The lie that Texas’ power outages, which have impacted millions of Americans amid a brutal winter storm, were exclusively the result of the state’s reliance on wind energy exploded across right-wing and far-right radio, television, print, and social media outlets this week.
Chris Hayes on the February 16 edition of his MSNBC show, All In, referred to the narrative as a new right-wing conspiracy theory, calling out Fox News’ coverage explicitly and comparing the lie to disinformation about the COVID-19 pandemic and the 2020 election:
CHRIS HAYES (HOST): The people that run the Texas grid: Wind power outages are, quote, “the least significant factor in the blackouts, and the main factors are frozen instruments at natural gas, coal, and even nuclear facilities.” It is just a lie that wind turbines, green energy, are the root causes of the problems in Texas right now. It is a lie like Donald Trump won the election, a lie like there was widespread voter fraud, a lie pumped into millions of people's brains as they watch TV. And let's be clear, this is probably as consequential a lie as any about the election because energy and how we produce it is the single biggest issue this country will face in the medium term.
Hayes' characterization of the lie as the next major conservative conspiracy theory is spot on -- but by focusing on just Fox’s television viewers as recipients of the disinformation, he only scratched the surface of the right-wing media apparatus’ reach and efficacy. If we focus only on the lie itself and not on the forces behind its spread, then we are missing the forest for the trees.
The birth of a new right-wing conspiracy theory
Before it made its debut on Fox News, the frozen wind turbines narrative circulated on right-wing social media in the immediate aftermath of the weekend’s crippling winter storm in Texas. Former Trump economic adviser and pundit Stephen Moore floated the false claim that renewable energy caused Texas’ grid failures was on the Fox Business program Varney & Co. the morning of February 15.
Later that evening, Tucker Carlson falsely claimed on his prime-time show that the state’s inability to keep the lights on was due to its “reckless reliance on windmills” and “Green New Deal policies,” which seemingly supercharged the spread of the false narrative (and kicked off a two-day blitz by the network in which Fox News and Fox Business falsely blamed renewable energy for Texas blackouts 128 times).
By the following morning, the Green New Deal was trending on Twitter -- with a number of right-wing media figures and influencers enlisting to advance the spread of the lie, such as BlazeTV host Elijah Schaffer, far-right Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO), and “alt-right” conspiracy theorist Jack Posobiec.
The conservative Wall Street Journal editorial board published an editorial on February 16 that squarely rested the Texas grid’s failures on green energy and baselessly fearmongered that “the Biden Administration’s plan to banish fossil fuels is a greater existential threat to Americans than climate change.” The piece was then cited repeatedly by Fox programs to support the lie that reliance on wind had left millions without power in Texas and to warn about Democrat’s climate agenda. (This one-two punch is a common tactic for Rupert Murdoch’s two most influential media properties when shilling for the fossil fuel industry: Last month, the Journal’s editorial board chided Biden’s decision to cancel the Keystone XL pipeline just hours after he signed the executive order to do so, while Fox News was already running wall-to-wall misleading coverage about its impact on jobs.)
Major right-wing digital publications, including The Gateway Pundit, Breitbart, The Daily Wire, Townhall, and The Daily Caller, did their part to advance the spread of the lie, pivoting to the conclusion that Texas is a cautionary tale against liberal climate policies, including President Joe Biden’s plan to decarbonize our economy. Townhall and The Daily Wire’s articles on the outages each used Carlson’s February 15 segment as their main source material -- quoting both the Fox host and his guest, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry.
Beyond these right-wing media outlets, the lie also spread rapidly (and took on increasingly inaccurate and perverse mutations) on social media platforms ranging from YouTube, Facebook, and Telegram to far-right platforms like Gab and Patriots.win (a renamed version of a pro-Trump message board that was previously kicked off of Reddit).
DANIEL TURNER (EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, POWER THE FUTURE): There are now 17 dead people -- there are 17 dead people because they are forcing wind and solar ahead of its time. I'm not opposed to them, but the technology is not there. And when you have to have a helicopter blasting antifreeze to unfreeze a wind turbine, it should be telling us something that maybe the wind turbine isn't as reliable as the fossil fuels powering the helicopter blasting the fossil fuel antifreeze.
