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A version of this post was originally published on Grist.
Right-wingers' efforts to derail media coverage of the National Climate Assessment backfired not once but twice.
First, the Trump administration tried to bury the National Climate Assessment by releasing it on Black Friday, but that tactic bombed. It turns out that "Trump tries to bury a new climate report" is a much sexier headline than "Scientists release a new climate report."
Then, climate deniers fanned out on TV networks to spread lies and deceptive talking about the report, but they got far more criticism than they expected, and that criticism kept climate change in the news.
Overall the report got loads of media coverage in the days after it was released. The quality was decidedly mixed -- some of it was good, some of it was awful -- but the good coverage appears to have outweighed the bad.
At least 140 newspapers around the country featured the National Climate Assessment on their front pages the morning after it was released, according to the Columbia Journalism Review. That included not just The New York Times and The Washington Post, which have strong teams of climate reporters, but also smaller papers all around the U.S., including 20 of them in California. A number of the papers highlighted the ways that climate change is hitting their regions, like the Portland Press Herald in Maine:
If the release of the climate change report really was timed to bury the news, it backfired badly. It’s on the front page everywhere today. We stripped it across A1 with a second story about Northeast/Gulf of Maine impact. Because this is the most important issue of our time. pic.twitter.com/hZELULzawR
— Steve Greenlee (@SteveGreenlee) November 24, 2018
MSNBC aired some strong segments. In one, host Ali Velshi mocked President Donald Trump's claim that his “gut” told him the report is wrong. He then interviewed climate scientist Brenda Ekwurzel of the Union of Concerned Scientists, a co-author of the assessment, who explained the report's findings and how scientists arrived at them.
CNN served up some highly problematic coverage -- more on that below -- but it also did some good interviews with climate scientists about the report, as well as three senators who are serious about addressing the climate crisis. And CNN took a novel approach to real-time fact-checking when White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders lied about the report during a press briefing. The network showed live video of Sanders, but paired it alongside a text bar labeled "Facts First" that corrected some of her false claims:
CNN is airing the briefing -- but this "facts first" side panel seems like a new idea pic.twitter.com/xzZOIbFTFQ
— Lis Power (@LisPower1) November 27, 2018
All of the Sunday morning political talk shows discussed the report on the weekend after it was released. It was the first time in 2018 that every one of them addressed climate change on the same day. They rarely cover climate change at all.
Unfortunately, we would have been better off without some of that Sunday show coverage -- particularly the segments that gave airtime to rabid climate deniers. One of the worst ran on NBC's Meet the Press and featured Danielle Pletka of the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank supported by the Koch brothers. She trotted out a favorite climate denier line -- "I'm not a scientist" -- and then proceeded to spout pure nonsense about how the globe is getting cooler.
Right-wing panelist on Meet the Press on climate change: "I'm not a scientist ... We need to also recognize we had two of the coldest years, biggest drop in global temperatures that we have had since the 1980s, the biggest in the last 100 years. We don't talk about that." pic.twitter.com/OLPUZOpoKR
— John Whitehouse (@existentialfish) November 25, 2018
Egregious drivel about climate change also cropped up on CNN's State of the Union, which asked not one but two climate deniers to weigh in on the report. Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) offered bland, lukewarm climate denial: "Our climate always changes and we see those ebb-and-flows through time." Former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) one-upped Ernst by going all in for scalding-hot climate denial, praising the Trump team’s attempt to bury the report and claiming that the scientists who wrote it were “driven by the money":
CNN's Rick Santorum praises Trump administration trying to bury report on climate change: "A lot of these scientists are driven by the money" pic.twitter.com/ndwpkQHUxH
— Media Matters (@mmfa) November 25, 2018
Santorum was roundly mocked on Twitter for making such a completely bogus claim. You might have thought that this would discourage other climate deniers from following suit, or at least discourage CNN from giving them a platform. You would have been wrong.
The following Monday, CNN hosted two more right-wingers who made the same ridiculous claim that climate scientists were in it for the money: Tom DeLay, who resigned as Republican House majority leader in 2005 after being convicted of money laundering and conspiracy, and Stephen Moore, a Trump-loving “economist” who's worked for Koch-funded groups.
The next day, on Tuesday morning, CNN seemed like it might be trying to redeem itself. It ran one segment in which CNN political analyst John Avlon fact-checked and thoroughly debunked the claim that scientists are getting rich by studying climate change, and another in which climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe explained that she and the other co-authors of the National Climate Assessment were paid "zero dollars" for their efforts.
But a few hours later, the bonkers claims were back. CNN yet again invited both Santorum and Moore to repeat the warmed-over lie that scientists are driven by a multi-billion-dollar climate change industry that has manufactured a false crisis. Santorum presented this ludicrous falsehood and many others in a panel discussion on Anderson Cooper 360°. Cooper had interviewed Hayhoe for that same episode, but her interview got bumped and was only posted online, while the segment with Santorum’s false claims aired during prime time.
Oh, and CNN also failed to note that Santorum, Moore, and DeLay have all received copious amounts of cash themselves from the fossil fuel industry.
Other media outlets bashed CNN and NBC for featuring climate deniers, and that led to still more coverage of climate change and the National Climate Assessment, most of which was good.
