MSNBC's Stephanie Ruhle calls out Trump for ignoring climate change and falsely blaming wildfires on forest mismanagement
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But the percentage rose notably after release of a dramatic climate report from the U.N. IPCC
Climate change should have been a topic in every election debate this year. The U.S. was pummeled by extreme weather in 2018, and climate scientists are telling us that climate change is the big reason why. Voters deserved to know what, if anything, candidates propose to do about the problem.
But climate change got short shrift in most key Senate and gubernatorial debates this election season. Out of 78 debates Media Matters analyzed in tightly contested races, only 23 included a moderator or panelist asking a question about climate change -- just 29 percent. (For details, see our scorecard.)
That percentage is up a little from 2016 -- when only 22 percent of debates in key competitive races included a question about climate change -- but it's still far too low.
Yet we did spot a few encouraging trends.
After October 7, when the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued a major report about the urgent need to address the climate crisis, many more moderators and panelists asked about climate change. Only 7 percent of debates (2 of 27) included a climate question before the release of the IPCC report. After the report came out, 43 percent (21 of 49) included a climate question -- a marked improvement. Nearly half of those questions directly referenced the report.
The journalists serving as moderators and panelists clearly recognized the importance of the IPCC's warning and became more attuned to the urgency of the climate crisis. We hope this attention to climate change will carry forward and inform their reporting in the future.
We also found that many voters pushed for climate questions to be included in debates, in red and purple states as well as blue ones. At the first Indiana Senate debate on October 10, moderator Anne Ryder, a senior lecturer at Indiana University's Media School, brought up the topic of climate change and said, "I’ll tell you, we’ve received more questions on this than any other topic." In the next debate in the race, a few weeks later, moderator Amna Nawaz of PBS NewsHour told the candidates that several voters had not been satisfied with the answers they gave previously and asked them to detail specifically what they would do to combat climate change.
In a Colorado gubernatorial debate on October 23, moderator Nic Garcia, a political reporter for The Denver Post, introduced a question about climate change by saying, "When we asked readers and viewers for questions, overwhelmingly this was the No. 1 topic on their mind." And at an Arizona Senate debate and a Wisconsin gubernatorial debate, moderators asked climate questions that had been submitted by members of the public.
Ahead of an October 21 Florida gubernatorial debate, citizen activists announced that they were going to press moderator Jake Tapper of CNN to ask a question about climate change. But Tapper caught wind of their plans and tweeted that there was no need; he already knew that climate change was a notable topic. He then made it the subject of his first question at the debate.
Rep. Jared Polis, Democratic candidate for governor in Colorado, said that voters asked him about climate change more than reporters did. "Climate change and environment are a lot more on the minds of people that I meet, and I've had over 300 meet-and-greets in all parts of the state," he said during an interview on November 1.
When moderators did ask climate questions during debates, the candidates often revealed dramatically different views on the issue -- important information for voters to know.
During the October 16 Texas Senate debate, for example moderator Jason Whitely, a reporter at WFAA-TV in Dallas, asked Republican Sen. Ted Cruz about his history of climate change denial. Cruz responded by saying, “The climate has been changing from the dawn of time. The climate will change as long as we have a planet Earth.” Whitely pushed Cruz to clarify his views on climate change, but Cruz again dodged the question. When his turn came, the Democrat in the race, Rep. Beto O’Rourke, said, “Look, the climate is changing, and man-made climate change is a fact. Three hundred years after the Enlightenment, we should be able to listen to the scientists and follow their advice and guidance. And they tell us that we still have time, but the window is closing to get this right."
At the Arizona Senate debate on October 15, moderator Maria Polletta, a reporter for The Arizona Republic, asked Democratic Rep. Kyrsten Sinema and Republican Rep. Martha McSally about climate change. Sinema responded by explaining that she wants to work on water issues and said, "I firmly believe that as Arizonans, as Americans, we have the resources, we have the tools, we have the skills, and we have the knowledge. We can address issues of climate change together, and do so without harming our business prospects and without harming what makes Arizona so amazing." McSally, in contrast, was scornful of the topic. "I can’t believe this is the last question," she said before changing the subject.
