On Saturday, hundreds of thousands of demonstrators participated in the March for Science in Washington, D.C., and sister marches around the globe. Many participants were protesting the Trump administration and Republican Party’s climate denial and their attacks on science. But some television networks covering the marches also devoted airtime to climate deniers, who misled their viewers about the impacts and extent of global warming.
The April 22 edition of CNN’s New Day Saturday featured a guest panel discussing the marches that included Bill Nye the Science Guy and physicist William Happer, a climate change denier. In the segment, Happer perpetuated the myth that carbon dioxide is not a harmful pollutant and that it benefits the planet, and he claimed incorrectly that temperatures are not rising as fast as climate models predicted. He also called for the cancellation of the Paris climate agreement because it “doesn’t make any scientific sense. It’s just a silly thing,” and then compared it to the Munich Agreement and British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s appeasement of Hitler.
Nye rebutted Happer in each instance and expressed his disappointment with CNN’s decision to host the climate change denier, stating, “I will say, much as I love the CNN, you’re doing a disservice by having one climate change skeptic and not 97 or 98 scientists or engineers concerned about climate change.” Indeed, the segment was in line with CNN’s typical approach of elevating conflict among panelists over truth telling.
On the same day, CBS Weekend News aired a segment on the marches, as well as a report on rapidly melting Arctic ice and the future impacts of climate change. But later in the program, a segment titled “Climate Realists” featured an interview with Joseph Bast, the president of the climate-denying Heartland Institute. Bast, who is not a scientist, falsely argued that the warning signs of climate change are just the natural order of things and that climate change is beneficial because of decreased deaths from cold (it’s not).
The segment briefly noted that “most climate scientists, the United Nations, as well as NASA dismiss these arguments as propaganda for fossil fuels.” But given that 97 percent of climate scientists fall into this category, featuring Bast in the first place perpetuates a false balance by giving viewers a skewed picture of the issue. The report also neglected to mention that the Heartland Institute is funded by fossil fuel interests, including the Koch Brothers and Exxon. Heartland later celebrated Bast’s appearance on the program in a press release that states, “On Saturday, April 22, millions of viewers watching CBS News got a rare glimpse of what many scientists have been saying for years: Global warming is not a crisis, and the war on affordable and reliable energy should be ended.”
Lastly, immediately following its coverage of the march, C-SPAN aired a “Science & Public Policy” panel discussion (which did not include any scientists) hosted by the climate denial groups the Heritage Foundation and the Discovery Institute about “what some consider the suppression of their dissenting views on climate change, evolution, and other issues.” During the discussion, Marlo Lewis of the fossil fuel-funded Competitive Enterprise Institute wrongly declared that “consensus” climatology is “not supported by observations.” Lewis’ claim runs directly in contrast to the facts released by NASA, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and the United Kingdom’s national weather service.
The March for Science is an important story that highlights concerns over the GOP and Trump administration’s opposition to scientific evidence and facts. It’s a shame, then, that these networks chose to juxtapose their coverage of the marches with the very sort of climate science denial and misinformation that so many took to the streets to protest.