As President Joe Biden prepared to sign a package of climate-focused executive orders on January 27, national climate adviser Gina McCarthy and special presidential envoy for climate John Kerry joined White House press secretary Jen Psaki to make the case for the administration’s climate agenda. The orders, as expected, kicked off a frenzy of Fox News coverage attacking Biden’s agenda -- but it also launched the network’s all-out assault on Kerry, Biden’s pick to help deliver his climate plan.
Fox has attempted to turn Kerry into a villain through a series of reports about his private jet travel by FoxNews.com and coverage across nearly all of Fox’s weekday programming over the course of nine days from January 27 through February 4. Much of the coverage focused on Kerry’s role in the Biden administration as an excuse to attack climate action more broadly, showing the network’s real goal in breathlessly hyping the non-story.
Fox is trying not just to erode support for Biden’s climate plan, but the network is also striving to keep the conversation away from the reality of the climate crisis it is intended to address.
Fox’s manufactured John Kerry scandal
On January 27, the same day that Biden signed the orders to advance his climate agenda, FoxNews.com posted an article admonishing Kerry for maintaining ownership of a private jet “despite his position on combatting fossil fuels in the new administration.” That evening, prime-time host Sean Hannity referred to Kerry as a “lying hypocrite” for advocating climate solutions while flying around the world.
During the January 27 edition of Fox News @ Night, anchor Shannon Bream detailed the article and claimed that the network had “reached out to the White House and to Kerry’s family” but had not yet received a response -- suggesting that Kerry owning a private jet was somehow a major news story.
The following day, all of Fox’s programming from 4 a.m. to 1 p.m. -- Fox & Friends First, Fox & Friends, America's Newsroom, The Faulkner Focus, and Outnumbered -- discussed Kerry’s “hypocrisy.” Anchor Harris Faulkner on the January 28 edition of her show suggested that Kerry’s private jet was just the tip of the iceberg of his alleged duplicity. Faulkner set up her interview with Fox contributor Ari Fleischer specifically to discuss Kerry, saying:
HARRIS FAULKNER (ANCHOR): Biden’s climate czar there, John Kerry, sounding off on the urgency to fight climate change -- but does he practice what he preaches? FAA records indicate Kerry's family owns and operates a private jet, which emits up to 40 times more carbon per passenger than a commercial plane. And this may not be Kerry's only climate faux pas.
On the January 28 edition of The Five, co-host Katie Pavlich suggested that Kerry's unwillingness to make the same sacrifices he is asking of others means that Biden’s agenda “isn't just about the climate, but about government control.”
In the second of four rants against Kerry over a nine-day period, Hannity again claimed on the January 28 edition of Hannity that Kerry’s “massive carbon footprint” means he’s lying about his climate concerns. The Fox host added that in order to prove his environmental bonafides, Kerry must ground his private jet, saying: “In fairness, don't sell it, because it would still be a carbon footprint. He should have it disassembled so it can never be used again, then you can recycle all the materials. And while we are at it, all of Biden’s Cabinet officials, they should stop using the private jets.”
On Sunday, January 31, the same FoxNews.com reporter who published the original piece, Sam Dorman, posted a new report calculating the pollution emitted by Kerry’s travels over the past year, noting, “The emissions estimate comes as Democrats consider massive proposals for overhauling the nation's energy economy with potentially skyrocketing costs for households and individual Americans.” The piece added more fuel to the network’s growing obsession with Kerry’s private jet.
On the Monday, February 1 edition of his show, Hannity, now covering the private jet story for the third time, fearmongered to his viewers about Biden’s climate plan and attacked Kerry’s perceived hypocrisy:
SEAN HANNITY (HOST): According to the climate-obsessed radicals in his base, there’s no time to waste because the planet is dying. John Kerry says we have nine years, Americans must make sacrifices or, well, some Americans must make sacrifices but not if your name is John Kerry. You know, Biden’s special climate envoy, he frequently enjoys the comfort, the convenience of his very own private jet. We went back, we looked at the records. Fox News did this year, and look at what we saw from last year: His private jet was responsible for a whopping 116 metric tons of carbon. Now, 116 metric tons of carbon. By comparison, a typical American emits a mere 4.6 metric tons of carbon from driving. It's almost as if John Kerry isn't that concerned about the environment after all. In reality, the left’s obsession with the climate has little to do with pollution. It is a political tool for them. In fact, according to FoxNews.com, the Biden campaign raised a lot of money from green energy companies that will all now likely be rewarded for their efforts.