The New York Times published a fact-checking piece titled, "The Baseless Claim That Climate Scientists Are ‘Driven’ by Money," which cited and debunked statements made by Santorum and DeLay. PunditFact, a project of the fact-checking site PolitiFact, looked into Pletka's claims and labeled them "false."
New York Times media columnist Jim Rutenberg published a story titled "News Networks Fall Short on Climate Story as Dolphins Die on the Beach," which highlighted the false claims made by Pletka and Santorum and put them in the context of climate change impacts in Florida. The Washington Post's media columnist Margaret Sullivan tweeted out Rutenberg's story.
Climate scientist Hayhoe published an op-ed in The Washington Post that debunked the myths propagated on CNN by Santorum and DeLay, among others.
WNYC's On the Media hosted yours truly in a discussion about coverage of the National Climate Assessment, including the problem of featuring climate deniers on air.
Politico's Morning Media daily newsletter, written by media reporter Michael Calderone, highlighted problems with press coverage of the National Climate Assessment on four different occasions after the report came out.
ABC News political analyst Matthew Dowd was just one of many influential media figures who tweeted their disapproval of segments that featured climate deniers:
— Matthew Dowd (@matthewjdowd) November 25, 2018
The fact that some members of the media screwed up their coverage so royally meant that other members of the media kept reporting on the story longer than they might have otherwise.
Meanwhile, the folks over at Trump's favorite network were living in their own universe, as usual. Fox News gave the National Climate Assessment very little airtime. A few straight-news segments covered it, but the most popular Fox shows didn't. CNN media correspondent Brian Stelter pointed out that on the day of the report's release, Fox spent more time discussing the shoes of Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) than it did discussing climate change.
— Brian Stelter (@brianstelter) November 25, 2018
Considering what Fox's top personalities would have been likely to say about the report had they bothered to cover it, it's probably just as well that they stayed mum.
Lisa Hymas, director of Media Matters' climate and energy program, went on On the Media to discuss coverage of the National Climate Assessment -- the good coverage as well as the problems that cropped up on the Sunday morning political talk shows and CNN.
From the November 30 edition of WNYC's On the Media:
BROOKE GLADSTONE (HOST): So the National Climate Assessment dropped on Black Friday.
LISA HYMAS: It looked like a pathetically blatant attempt by the Trump administration to keep it out of the public eye. But it didn't work.
A lot of the print media did better than TV. The New York Times and The Washington Post, they have really strong climate teams; they did great coverage. But you saw it in smaller papers all around the country. The Columbia Journalism Review found that at least 140 newspapers around the country put it on their front pages. That includes places like The Chicago Tribune and the Miami Herald, 20 different papers in California. And many of those papers also looked at the local impacts. The Portland Press Herald in Maine, they had a big story about the national implications, but they also, on their print front page, had a big story about the impacts in New England, specifically.
But I think TV was a mixed bag: Sometimes the coverage was good, and sometimes it was not. And in cases where the coverage is poor, we probably would have been better off without it.
GLADSTONE: You said that Sunday was the first time this year that the five major Sunday shows discussed climate change on the same day. We're talking about ABC's This Week, CBS' Face the Nation, CNN's State of the Union, Fox News Sunday, and NBC's Meet the Press -- they all had segments. The most talked-about one on Sunday was probably on Meet the Press.
HYMAS: Yes. NBC's Meet the Press featured Danielle Pletka of the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank that's supported by the Koch brothers. She used a favorite climate denier line ...
[BEGIN AUDIO CLIP]
DANIELLE PLETKA (SENIOR VICE PRESIDENT, AMERICAN ENTERPRISE INSTITUTE): I'm not a scientist. I look at this as a citizen, and I see it, so I understand it. On the other hand, we need to also recognize that we just had two of the coldest years, biggest drop in global temperatures, that we've had since the 1980s, the biggest in the last 100 years. We don't talk about that because it's not part of the agenda.
[END AUDIO CLIP]
HYMAS: No. Climate scientists have been very clear that the global climate has consistently been warming, and the hottest years have been the most recent ones.
GLADSTONE: Yeah. NOAA said that 2015, ’16, and ’17 were the warmest on record, but 2017 was only the third-warmest.
HYMAS: I don't really find that comforting. You know, if you're not a scientist, you ought to listen to scientists. To say, "I'm not a scientist, but I don't believe this," that's nonsense.
I mean, one thing that was frustrating about this last episode of Meet the Press: Host Chuck Todd later in the same show interviewed Tom Steyer, who got his start as an activist by focusing on climate change, and Todd didn't ask him anything about the report. The focus was just on the 2020 presidential race.
GLADSTONE: Let's look at how Fox News handled the report on the day it was released. Here's CNN's Brian Stelter with a recap.
[BEGIN AUDIO CLIP]
BRIAN STELTER (CNN MEDIA CORRESPONDENT): The network actually spent more time talking about Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's shoes on Friday. Now to be fair, the networks' newscasts did air several segments about climate change, about the crisis, on Saturday. But on the president's favorite talk shows, nada, not a word.
[END AUDIO CLIP]
GLADSTONE: Meanwhile, Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace also did not invite a climate scientist on to discuss the report. He spoke with Republican Senator of Nebraska Ben Sasse, who dodged the topic of climate action and spoke vaguely about the need for innovation.
