On October 25, Fox News Media launched its much anticipated streaming service, Fox Weather. The timing of the launch, coinciding with tumultuous extreme weather events across the country, couldn’t have been better for a 24/7 service, which its leadership, staff and hosts had promised was going to deliver on climate change.
But despite a “bomb cyclone” and “atmospheric river” that drenched California and the Pacific Northwest, respectively, or the nor'easter that slammed into the East Coast after fueling tornados across the Midwest, Fox Weather has not yet sought to educate viewers about the role climate change played in worsening the weather systems that produced these extreme weather events.
In fact, Fox Weather's live extreme weather coverage -- which is the centerpiece and bulk of the streaming service -- has largely failed to make any connection to climate change's role in worsening such events. Instead, the sparse discussions of climate on Fox Weather have been relegated to some produced segments, and as the Guardian noted over the weekend that even the website content seems to be conspicuously omitting climate change.
This week, Fox Weather has a correspondent reporting from the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Glasgow (COP26) -- a major news event that kicked-off on October 31. The summit is simultaneously being covered by its climate denying Fox News colleagues --
which has dedicated significantly more time to mocking and undermining any action to address the climate crisis being taken at the conference.
Fox Weather has wrapped itself in a thin climate facade. Technically, it is not denying climate change or even ignoring it completely. But it is failing to use the ground it staked as a weather service to explore the role our warming planet is having on the extreme weather the service is covering in real time.
In many ways, Fox’s weather service is tailor-made for a moment when the biggest corporations in the world are hedging but not going all in on climate -- a strategy that ultimately preserves profits and brands, but falls short on game-changing climate action.
Fox Weather is largely ignoring climate change in its extreme weather coverage
As the service launched, California and the Pacific Northwest was getting hammered by two storm systems: a “bomb cyclone” and an atmospheric river with a third system on its way to the East Coast producing tornadoes across the Midwest enroute. After reviewing the first six hours of the service’s programming, Eleanor Cummins writing for the The New Republic observed:
But if the launch of the 24/7 broadcast is any indication of the service’s overall approach, Fox Weather seems likely to treat climate change as a real but standalone story, not the engine driving every wildfire and bomb cyclone. In emphasizing the symptoms of global warming but ignoring the underlying disease, it ensures viewers consume a dozen weather updates without realizing that climate change is, in fact, already infecting every aspect of our lives.
That initial observation seems to have held up. Several days of coverage on these extreme weather events and their aftermath -- which amazed meteorologists but are consistent with what climate scientists say to expect from climate change -- seemingly produced no reporting from Fox Weather that attempted to contextualize them with our warming planet.
In contrast, other networks covering these events did provide context. For example, on the October 25 edition of MSNBC's 11th Hour With Brian Williams, correspondent Steve Patterson called “the storm pounding the region a result of climate change driving extreme weather more frequently with the globe's warming climate.” And during the October 26, 2021, edition of NBC’s Nightly News, meteorologist Al Roker explained that warming waters due to climate change intensifies storms.
In fact, this year there has been a noticeable increase in climate coverage driven by TV news meteorologists during extreme weather events. During the record-breaking Western heat wave in July, 38% of broadcast and cable news segments from July 8-12 made the connection to climate change, while 36% of wildfire coverage from July 21-27 made the connection. Media Matters also found that broadcast and cable TV news shows aired a combined 95 segments from August 11 through August 18 on myriad extreme weather events that had spanned the globe at the time and that just over 30% of these segments referenced climate change. By comparison, TV news largely failed to discuss climate change during their coverage of extreme weather events last year, including record-breaking and prolonged heat in large swaths of the U.S. and the most powerful hurricane to hit Louisiana in 150 years.
Fox Weather’s silence on climate change in its extreme weather coverage represents a departure from the positive trend in overall media coverage that more frequently characterizes extreme weather as climate events. This silence is even more notable because viewership increases during extreme weather events -- a fact presumably factoring in Fox’s decision to launch a service dedicated to weather -- and there’s an opportunity for the audience to understand the cost of inaction at the most personal level. When viewers see the loss of homes, livelihoods, or even lives from climate-fueled events, then public demand for climate action will likely increase. That’s why those who oppose climate action often accuse those making the link between tragic extreme events and climate change of exploiting or politicizing a crisis -- or insist that now is not the time to talk about climate change.
In 2017, as Hurricane Irma bore down coastal communities in the southeast, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt notoriously said in a CNN interview that now is not the time to talk about climate change. It was a cunning deflection that would be repeated by many others in the aftermath of clear climate-fueled tragedies. “Here’s the issue,” Pruitt told CNN, “to have any kind of focus on the cause and effect of the storm -- versus helping people or actually facing the effect of the storm -- is misplaced.” It is, in fact, in the best interest of those who want to delay climate action to separate the effect from the cause. If Fox Weather’s coverage continues to focus on the effects and ignore the cause, then the service will be more aligned with Fox News then it has sold itself to be.
Fox Weather’s coverage of climate, so far, is merely a technicality
Since the service launched on October 25, Fox Weather has featured some discussion of climate change. For example, on October 28, Fox Weather ran at least two produced segments, one about the impact of weather on coffee and the other on solar development in Florida -- each of which mentioned climate change.
But there have been just as many noticeable omissions of climate in its produced segments. For example, week one programming also included several segments on Louisiana's recovery from Hurricane Ida and even a segment on the state’s loss of wetlands and coastlines -- but failed to highlight the role of climate change in either the severity of the storm or the well-documented impact of climate change on coastal communities.
More recently, Fox Weather meteorologist Steve Bender has been reporting from Glasgow, which is hosting the high-stake COP26 international climate negotiations. In this case, the streaming service is providing straight reporting on a major climate story. But Fox Weather is not a news outlet, it's a weather service, as Fox executives insisted as they tried to position the new service as a safe haven for advertisers scared away from the vitriol and misinformation of Fox News. There is a high probability that its COP26 coverage has nowhere near the audience as Fox News, which is providing significant coverage of the event across its programming. On the first day of COP26 alone, Fox’s three prime-time hosts covered the global talks -- the network as a whole aired nearly one hour of coverage. Overall, the network’s reporting was marked by climate denial and fearmongering about climate action.
In fact, any well-meaning coverage of the international climate talks by Fox Weather cannot counteract the massive damage Fox News does daily to undermine climate action, including callously mocking and vilifying those calling for actions in line with what the science says is necessary to sustain a livable planet.
Fox Weather's underwhelming attempts to cover COP26 fairly and factually, along with its parent company News Corp’s two-week editorial campaign in Australia to champion climate solutions in the run-up to COP26 is ultimately a drop in the bucket in the wake of decades of climate denial across all of its media properties.
The evidence that we are overheating the planet cannot be ignored and action on climate -- though likely too little and most definitely too late -- is inevitable. In response and in time for COP26, the most powerful companies in the world are attempting to associate their brand with climate solutions that ultimately don’t affect their bottomline. The point does not seem to be about being effective -- it is about appearing to be on the right side of the most pressing of issues.
For Fox, its weather service seems to be following the pattern of these big corporations. It is offering enough climate coverage to say it’s doing something, but not enough to make a difference when it really counts.