Molly Butler / Media Matters

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Major cable networks spent over four hours talking about Biden's Climate Day actions

As usual Fox News led the way, often with misinformation and climate denial

  • On January 27, President Biden signed a package of executive orders that, among other things, paused oil and gas leasing on federal land and water, directed the government to electrify its vast fleet of vehicles, created a new Civilian Conservation Corps, and called for a task force aimed at economically reviving communities dependent on the fossil fuel industry. The new administration aptly referred to the event as “Climate Day.”

    The coverage of Climate Day by cable television news offers a preview of how these networks might cover the climate crisis and efforts to address it in the coming year — and what voices might be called on to shape viewers’ perception of the Biden’s administration's climate agenda.

  • Cable news dedicated more than four hours to Climate Day. Fox’s coverage accounted for nearly half of that time

  • Fox aired the most segments on the Climate Day actions (27) out of the cable news networks on January 27. MSNBC aired 17, and CNN aired 14. Over the course of that coverage, Fox spent approximately 1 hour and 50 minutes discussing Biden’s executive orders, double the time spent by CNN at approximately 53 minutes and more than MSNBC, which spent 1 hour and 24 minutes.

    As expected, Fox coverage featured a roster of climate deniers; all told, the network brought on 15 guests, the bulk of whom pushed misleading information and bad-faith arguments to undermine Biden’s actions. MSNBC hosted 13 guests, and CNN invited 5 guests to unpack the president’s climate actions.

  • Chart-Biden-Climate-Day-Cable-News
  • Fox led the cable networks on Climate Day coverage

  • Fox News aired 27 segments on January 27 for a total of approximately 1 hour and 50 minutes of coverage on Biden’s climate agenda — dedicating more time than either CNN or MSNBC. This continues the troubling trend of Fox leading the cable networks on coverage of major climate policies and events. That included the roll-out of then-candidate Biden’s climate plan in mid-July, when Fox ran more than twice as many segments as CNN and MSNBC combined. And more recently, Fox aired nearly three times as many total segments as the other cables combined about Biden’s January 20 order to rejoin the Paris climate accord.

    Similar to Fox’s previous treatment of climate actions, many of the network’s segments downplayed the dangerous warming of our planet while claiming actions to address it are unrealistic and costly.

    On The Five, Greg Gutfeld downplayed climate change’s links to increasingly devastating western wildfires. Katie Pavlich stated that “this whole green energy thing is a total farce,” and to back up her claims, she name-dropped the climate denier film Not Evil Just Wrong. Meanwhile, Dana Perino stated that “saying that the green new jobs will be there for you is like learn to code.”

    There was a slew of misinformation on The Ingraham Angle, where host Laura Ingraham perpetuated the false notion that the Obama administration “inflicted endless suffering on the coal industry”; argued for continued inaction on climate change because “cutting all of our emissions would have zero impact on so-called global warming”; and denied the effectiveness of transitioning from fossil fuel jobs to clean energy jobs, despite the numerous studies and examples showing that it is indeed happening.

    Moreover, the Climate Day coverage is but a snapshot of a continuous stream of programming at the network that has smeared, and fueled outrage for, Biden’s climate agenda since his first day in office. Along with attacking his executive order recommitting the U.S. to a global response to climate change, Fox went on a more than week-long rant against his decision to cancel the Keystone XL pipeline. In fact, the network moved seamlessly from coverage of Keystone XL to Biden’s Climate Day orders to pause oil and gas leasing on federal land and water -- using many of the same misleading oil industry claims, bad-faith arguments, and misinformation to drive its attack.

    Most of Fox’s Climate Day guests have a history of climate denial and contrarianism

    Fox brought on 15 guests to discuss the executive orders on climate. None of the guests were climate scientists, nor were they a part of the Biden administration climate team.

    In fact, many of them have a history of outright climate denial or of downplaying the seriousness of climate change, including the four congressmen who appeared as guests on January 27 to discuss the climate orders: Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Marco Rubio (R-FL), and Reps. Andy Harris (R-MD) and Kevin Brady (R-TX). In 2019, Cruz falsely claimed that “the data are mixed” on climate change, and a 2019 article by the Palm Beach Post noted that while Rubio called climate change “real,” he “rejects aggressive efforts to curb emissions.” In 2018, Harris downplayed the findings of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Special Report on Global Warming, and in 2014, Brady raised doubts about climate change in a Facebook post.

