Fox News’ vicious response to the California heat wave is a harbinger of things to come
If this summer is any indicator, Fox’s climate denial will increase as climate disasters worsen
As unprecedented and record-breaking heat blanketed large parts of the globe this summer, including a prolonged and historic heat wave in California, Fox News doubled down on its long and sordid history of climate denial in the face of incontrovertible evidence that these heat events were worsened by human-caused climate change.
On its face, the premise of Fox’s decision to produce more climate denial programming in the face of worsening extreme heat events seems absurd. There is unanimous scientific consensus that emissions from burning fossil fuels are warming the planet. There is extremely strong evidence that climate change is making heat waves longer, more frequent, and more severe. Some research even suggests that every heat wave today is made worse by climate change. However, this increase in climate denial and obfuscation programming on Fox is in line with how the network treats other issues that are based on empirical evidence and scientific research.
For example, Fox’s coronavirus coverage has been riddled with misinformation about the seriousness of the virus. In its coverage of the 2020 election, the network repeatedly pushes claims that the election was rigged and that Trump really won.
All of this is to say that we can expect Fox News, when faced with more and more evidence of the reality of the climate crisis, to ratchet up its climate denial. The network will continue to gaslight its viewers by pinning the blame for worsening climate-fueled disasters on climate policies and clean energy — which are exactly what is needed in order to mitigate these events.
Major Fox figures attempted to deflect from climate change’s impact on the September Western heat wave
The record-breaking Western U.S. heat wave garnered significant coverage from major mainstream newspaper and TV outlets. The New York Times, The Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times did a good job of connecting climate change to the extreme heat. And while the climate mentions were generally lacking on TV news, major broadcast networks ABC, CBS, and NBC, as well as cable outlets CNN and MSNBC, did at least devote a significant amount of time and energy to covering the heat wave and its impacts.
On back-to-back nights on Fox News, however, the most-watched prime-time cable news shows downplayed the significance of climate change and trashed the kinds of policies that are intended to help fight climate change.
On the September 7 edition of The Five, co-host Greg Gutfeld stated, in reference to the strain on California’s grid during the prolonged heat wave, “It's not climate change that has done this. It's the climate change activists that poisoned the dialogue with hysteria.” He also called Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg a “shrieking psycho brat.” On Jesse Watters Primetime, host Jesse Watters completely ignored the real impact of climate change on extreme heat and proclaimed that “the environment’s better than ever" because the polar bear population doubled and coral reefs are growing again. (Watters also furthered this line of thinking on the September 9 edition of his program, stating, “But the facts here are pretty clear and the science tells us that the biggest threat to the environment isn't climate change; it's ridiculous climate change policies.”)
On Tucker Carlson Tonight, Fox correspondent Trace Gallagher reported not on the heat wave itself but rather on the possibility of blackouts, which he suggested was related to relying too much on renewable energy. Potential blackouts, along with the energy crisis in Europe, were the topic of discussion later in the program. While hosting climate contrarian and failed California gubernatorial candidate Michael Shellenberger, Tucker said about climate policies that “it really is a cult.” Shellenberger also compared climate concerns to a new religion, stating, “They’ve basically turned nature into a new God, a new victim god.” Finally, Fox host Sean Hannity also got in on the action, stating on Hannity that “now this energy rationing and forthcoming potential blackout/brownouts is the direct result of the state's climate hysteria.” He also called green energy a “front on all things socialism.”
It’s worth noting that Fox shows did all this fearmongering about California blackouts even though the state ended up avoiding these blackouts.
On the September 8 edition of The Ingraham Angle, host Laura Ingraham referred to the California energy crisis as “self-created.” She also furthered Fox News’ trend of attacking electric vehicles by hosting Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R-VA) to discuss the issue. She again glossed over the real impacts of the heat wave on the September 9 edition of her program, saying that “transitioning to a cleaner future” is adding “America’s name to a growing global suicide pact.”
(It’s worth pointing out that Fox News wasn’t the only Murdoch-owned media outlet that downplayed the climate severity. The Wall Street Journal, the largest U.S. newspaper by paid circulation, ran an editorial on September 7 titled “Gavin Newsom’s Dirty Energy Secret: California’s electricity woes result from man-made climate policies, not from climate change.”)
Fox also ramped up its climate denial during the global extreme heat in July
July was a particularly brutal month for extreme heat waves around the globe, and many mainstream outlets reported on how climate change is making events such as these worse. And once again, while climate mentions could have been better, broadcast and cable TV networks spent a good deal of time reporting on the heat. Fox, however, often peddled climate denial when discussing the heat, or ignored the heat to focus on how climate policies are somehow more destructive than climate change.
