The Good, The Bad, Or The Ugly: How Will CNN Cover Climate In Tonight's GOP Debate?

CNN will host the second GOP presidential primary debate tonight, September 16. The network has an inconsistent track record on how it has covered GOP candidates' stances on climate change -- debate host Jake Tapper has fact-checked candidates' climate denial, but the network's coverage of the issue has been problematic at times. Here are the good, the bad, and the ugly ways CNN has covered the GOP presidential candidates' positions on climate change so far this year.

The Good: Fact-Checking Climate Change Denial, Urging Climate Discussion At GOP Debate

Tapper Has Fact-Checked GOP Candidates' Climate Science Denial Twice. Host Jake Tapper has held interviews with two presidential candidates during which they denied the science of climate change. Both times, Tapper fact-checked the candidates by stating that their views contradict the overwhelming body of evidence on the issue. In an interview with Donald Trump on the June 28 edition of State of the Union, Tapper countered Trump's statement that he's “not a huge believer in the global warming phenomena” by stating that “the overwhelming majority of scientists say it's real and it's manmade.” And on the June 4 edition of The Lead with Jake Tapper, Tapper told former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) that he was contradicting “the overwhelming majority of scientists” by disputing that “humans are contributing to climate change.” [CNN, State of the Union, 6/28/15; The Lead with Jake Tapper, 6/4/15]

And CNN's White House Correspondent Said Climate Change Should Be A Part Of First GOP Presidential Debate. On the August 3 edition of Newsroom, anchor Poppy Harlow asked CNN White House correspondent Michelle Kosinski if President Obama's announcement of the Clean Power Plan -- his flagship climate change policy -- should “force the issue” for climate change to be discussed in the first GOP primary debate. Kosinski responded, “Absolutely,” adding that climate change is an issue that “has grown and grown as we've seen natural disasters and ... especially hot summers. The fires that are going on in California, well, those things, too, have just generated more debate over this.” [CNN, Newsroom, 8/3/15 via Nexis]

The Bad: Promoting Misleading Attacks On EPA Climate Plan, Falling For Rand Paul's Faux-Environmentalism

CNN Has Repeatedly And Uncritically Aired GOP Candidates' Misleading Attacks On Obama's Climate Plan. At least three times, CNN has aired misleading or false attacks on the Environmental Protection Agency's climate plan by GOP presidential candidates:

  • On the August 2 edition of Newsroom, CNN broadcast a clip of Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) baselessly claiming that the plan will increase electricity bills in Florida by $30 a month. But the rule is only expected to slightly increase electricity bills in the short term, and to result in significantly lower bills once fuller implemented. [CNN, Newsroom, 8/2/15 via Nexis; Media Matters, 8/4/15]
  • On the August 3 edition of Newsroom, CNN played a clip of former Gov. Jeb Bush (R-FL) calling the plan a “disaster” and “typical of the Obama administration taking executive power he doesn't have,” and also aired the same clip of Rubio fearmongering over the plan's impact on electricity bills. [CNN, Newsroom, 8/3/15, via Nexis; Media Matters8/4/15]
  • On the August 3 edition of The Situation Room, correspondent Jim Acosta relayed Republicans' warnings that the plan “to unilaterally order these massive changes through the EPA instead of working with Congress will kill jobs and drive up energy costs.” Acosta aired a statement from Bush, who said, “For the first time they've extended this to require states in a very coercive way.” [CNN, The Situation Room, 8/3/15 via Nexis; Media Matters8/4/15] Fell For Rand Paul's Faux Environmentalism, Calling Him A “Tree Hugger.” In a May 27 article about Sen. Paul's (R-KY) new book, Taking a Stand, echoed Paul's claim in the book that he is a “tree hugger” who “want[s] our regulatory bodies to protect both our land and water.” The article stated:

Presidential candidate Rand Paul has christened himself a different kind of Republican, and now he's embracing a unique moniker: tree hugger.

In a new book released on Tuesday, Paul said he composts and believes in clean air and clean water. Paul notes that he has planted giant sequoias in his yard and repurposed old trees used for a fort to build compost bins.

“None of this is at odds with wanting our government to be smaller, with wanting our regulatory bodies to protect both our land and water,” Paul wrote in his third book, “Taking a Stand: Moving beyond partisan politics to unite America.”

But the article overlooked Paul's long history opposing clean air and water safeguards, according to the League of Conservation Voters' (LCV) National Environmental Scorecard. Paul has voted against an amendment stating that “human activity significantly contributes to climate change,” opposed the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards for power plants -- the country's largest sources of dangerous mercury pollution -- voted twice to prevent the Environmental Protection Agency and Army Corps of Engineers from protecting waterways, and more. [, 5/27/15; League of Conservation Voters, accessed 9/15/15; Media Matters, 5/27/15]

The Ugly: Turning To Conservative Commentators And Skeptics To Bolster Cruz's Climate Denial

When Ted Cruz Announced His Presidential Campaign, CNN Asked A Science Denier To Weigh In. On the March 22 of Newsroom -- the day before Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) announced his presidential candidacy -- CNN anchor Poppy Harlow asked Buck Sexton to weigh in on Cruz's false claim that “for the last 17 years, there's been zero warming.” Sexton, a conservative political commentator and radio host for The Blaze, asserted that Cruz' science denial comments “will continue to be less controversial... over time, as people see a lot of the predictions that are made not only change, but be shown to actually be false on the issue of how dramatic the impact from climate change is going to be.” From the interview:

POPPY HARLOW: Buck, I do want to get your reaction to some comments that he made about climate change on one of the late-night shows, saying look, we looked at the satellite data, we haven't seen any evidence of global warming in the last 17 years. Today California's Governor Jerry Brown came out and pointed at those comments and said that makes him unfit for office.

BUCK SAXTON: Well, this will continue to be less controversial I think over time, as people see a lot of the predictions that are made not only change, but be shown to actually be false on the issue of how dramatic the impact from climate change is going to be.

HARLOW: Are you saying --

SAXTON: And also with the cost --


SAXTON: With the cost associated --

HARLOW: Hold on. Hold on.

SAXTON: With the cost associated --

HARLOW: Are you saying that -- that science is not behind climate change?

SAXTON: No, the climate is changing all the time. And in fact it is going to get a little bit warmer the next hundred years.

HARLOW: Are you saying that science is not behind global warming?

SAXTON: Global warming? Well, actually they say climate change. They don't say global warming because they don't want to be tied to actually one direction or the other on thermometer. It is going up. And that's actually -- rather, I should say it is changing. And the issue then becomes what do you do about that? [The Washington Post, 3/24/15; CNN, Newsroom, 3/22/15]

Later, CNN Merely Called Cruz A “Skeptic.” On the March 23 edition of Anderson Cooper 360, CNN Washington correspondent Jeff Zeleny characterized Cruz as a “climate change skeptic,” and then aired a clip of Cruz saying, “I just came back from New Hampshire where there is snow and ice everywhere. And my view actually is simple. Debates on this should follow science and should follow data.” [CNN, Anderson Cooper 360, 3/23/15]