    In addition to current officeholders, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (a current Fox News contributor) also appeared as a guest; in his appearance on The Story with Martha MacCallum, he stated without evidence that the U.S. environment under Trump did better than it “would have under the Paris climate accords”; said that “we’re surrendering our sovereignty as it comes to conservation policy to the globalists”; and downplayed the effectiveness of clean energy jobs. In 2015, Huckabee falsely stated that the “science is not as settled” on climate change.

    Other notable guests with a history of attacking climate action included far-right Fox commentator Dan Bongino, who as early as 2019 still claimed that “climate change is a hoax,” and Daniel Turner, a Koch alum who launched the dark-money, fossil fuel advocacy group Power the Future and often writes pieces and tweets pushing climate denial. Turner appeared on America’s Newsroom, where he stated that Biden canceled the Keystone pipeline “only for pure political reasons -- he’s beholden to the environmental left, he’s beholden to other special interests.” He also falsely stated that “there is no science here, there’s no logic to this” and dismissed the idea of green jobs.

    In addition, American Enterprise Institute fellow and Washington Post columnist Marc Theissen appeared as a guest on America Reports, where he bafflingly claimed that clean energy jobs “are not there yet”; in a Fox appearance in 2019, he had claimed that “melting sea ice is a benefit of global warming because it will open up shipping routes.”

  • The depth and scope of MSNBC’s coverage was impressive

  • MSNBC aired 1 hour and 24 minutes of coverage on Biden’s climate orders in 17 segments.

    The longest segment -- nearly 12 and a half minutes -- was on MSNBC Live with Katy Tur and featured climate scientist Michael Mann discussing the climate orders, along with NBC weather anchor Al Roker and longtime Democratic consultant John Podesta. Roker underlined the need for climate action, stating that “because of climate change, the potential for these kind of catastrophic years becomes greater and greater with each year as we go on.” Michael Mann correctly stated that the “cost of inaction, of not taking action, is now far greater than the cost — than any cost of taking action.” He also pointed out the strategy of industry and other right-wing voices on the topic, which is “try to delay or confuse or divide the community so that we don’t act.”

  • Video file

    Citation From the January 27, 2021, edition of MSNBC Live with Katy Tur

  • Immediately following this segment, Katy Tur had Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) on to discuss the order. Tlaib, who represents one of Detroit’s most polluted zip codes, noted that some of the “principles and the values in the Green New Deal are in this executive order by President Biden.” She also praised the bold and aggressive approach of the Green New Deal, stating that it’s a “timely approach to addressing the fact that we don't have clean water and clean air in our country right now, especially in communities like mine.”

    White House National Climate Advisor Gina McCarthy also discussed the climate orders that she had a hand in preparing. On The ReidOut, she stressed the need to have a just transition from a fossil fuel economy to a clean energy economy and the importance of not leaving workers behind. She also touched on environmental justice, a topic that is rarely addressed on major cable networks. She stated:

  • GINA MCCARTHY (WHITE HOUSE NATIONAL CLIMATE ADVISOR): We are going to invest real money in environmental justice communities because if you're a person who has been looking at managing pollution and cutting it all her life, you would see who is most at risk and it's the same communities that are at risk of COVID-19, and now in the crosshairs of climate change. It's the marginalized, disinvested-in, overburdened communities that have been systemically damaged by racism.

    This is our moment to bring all those crises together and actually tackle it at the depth and breadth that science is telling us.

  • Other notable MSNBC guests included Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA), original co-sponsors of the Green New Deal; former California Gov. Jerry Brown; and New York Times climate reporter Coral Davenport.

    In total, MSNBC invited 13 guests to discuss the climate orders. Michael Mann was the lone climate scientist, and Gina McCarthy was the lone representative of the Biden administration.

  • CNN aired the fewest minutes with the fewest guests, but the quality of coverage was generally solid

  • CNN aired 53 minutes of coverage on Biden’s climate orders in 14 segments.

