On May 7, Lisa Friedman of The New York Times wrote about the GOP strategy to link the economic pain of the coronavirus pandemic to the Green New Deal.
She identified three core messages that Republican lawmakers, the Trump campaign, and conservative media outlets have been hammering to scapegoat the bold climate proposal and its proponents -- including Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, who has not actually endorsed it -- for an economy in free-fall: that Democrats are more interested in climate change than reviving the economy; that Mr. Biden and environmental groups are seeking to exploit the pandemic to push a “radical” green agenda; and that the economic fallout of Covid-19 is a preview of life under ambitious climate change policies.
These three misleading messages have been fiercely driven by Fox News and Fox Business -- including via a new false narrative that the Green New Deal was included in the coronavirus relief bill.
Over a recent 43-day period, from March 25, when the $2 trillion coronavirus relief package passed the Senate, until May 7, when the Times article was published, the Green New Deal was mentioned 139 times across programs on Fox News, Fox Business, MSNBC, and CNN -- most of them on the Fox networks. Fox News programs mentioned the Green New Deal 100 times, and programs on Fox Business mentioned it 28 times. Overall, these two Fox networks mentioned the Green New Deal an average of three times per day, and together they made up 92% of the total Green New Deal mentions on the major cable news channels.
Driving both Fox News and Fox Business’ Green New Deal mentions are misleading narratives both new and familiar:
- Seventy-nine mentions (57% of overall mentions) claimed that the Green New Deal was part of, or holding up passage of, the coronavirus relief bill. It was not. This is an entirely new narrative about the Green New Deal nearly exclusively pushed by Fox networks.
- Thirty-two mentions (23%) came in the context of the Democratic primary or the upcoming presidential election. In some of these mentions, Biden was painted as a radical, extremist supporter of the Green New Deal, when in reality he has yet to either endorse or embrace the plan.
- Twenty-six mentions (19%) involved comparing the economic devastation resulting from the coronavirus to what the Green New Deal, if implemented, would supposedly accomplish.
- Fifteen mentions (11%) had to do with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the co-sponsor of the Green New Deal.
- By contrast, MSNBC mentioned the Green New Deal eight times (6% of mentions), and CNN mentioned the Green New Deal three times (2% of mentions).
Additionally, nearly a third of the combined Fox networks’ 128 mentions -- 29% of them -- came on their “straight news” shows, and a majority of these comments said the Green New Deal is included in the coronavirus relief bill, undermining claims that these programs provide traditional reporting different from the shows of their more bombastic opinion hosts.
But more than leading the charge on this new wave of attacks on the Green New Deal, Fox News and Fox Business (collectively, “the Fox networks” here) are responsible for the efficacy of these messages in triggering a visceral response in the conservative base. For over a year, while other TV news networks have barely articulated what the Green New Deal is and what it would accomplish, Fox News has been hammering the same messaging, tethering the proposal to radical socialism and economic devastation, over and over again.
Fox News has dominated the discussion around the Green New Deal
Fox has been launching attacks on the Green New Deal since early 2019. Even before the House resolution proposing the deal was introduced, the network’s hosts and anchors went on the offensive about it, calling it a socialist takeover of the economy or saying it would require an authoritarian regime. In the first several days after the resolution’s introduction, Fox News aired over three times as many segments about the plan as its cable news counterparts CNN and MSNBC, often lying about it and not even connecting it to climate change. After the Senate voted on the Green New Deal in the last week of March 2019, Fox News aired over twice as many prime-time segments on the proposal as CNN and MSNBC, once again throwing in climate denial and misinformation. This disproportionate coverage clearly had an effect on Fox News viewers: A Navigator poll from March 2019 found that Republican viewers of Fox News were more likely than other voters to have heard about the Green New Deal. Fox News viewers also have negative opinions on the proposal.
Other networks have not responded to Fox’s Green New Deal onslaught. CNN and MSNBC, noted above, aired far fewer segments on the issue than Fox. And in all of 2019, not a single nightly news show on any of the corporate broadcast TV networks -- ABC, CBS, and NBC -- aired a segment on the Green New Deal. The Sunday morning news shows on these networks did cover the proposal, their discussions overwhelmingly fell into the category of “tactical framing,” or talking about it through a political lens and not addressing its actual benefits.
Fox is using the coronavirus pandemic to retool and re-up its attacks on the Green New Deal
In the past several weeks, the Fox networks have mentioned the Green New Deal an astounding number of times, given that there were no new developments in the plan.
While the topics that prompted a mention of the Green New Deal varied, all were indicative of the way Fox networks have toxified the Green New Deal and repackaged it as an all-encompassing enemy to the conservative movement.