With the 2018 election season coming to a close, we need journalists to further ramp up the focus on climate change. As new governors and members of Congress take their seats, they will have to make critical decisions about a rapidly changing electricity system, transportation networks, agriculture and land-use practices, and ways to make our communities more resilient in the face of disasters. Reporters should ask elected officials how climate change will factor into those decisions. And when the 2020 campaign season gets rolling, journalists and media outlets will have a crucial role to play in making sure that climate change is discussed in races from the local level all the way up to the presidency. As the recent IPCC report warned us, there's no more time to waste.
Only one of 12 editorials mentioned climate change in relation to Proposition 112. In light of the recent U.N. climate report, that’s very worrying
Proposition 112 in Colorado would require new oil and gas wells to be farther away from occupied buildings, which would seriously limit fracking in the state. Media Matters analyzed 12 Colorado newspaper editorials expressing a position on Proposition 112, and only one of them mentioned climate change.
Proposition 112 would require that new oil and gas development projects, including fracking, be at least 2,500 feet away from occupied buildings and "vulnerable areas,” including schools, hospitals, parks, lakes, and rivers. The current minimum setback distance for wells is 500 feet. The initiative would not affect federal lands or Colorado's 55,000 currently active wells.
Colorado Rising, the main advocacy group supporting this initiative, points to a growing body of research showing serious health and safety effects related to fracking, especially when residents live within a half-mile of wells. Protect Colorado, the chief opposition group, contends that the initiative would effectively ban new oil and gas development in the state, costing thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in economic benefits.
Spending on this initiative is incredibly lopsided. Opponents have raised over $31 million, most of it from oil and gas companies including Anadarko, Noble Energy, and PDC Energy. The Koch brothers' network is pitching in too; the Colorado chapter of the Koch-backed group Americans for Prosperity recently formed an issue committee to fight Proposition 112. On the other side, supporters of the initiative have raised only about $1.6 million, with the biggest donor being the Food and Water Watch Action Fund.
Much of the debate around Proposition 112 has involved the health impacts of fracking and the economic influence of the oil and gas industry, but climate change is another critical issue. A scientific study in 2015 found that half of the world's gas reserves and a third of oil reserves need to stay in the ground if we are to prevent the average global temperature from rising 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. More recently, a major report from the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that 2 degrees of warming is too much and humanity would suffer greatly if the average temperature rises more than 1.5 degrees, further underlining the need to keep fossil fuels in the ground.
Media Matters analyzed 12 newspaper editorials that took a position on Proposition 112, including the largest newspapers by circulation in Colorado. Only one of them made note of climate change.
On September 29, Boulder’s Daily Camera published an editorial that placed Proposition 112 into the broader context of the climate crisis:
In the bigger picture, Proposition 112 comes before voters amid ubiquitous signs of a climate change emergency. The last four years saw the hottest January-June periods ever recorded on Earth. Scientists have tied climate change to a greater number of large wildfires in the West and bigger and stronger hurricanes, among other environmental disasters. This week it was reported that the climate change-denying Trump administration itself assumes global temperatures will rise an apocalyptic 7 degrees by 2100. Job losses are always lamentable, but the transition toward green energy sources is a practical and moral imperative, and Proposition 112 would play a role in achieving such progress.
Only two of the 12 editorials endorsed Proposition 112 -- those in the Daily Camera and The Aspen Times. The overwhelming newspaper editorial opposition to Proposition 112 does not reflect recent public polling in the state, which found that 52 percent of Colorado voters supported Proposition 112.
The 10 editorials that opposed Proposition 112 and failed to mention climate change were published in these papers:
Some of these editorials parroted industry talking points. For example, both The Pueblo Chieftain and Steamboat Pilot & Today argued that if Proposition 112 passed, over 147,500 jobs could be lost by 2030, and the state could lose more than $1 billion in tax revenue. These numbers are trumpeted by the opposition campaign and come from a report by the Common Sense Policy Roundtable (CSPR), a right-leaning, free-market think tank whose founders are tied to the oil and gas industry. In 2015, CSPR was found to have been working on behalf of Koch-backed groups and the fracking industry, and selectively editing studies in ways that would help promote fracking in Colorado.