[BEGIN AUDIO CLIP]
SASSE: Because you can't legislate or regulate your way into the past. We have to innovate our way into the future. And right now you don't hear a lot of the people who put climate as their No. 1 issue, you don't hear a lot of them offering constructive, innovative solutions for the future. It's usually just a lot of alarmism.
[END AUDIO CLIP]
HYMAS: You know, notably, Fox's big-name personalities didn't dig in on the report at all. They just stayed focused on their pet issues. So you had Sean Hannity, this past week, ranting about Hillary Clinton's supposed scandals and crimes. I mean, he's still doing that more than two years after she lost the presidential election. And you had Lou Dobbs scaremongering about the migrant caravan. And the Russia investigation is a witch hunt -- that got a lot of coverage this past week, but the climate report didn't.
GLADSTONE: Margaret Brennan of CBS' Face the Nation did speak to a scientist about the report, NASA's Steven Clarke, but that exchange was very brief, and it was buried in a segment that was almost entirely about NASA's Mars probe.
HYMAS: Yes. So, on the one hand, I was glad to see that Face the Nation actually asked a scientist about the climate report. We track how often the Sunday shows incorporate or talk to scientists when they're discussing climate change, and it's been almost three years since any Sunday show has asked a scientist about climate change.
GLADSTONE: What? Seriously?
HYMAS: Yes, the last time was in December of 2015. It was also on Face the Nation.
GLADSTONE: So many opportunities. So many national conferences, so many elections, so many extreme weather incidents, and nothing?
HYMAS: There are climate scientists who are really good public speakers and who do a really great job of explaining the science in terms that normal people can understand, but they don't get the airtime.
GLADSTONE: I think the winner of the week's booby prize, though, would probably be CNN.
HYMAS: I think that's true. Rick Santorum was on CNN claiming that scientists are in it for the money.
RICK SANTORUM (FORMER SENATOR): If there was no climate change, we'd have a lot of scientists looking for work. The reality is that a lot of these scientists are driven by the money that they receive ...
[END AUDIO CLIP]
HYMAS: The next day, we saw Tom DeLay, the former House majority leader.
TOM DELAY (FORMER REPRESENTATIVE): The report is nothing more than a rehash of age-old, 10- to 20-year assumptions made by scientists that get paid to further the politics of global warming.
[END AUDIO CLIP]
HYMAS: He's the disgraced former House majority leader who had to resign after he was convicted of money laundering and conspiracy. Why is this guy qualified to discuss a scientific report about climate change? We saw Stephen Moore, a Trump-loving economist, making the same ridiculous claim on CNN.
[BEGIN AUDIO CLIP]
STEPHEN MOORE: Billions and billions and billions of dollars at stake. A lot of people are getting really, really, really rich off the climate change issue.
[END AUDIO CLIP]
HYMAS: Then on Tuesday morning, John Avlon did a good segment on CNN where he completely debunked this notion that there's a big climate-industrial complex and that scientists are just doing it to get rich.
[BEGIN AUDIO CLIP]
JOHN AVLON (CNN POLITICAL ANALYST): Now, that talking point you're hearing is a classic bit of distraction and deflection. In fact, one of the scientists who worked on the climate change report, Katharine Hayhoe, confirms that she and her colleagues were paid, quote, “zero dollars” for their work and could easily make 10 times their salaries by working for something like Big Oil.
[END AUDIO CLIP]
HYMAS: But, later that same day on Tuesday, just hours after Avlon's fact-checking segment ran, CNN again had on Stephen Moore to make that same claim. And what was so frustrating about CNN having these climate deniers on to make ridiculous claims is they didn't disclose the fact that Rick Santorum and Tom Delay, when they were in Congress, they got more than $700,000 each from the oil and gas industry in campaign contributions. Stephen Moore works for a number of groups that are funded by the Koch brothers. Last month, Stephen Moore gave a speech to the Oklahoma Oil and Gas Association. These things were not disclosed, but those men were allowed to accuse scientists of being in it for the money.
GLADSTONE: Why does CNN pay people like Rick Santorum to lie to the public it's supposed to be serving?
HYMAS: I will never understand why CNN pays Rick Santorum.
Cable TV likes to have conflict, and they like to have sparks fly. But there’s much better ways you can do it, even if you do want the conflict. I mean, it's absurd, in 2018, for a discussion about climate change to include someone who contends that we're actually in a period of global cooling. Get people who all recognize the challenge of climate change but propose different responses and solutions to it. There are plenty of conservatives who propose carbon taxes. Let's see them discuss and debate people who are proposing a highly progressive Green New Deal, or a carbon-fee-and-dividend approach. There's a lot to debate. It just doesn't have to be a denier against someone who accepts the reality of climate change.
Bernie Sanders thinks there's a problem with TV news coverage of climate change. “This is an issue of huge consequence and you would think that ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox would be talking about this every day, having the debate, ‘What do we do? Where do we go?’” he recently told HuffPost. “Clearly you aren’t seeing that debate.”
Bernie Sanders is right.
The Vermont senator and former presidential candidate is expected to highlight the media's shortcomings during a national town hall on climate change solutions that will be live-streamed on December 3 at 7 p.m. ET. As HuffPost's Alexander Kaufman explained in an article about the town hall, Sanders may "challenge TV networks to cover a rapidly worsening crisis they’ve long ignored."