Nineteen percent of the Fox networks’ mentions reinforced the idea that the economic fallout of Covid-19 is a preview of life under ambitious climate change policies
This narrative was been repeated at least 26 times on the Fox networks. The Times piece mentioned Mercedes Schlapp’s appearance on Varney & Co. on May 4, when she stated that the Green New Deal “would cause the destruction of our energy industry. It would lead to millions of jobs being cut, eliminated.” Another egregious example comes from the April 11 edition of The Greg Gutfeld Show, where host Greg Gutfeld likened the Green New Deal’s impact to the empty store shelves brought about by coronavirus:
GREG GUTFELD (HOST): Trump has a great opportunity to, like, look at Joe Biden, every time Joe Biden adopts a Bernie Sanders idea. Like, let’s say the Green New Deal. All he has to say, all Trump has to say is do you remember March and April 2020 when you have bread lines and empty shelves, and the supermarket was like the DMV. That’s socialism; that’s what you're voting for. I think that is a good ploy.
JESSE WATTERS (HOST): Her little Green New Deal? It pays people not to have a job. We are actually living the Green New Deal right now. Think about it. No air travel, people being paid not to work, and we just drastically cut industrial activity and emissions. So in one month, we spent a few trillion dollars and lost 30 million jobs and reduced emissions by just 6%. This is the real cost of AOC's Green New Deal, and if we keep going at this rate and not working, producing, or traveling for the next 10 years, we'll hit the temperature target of the Paris climate accord. Destroying civilization so thoroughly that the world’s temperature only rises 1.5 degrees Celsius. Oh, and while we’re all broke and homeless, we’ll have to pay more taxes. I hope we can all see what this green socialist scam costs. It costs everything. Literally.
That coronavirus is somehow accomplishing the Green New Deal’s goals is a talking point that emerged early in the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S. Many of the proponents of this idea have appeared on Fox, and Fox hosts themselves have covered this concept.
A large majority of the Fox networks’ Green New Deal mentions pushed the narrative that Democrats are more interested in climate change than in reviving the economy
Seventy-nine Green New Deal mentions (58%) came in the context of the recent coronavirus relief bill. The false claim that the Green New Deal was a part of the coronavirus relief bill was first made by Republican leadership but was elevated and given a platform by right-wing media, especially Fox.
In a March 23 speech, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) stated that “Democrats won't let us fund hospitals or save small businesses unless they get to dust off the Green New Deal.” He was referencing back-and-forth negotiations on the coronavirus relief bill between Democrats and Republicans. The Green New Deal, however, was not a part of the negotiations. There were some specific climate-related issues proposed, like airline industry emissions and more support for solar and wind industries, but they did not make it into the final package. These minuscule environmental proposals are nowhere near on the same level as the Green New Deal, which is a sweeping plan to transform America’s energy system and to address issues such as economic inequality and racism. As Friedman notes in her New York Times piece, Republicans “have also labeled virtually every climate change effort as part of the Green New Deal … whether they are part of the proposal or not.”
But that didn’t stop the Fox networks, and Republicans appearing on their shows, from repeating that bogus talking point. On March 25, the day the Senate passed the coronavirus relief package, the Green New Deal was referenced as being part of the relief package on five different Fox News shows, and on March 26, it was mentioned on six different shows on both Fox Business and Fox News. During a period from March 25 to April 4, there were 46 mentions of the Green New Deal on the Fox networks, and in 43 of them a speaker said the Green New Deal was part of the coronavirus relief package. Even the last mention of the Green New Deal of the time period we reviewed -- made by Sen. Kevin Kramer (R-LA) on the May 7 edition of Fox Business’ Making Money with Charles Payne -- included this falsehood.
A typical Green New Deal and relief package mention was superficial and ran along the lines of this quote from Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY), from the March 27 edition of Fox News’s The Ingraham Angle:
REP. LEE ZELDIN: Now there are other items, like ballot harvesting in their reforms to try to win elections in November, that they tried to get in that didn’t make it in. The Green New Deal they tried to get in.
Other Green New Deal mentions on the Fox networks came in the context of the upcoming presidential election or in comments bashing Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY)
Thirty-two Green New Deal mentions on the Fox networks, or 23% of them, came in the context of the upcoming presidential election. These mentions varied across specific election topics -- including Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden’s campaign, former candidate Bernie Sanders’ suspension of his presidential campaign, and the economic stimulus -- but one common thread weaving through many of these mentions was the idea that the Democratic Party’s embrace of the Green New Deal is proof of how radically left the party has moved and that its prominent members are exploiting the pandemic to push a “radical” green agenda.
