 episode of Fox and Friends Weekend, which featured the hosts referring to the events as “violent protests” by “zealots,” “insurrectionists,” and a “climate militia.”
This is the latest example of Fox running its well-worn playbook to demonize climate activism
Fox News has a long history of belittling climate activists and demands for climate action. In the past few years, the network has attacked Earth Day, 2019’s youth climate strikes, launched vicious, unhinged attacks on young climate activists like Greta Thunberg, and made the repugnant claim that climate activists were citing the brief emissions reductions attributed to last year’s COVID-19 lockdowns to celebrate the pandemic. It continues to provide a platform for a fringe coterie of cranks and conspiracy theorists to deny and downplay the dangers of climate change even in 2021.
The reality of the most recent climate protests is a far cry from the distorted coverage Fox provided its viewers. According to People vs. Fossil Fuels, which is organized by the Build Back Fossil Free campaign composed of hundreds of grassroots and national organizations, the purpose of the direct action campaign was to demand that the Biden administration stop approving fossil fuel infrastructure projects and declare a climate emergency that includes a just transition to a renewable energy economy. Far from the caricature of wild-eyed radicals portrayed by Fox, the climate activists made sober demands for action based on the urgency of the climate crisis and the disproportionate harm the fossil fuel industry does to vulnerable communities, including many Indigenous communities.
Despite a new campaign by the Murdochs' media outlets in Australia to advocate for a “carbon-neutral future,” their United States properties, which includes Fox News, is not likely to shift away from denying the reality of climate change. Instead, the network seems committed to continuing to advocate for climate inaction, disparaging any policy designed to stave off the worst consequences of climate change, and demonizing anyone fighting for a future without climate disaster and environmental degradation.