Ignore it they have. Media Matters closely tracks TV coverage of climate change and consistently finds it lacking, both in quantity and in quality. Check out some of our findings from this year:
In 2014, Sanders joined eight other senators in sending a letter to the heads of ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox that called for more attention to climate change:
We are writing to express our deep concern about the lack of attention to climate change on such Sunday news shows as ABC's “This Week,” NBC's “Meet the Press,” CBS's “Face the Nation,” and “Fox News Sunday.”
The letter cited a Media Matters study that found the Sunday morning shows devoted a total of just 27 minutes to climate change coverage in 2013. Sanders explained why increasing the coverage is critical: “Sunday news shows are obviously important because they talk to millions of people, but they go beyond that by helping to define what the establishment considers to be important and what is often discussed during the rest of the week.”
When he was running for president in 2016, Sanders made a number of appearances on Sunday shows, and he brought up the topic of climate change much more often than the shows' hosts did.
Sanders' climate town hall will be live-streamed on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, and it's being co-presented by a number of independent, progressive media outlets including The Young Turks, The Intercept, and The Nation. Will any major TV networks cover it?
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Does Ryan Zinke favor the Fox News show for the same reason?
Former Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt had a cozy relationship with Fox News and with President Donald Trump's favorite show on the network, Fox & Friends, as Media Matters documented over the last year. Now, thanks to The Daily Beast, we learn that the relationship was even cozier than we thought.
In a November 27 article, Daily Beast reporter Maxwell Tani broke the news that Pruitt and his team got to choose the topics that would be addressed during his appearances on Fox & Friends, were fed questions in advance, and, in at least one instance, got to approve part of the show's script.
Now it makes all the more sense that Pruitt heavily favored Fox News over other networks. A Media Matters analysis of his first year in office found that he appeared on Fox more than twice as often as he appeared on other major cable and broadcast networks combined.
And Pruitt appeared on Fox & Friends more than on any other Fox show:
“In multiple interviews on Fox & Friends, Pruitt was essentially allowed to dictate the terms for the interview and avoid any difficult questions,” The Daily Beast reported. For example, Fox producers and Pruitt's team had extensive back-and-forth ahead of a May 2017 interview. When the interview happened, instead of asking Pruitt tough questions about his many scandals or his controversial rollbacks of environmental protections, the hosts queued him up to spout propaganda about his work on the Superfund toxic-waste cleanup program:
Other members of Trump's cabinet and White House share his affinity for Fox News, including Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, another key figure executing Trump's agenda of dismantling environmental protections. Zinke has actually favored Fox News more heavily than Pruitt did, especially after news reports began coming out about Zinke's own ethical scandals.
Zinke also prefers Fox & Friends, having appeared on it three times more often than any other Fox program during his first 13 months in office:
Politico reported earlier this month that Zinke has even been trying to get himself a gig on Fox News.
If Fox & Friends fed Pruitt questions in advance and let him set the terms for his interviews, the show's producers could be doing the same for other Trump appointees and surrogates. Fox News told The Daily Beast, “This is not standard practice whatsoever and the matter is being addressed internally with those involved.” And Fox later said that it was disciplining employees over the incidents, but the network would not say who was being disciplined or what that discipline involved, The Associated Press reported.
As Media Matters' John Whitehouse points out, “there is absolutely no reason to trust any internal investigation or disciplinary process at Fox News.” Past instances of journalistic malpractice at Fox have gone unpunished, and questionable practices have gone unchanged.
It's not true that scientists do climate research to get rich, and CNN knows it
This post was updated on November 28.
CNN has let at least three commentators argue this week that scientists are warning the public about climate change because they're getting rich by doing so -- a ridiculous and patently false claim. CNN knows it's ridiculous and false because the network ran a fact-checking segment debunking the claim and interviewed a climate scientist who explained why it's wrong. But even that didn't stop the network from continuing to spread the lie.
To make matters worse, the three people who made this lie on CNN -- former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA), former Rep. Tom DeLay (R-TX), and Trump-boosting economist Stephen Moore -- have themselves been the beneficiaries of fossil fuel money, but CNN failed to disclose that information.
Following the release of the National Climate Assessment, a major government report about the dangers that climate change poses to the U.S., CNN contributor Santorum came on State of the Union on Sunday morning to discuss it. Among other idiotic things, he said:
I think the point that Donald Trump makes is true, which is -- look, if there was no climate change, we'd have a lot of scientists looking for work. The reality is that a lot of these scientists are driven by the money that they receive, and of course they don't receive money from corporations and Exxon and the like. Why? Because they're not allowed to because it's tainted. But they can receive it from people who support their agenda, and that, I believe, is what's really going on here.
Santorum's comments about climate scientists doing it for the money were widely mocked on Twitter. But that didn't stop other conservative commentators from repeating the bogus claim during CNN appearances.
The report is nothing more than a rehash of age-old 10- to 20-year assumptions made by scientists that get paid to further the politics of global warming.
We have created a climate change industrial complex in this country, with billions and billions and billions of dollars at stake. A lot of people are getting really, really, really rich off the climate change issue.
