As Russia’s foreign minister praises Fox News coverage of war in Ukraine, the network has exploited the crisis to villainize the environmental movement, capitalizing on the global economic sanctions against Vladimir Putin’s invasion to recycle previously debunked claims that Russia is secretly funding “green campaigns” against oil drilling and fracking in the U.S.
Fox hosts and personalities took their cues from a March 10 letter from Republican members of the House Energy Committee asking three environmental groups – the League of Conservation Voters, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and Sierra Club – to provide evidence of any financial support from Russia. Yet, as the Washington Post Fact Checker explains, the “bogus” allegations in the letter are remnants of a 2017 scandal concocted by Republicans to distract from an investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Here are some examples of Fox pushing this lie:
- Fox host Jesse Watters suggested green energy campaigns “are taking dirty Russian money” in order “to scare Americans out of fracking and energy exploration.” [Fox News, Jesse Watters Primetime, 3/3/22]
- Watters, and co-host Greg Gutfeld pushed this evidence-free claim again, saying that green energy campaigns in America are funded by Russia to increase dependence on foreign oil. [Fox News, The Five, 3/4/22]
- Fox’s Carley Shimkus stated that “a lot of Republicans are calling for an investigation into whether Russia was funding climate change groups in the U.S.” Co-host Rachel Campos-Duffy followed up, “Of course they were.” [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 3/16/22]
- Gutfeld spent his monologue ranting that “the left are in lockstep with what Putin wants, for us to be dependent on other countries like his for energy,” saying “Russia duped Europe into depending on their energy by funding rabid environmental groups” and spread “disinformation within green groups to steer countries away from fracking and shale gas.” [Fox News, Gutfeld!, 3/16/22]
- Later in the episode, Gutfeld suggested that opposition to fracking in the U.S. had been “driven” by Russian propaganda efforts: “The past 10 years, all this stuff – all the documentaries, all the Hollywood celebrities, all the stuff about fracking – might have all been driven by Russia, or at least paying for that.” [Fox News, Gutfeld!, 3/16/22]
- Gutfeld repeated the claim yet again the next day, saying the Democrats should be thanking Putin for rising gas prices “because after all, it was Russia who infiltrated the green groups to get us off our domestic oil and buy their foreign oil.” [Fox News, The Five, 3/17/22]
Fox personalities have been criticized for pro-Kremlin commentary – and the Kremlin itself has noticed, as exposed by minister Sergey Lavrov's remarks about Fox and a recently reported memo from the Russian government that directed the country’s media outlets to promote as many clips of Fox News star Tucker Carlson as possible. (The Kremlin’s propaganda and Carlson’s own rhetoric have remarkable similarities.) The narratives parroted by Fox to earn this praise – from blaming Joe Biden for rising gas prices to suggestions the war in Ukraine is pushed by elitist self interests – are baseless and incendiary. Their recent push of easily debunked anti-environmental conspiracies are no different.
The allegations stem from whether the aforementioned environmental groups received donations from the Sea Change Foundation, an environmental philanthropy group run by billionaire Nat Simons. In 2015, a baseless report from the GOP lobbyist-led front group Environmental Policy Alliance accused the law firm that set up a Bermuda-based company financing Sea Change of having extremely vague ties to an adviser to Putin. The firm refuted these allegations as “completely false and irresponsible,” saying, “We can state categorically that at no point did this philanthropic organization receive or expend funds from Russian sources or Russian-connected sources.” In fact, the sole source of the foundation’s funding is the Simons family. Despite the appearance of Kremlin-linked donations being obliterated, that did not stop 2017 House GOP members from requesting an investigation, and now recycling the debunked claims.
The network’s hosts and guests – primarily recently promoted prime-time stars Jesse Watters and Greg Gutfeld – are also conflating a separate online article from Fox that quotes “experts” like the Heritage Foundation’s James Carafano noting that “Russians actually fund some of the most rabid environmental groups in Europe.” (Carafano has been a vocal critic of climate science and recently co-authored a piece describing the Biden administration’s climate policies as a “titanic disaster in waiting.”) The article’s so-called “experts” also included right-wing media’s favorite climate contrarian, Michael Shellenberger, a notorious natural gas advocate who’s pushed lies about the cost and efficiency of renewable energy.
The Republicans point to a 2017 national intelligence report that highlighted a Russian state news channel, RT America, that ran “anti-fracking programming,” and was trying to expand its U.S. audience. Not only did the report not provide any evidence that the channel had been successful, but as of March 4, RT America announced it was “ceasing production.” It is simply preposterous to believe that over a decade of fracking commentary was driven by the network prior to its dissolution.
Some efforts against European drilling and fracking have been linked to Kremlin propaganda designed to increase dependency on Russian oil exports, but with each reshaping of the conspiracy theory, there has been no evidence of any similarly funded successful campaign in the United States.