Several examples come from some of Fox’s most popular shows. As the U.S. and Europe sweltered under extreme heat, the opening minutes of the July 19 edition of Hannity skipped the heat wave in favor of discussing how Biden’s climate policies are killing the U.S. economy. Fox personality Dan Bongino questioned whether the planet is getting warmer and whether humanity played a role in it, asking: “What kind of a dunce believes that? Come on. Is it [the planet] getting warmer? The answer is maybe. … The question isn’t is it getting warmer; the question is what’s human beings' role in it.” Later that night on The Ingraham Angle, under the chyron “Dems exploit heat wave to strip away freedoms,” guest Newt Gingrich said that the climate crisis is “all a bunch of lies.”
The next night, Tucker Carlson’s opening monologue focused on bashing Biden’s climate emergency speech, which he delivered while extreme heat was hitting the nation. “No one really believes in global warming,” he said, “and that’s why all of the liberals in the United States live on the coasts — because they don’t believe it. … The entire theory is absurd and they know it. … The whole thing is a joke.”
Also on July 20, conservative political commentator Douglas Murray dismissed the urgency of the climate crisis on Fox & Friends, saying, “Whenever there is not an absolutely vital recent emergency, we can always fall back on — oh, and the climate emergency.” Later that night on Jesse Watters Primetime, host Jesse Watters dismissed the extreme heat as just regular seasonal weather.
(In addition to Fox News, The Wall Street Journal ran an editorial on July 18 titled “All the Heat in Europe” in which it mocked “climate lobbyists in media and politics” for blaming the event on climate change.)
Hurricane Ida and the 2020 western U.S. wildfires also got the Fox climate denial treatment
Two more record-breaking extreme weather events in the past two years received a significant amount of mainstream media coverage and a sizable amount of climate links. Fox's responses to these events were once again riddled with climate denial or attempts to blame the problem on something else.
Last summer, Hurricane Ida was one of the most powerful storms to ever hit Louisiana, and it made its way up the U.S. coast before devastating parts of the country with record rain and flooding. In particular, it was the effects of Ida on the U.S. Northeast that were covered extensively by TV news media; one Media Matters study found that cable news coverage on September 2 mentioned that climate change drove Ida’s destructiveness dozens of times, and 26 segments mentioned the storm’s impact on infrastructure or the need for climate resiliency.” Major U.S. newspapers including The Washington Post and The New York Times produced articles on Ida that made climate change the central focus.
Fox’s response was to double down on its own climate denial and deflect from the seriousness of climate change. In the wake of Ida, Media Matters found:
Since September 2, the day after Ida’s remnants ravaged the Northeast, Fox News and Fox Business have aired at least a dozen segments, combined, that claimed that the Democrats are using Ida as a pretext to implement a massive climate agenda including through the infrastructure bill. These attacks, coupled with instances of climate denial, show the network’s ultimate goal is to stop the implementation of Biden’s climate agenda by all means necessary.
Another example comes from the Western wildfires in September 2020 that were among the most destructive in history. Over a four-day period that month, there was wall-to-wall coverage of the fires on both broadcast and cable networks; broadcast networks mentioned climate change in 30% of segments, while cable news mentioned climate change in 57% of segments. Fox’s response? To once again spew on climate denial and promote then-President Donald Trump’s false claim that forest management was the real issue.
To counter Fox, major newspapers and TV reporters need to be unified in making the climate connection to extreme weather events
It seems the worse the extreme weather event and the more that mainstream media outlets cover such events, the worse Fox’s climate denial and assault on climate policies will be. There will never be a kumbaya moment on Fox with regard to accepting the need for rapid emissions reductions in order to combat climate change. There is a tremendous amount of money behind climate change denial. And Fox is a key cog in the denial machine. The network has worked tirelessly to lie about clean energy and protect the interests of the fossil fuel industry.
We’ve long pressured broadcast and cable TV news outlets to include the necessary climate context in reporting on extreme weather events. They need to step it up. Fox is committed to climate denial and obfuscation about the seriousness of the issue. The more these networks report on the climate crisis with the urgency that it deserves, and ways to help combat it, the greater public awareness will be about the issue. There will also be a greater willingness among the public to pressure policymakers to take action. Finally, a unified front in reporting on the urgency of climate change will help drown out the dangerous noise from Fox.