    CNN chief climate correspondent Bill Weir appeared in five segments. Weir used his appearances to hit on a number of topics that rarely get cable news airtime, from the deadly potency of methane gas to how climate change affects “immigration and food and transportation and every other part of our lives.” In the segment on The Lead with Jake Tapper, he talked up just transition and the jobs element, stating:

  • BILL WEIR (CNN CHIEF CLIMATE CORRESPONDENT): We have to take care of everybody, and we're really calling for an industrial revolution 2.0. But what took 150 years, now we have to do in 30. And so, all of those hard hats and guys with callouses, we need every single one of them is what he’s saying here.

  • This segment featured a rarity in that host Jake Tapper also stated that “the cost of doing nothing is hideous and not an option.” Media figures are way more likely to focus on the costs of climate action than the costs of inaction.

    CNN also included climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe as a guest during an Inside Politics segment on the climate orders; this also happened to be CNN’s longest segment at nearly 9 minutes. She expertly hit on the all-encompassing nature of climate change, as well as the job opportunities that exist in clean energy:

  • KATHARINE HAYHOE (CLIMATE SCIENTIST): We have to prepare for the impacts that we can no longer avoid that will affect every single one of us, whether Democrat, Republican, independent, or anywhere in the political spectrum. We need to increase our efficiency — through efficiency alone, we could cut carbon emissions in the U.S. by up to 50% it's estimated. And we need to accelerate the transition to clean energy. Not only because it's clean but because it supplies real jobs for real people. There's already more jobs in the clean energy industry than in the oil and gas industry. And just comparing the pipeline, for example, with one of Biden's plans to clean up all of the damaged public lands because of oil and gas. It’s estimated the cleanup could create over, well over a quarter of a million jobs, whereas the pipeline could create 11,000 temporary jobs, 35 permanent jobs, and some of those 35 jobs would be in Canada.

  • Later, on CNN Tonight with Don Lemon, White House National Climate Advisor Gina McCarthy discussed the messaging tactics of the Biden administration’s approach to climate change:

  • GINA MCCARTHY (WHITE HOUSE NATIONAL CLIMATE ADVISOR): Well, I think for far too long we've been talking about the climate crisis and trying to think that scaring people will actually make them act. We're not using that approach. That approach has failed. We want people to know that if you get up every day and you go to a job that is actually a clean energy job, you are contributing to the actions to stop climate change.

  • Video file

    Citation From the January 27, 2021, edition of CNN Tonight with Don Lemon

  • In total, CNN had five guests on to discuss the Biden climate orders. In addition to Katherine Hayhoe and Gina McCarthy, the other guests were Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (who ran a climate-focused presidential campaign in 2019), and West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice. According to the Charleston Gazette-Mail, Justice recently questioned whether climate change was even real. CNN senior White House correspondent Phil Mattingly also appeared in the interview with Katherine Hayhoe.

  • To counter Fox, CNN and MSNBC need to make every day Climate Day

  • As expected, and as it’s done before, Fox News launched an all-out assault on the Biden administration’s climate agenda. It included misleading information, parroted talking points from the fossil fuel industry, and fearmongered that the plan constitutes a radical socialist agenda. Although Fox’s coverage still exceeded that of its counterparts at CNN and MSNBC in length, this time it was somewhat neutralized by the depth of CNN and MSNBC’s coverage, including discussions that clearly stated the urgency of the crisis and the cost of failing to act on climate change.

    But while Fox is showing no signs of letting up on its assault on climate action, the question becomes whether CNN and MSNBC can sustain robust climate coverage beyond this one day.


    Media Matters searched transcripts in the SnapStream video database on CNN, Fox News Channel, and MSNBC for any of the terms “climate,” “global warming,” “keystone,” “McCarthy,” “Kerry,” “XL,” “pipeline,” “National Climate Task Force,” “Paris,” “offshore wind,” “fossil fuel,” “carbon pollution,” “executive order,” and variations of the term “environment” from 5 a.m. to midnight EDT on January 27, 2021.

    We timed segments, which we defined as instances when the climate executive orders were the stated topic of discussion or when a back and forth about the climate executive orders transpired between two or more speakers. We excluded passing mentions of the executive orders and teasers for segments coming up later in the broadcast about the executive orders.

    We rounded all times to the nearest minute.