Fox has historically been quick to dismiss the links of extreme weather tragedies to our overheating climate -- and equally as quick to attack those who do make those connections. The network has treated the recent deadly and unprecedented tornado event no differently.
After dozens of tornadoes ripped through six states -- including Kentucky, where the devastation was most severe -- this weekend, a number of experts and meteorologists pointed to increasing evidence linking climate change to the extreme and unseasonal weather that fuels such tornadoes. Though the science is still emerging, recent research suggests there may be a link between rising global temperatures and the weather conditions that produce extreme tornado outbreaks, particularly during winter months in the Southeastern U.S.
During President Joe Biden’s Monday press conference on the tragedy, he was asked about its potential link to climate change. According to The Washington Post, he responded to the question by saying:
We have to be very careful — we can’t say with absolute certainty that it was because of climate change.
What is certain: It is one of the worst tornado disasters we’ve had in the country. And the second thing that’s certain is that it is unusual. It is unusual how it happened, how many places it touched down, and the length of the path. So that’s all I’m prepared to talk about right now.
Regardless of how measured Biden’s remarks were or how clear the science is in relation to extreme weather, Fox News coverage of the event included these two toplines: Biden and Democrats are politicizing the tragedy to push their climate agenda; and there is no evidence that climate change is impacting the severity of tornadoes.
Fox is using its old climate denial playbook on its tornado coverage
The December 13 edition of Hannity provided a textbook example of the climate denial playbook as it applies to extreme weather events. Fox host Sean Hannity accused Biden and Democrats of using the tragedy to “push their far-left climate alarmism agenda” and then interviewed a faux expert to claim that there is no connection between the event and our warming climate.
The “expert” Hannity interviewed was climate denier Joe Bastardi, a long-time favorite of the network (and Hannity in particular) and go-to for extreme weather misinformation. In September, Bastardi appeared on Tucker Carlson Tonight to dismiss the impact of climate change on Hurricane Ida.
Hannity wasn’t alone -- at least four other programs on December 13 used the deflect-and-dismiss tactics in their coverage. Fox News Primetime followed the same model as Hannity, first chastising Biden and Democrats for politicizing the event, with host Will Cain saying, “Joe Biden and Democrats never let a crisis go to waste.” Cain also said, “Whether or not that's a mass shooting -- stand on the graves of children and push for gun control. A pandemic, you push for policies. A tornado, you push for climate change policies.”
Viewers then heard from a guest, Douglas Murray, who suggested there is no evidence that the most recent tornadoes could have been impacted by warming.
Murray is an alt-right political commentator and author with no scientific background. In fact, as if to prove how little he understands the relationship between extreme weather and climate, Murray’s sole argument against the link between tornadoes and climate change was about how “there has been no change in the frequency of tornadoes.” But frequency may not be the most important fingerprint of climate change when it comes to tornados -- the intensity of this storm, when it occurred and where, are the indicators that experts say suggest a relationship to climate change.
Fox’s so-called “straight news” program, Special Report with Bret Baier dedicated a whole segment during its Monday edition to the “politics of Friday's tornadoes,” which according to Baier includes the way “some on the left are characterizing the storms as the result of climate change.” The program didn’t specifically address whether the characterization was substantiated or not, but it clearly fed into the narrative that climate champions are using the tragedy to push a political agenda.
Morning show Fox & Friends and “straight news” program The Faulkner Focus both dismissed the potential connection of the tornados to climate change. Anchor Harris Faulkner also took specific aim at Biden and Deanne Criswell, the administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, for raising the spectre of climate change so soon after the tragedy. (Criswell had told CNN’s Jake Tapper on Sunday’s State of the Union, “This is going to be our new normal.”) Faulkner suggested Criswell’s Sunday comments showed FEMA’s approach was “blame before we save.”
Fox News' extreme weather coverage is more predictable than, well, weather and equally as dangerous
The science is still emerging on the relationship between climate change and tornadoes, but we are living in a time of extreme weather that is unprecedented, climate-driven, and proven, in some cases, to be impossible without the warming that fuels it. But Fox not only dismisses the relationship out of hand, it also attempts to create an environment that suppresses discussion of climate impacts.
Case in point, the network’s twisting of Biden’s painfully benign response -- to a reporter's question about climate change in relation to the tornadoes -- into the president politicising the tragedy is pure Fox. But such coverage is also clearly political and performative; it is worth remembering that not only did Hannity defend then-President Donald Trump for blatantly lying about Hurricane Dorian and using a Sharpie to alter the map of the storm's path, but Fox’s Howard Kurtz attacked the media for covering Trump’s comments.