Notably, Turner’s rant about helicopters attempting to defrost Texas wind turbines was based on an image that ricocheted across right-wing social media, even though it had been identified as a picture from Sweden taken in 2014.
The breadth of conservative media actors that participated in the emergence of this bona fide conspiracy theory and all its perverse mutations exposes the danger of how little daylight there is between right-wing media and their far-right counterparts.
The media that pushed back
Chris Hayes’ segment calling out the right-wing for spreading the new big lie was followed up by his MSNBC colleague Brian Williams on the February 16 edition of 11th Hour, who closed out the show by reporting on a number of abnormal occurrences and weather events across the world, including the storm and resulting power outages in Texas. Williams singled out Lauren Boebert and generally called out the “Trump right” for pushing the lies about the outages on Twitter before providing a good explainer on the true cause of the power woes in the state:
BRIAN WILLIAMS (ANCHOR): Then there's the continued suffering we have been talking about in Texas, no power for 3-4 million people. Great portions of some of America's great cities lying in the cold and dark tonight. Already, Congresswoman Lauren Boebert of Colorado -- the Trump-loving, gun-toting, gun-themed diner-owning, and criminal record-having Republican freshman -- tried on Twitter to blame it on the Green New Deal. But like planes in a Texas ice storm, that won’t fly. Members of the Trump right have tried to blame the failure of the Texas power grid on them liberal wind turbines freezing over, but that won’t fly either. The truth is closer to this: Texas, which provides so much of the energy for so much of our country, set up the power grid with an emphasis not on improvement but on price and privatizing -- meaning everybody got theirs, except for the customers.
Print, digital, and social media figures came out swinging as well. Among them was Earther's “frozen wind turbine” debunk, which went live at noon on February 16. The Texas Tribune was quick to set the record straight for local media consumers by taking aim at state officials who were pushing the false claim, singling out Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-TX), who regularly appears on Fox, and Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, who the publication pointed out is “known for his right-wing Facebook posts that have, in the past, spread misinformation and amplified conspiracy theories." Miller appeared on the February 17 edition of Fox Business Tonight, where he continued to promote the wind energy lie. The Texas Tribune was not alone in aggressively debunking the right-wing media's disinformation campaign. In fact, many Texas newspapers and TV news outlets pitched in to set the record straight on what caused the state's power failure.
On February 17, The Washington Post ran a debunk of the “frozen wind turbine” lie in its morning energy newsletter and specifically noted the role of Fox in making the claim ubiquitous, including in an appearance on Hannity but Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. “Anchors elsewhere on the conservative news network spent much of Tuesday making dubious ties between the outages in Texas and proposals from Democrats for building out renewable energy resources in order to tackle climate change.”
Daily Kos documented the latest right-wing media lie a well, noting that “wind turbines in places as cold and snowy as, oh, Antarctica, have built-in weatherization and heating systems to ensure they can keep spinning in these sorts of conditions” and placing the blame on Texas’ failure to winterize its power infrastructure.
Several media personalities also took to Twitter to call out the big lie, including Bloomberg columnist Tim O’Brien, who directed his debunk at the Fox prime-time host and conservative radio host Joe Walsh also responded directly to Carlson’s February 15 segment.
Despite swift and complete exposure of the frozen “wind mill” lie, it persists
Even after the right-wing media apparatus turns its focus elsewhere -- the damage will be done.
Despite rebuttals, fact checks, and debunks, the false claims that the Texas outages were primarily caused by the state’s reliance on wind energy went from misinformation to conventional wisdom among many in the right-wing media in a very short period of time. For the rest of us, it is the latest example of a right-wing conspiracy theory untouchable by any amount of facts or evidence and ready to deploy against progressive policies. On Twitter, host of The Damage Report and The Young Turks John Iadarola pointed out the reasoning behind these attacks.
And as if to prove that point, Carlson on his February 17 show told Fox viewers that all the journalists and politicians who are refuting the frozen wind turbines claim are lying to protect the Green New Deal and those who “want to turn the entire power grid over to renewable energy sources -- companies that their friends and donors almost always own,” laying the blame on the “same ideologues who caused the disaster.”
It is here that Carlson reveals himself not just a great liar but as a studied propagandist -- accusing the other side of that which he himself is guilty.