The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Sixth Assessment Report was “widely covered across traditional, digital, and social media,” we reported earlier this week, with cable news networks CNN and MSNBC devoting 99 minutes to the report on August 9 alone. But major right-wing media outlets were mostly (and curiously) absent from the discourse. They either entirely ignored the report, featured discredited contrarians and climate deniers to discuss, or tried to downplay the stark findings.
Fox networks devoted only 15 segments to the report across a two-day period
From August 9 to 10, Fox News aired only eight segments on the report, for a total of 34 minutes, while Fox Business aired seven segments, totaling 13 minutes. Only five programs on Fox News and two programs on Fox Business covered the report in this period, meaning that the vast majority of original programming on these networks (including Fox News’ prime-time stars Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity, and Laura Ingraham) left the report untouched. By contrast, CNN and MSNBC aired a combined 26 segments across 99 minutes of coverage on just August 9 alone.
Fox News aired only one segment on the IPCC report after August 10 -- this came on the August 12 edition of America Reports, and the segment was primarily about John Kerry’s private jet travel. Fox Business devoted just two minutes to it after August 10 -- this came in an August 12 segment on Varney & Co. with The Wall Street Journal’s Dan Henninger, who pontificated about how Democrats would somehow wreck the climate if kept in power.
If this seems like a small amount of coverage for Fox on the issue of climate change, it’s because it is. For one, Fox typically dominates the climate discourse when compared to its cable counterparts, and its discourse is rife with misinformation and climate denial. Fox News spent nearly two hours on January 27 criticizing President Biden’s climate executive orders, which was over double the amount of coverage aired by CNN.
Last summer, Fox spent a month lying about then-candidate Biden’s climate plan, airing more segments on it than MSNBC and CNN combined. Additionally, Fox has been blowing MSNBC and CNN out of the water when it comes to the Green New Deal, wildly obsessing over the issue to the point that its Republican Party lackeys now label “virtually every climate change effort as part of the Green New Deal.”
This week’s coverage is also notably small when compared to the 15 minutes Fox had already spent covering President Obama’s birthday party as of noon on August 9 — compared to less than 30 seconds on the IPCC report.
And it wasn’t just Fox networks that were uncharacteristically quiet on the IPCC report. Newsmax, which in recent days has been linking the Green New Deal to the infrastructure bill, aired only two segments on the IPCC report in the 48-hour period after its release. One America News Network, an alternative far-right outlet that also in recent days has been comparing the bipartisan infrastructure bill to the Green New Deal, aired less than a minute of coverage on the report on August 9. The right-wing Sinclair Broadcast Group covered the report for less than a minute in its three-hour news program The National Desk on August 9; it didn’t cover it at all on August 10.
Right-wing media TV segments that did cover the report were almost entirely full of misinformation and climate denial
Aside from a straight news report on the August 9 edition of Fox News’ America’s Newsroom and an interview with Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm on the August 9 edition of Fox News’ Special Report, the TV segments that did cover the report featured a rash of denial and mockery. Some of the most egregious examples include:
- Marc Morano appeared twice on Fox News shows to downplay the IPCC report, continuing his years-long, very tiring climate denial schtick.
- Publishing executive Steve Forbes (a man with no climate credentials, of course) appeared on the August 9 edition of Fox Business’ Varney & Co. to downplay the report, saying that “this is just a push by the left to get control.”
- Physicist Steve Koonin, who recently wrote a book chock-full of errors on climate change, appeared on the August 10 edition of Fox Business’ Kudlow to downplay the report, bafflingly stating about global warming that “it is kind of absurd to think that another one degree over a century is going to create catastrophe.” (An extra degree of warming would put the globe at over 2 degrees Celsius of warming, something climate scientists have long been urging policymakers to prevent because it would indeed be catastrophic for large parts of the globe.)
- Gerry Baker, editor at large at The Wall Street Journal (a paper whose editorial board has been pushing climate denial nonsense for years). Baker appeared on the August 10 edition of Fox News’ America’s Newsroom to decry the media for being too alarmist on IPCC report’s findings (more on that below).
In fact, the only guest on right-wing TV who had any sort of climate credentials was Anthony Lupo, an ostracized atmospheric scientist at the University of Missouri’s College of Agriculture, Food & Natural Resources. He appeared on the August 10 edition of Newsmax’s Cortes & Pellegrino to downplay the report’s findings. Looking deeper at Lupo, one finds that he is on the payroll of the climate-denying Heartland Institute and is affiliated with The Cornwall Alliance, a collection of climate deniers who receive right-wing dark money.
In segments not featuring guests, Newsmax’s Rob Schmitt Tonight covered the report on August 9, spending the majority of the segment criticizing the bipartisan infrastructure bill and both Nancy Pelosi and John Kerry for taking planes to Obama’s birthday party. A Special Report segment on August 9 featured host Bret Baier casting doubt on the report's findings, while on the August 10 edition of the painfully unfunny late-night show Gutfeld! host Greg Gutfeld claimed that climate change isn’t all that bad. The second segment on Gutfeld! featured a roundtable discussion of the report, with guest Kat Timpf falsely stating that “all of these doom and gloom, they are based on scenarios that are super unlikely to happen.”