Although Biden has yet to either officially endorse or embrace the Green New Deal, Fox has been claiming that his campaign is somehow one of its strongest proponents. One example came from Ari Fleischer on the April 8 edition of The Daily Briefing with Dana Perino, when he falsely stated that Biden “now wants a Green New Deal” among other things. “All of these are positions on the far, far left of the Democratic Party, brought to you, sponsored by Bernie Sanders and now proudly adopted by Joe Biden,” he said.
In another example, on the April 22 edition of Varney & Co., Mercedes Schlapp stated that Biden’s “top priority will be to increase taxes on the middle class and also focus on the Green New Deal, which would of course lead to job losses.” Sean Hannity also referenced the Green New Deal in relation to Biden on April 20, saying that “there are no moderates in today's radical extreme Democratic socialist party.”
In addition to the election, the Green New Deal was mentioned on the Fox networks approximately 15 times in relation to Ocasio-Cortez, who co-sponsored the resolution in February 2019. Fox News has been obsessed with demonizing Ocasio-Cortez since her election to Congress, so it’s no surprise that the network is attacking the Green New Deal by referencing her.
Green New Deal mentions on CNN and MSNBC did not push back on Fox’s framing and were generally politicized
While Fox and Republicans tried to insert the Green New Deal into unrelated news stories, that wasn’t happening on the other cable news networks. During the time period studied, the Green New Deal was mentioned just eight times on MSNBC and three times on CNN.
On MSNBC, five of the Green New Deal mentions came in the context of the 2020 election. Four of these were specifically in reference to Sanders’ suspension of his presidential campaign and the possibility of Biden adopting some of Sanders’ progressive positions like the Green New Deal. One mention was an excellent encapsulation of how the Green New Deal should be discussed: On the April 12 edition of AM Joy, Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) mentioned the climate crisis and the need to adopt a Green New Deal in order to address it.
Another mention came from Chris Hayes, who brought up the Green New Deal on April 20 in the context of both the coronavirus relief bill and science denialism of climate change and pandemics, saying, “How are we going to pay for it -- this question that haunted the questions of the Green New Deal -- now, it's like $2.2 trillion out the door in a few weeks.” The final mention, on the April 23 edition of MSNBC Live with Hallie Jackson, could have been in a Fox segment: In it, Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) claimed that “portions of the Green New Deal” were part of the coronavirus relief package.
On CNN, Brian Stelter mentioned the Green New Deal on the April 5 edition of Reliable Sources, noting that President Donald Trump had voiced his displeasure with it. The other two mentions came during an excellent climate change special put on by CNN on April 25. On CNN Special Report -- The Road to Change: America's Climate Crisis, CNN Chief Climate Correspondent Bill Weir interviewed Varshini Prakash, who is the Executive Director of the Sunrise Movement, and she mentioned the Green New Deal as a holistic approach to solving climate change, “talking about jobs and the economy and the climate crisis and racial inequity and how we get access to health insurance and health care.”
Framing of the Green New Deal matters
The New York Times piece did not include some important details about the Green New Deal -- namely, that it is an economic stimulus and a job creator, that clean energy is popular among the general public, and the Green New Deal itself is popular, with one recent poll showing that 59% of prospective voters “would strongly or moderately support” it.
The piece’s omission of these points mirrors how the Green New Deal is talked about on the major cable networks. When MSNBC and CNN do talk about the proposal, it is generally through a political lens (considering whether it could pass, for instance), and there is rarely ever pushback to the right-wing media misinformation around the Green New Deal.
Meanwhile, Fox continues to hammer the Green New Deal with misinformation. It’s basically taken for granted on the network that the Green New Deal was a part of the coronavirus relief bill. This falsehood ultimately hurts efforts to include clean energy issues in further relief bills, as any small clean energy proposal will invariably get labeled as the Green New Deal and give Republicans more leverage on those talking points. In actuality, the Green New Deal is a perfect response to coronavirus -- we have the opportunity to come out of this as a cleaner and more fair society. But because Fox has toxified the Green New Deal so much, and without any relevant pushback from its cable network counterparts, this transition will be more difficult to come by. And, as the New York Times piece states, Republicans' bad-faith messaging on the coronavirus will have an easier time taking hold in the 2020 election.
Media Matters searched the SnapStream video database service for the term “green new deal” on CNN, Fox News Channel, Fox Business Network, and MSNBC, from March 25 to May 7, 2020. We counted any mention of the phrase. We did not count repeat shows, or the press conferences held by President Trump March 31 and April 6, in which the president mentioned the Green New Deal.