On Tuesday morning, CNN's John Avlon played clips of what Santorum and DeLay said and then proceeded to debunk their claims in a "Reality Check" segment:
JOHN AVLON (POLITICAL ANALYST): Now that talking point you're hearing is a classic bit of distraction and deflection designed to muddy the waters just enough to confuse the clear consensus. In fact, one of the scientists who worked on the climate change report, Katharine Hayhoe, confirms that she and her colleagues were paid, quote, “zero dollars” for their work and could easily make ten times their salaries by working for something like Big Oil. So it turns out that this idea that climate change scientists are rolling in the dough Scrooge McDuck-style is so pervasive that it had to have its own Yale study debunking it.
The Yale study that he referred to is a guide by the Yale Climate Communications group that lists arguments refuting the "persistent myth" that scientists are in it for the money.
CNN then hosted the climate scientist Avlon cited, Dr. Katharine Hayhoe, who laughed at the claim that she and her colleagues are paid to advance an agenda and explained why it's incorrect:
KATHARINE HAYHOE (ATMOSPHERIC SCIENTIST): I got paid zero dollars to write this report. My salary would have been exactly the same if I had or hadn't. And if I were studying astrophysics like I used to, I'd probably get exactly the same salary as well. The reality is that I’ve found people often accuse us of doing what they would often do themselves in our position. If we just cast our eye down the richest corporations in the world on Wikipedia's list, the vast majority of those owe their wealth to fossil fuels, so therefore they have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo as long as possible.
But even after CNN debunked the lie with its own programming, the network invited Moore back on to double down and repeat the discredited claim. During At This Hour With Kate Bolduan on Tuesday, host Bolduan played Moore a clip of Hayhoe's comments and let him respond:
MOORE: She runs the climate change center at the school in Texas. What keeps those centers alive is the climate change industry. My only point is that the government in the United States and around the world has spent billions and billions of dollars on climate change. It has become an industry. That does call into question some of the partiality of this research. But the bigger point is --
BOLDUAN: You still don't think she is just motivated by science?
MOORE: She may be. I'm not calling out any single person. I'm just saying that the industry is very, very well funded. It’s in the billions of dollars. People have a vested financial interest in talking about armageddon and these kinds of things.
CNN invited Moore back on for yet another appearance on Tuesday, again on Erin Burnett OutFront, in which he continued to repeat specious right-wing talking points about the National Climate Assessment.
And Santorum also got another chance to repeat the lie about climate scientists being motivated by money. During an appearance on Anderson Cooper 360° on Tuesday night, Santorum said:
I said this the other day and I've gotten a -- I've become a very popular man on Twitter in the last couple of days for the comment I made about scientists making money. There would be no chair of the head of climate studies at every university in America if we didn’t have a crisis. These people make money because there's a crisis.
Santorum's appearance on Anderson Cooper 360° was all the more egregious because Cooper interviewed climate scientist Hayhoe for the episode, and even teased the interview during the show, but ultimately didn't air it. Hayhoe revealed this fact in a tweet, part of a longer thread about the experience:
I get my hair and make up done, we drive across the city, I do the interview, Anderson is lovely, the whole thing takes three hours .... and they don’t air the interview. Instead, they give more airtime to Santorum, so he can to continue to spread disinformation.
— Katharine Hayhoe (@KHayhoe) November 28, 2018
CNN did end up posting the interview with Hayhoe on its website. In it, Hayhoe said:
HAYHOE: What I do take personally is when we are accused of being in it for the money. I got paid zero dollars to write this report, and honestly, I could have spent those hundreds of hours elsewhere. We don't do this for the money. We do it because we're physicians of the planet. We understand that our planet is running a fever. The impacts are serious and will become dangerous, and we have to act now, not for the good of the planet but for the good of every single human who lives on it.
COOPER: I mean, that is something the president has said in the past, that this is a hoax, and that there are people who've said on our air that this is a money-making scheme essentially, this is a money-making venture.
HAYHOE: I would ask them where are they getting their money from.
Great points from Hayhoe. Too bad they didn't make it on the air.
While CNN lets its commentators falsely accuse scientists of being motivated by graft, the network has failed to disclose that those very commentators have financial motivations of their own: All three have gotten money from fossil fuel interests that oppose climate action.
Santorum received $763,331 in contributions from the oil and gas industry during his time in the Senate from 1995 to 2007. His long career of shilling on behalf of fossil fuel interests paid off after he left Congress and started doing lucrative work as a consultant, including earning $142,500 in 2010 and the first half of 2011 from Consol Energy, a Pennsylvania coal and gas company. Santorum is also currently the co-chair of biofuels advocacy group Americans for Energy Security and Innovation. Anderson Cooper disclosed that Santorum is paid by the biofuels group before his discussion with Santorum, but did not note the fossil fuel money Santorum has raked in over the years.
For his part, Moore has worked for many fossil fuel-backed advocacy groups, including the Koch-funded Cato Institute, Club for Growth, and Donors Capital Fund. He was also chief economist at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank that has been funded by ExxonMobil and the Kochs. And just last last month, Moore gave a speech at the annual meeting of the Oklahoma Oil and Gas Association.
At the very least, CNN should disclose its commentators' conflicts of interest. Better, of course, would be not to give them a platform from which to spew their nonsense. But CNN is more dedicated to showy fireworks and conflict than to the truth.
