Fox News predictably used its Hurricane Ian coverage to deny the impact climate change is having on storms, but the network has also used the national attention on this devastating storm to advance other right-wing narratives. Using the backdrop of the catastrophic storm, Fox targeted Democratic politicians and mainstream media figures who connected extreme weather to the climate crisis and trashed electric vehicles alongside other energy and climate actions taken by Biden. The network even turned its attention to attacking “illegal aliens” after a story emerged about hurricane victims allegedly looting local businesses.
Fox News personalities have repeatedly criticized Democrats and the media for supposedly politicizing the storm, particularly in reference to climate change, but the network’s coverage shows how Fox is weaponizing Hurricane Ian to push its own right-wing agenda.
Attempting to discredit climate science
Fox News personalities spent a considerable amount of their Hurricane Ian coverage dismissing the role of climate change or disparaging those that made the link. Before the hurricane even made landfall, Fox prime-time hosts started laying the groundwork for the network’s offensive against climate science, which finds that storms are becoming stronger and wetter as the world warms to dangerous levels.
A sample of rhetoric from Fox News’ prime-time programs shows its attempt to chip away at climate science and muddy viewers' understanding of why extreme weather events are becoming more intense.
On the September 28 edition of Hannity, host Sean Hannity dismissed the science by remarking, “You know, we had hurricanes in 1922. This is 2022, it’s hurricane season. … They want to talk about climate change when this is hurricane season, and during hurricane season, you usually have hurricanes like we did a hundred years ago.”
Later that night, on The Ingraham Angle, climate contrarian Michael Shellenberger stated that hurricanes are “not intensifying right now, so any perception that hurricanes are more intense is just a perception fed by that relentless alarmist media. … There’s just a lot more people experiencing hurricanes because we’re so wealthy and prosperous and there’s so many more of us, and so I think that’s part of what creates this false perception.”
Tucker Carlson devoted more than 15 minutes on the September 29 edition of Tucker Carlson Tonight to decrying “the politicization of tragedy” and falsely claimed that “there’s no science behind these claims” connecting the increasing impacts of climate change to strengthening storms.
Targeting key Democrats and media figures for climate-related comments
Early coverage of Hurricane Ian on Fox zeroed in on comments made by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) on the September 27 edition of MSNBC’s Morning Joe. Klobuchar touted recent legislative victories for Democrats, including on climate policy, and suggested that the hurricane showed the importance for Democrats to win the midterms and take further action on climate change. Fox News was quick to mock and twist her words.
Hannity admonished the senator for politicizing the storm on the September 27 edition of his show, saying: “As Florida's Gulf Coast is prepping for Hurricane Ian, Democrats sadly are once again rushing to politicize a tragedy. You have Sen. Amy Klobuchar now claiming that you must vote for Democrats if you want to stop severe weather.”
Carlson also suggested on the September 28 edition of his show that Klobuchar was politicizing the storm and further misconstrued her words, saying that she “announced on television that only if we had given her a lot more power, hurricanes wouldn’t happen, because it turns out that Amy Klobuchar and her friends control the weather if only you’d vote for them.”
On September 30, as public officials assessed the catastrophic devastation Hurricane Ian caused to large swaths of southwest Florida, Vice President Kamala Harris was asked to discuss global socioeconomic disparities in climate change impact during the Democratic National Committee’s Women’s Leadership Forum. As part of her response, Harris remarked: “It is our lowest income communities and our communities of color that are most impacted by these extreme conditions and impacted by issues that are not of their own making.”
Fox News led the charge in disparaging Harris and falsely presenting the context of her remarks to imply that the Biden administration planned to deny disaster relief to white victims of Hurricane Ian.
Fox News amplified a manufactured right-wing media controversy around an exchange between CNN’s Don Lemon and National Hurricane Center acting Director Jamie Rhome on the role climate change was playing in the rapid intensification of storms, which aired on the September 27 edition of CNN’s Don Lemon Tonight. The following day, Fox News covered the exchange extensively, using Lemon’s repeated questions about links between climate change and hurricanes to suggest that the media was politicizing the storm. That evening, all three Fox prime-time hosts — Carlson, Hannity, and Ingraham — attacked Lemon on their programs.
When Fox targets a specific media figure for talking about climate change, as the network did with Lemon, the intent is to create a chilling effect on future climate coverage.
Attacking electric vehicles and President Joe Biden’s climate and energy agenda
Against the unfolding of Hurricane Ian’s devastation, Fox News took the opportunity to take cheap shots at electric vehicles; revisit its criticism of the Biden administration's plan to release oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve; and defend Big Oil after Biden warned companies not to gouge prices — a practice that is not uncommon during these types of disasters, and the reason why Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody activated a hotline to report price gouging even before the storm hit the state.
