This week the United Nations General Assembly convened in New York City in part to discuss the global climate crisis, and President Joe Biden spoke to a number of pressing global issues including the need for a collective international response to the climate emergency. At the same time, the annual Climate Week NYC -- which “brings together international leaders from business, government and civil society to showcase global climate action” -- on Wednesday (coined “Climate Night”) featured late night TV hosts using their respective shows to raise awareness about the climate crisis.
Biden’s speech prompted a surge of climate reporting by national TV news -- though only Fox dedicated airtime to discuss the late night shows’ coverage, with at least five programs, including prime-time show Tucker Carlson Tonight, covering the one-night climate programming. Fox’s focus on “Climate Night” was reminiscent of its attacks on John Kerry’s jet travel and the network’s freakout when CNN asked the energy secretary whether climate change played a role in a building collapse. In all three cases, the network sought to create an alternate climate story in an effort to distract from coverage of the real issue.
Tucker Carlson and other Fox hosts use “Climate Night” to push misinformation, deflect from climate crisis
Without irony, on the September 23 edition of Tucker Carlson Tonight, Carlson previewed his segment on Climate Night by telling his viewers:
TUCKER CARLSON (HOST): So, if you ever wondered if the national media is not really a bunch of different programs or networks but one big machine designed to take over your brain and feed you a steady diet of lies, rest assured that's exactly what it is. We know that because several late night TV hosts just gathered together for a special event. They renounced comedy and decided on a new direction: propaganda.
Carlson and his guest, conservative podcast host Matt Walsh, used comments made by Stephen Colbert to launch into a screed about elite hypocrisy -- a favorite Fox climate trope. They attempted to deflect from the urgent need for climate action by pointing to the “carbon footprint” of those who advocate for or use their platform to raise awareness about the crisis.
MATT WALSH (GUEST): At least he's admitting his hypocrisy and cowardice. Because all of these people — it’s just like COVID. All of these people who are telling us to be scared of this and paranoid about it, and to make changes, they're not that scared and they're not making any changes at all to their own lives. They're still doing shows, they're blaring the lights, they're having celebrities come out on jets to sit on the couch and have conversations with them. Burning all of the jet fuel. They’re not — they refuse to make any changes whatsoever. And here's the thing -- I'm not making any changes because of climate change, but that’s because I don't believe what they're telling me. I don't believe it. OK? So if I'm wrong, then I'm just wrong. But if you really believe that the world is going to end if we don't make a change and you refuse to make a change yourself, then you're like a mass murderer. You're a sociopath on top of being a hypocrite.
Fox has deployed this tactic against Al Gore, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT),Leonardo DiCaprio, Prince Harry, Thom Yorke, and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Fox has repeatedly attempted to falsely portray politicians and wealthy celebrities as the face of the climate movement while ignoring the millions of people around the world harmed by climate change and environmental injustice.
Notably, during the show, Colbert had called out the very tactic -- a favorite of the fossil fuel industry -- of placing the blame and onus of climate action on individuals. In his sketch on The Late Night with Stephen Colbert, Colbert specifically addressed this fallacy that individuals must reduce their “carbon footprint.”
The reality is that systemic changes in how we produce and use energy are required to meet the challenges inherent in the climate crisis. Individual action is wholly inadequate for addressing the scale of the climate crisis when 100 companies are responsible for 71% of global emissions.
In the concluding moments of his coverage, Carlson circled back to his main thesis that the comedians’ coordinated focus on the climate crisis for one night was more devious than it appeared:
It's a little weird, don't you think, for all the networks to come together to broadcast the message of the political party in charge. It's a little strange. I mean, like if in 2018 all the networks got together to do a special on how we need to build a border wall and Mexico has to pay for it, you would be like, well, that's a little like government TV at that point. How is that different from the ministry of truth?
Not only is it unbearably unaware of Carlson to call out other networks as government TV, but his suggestion that climate change is just a political agenda item of Democrats rather than a global emergency belies the the role of Fox’s decades of work helping politicize climate change.
Carlson’s segment followed coverage by The Five and Fox & Friends First on Thursday and Gutfeld! and Fox News Primetime on Wednesday. All of the shows attempted to mock the late-night shows’ effort while failing to acknowledge -- or outright denying -- the gravity of the climate emergency we are in.
On the September 23 episode of The Five, co-host Greg Gutfeld called the late-night hosts a “cult.” And co-host Katie Pavlich attempted to dismiss the climate-fueled extreme weather events we experienced this year by saying, “OK, the world has also been hotter and dryer before human beings existed on the planet. We’ve had very hot parts of the Earth. We’ve had oceans over parts of Arizona, where I’m from, where you can find seashell fossils on the top of the Grand Canyon. So, yes, the climate does change.”
The evening prior, like Carlson, Gutfeld had ranted about supposed elite hypocrisy on his own late-night show, Gutfeld! Fox’s Dagen MacDowell responded that the hosts were peer-pressured into participating (while she pushed fossil fuel industry talking points):
DAGEN MCDOWELL (GUEST): Not one of them had the stones, including Samantha [Bee], to stand up and say, “I'm not doing this. I'm not gonna celebrate reducing the American standard of living. I'm not gonna talk about making America poor by taking away fossil fuels, which are cheap and plentiful.” But instead I wanna be an elitist pant stain and talk about rules that won't hurt me financially that I’ll never have to abide by.
While the late-night shows’ one-night engagement on climate change drew lots of praise they did garner some light ribbing -- even from the hosts themselves. “I’m proud to dedicate one entire night of my show to the climate, so I can say I wasn’t part of the problem — I was 1/365th of the solution,” joked Colbert.
But these critiques and jabs were mostly relegated to social media. On Fox News, it apparently warranted prime-time coverage. But that’s not because Carlson truly wants to alert his viewers to some impending government takeover of our airwaves. Instead, “Climate Night” was just expedient fodder for what Fox does best when it comes to the climate crisis: deflect and deny.