Of the 10 editorials that recommended a "no" vote on Proposition 112, four of them completely neglected to mention the health effects of fracking, which has been the main issue driving the "yes" campaign -- those in the Colorado Springs Gazette, the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel, The Pueblo Chieftain, and The Durango Herald.
Media Matters also reviewed the Canon City Daily Record, the Lakewood Sentinel, the Longmont Times-Call, the Loveland Reporter-Herald, the Telluride Daily Planet, and the Vail Daily, but the editorial boards at these papers do not appear to have taken a position on Proposition 112.
If Proposition 112 is approved, it could have major implications not just for the oil and gas industry in Colorado but around the country, as industry executives are “fearful that it could encourage similar measures across the nation,” The New York Times recently reported. Ballot measures in Arizona, Nevada, Washington, and other states could have serious repercussions for fossil fuel companies and greenhouse gas emissions as well.
In light of the recent U.N climate report and worsening weather disasters around the U.S., it’s worrying that an overwhelming majority of Colorado newspapers ignored climate change as they weighed in on an energy-related ballot initiative. They appear to have decided that short-term economic gains and industry support are more important than the long-term health of both Coloradans and the planet.
The No on 1631 campaign is running 71 different ads on Facebook and blanketing the airwaves with TV commercials
Washington could become the first state in the nation to place a fee on carbon emissions from polluters. Voters will decide next week on Initiative 1631, a ballot measure that would have the state collect money from the biggest emitters of carbon dioxide and use it to fund a variety of environmental and clean energy programs. In response, major oil companies and industry-funded think tanks have launched a multi-million-dollar campaign to blanket the internet and airwaves with distortions and misinformation intended to erode support for I-1631.
After a carbon tax bill failed to pass the state legislature earlier this year, the Alliance for Jobs and Clean Energy assembled possibly one of the broadest and most diverse coalitions ever to get a carbon fee on the November ballot, including more than 200 clean energy and environmental groups, labor unions, community-of-color groups, tribal nations, and others. The diversity of this coalition is no veneer. Unlike previous attempts to pass a carbon price in Washington, I-1631 was developed around the principles of environmental justice, community health, and public oversight, and grassroots organizing was pivotal to getting it on the ballot.
The coalition’s initiative would impose a carbon fee on major polluters that would start at $15 per metric ton in 2020 and gradually increase over time. The fees collected, which are projected to amount to $1 billion in the first year and $2.3 billion over five years, would be used to implement clean energy and efficiency projects, assist low-income communities’ transition to a clean energy economy, reduce carbon emissions in the transportation sector, and increase awareness of climate change and its impacts, among other programs.
Despite the failure of carbon tax Initiative 732 in November 2016, a poll taken after its defeat found that 67 percent of voters supported I-732 or “a better measure” to address climate change. As support for a new and improved ballot initiative began coalescing this spring, the oil industry was watching -- secure in having stopped federal action on carbon pricing, but afraid of the domino effect if states like Washington start implementing their own climate policies.
The industry-backed campaign to stop I-1631 commenced modestly at first, with the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA) forming the No on 1631 political action committee (PAC) in April. WSPA is a trade association that works on behalf of some of the world’s largest oil and gas companies. The No on 1631 PAC initially received five-figure donations from BP, Chevron, Phillips 66, Shell, Andeavor, and U.S. Oil & Refining Company. Then far greater sums poured in throughout the summer and fall. As of November 2, No on 1631 had received more than $31.5 million, almost all of which came from out-of-state oil companies. The PAC’s top 10 funders are:
The competing PAC that is supporting I-1631 has only raised about half as much -- $15.6 million -- and its money has come from a wider variety of sources, including environmental groups and individuals in Washington state, like Bill Gates, as well as from out of state, like Michael Bloomberg.
The unprecedented tens of millions of dollars Big Oil has poured into the "no" campaign have allowed it to blanket social media and local television airwaves with anti-1631 propaganda.