All of these narratives, particularly attacks on electric vehicles, have been mainstays of Fox News coverage of Biden’s climate and energy agenda this past year before the network repurposed them for coverage of Hurricane Ian.
On the October 3 edition of his Fox show, host Jesse Watters asked: “What would happen if a family had one of these electric cars in Florida when the power went out because of the hurricane and you have to flee? It's not like you could stock up on gas.”
On the October 3 edition of Fox & Friends, co-host Steve Doocy claimed that he “got a number of emails over the last week for people looking at Florida where there was no electricity and they said, ‘Where do the people wind up charging their electric cars?’”
In an October 4 interview with Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg about the recovery process in Florida, anchor Neil Cavuto said, “Much of the power was out across half of the state of Florida for a while. … Between what happened in Florida and the grid that was compromised to the point where California Gov. [Gavin] Newsom wanted people to cool it for a while on when and how often they charged their EVs, do you think this reminds folks that we're not ready, or the EVs are not ready for prime time?”
Fox News contributor Phil Flynn told anchor Bret Baier on the September 28 edition of Special Report with Bret Baier that Biden’s warning to oil companies not to use the hurricane “as an excuse to raise gasoline prices for the American people” was “political grandstanding at its worst.” Fox anchors Neil Cavuto and John Roberts also defended Big Oil while discussing Biden’s comments during America Reports the following day.
On the September 28 edition of Special Report, Flynn also suggested that Biden’s drawdown of the Strategic Petroleum Reserves in an effort to stabilize global oil supply made the U.S. more vulnerable to disruption caused by major storms: “The Biden administration is very lucky from an oil price standpoint that the storm took the track it did. We only saw 11% production down. … If this had tracked a little bit to the west, it's very possible that we could have seen 100% of that production shut in. So, that didn't happen. And the reason why the Biden administration should be very happy that it didn't, is because they have drained our Strategic Petroleum Reserve, right?”
In the aftermath of Hurricane Ian, a report of four individuals arrested for burglary of an unoccupied structure in Lee County, the area hit hardest by the storm, caught the attention of Fox News after it was reported that three of the accused individuals were undocumented immigrants. During a press briefing on the status of recovery in the state, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said, “If I could, I would take those three looters, I would drag them out by the collars and I would send them back to where they came from.” At least six programs on Fox News responded to this story on the October 5 editions of their programs, including Fox & Friends First, Fox & Friends, The Faulkner Focus, Outnumbered, The Five, and Hannity.
Several of these programs centered these arrests within the network's larger narratives around immigration. After showing DeSantis’ speech about the case on The Faulkner Focus, correspondent Gillian Turner asked Rep. Mike Waltz (R-FL), “Is there an aspect or an area of American life now that is not touched by the border crisis?”
Discussing the story on Outnumbered with former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, Fox News contributor Nicole Saphier declared, “And to the ambassador’s point, she said that every single state in the country right now is feeling the aftermath of illegal immigration, but you know what? Not the way that some of these other states are. Florida itself, to Ron DeSantis’ point, 8% of all illegal immigrants are in Florida. Now you're finding that some of them are doing the vile behavior of opportunistic taking advantage of the victims of tragedies. It is awful and it needs to be immediate deportation."
Co-host Jeanine Pirro on The Five took the point further, praising DeSantis’ comments: “What I liked about what he said — and I've never heard anyone in the past year use the word ‘foreigner.’ All I hear is ‘illegal’ or I hear ‘migrant,’ ‘immigrant.’ These people are foreigners. They don't belong here. They shouldn't be here. And they are hitting us at the point when we are most vulnerable, in our homes and in our businesses and when we have no place to sleep essentially.”
Responding to the story on Hannity, Fox & Friends Weekend co-host Pete Hegseth suggested that it is natural for immigrants to break the law: “If your first action coming into this country was breaking our laws — which illegals are doing — then why wouldn’t we think your second or third action might be ‘Hey, if I break another law, I won’t have consequences.’”
Stories of looting are often overhyped or manufactured after extreme weather disasters to place blame on communities of color and to fearmonger about these communities, often with racist intent. In this case, it is also hypocritical of a network that repeatedly called out Democrats and the media for supposedly politicizing Hurricane Ian by discussing it in the context of climate change – using this story to advance hateful anti-immigrant sentiment in the wake of disaster is politics and media at its worst.