The fossil fuel industry has been using the ongoing Russian war against Ukraine as a pretext to call for continued, and deepened, reliance on its dirty and dangerous products. Fox News’ coverage throughout the crisis has largely echoed the industry’s talking points, specifically the idea that America needs to drill and produce more oil. Critiques from President Joe Biden and his administration related to the industry's untapped leases and record profits have also prompted Fox and guests to leap to Big Oil’s defense in recent weeks.
In the face of another onslaught of fossil fuel talking points from Fox News, other cable news networks have not held the industry accountable by reporting on its role in driving the climate crisis, polluting the environment, and exacerbating geopolitical conflicts. In pivotal moments like this, viewers deserve to learn how our reliance on fossil fuels is leaving us more vulnerable to crises ranging from climate change to foreign wars.
Fox News has absolved Big Oil of any responsibility for energy price increases, while accusing the Biden administration of scapegoating
The fossil fuel industry has waged a billion-dollar campaign to erode the public consensus on climate change, fool the public about its commitment to addressing the climate crisis, and thwart any climate action that could impact its bottom line. The industry’s spin campaign has continued as the crisis in Ukraine escalated, causing economic disruption around the world. Faced with public majorities that are outraged at Russian aggression against Ukraine and “favor developing alternative energy, including wind and solar, over increasing production of fossil fuels like oil, coal and natural gas,” the industry has instead chosen to obfuscate its refusal to produce more oil and gas, pad its record 2021 profits via anti-consumerist practices, and move to deepen the world’s reliance on its products.
And one of its biggest media cheerleaders has been Fox News.
As tensions between Russia and Ukraine ratcheted up, Fox has been nearly unrelenting in pushing a narrative that the Biden administration’s climate policies emboldened Russian President Vladmir Putin to invade. This push includes Fox figures mentioning the canceled Keystone pipeline approximately 141 times in segments about the Ukraine crisis from February 22-28 and mentioning “energy independence” or “energy security” – industry talking points to promote more domestic drilling for oil and gas – at least 329 times from February 24 through March 9.
After Biden’s March 8 announcement that the United States was banning Russian fossil fuel imports, Fox News hosts and guests blamed him for instituting the same policy that they had previously demanded – all while praising oil and gas companies as “the greatest industry around the world,” deflecting criticism of them as “unpatriotic,” and arguing they are “basically our national defense.”
On the March 8 episode of America’s Newsroom, for example, anchor Sandra Smith parroted the American Petroleum Institute’s (API) debunked talking point about the Biden administration discouraging fossil fuel investment. Fox host and former Trump adviser Larry Kudlow attacked the Biden administration for criticizing the industry’s price gouging and record profits on the March 8 episode of America Reports.
Later that evening on Hannity, host Sean Hannity amplified API talking points that the Biden administration is making it hard to produce more oil; allowed fossil fuel shill Daniel Turner to claim that the Biden administration “wants to send a message to the environmental left” by attacking the industry; and gave energy analyst Phil Flynn a platform to claim that “there’s absolutely no gouging” in gas prices and that the Federal Reserve has been “weaponized” against oil and gas companies.
The drumbeat of Big Oil talking points continued in the ensuing days.
On the March 9 episode of The Faulkner Focus, anchor Harris Faulkner hosted API President Mike Sommers to blame Biden for high energy prices: “Some of the policies that are being pursued right now by this administration are putting us on a road to more dependence – not independence.”
Similarly, Fox host Jesse Watters hosted oil company CEO Dan Eberhart on the March 10 episode of Jesse Watters Primetime to push for more domestic drilling and complained that the Biden administration has been treating the industry as “war profiteers.”
The narrative was still being pushed into this new week. On the March 15 episode of The Story with Martha MacCallum, Fox News anchor Sandra Smith suggested that the Biden administration should decrease energy prices for “the American family, the American consumer who is suffering right now” in part by taking a “friendlier approach to the oil and gas industry." Smith repeated this and other arguments to “increase and incentivize drilling” on the March 15 episode of The Five, citing API’s claim that the Biden administration should demonstrate it's not out to “demonize oil companies.”
Fox personality Charles Payne echoed the idea that the Biden administration was “demonizing” oil companies during the March 16 episode of America Reports.
There is a desperate need for cable news to ramp up its accountability journalism
Despite not promoting these false narratives during the Ukraine crisis as much as Fox News, CNN and MSNBC have largely failed to hold the fossil fuel industry accountable for exploiting geopolitical conflicts for profit while driving the climate crisis and degrading the environment for billions of people. The networks have also featured very little coverage about the myriad benefits of clean energy, which include economic stability and energy security (clean energy generation is more price stable and politically stable than fossil fuels).
There is a very clear story that needs to be told about the fossil fuel industry, especially in this moment of rising gas prices and wartime sanctions. As explained by the nonprofit environmental law organization Earthjustice: “Gas prices are not dictated by White House policy, and the industry’s argument that federal leasing and permitting policies are the source of high gas prices is a flat-out lie crafted to deceive the American public.”
Chasing more fossil fuel leases on public lands and waters would increase industry profits but wouldn’t do anything to decrease today’s gas prices at the pump. It also would keep sending us down the same road of fossil fuel production that is the main driver of the worsening climate crisis. The industry gets the profits, and the American people get handed the resulting wildfires, droughts, hurricanes, and coastal flooding caused and exacerbated by climate change. There’s a better road to go down, and it’s the road of clean energy. For as long as we’re addicted to oil for energy, Americans will be subject to big cost increases when a foreign dictator decides to invade another country or there is a change in the world economy.
As a key cog in the fossil fuel industry’s disinformation network, Fox News will never cover this reality. But CNN and MSNBC can no longer afford to miss opportunities to hold the fossil fuel industry accountable in favor of echoing and amplifying Big Oil talking points while the window for meaningful climate action is rapidly closing.