Over just the two-week period from October 16 to October 29, the No on 1631 PAC spent more than $1.1 million on digital advertising. Most of this money seems to have been gone to Facebook advertising. As of November 1, No on 1631 was running 71 Facebook ads, which have garnered millions of impressions. Most of the ads feature the No on 1631 logo with a single, misleading talking point and a link to the PAC’s website. To implement its online media strategy, No on 1631 retained the agency BASK Digital Media, which has worked for a number of other conservative groups and campaigns this year, and marketing and advertising firm Target Enterprises, which has also done millions of dollars of work for Republican candidates and conservative groups this election cycle.
No on 1631 is spending big on TV ads too. During the two-week period from October 16 to October 29, it paid Target Enterprises about $6.2 million for broadcast and cable/satellite advertising. Its ads have run on at least 20 television stations throughout the state. And it has spent $2.1 million on direct mail during the same period.
The No on 1631 PAC has also run a letter-to-the-editor campaign and helped place anti-1631 op-eds in newspapers across the state. Some anti-1631 op-eds have been written by Todd Myers, a longtime industry shill who is currently the director of the Center for the Environment at the Washington Policy Center, a Koch-funded conservative group. As one of the most vocal opponents of I-1631, Myers has given multiple media interviews, been cited in other anti-1631 pieces, and debated environmental advocates over the initiative.
A number of other right-wing groups, some of them funded by or linked to the Koch brothers' network, are also fighting against the initiative, either as part of the main "no" campaign or independently, including the Association of Washington Business and the National Federation of Independent Business.
Hundreds of thousands or even millions of people may have viewed the "no" campaign's TV and Facebook ads, which range from disingenuous to outright dishonest. Many of the talking points in these ads come from a Washington Policy Center report that has also been promoted by the Association of Washington Business and other groups opposed to I-1631.
One such ad features small-business owner Sabrina Jones, who tells viewers that I-1631 “exempts many of the state’s largest polluters.” A fact check by KING 5 News found the ad failed to mention that the TransAlta coal plant, the primary exempted facility, is already scheduled to close permanently in 2025, thanks to a deal previously reached with the state government. As The Atlantic reported, additional regulation of the plant would delay its closure date.
In No on 1631’s most-aired commercial, former state Attorney General Rob McKenna blasts the initiative while failing to disclose that his law firm represents Chevron, a major funder of the "no" campaign. McKenna misleads viewers about I-1631’s expected impacts on residents, citing a state government report that projects $2.3 billion in fees will be collected from polluters over five years and misrepresenting that figure as meaning Washington residents will pay $2.3 billion in higher costs -- a vastly overstated claim, even if polluters try to pass along all of their costs to the public.
Most recently, the No on 1631 campaign has been aiming disinformation directly at the Latino community. According to Seattle alt-weekly The Stranger, “No on 1631 sent out a mailed advertisement to Spanish speakers across Washington state. It contained a list of Latino businesses who were opposed to the carbon fee, who were in favor of No on 1631. Most of those businesses had no idea their names were on that list.” Some of those businesses expressed anger after finding out about the mailer, according to an environmental justice activist.
The oil industry's donations and the "no" media campaign have both ramped up in recent weeks, likely spurred at least in part by an early October poll that found 50 percent of voters supported I-1631, while 36 percent opposed it and 14 percent were undecided. Big Oil is desperate to stop Washington from becoming an example of successful, grassroots climate action.
The Daily Caller and Wash. Free Beacon push industry talking points on Proposition 127, which would require 50 percent renewable energy in Arizona by 2030
National right-wing media outlets The Daily Caller and Washington Free Beacon have together published two dozen articles criticizing Proposition 127, a clean energy ballot initiative in Arizona. Most of the pieces condemn the chief funder of the "yes" campaign, Tom Steyer, while failing to even mention the chief funder of the "no" campaign, the electric utility company Pinnacle West. Key figures in the opposition campaign have promoted the Daily Caller and Free Beacon articles on social media.
The proposed constitutional amendment would mandate that electric utilities in Arizona generate 50 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2030. Nuclear power would not count toward the target, nor would hydropower generated from facilities built before 1997. The 50 percent target would be a sizeable increase over Arizona’s current renewable portfolio standard, which requires 15 percent of electricity to come from renewables by 2025.