Besides the usual suspects, many right-wing outlets across digital and social media were quieter than usual
While the aforementioned Marc Morano and notorious climate denier Steve Milloy both repeatedly voiced their displeasure with the report’s findings on their Twitter accounts, many of the major right-wing outlets kept the report at bay.
Breitbart republished several general news articles on the report, but it appears to have only one article written by a columnist -- one that mocks the term “climate change.” The Washington Times ran two pieces -- a straight news report, and an opinion by Cal Thomas claiming both the coronavirus and climate change are overblown. Townhall ran only one piece on it -- an opinion by Dinesh D’Souza, who regurgitated climate denier talking points. The Daily Caller ran only one piece -- a general straight news article on the report. The Fox News opinion page featured only a clip of Greg Gutfeld’s segment. While The Daily Wire ran no articles on it, the last several minutes of The Ben Shapiro Show covered it. The Federalist, The Blaze, and RedState did not mention the report at all.
Compare this to the oversized right-wing media reaction when the Green New Deal was first announced, and it’s clear that these outlets took a step back in covering the IPCC report. Whether their general reluctance was because they can’t refute the science or because Andrew Cuomo’s resignation took up much of their attention is unclear. Overall, it’s good that the general public wasn’t inundated with climate denial from these nefarious outlets.
An insidious theme in the right-wing coverage was that the media reaction to the IPCC report was overblown and that climate change isn’t all that bad
One example of the this-is-overblown narrative comes from discredited political scientist Bjorn Lomborg, who published an op-ed in the New York Post titled “Don’t buy the latest climate-change alarmism.” He accused the media of “hyperventilating” about the report and claimed that, in actuality, climate change isn’t that big of a problem. The August 10 edition of Fox News’ Gutfeld! also used Lomborg’s op-ed to downplay the significance of the IPCC report’s findings.
The Wall Street Journal published several opinions similar to Lomborg’s writing. Its editorial board echoed this same line, writing, “The facts in the new U.N. report aren’t as dire as its advertising.” The aforementioned Gerry Baker wrote that the media is becoming too fixated on climate change (he followed this up with his appearance on Fox News’ America’s Newsroom, where he essentially said that media should be more skeptical of climate reports.) Editorial board member Holman Jenkins Jr. echoed this argument, stating that the report preamble was “unscientific and fatuous” and suggesting that the report isn’t really anything to be alarmed over.
This trend of right-wing media personalities decrying “climate alarmism” is absurd. It ignores the fact that we are truly in a climate crisis, and the message provides cover for powerful polluting interests to continue wrecking the planet.
While the IPCC report found it very unlikely that the extreme warming scenarios will occur (which is good news), in his main takeaway roundup of the report, climate scientist Zeke Hausfather noted, “The bad news is we are much less likely to get lucky and have climate change on the milder side of what we expected.”
The authors of the report were similarly clear in communicating how dire and important the situation is. Ko Barrett, vice chair of the IPCC and a deputy assistant administrator at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, stated, “Unless we make immediate, rapid and large-scale reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, limiting warming to 1.5C will be beyond reach. Each bit of warming will intensify the impacts we are likely to see.” Climate scientist and co-author Kim Cobb similarly noted that “We’re going into uncharted territory.”
Co-author and paleoclimatologist Jessica Tierney stated that “if we cut emissions sooner rather than later we can avoid the worse-case scenarios.” Another co-author, Greg Flato of Environment and Climate Change Canada, stated, “Every additional incremental of warming leads to ... extreme events becoming more severe and more frequent. And these extreme events, like heat waves, extreme precipitation events, droughts—these are the things that really impact society, infrastructure, ecosystems.”
Finally, the report’s own press release states, “Unless there are immediate, rapid and large-scale reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, limiting warming to close to 1.5°C or even 2°C will be beyond reach.”
The report found that the likely range of warming is now between 2.5° Celsius and 4°C, with a best estimate of around 2.7°C of warming. (A study from late 2019 put this number at 3°C.) This level of warming is disastrous and, frankly, unthinkable -- a point echoed by climate scientists like Glen Peters, who said, “A 3C world will have catastrophic impacts for some, the loss of islands, corals, Arctic sea ice, some land glaciers, and not to mention changes in extreme weather. This is a world we want to avoid.”
We’re in a world of worsening extreme weather, including heat waves, wetter wet seasons, increased severity of droughts, melting permafrost, and sea level rise -- all of which are affirmed in the IPCC report. These things will get worse with each incremental degree of warming. Unfortunately, despite lofty climate rhetoric, policymakers and countries around the globe are going back to business as usual, with rising emissions as the world looks to rebound from the pandemic. People have every reason to be alarmed.
The climate crisis is upon us, and right-wing media will try their best to delay climate action
The IPCC report found that it is “unequivocal” that fossil fuel burning is responsible for global warming. Despite right-wing media’s history of climate denial (which still continues to this day), it’s becoming harder and harder for even these outlets to deny global warming. So it makes sense that they would try to ignore the report as much as possible.
By choosing to ignore or downplay the IPCC report and instead harp on Obama’s birthday party and the Green New Deal, right-wing media outlets are showing their hand: They realize that it’s too late to deny the science around climate change or downplay its significance. Their goal now is just to slow the pace of climate action and deflect from discussing the real climate issues by any means possible.