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After bombshell climate report, Sunday political talk shows bring on climate deniers
The Trump administration tried to bury a major government report on climate change by releasing it on the day after Thanksgiving, but the bombshell report still received substantial media attention, including coverage on all five of the major Sunday morning political talk shows.
The latest National Climate Assessment report -- a 1,600-page, congressionally mandated document produced by some 300 scientists from 13 federal agencies -- paints a dire picture of how climate change is already affecting the U.S. and how its catastrophic impacts will intensify in coming years. The report was expected to be released in early December, but three knowledgeable sources told The New York Times' Coral Davenport that "administration officials hoped to minimize the impact by making the assessment public on the afternoon of Black Friday, the big shopping day after the Thanksgiving holiday, thinking that Americans might be unlikely to be paying attention."
But by publishing the report during a slow news period, the Trump team might have inadvertently caused it to get more media attention than it otherwise would have.
Yesterday was the first time this year that the five major Sunday shows discussed climate change on the same day. ABC's This Week, CBS' Face the Nation, CNN's State of the Union, Fox News Sunday, and NBC's Meet the Press all included segments on the new report.
That's more than the number of Sunday shows that covered another major climate report released in early October by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Only three of the Sunday shows -- This Week, Face the Nation, and State of the Union -- covered that IPCC report.
Even though the five big Sunday shows covered the new National Climate Assessment, the quality of the coverage in many cases was downright poor. Some of the hosts invited climate deniers to discuss the report, failed to question them about their denial, and allowed guests to spout denialist talking points with little to no pushback, while other hosts spent only a little time on the report.
The panel that NBC's Chuck Todd invited to discuss the climate report on NBC's Meet the Press included Danielle Pletka of the Koch-backed American Enterprise Institute, who asserted easily debunked nonsense about the last two years being the coldest in recent history. Todd also asked Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) about the report during an interview, without noting that Lee has questioned basic climate science.
CNN's State of the Union hosted two climate deniers to discuss the National Climate Assessment: Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) and former senator and CNN contributor Rick Santorum. In response to host Dana Bash’s question about how climate change could harm agriculture in Iowa, Ernst engaged in lukewarm climate denial, stating, "We know that our climate is changing. Our climate always changes, and we see those ebb and flows through time." Meanwhile, Santorum praised the Trump administration’s attempt to bury the report and claimed that the scientists who produced it were “driven by money,” an assertion that was widely derided on social media.
On Fox News Sunday, host Chris Wallace asked Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) to discuss the climate report’s findings. Sasse decried climate "alarmism," easily dodged Wallace's questions, and pivoted to arguing for further environmental deregulation.
George Stephanopoulos of ABC's This Week addressed the report during an interview with Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), but only spent about two minutes on it.
Margaret Brennan of CBS' Face the Nation questioned NASA's Steven Clarke about the report, but the exchange about climate change was brief and came in the midst of a discussion about NASA's Mars probe. Still, it marked the first time in nearly three years that any of the broadcast Sunday shows included a scientist in a discussion about climate change; the last time a scientist appeared in a broadcast Sunday show climate segment was the December 13, 2015, episode of Face the Nation. Brennan also discussed the climate report with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT).
The fact that most Sunday show hosts only briefly discussed the National Climate Assessment’s urgent findings -- rather than giving them more in-depth coverage with a panel of experts -- is right in line with trends Media Matters has documented in recent years. In the rare instances when Sunday shows address climate change, it is usually within a narrow political framework and includes a similarly narrow range of politicians and political pundits.
The attempt by the Trump team to bury the report and keep information about climate change out of the public eye is also in line with observed trends. The White House has systematically removed climate change information from federal government websites, especially the site of the Environmental Protection Agency, and EPA officials last year told members of a scientific advisory committee that climate change would be de-emphasized by the administration.
Wheeler mimics Scott Pruitt's press strategy ahead of his Senate confirmation hearings
Note: An updated version of this post was published here on January 10, 2019.
Andrew Wheeler, President Donald Trump's soon-to-be nominee to head the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), is more like his predecessor, Scott Pruitt, than most people realize -- particularly when it comes to his interactions with the media.
It's well-known that Wheeler, who took over as acting administrator of the EPA after Pruitt resigned in July, has continued Pruitt's work of rolling back major environmental regulations. That was no surprise; Wheeler formerly worked as a lobbyist for coal, natural gas, chemical, and utility companies, and as an aide to Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), the Senate's most recalcitrant climate denier.
Wheeler does, however, have a reputation as a more behind-the-scenes, businesslike administrator than the scandal-plagued Pruitt. New York Times reporter Lisa Friedman recently described the acting EPA chief as having a "low-key, under-the-radar style, even as he has worked diligently and methodically to advance Mr. Trump’s deregulatory agenda."
But Wheeler is now following in Pruitt's footsteps in many of his dealings with journalists and the press.
Pruitt had a remarkably contentious relationship with the media. His press office retaliated against specific reporters whose stories it didn't like and attacked them by name in press releases, among other aggressive moves.
When Wheeler took over, many reporters noticed and welcomed a change in approach. E&E News published a story about the differences in July under the headline "'Night and day' as Wheeler opens doors to press."
But in recent weeks, the EPA press office has returned to some of the same combative tactics employed during the Pruitt era. On October 30, it published a press release headlined "EPA Sets the Record Straight After Being Misrepresented in Press." Two days later, it got more aggressive with a press release titled "Fact Checking Seven Falsehoods in CNN’s Report."