The utility industry has spent heavily to try to defeat Proposition 127. Arizonans for Affordable Electricity is the main PAC opposing the initiative -- and all of its funding comes from Pinnacle West, the parent company of Arizona Public Service (APS), the largest electric utility in Arizona. Pinnacle West has steered more than $30 million to the PAC. Other utility interests are fighting the initiative too. The parent company of Tucson Electric Power has spent $50,000 on its own effort to oppose Proposition 127, and rural electric cooperatives have spent $417,000 on their own campaign.
The PAC promoting Proposition 127, Clean Energy for a Healthy Arizona, has raised less money, but still a substantial amount: $23.6 million. Nearly all of that has come from NextGen Climate Action, a PAC founded and supported by billionaire activist Tom Steyer. The League of Conservation Voters and Sierra Club have contributed some money as well.
The fight over Proposition 127 has now become the most expensive ballot initiative battle in state history.
Proposition 127 has generated a fair deal of media coverage at the national level. Both Bloomberg and The New Yorker recently reported in-depth on the ballot initiative fight, and The Atlantic included Proposition 127 in an article about out-of-state billionaires spending to support ballot initiatives.
However, most of the national media attention has been coming from The Daily Caller and the Washington Free Beacon -- right-wing outlets based in Washington, D.C. They have produced a steady stream of articles that are highly critical of the initiative, and often leave out key details regarding the funding and tactics of Arizonans for Affordable Electricity.
Since March, these outlets have produced a combined 24 articles that criticized the ballot initiative -- 15 by The Daily Caller, nine by the Washington Free Beacon. Twenty-three of them made reference to Steyer in their headlines, and the only one that didn't still named Steyer in its first paragraph. But while the articles foregrounded the primary funder of the "yes" campaign, nearly all of them failed to mention that the main PAC behind the "no" campaign is being funded entirely by the parent company of APS. For example, a Daily Caller article from July was headlined “Tom Steyer One Step Closer to Dictating Arizona's Energy Industry.” It included a lengthy quote from Matthew Benson, spokesman for Arizonans for Affordable Electricity, but the story made no mention of the PAC's funding sources, and it failed to mention APS’ own near complete control of Arizona’s energy industry.
Another problematic example was a March 21 article in the Washington Free Beacon that carried the headline “Some Arizona Democrats Rebel Against Tom Steyer-Led Renewable Push.” The article pulled quotes from an Arizona Republic op-ed co-authored by Democratic state Sen. Robert Meza that urged voters to reject the ballot initiative. But the article failed to note that Pinnacle West has donated thousands of dollars to Meza over the course of his career, which makes the company Meza’s biggest donor, according to the watchdog group Energy and Policy Institute. Also, according to the institute, “Meza has received thousands of dollars in personal income for work he’s done for a number of groups that also receive major funding from APS.”
Additionally, many of the articles painted Steyer as a carpetbagger from California aiming to interfere in Arizona’s affairs, but they failed to note that dozens of Arizona-based groups have endorsed Proposition 127.
The campaign opposing the ballot initiative has seized on the articles in The Daily Caller and Washington Free Beacon and amplified them via social media. The official Twitter account of Arizonans for Affordable Energy sent at least three tweets that linked to articles in these outlets. A member of APS’ government affairs team tweeted out two of the articles -- one about Proposition 127, and another about a similar Steyer-backed initiative in Michigan. Vince Leach, a Republican state representative in Arizona, tweeted a Daily Caller article about how the initiative campaign is bankrolled by Steyer. Earlier this year, Leach worked with APS to draft a bill that would nullify the effects of the ballot initiative should it pass; the bill was signed into law in March. Leach has also received campaign contributions from APS as well as from Veridus, a PR and lobbying firm that is leading APS’ campaign against Proposition 127.
The Daily Caller and Washington Free Beacon are not the only right-leaning national media outlets opposed to the renewable energy ballot initiative. On October 19, the notoriously conservative Wall Street Journal editorial board came out against the initiative. Its editorial cited research claiming that Proposition 127 would kill jobs and cut billions of dollars off of Arizona’s GDP over the coming decades. The editorial did not, however, note that the research it cited was financed entirely by APS. The research was also based on the assumption that Palo Verde, the nation’s largest nuclear plant, would be forced to close down should the initiative pass. But other research found that Palo Verde could be expected to remain open, and a former Republican head of Arizona's energy regulatory agency called the idea that Proposition 127 would force Palo Verde to close “utterly ridiculous and perhaps the greatest of all the lies that A.P.S. has told during this process.”