On Wednesday, Dorman posted a third story on an exchange that occurred between Kerry and an Icelandic reporter in 2019. Kerry’s defensive response to being questioned about his choice of transportation to receive an award for climate leadership included claiming that jet travel is “the only choice for somebody like me who is traveling the world to win this battle." Not a good look for Kerry, to be sure, but still far from the scandal that Fox is trying to will into existence.
On Wednesday, both Tucker Carlson and Hannity ran lengthy segments on these “revelations” about Kerry. On the February 3 edition of Tucker Carlson Tonight, the host claimed that climate change is a manufactured crisis to empower the left-wing elites and characterized the 2019 interview in Iceland as the smoking gun proving his point:
TUCKER CARLSON (HOST): “There are mudslides and floods and fires so therefore I must have more power. And if you don't give it to me, I will be angry.” And to prove that point, John Kerry will personally cause as many mudslides and floods and fires as it takes to wake you up to this problem. That is the cross he is willing to bear. Any questions? Well, at the time, no one had questions, actually. They never do. No one in American media asks questions or thought that speech was weird in any way. But back in 2019, one journalist in Iceland, not yet brainwashed, did have a question. He asked why did John Kerry fly all the way to Iceland on a private plane? Isn't that a little hypocritical? Now to our knowledge, no one covered John Kerry’s response at the time. It was completely buried. We have it now.
Hannity opened his February 3 segment by decrying Kerry’s “green energy fantasies and his stupid Paris accord agreement” before airing the Iceland interview, claiming, “Under no circumstances though can he give up his private jet.”
On Thursday, Fox’s four morning programs -- Fox & Friends First, Fox & Friends, America's Newsroom, and The Faulkner Focus -- all ran at least one segment on Kerry’s interview in Iceland.
By obsessively focusing on Kerry’s private jet and carbon footprint, Fox is not only trying to delegitimize the Biden administration’s climate envoy but also, by extension, the scientific and experiential evidence of climate change. Without facts on its side to deny the climate crisis, personal attacks and red herring arguments are all Fox has to offer.
Fox uses its signature move on John Kerry to deflect from the climate crisis
Distraction is a signature move of Fox News anchors and hosts looking to pivot away from the facts of a story or change the trajectory of its most obvious conclusion. One of the more common examples of this in the network’s climate coverage is a focus on an individual’s actions to deflect away from evidence that supports their position on climate.
And Kerry's predilection for travel by private jet feeds right into one of Fox’s oldest chestnuts: Climate advocates who use air travel are hypocrites. In fact, Hannity even points out in his February 3 segment on Kerry that, “But of course, it is not the first time we caught a Learjet liberal in an act of blatant hypocrisy. That is Al Gore back in 2007, getting off his Gulfstream that seats, oh, 12-14 people, only two people on the plane, at San Francisco airport -- at the same time he was making dire predictions about the end of the planet -- and then jumping into a chauffeur-driven limousine.”
Fox has deployed this tactic against not just Kerry and Gore, but also Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) -- and even Leonardo DiCaprio, Prince Harry, Thom Yorke, and Arnold Schwarzenegger, attempting to falsely portray politicians and wealthy celebrities as the face of the climate movement and ignoring the millions of people around the world harmed by climate change and environmental injustice.
As I documented in a 2019 report for Public Citizen, in the six months after the introduction of the Green New Deal, Fox regularly “referenced the use of air travel to discredit those concerned about climate or to question the reality of human-induced warming.”
A favorite distraction tactic used by Fox News hosts is to pivot any discussion about warming to the “hypocrisy” of “elites” and “liberals” who advocate climate solutions. The argument is that, if climate change is an existential crisis, then climate advocates would reduce their own carbon footprints to zero. But because climate champions like U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) fly on private jets and Ocasio-Cortez uses Uber instead of public transportation, the crisis must not be real or very urgent.
Kerry’s use of a private jet should be critiqued, but probably not by a network that steadfastly defended or ignored an administration and a president embroiled in scandals that caused real harm to people’s lives. Fox hosts and guests’ relentless attempts to dunk on Kerry only reveals that when it comes to making a case against climate action, they’ve got nothing.
Whether or not using private transportation is hypocrisy by climate advocates is not the point. In reality, individual action is wholly inadequate for addressing the scale of the climate crisis when 100 companies are responsible for 71% of global emissions. The crisis requires, above all, systemic policy responses that can be implemented only by governments -- and thwarting effective climate action is Fox’s real goal.