From an E&E News article published last week:
The [EPA press shop's] combative approach calmed a bit when acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler took over for Scott Pruitt, who resigned over the summer, but now it appears to be intensifying again.
The agency's actions have been scrutinized in the press in recent weeks, and the public affairs shop has been hitting back.
Bobby Magill, president of the Society of Environmental Journalists, said the agency seems to be returning to its war-room-style tactics under Pruitt.
"It looks to me like they're sort of returning to form," Magill said. "This suggests that they are returning to their previous press strategy under Scott Pruitt."
Wheeler exhibits similar preferences. All four of the TV interviews we've seen him give since becoming acting administrator at the EPA have been with right-wing outlets.
The first went to the conservative Sinclair TV conglomerate. Boris Epshteyn, Sinclair's chief political analyst and a former Trump aide, asked no hard questions and gave Wheeler a platform to make specious claims about automobile fuel economy. Wheeler's second TV interview was with Fox News, the third was with the Fox Business Network, and the fourth went to a Sinclair national correspondent.
Like his predecessor, Wheeler has a fondness for right-wing media outlets and personalities, but he's exhibited that in a way that Pruitt never did -- via his personal Twitter account.
The Daily Beast's Scott Bixby reported earlier this year on one noteworthy example:
In August 2016, Wheeler publicly defended alt-right troll Milo Yiannopolous after the latter was banned from Twitter for encouraging users to harass actress Leslie Jones. In a now-deleted tweet, the lobbyist linked to a six-minute video, “The Truth About Milo,” produced by InfoWars editor-at-large and noted conspiracy theorist Paul Joseph Watson, in which Watson posited that conservatives might be “banned from using the internet altogether if they trigger your butthurt.”
Wheeler recently retweeted Fox's Brit Hume when he criticized The New York Times and linked to an article in the conservative National Review. Wheeler has also liked a number of tweets from right-wing figures who criticized mainstream media outlets, including:
Like Pruitt, Wheeler also casts doubt on well-established climate science -- another view he has expressed through his Twitter account.
In a 2015 tweet, Wheeler praised a RealClearPolitics essay that argued, "There is no such thing as 'carbon pollution.'” The essay criticized mainstream media outlets and scientific journals that have reported on climate change:
Of course, we don’t have good data or sound arguments for decarbonizing our energy supply. But it sounds like we do. If you read Scientific American, Science, Nature, National Geographic, the New York Times, the Washington Post, or any of thousands of newspapers and magazines, and you take them at face value, you would have to agree that there is a strong likelihood that serious climate change is real and that decarbonization or geo-engineering are our only hopes. ... These are the people promoting a myth that has become deeply ingrained in our society.
In 2011, Wheeler tweeted a link to a post on the climate-denial blog JunkScience.com. The post, written by the site's founder and longtime climate denier Steve Milloy, argued that information from the American Lung Association should not be trusted because the organization "is bought-and-paid-for by the EPA." Wheeler also retweeted a Milloy tweet from 2015 that took a shot at HuffPost founder Arianna Huffington. And in 2009, Wheeler sent two tweets linking to climate-denying blog posts.
As HuffPost's Alexander Kaufman reported last month, Wheeler has also used his social media accounts to endorse or promote other troubling views:
Andrew Wheeler, the acting administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, repeatedly engaged with inflammatory content on his personal Facebook and Twitter accounts over the past five years, including some in the past month.
The previously-unreported interactions include liking a racist image of former President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama on Facebook and retweeting an infamous “Pizzagate” conspiracy theorist.
Though Wheeler has shown a preference for right-wing media when he does TV interviews, he has given a number of interviews to mainstream newspapers and wire services. In July, after it was announced that he would serve as acting EPA administrator, Wheeler gave substantive interviews to The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, USA Today, and The New York Times.
The pace of his interviews with print outlets slowed down after his first month in office, but Wheeler now appears to be ramping it back up -- just as he's about to begin the process of trying to earn Senate confirmation.
On November 16, hours before Trump announced that he would nominate Wheeler to officially fill the top EPA spot, Wheeler sat down for an interview with New York Times reporter Lisa Friedman. And Wheeler is scheduled to do a live-streamed interview with Washington Post reporter Juliet Eilperin on November 28.
Wheeler may want to present himself as a mainstream moderate rather than a right-wing partisan as he tries to win over senators, and turning to major mainstream newspapers could be part of his strategy. But that would also present an opportunity for environmental journalists to ask tough questions and push him off his well-rehearsed talking points before confirmation hearings begin. We'll be looking to Eilperin to kick that process off next week.
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While ABC, CBS, and NBC again dropped the ball, local TV news programs in California brought up climate change numerous times during wildfire reporting
This month’s catastrophic California wildfires garnered significant media coverage, with major national news programs on ABC, CBS, and NBC airing more than 100 segments about the unfolding disasters. But Media Matters found that just 3.7 percent of those segments mentioned the link between climate change and worsening wildfires. That's a minuscule improvement over their coverage of Western wildfires this summer, when the networks incorporated climate change into less than 2 percent of their segments.
On the local level, TV news programs on California stations included discussion of climate change in numerous segments about the ongoing wildfires. News shows on major TV network affiliates in the state’s three largest media markets aired 44 episodes that addressed how climate change exacerbates wildfires.