The Washington Examiner, another conservative news publication based in Washington, D.C., also published an op-ed in September opposing the initiative. And the Heartland Institute, a fossil-fuel-funded climate-denial group, ran an anti-Proposition 127 blog post in September.
A recent report by the Arizona Advocacy Network, a progressive organization that works on civic engagement and clean elections, outlined ways that APS and its parent company have used their massive financial power to sway legislators and regulators. "As of July 2018 Pinnacle West’s PAC donated $860,000 (2018 election cycle) to legislators and groups that are fighting clean energy in Arizona," the report notes. And in 2014 and 2016, Pinnacle West spent $7 million to elect friendly candidates to the Arizona Corporation Commission, which regulates utilities. APS is also reported to influence campaigns through the spending of dark money, which it doesn't have to report publicly.
Proposition 127 is currently trailing in polls, so APS may get what it wants yet again. According to a poll conducted by Suffolk University in early October, nearly 47 percent of voters said they would vote no on Proposition 127, while less than 34 percent would vote yes. About one-fifth of voters were undecided.
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Segment cites Media Matters research on failure of ABC and NBC to discuss how climate change worsens hurricanes and heat waves
"Climate change can seem like a really distant or theoretical problem," Media Matters Climate and Energy Program Director Lisa Hymas explained on the October 21 episode of Al Jazeera's The Listening Post. "But when there's extreme weather, that's a real opportunity for the media to talk about climate change and how it affects extreme weather and exacerbates extreme weather."
The segment cited Media Matters research showing that U.S. media outlets frequently miss opportunities to explain how climate change worsens weather disasters. A 2017 study found that ABC and NBC both completely failed to mention climate change during their coverage of record-breaking Hurricane Harvey. And a 2018 study found that while ABC, CBS, and NBC aired 127 segments on a summer heat wave that swept across the U.S., only one of those segments noted that climate change is a driver of extreme heat.
In the Listening Post piece, Hymas also explained that media outlets often blame climate change on individuals when in fact much planet-warming pollution can be attributed to a few fossil fuel companies. She cited a 2017 Carbon Majors Report that found that just 100 companies are responsible for 71 percent of the industrial greenhouse gases that have been emitted since 1988.
LISA HYMAS: The media too often talk about how we are responsible for climate change. But the fact is, a report last year found that 100 corporations are responsible for about 71 percent of the greenhouse gases that have been emitted since 1988. So this is not just a problem of me, or a problem of you. There are companies -- oil companies, natural gas companies, coal companies -- who have waged disinformation campaigns. They have tried to downplay and distort the science. They have got politicians in their pockets. So this is not something that should be blamed on individuals or voters or consumers. We need journalists to be looking at the bigger picture. We don't just need companies to be slightly greening up their supply chains or using a little bit more renewable energy. We need to completely overhaul and remake our energy system, our industrial systems. We need massive change to these systems.
Here is the full October 21 Listening Post segment:
MEENAKSHI RAVI (LISTENING POST EXECUTIVE PRODUCER): That climate change isn't the most covered ongoing news story in the world is a reflection of just how many times the opportunity is missed. In the U.S. alone, freak weather incidents over the past few years would have justified it being in the headlines every day. However, the link between climate change and weather incidents that are increasing in intensity and frequency is often never made.
A 2017 study by the D.C.-based Media Matters group into the coverage of Hurricane Harvey found that over a span of two crucial weeks, two main [broadcast] news outlets, ABC and NBC, didn't air a single segment mentioning climate change and its link to such weather events. This study isn't the only one of its kind by Media Matters. In July this year, it found the coverage of the heat wave across the United States followed a similar pattern.
HYMAS: We looked at reporting on the three big TV broadcast networks and found that those programs mentioned the heat wave 127 times and only one of those mentioned climate change.
This is a real problem and a missed opportunity. Climate change can seem like a really distant or theoretical problem. But when there's extreme weather, that's a real opportunity for the media to talk about climate change and how it affects extreme weather and exacerbates extreme weather.
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