Climate change is a critical factor contributing to the growing severity of wildfires in the United States, according to researchers. Scientists have documented an increase in both the number of large fires and the total area burned per year in the U.S. Fifteen of the 20 largest wildfires in California’s history have occurred since 2000, as rising temperatures in the West have lengthened wildfire season by several months. Jonathan Overpeck, a climate scientist and dean of the University of Michigan’s environmental school, told The Associated Press that the increasing severity of fires is “much less due to bad management and is instead the result of our baking of our forests, woodlands and grasslands with ever-worsening climate change.”
The three national broadcast TV networks -- ABC, CBS, and NBC -- aired 107 segments about the California wildfires on their major morning and evening news programs from November 8 to 13. Only four of these, or 3.7 percent, included discussion of climate change. NBC aired two of the segments that mentioned climate change, while ABC and CBS aired one each.
Both of NBC’s climate change mentions came from weather anchor Al Roker on the November 12 episode of Today. During the show’s 7 a.m. hour, Roker discussed the factors that have made the fires so bad: “July was the hottest month ever recorded in California. That hot weather dries out the vegetation. They’ve had no rain to speak of really in the last three months. Parched conditions. And this is all due to climate change.” He noted that the annual number of large fires in the state has more than tripled since 1970, and that there have been six times as many acres burned per year on average since then. He made many of the same points in a later segment during the same episode. Here's the first segment:
CBS’ climate change mention came on the November 11 episode of CBS This Morning, during a segment by WCBS New York weather anchor Lonnie Quinn. He said researchers believe that “both forest management and the changing climate play a role” in worsening wildfires. “California’s temperatures have increased 2 to even 3 degrees over the last century," he explained. "Making matters worse, there was a five-year drought from 2011 to 2016. That drought killed more than 129 million trees. That's just fuel for the current fires that are out there."
ABC's coverage was the weakest, seeming to downplay the effect of climate change on the wildfires. On the November 10 episode of ABC’s Good Morning America, anchor Eva Pilgrim said to ABC senior meteorologist Rob Marciano, “It seems like these fires are getting worse and worse every year. Is this climate change? What’s the deal with all this?” Marciano responded, “This summer we saw excessive heat waves and drought in some cases, you can link a little bit of that to climate change. But this is a Santa Ana season, so this is not unusual to get winds blowing flames like this, and this is a dry season as well.”
Even this fleeting mention of climate change is a slight improvement for ABC, which rarely brings up climate change at all in its coverage of extreme weather. During this past summer's dramatic wildfire season, ABC's coverage didn't mention climate change a single time, and the network made no mention of climate change earlier this year in its coverage of both a deadly heat wave and Hurricane Florence.
CBS and NBC also did poorly when it came to incorporating climate change into their reporting on this summer’s wildfires in the Western U.S., even though they didn't completely strike out like ABC. From June 21 to September 21, the main morning and evening news programs on ABC, CBS, and NBC aired a combined 471 segments discussing the wildfires, and only nine of them, or 1.9 percent, mentioned climate change -- six on CBS and three on NBC.
Media Matters also analyzed news coverage of the wildfires on local affiliates of ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox in the three largest California media markets: Los Angeles, San Francisco-San Jose-Oakland, and Sacramento-Stockton-Modesto. From November 8 to 13, we found 44 news show episodes that mentioned climate change in relation to the wildfires -- 16 in Los Angeles, and 14 each in the Sacramento and San Francisco areas. Over half of these episodes featured a clip of California Gov. Jerry Brown blaming climate change for the destructiveness of the wildfires during a November 11 press conference.
One example of such coverage came from Los Angeles’ KTTV Fox 11 noon news program on November 12. The segment was wholly focused on Brown's comments about climate change and wildfires:
A more muddled example aired on Sacramento’s KXTV ABC 10 Morning Blend show. The segment discussed a tweet from President Donald Trump that blamed the fires on poor forest management. The hosts noted Brown's comments about climate change, then invited viewers to take a poll and vote for either forest management or climate change as the bigger contributor to the fires. Most of the poll takers selected forest management:
Both of these segments would have been better if they had informed viewers of what scientists and other experts actually say: Climate change is a significant contributor, and, in the case of the current fires, forest management is not.
Still, it's notable that many local news stations made a point of discussing climate change in the context of the fires. Local stations have a greater responsibility than national ones to report on the immediate dangers that wildfires pose to their community members, including evacuation orders and specific details about how fires spread. And yet this month in California, many local programs still found time to report on how climate change worsens wildfires. There's no excuse for national networks not to do the same.
Media Matters searched Nexis and iQ Media for broadcast network TV news segments that covered wildfires using the search terms wildfire(s), forest fire(s), or fire(s), and then we searched within those segments for mentions of climate change or global warming. Our analysis covered morning news shows (ABC's Good Morning America, CBS This Morning, and NBC's Today) and nightly news shows (ABC World News Tonight, CBS Evening News, and NBC Nightly News) from November 8-13. For local California coverage, we searched IQ Media for news shows between 4 a.m. and midnight on affiliates of ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox in the media markets of Los Angeles, San Francisco-San Jose-Oakland, and Sacramento-Stockton-Modesto.