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  • Climate silence was the big problem in 2018. In 2019, we've got new challenges.

    Fox News is distorting the national dialogue about the Green New Deal just as it's getting going

    Blog ››› ››› LISA HYMAS

    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    A version of this post was originally published by Grist.

    Climate change coverage in much of the mainstream media was abysmally low in 2018. It's been tilting upward in the first quarter of 2019, thanks in large part to the Green New Deal. The ascending trend is a positive development overall -- it's about time media started paying more attention to the existential crisis of our time! -- and yet some of the coverage has been weak, and some has been a total mess.

    Climate change was pitifully undercovered in 2018

    Media Matters found that climate coverage on the national broadcast TV networks in 2018 plunged 45 percent from 2017 levels -- and it's not like coverage in 2017 was anything to brag about. In 2018, the major nightly news and Sunday morning political shows on the national broadcast networks spent a combined total of just 142 minutes on climate change, and almost a third of that came from a single climate-focused episode of NBC's Meet the Press on December 30. Without that one show, 2018's coverage would have fallen 64 percent from the previous year -- an astonishing decline when you consider the horrific extreme weather last year, the harrowing climate science reports released by the United Nations and 13 U.S. government agencies, the Trump administration's ongoing assault on climate protections, and the ever-increasing urgency of the climate crisis.

    Analyses of other media trends in 2018 also pinpointed shortcomings. The watchdog group Public Citizen examined coverage of extreme weather events in a number of U.S. newspapers, online sources, and cable and broadcast TV networks last year and found that "the proportion of pieces that mentioned climate change was disappointingly low." Just 7 percent of stories about hurricanes incorporated climate change, while the figures were higher for other kinds of weather disasters, but still not as high as we need them to be.

    Many of the journalists who served as moderators in 2018 midterm election debates neglected climate change too. Only 29 percent of key debates in competitive Senate and gubernatorial races included a question about climate change.

    But the 2018 midterm election ultimately triggered a change in climate coverage and in the broader national conversation about the need for climate action -- because it brought us AOC.

    So far in 2019, climate change is getting a little more media attention

    President Donald Trump drove climate coverage (or the lack of it) in the last couple of years, but so far in 2019, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) has taken over the driver's seat.

    When she and Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) introduced their Green New Deal resolution on February 7, they kicked off a firestorm of climate coverage. Whether you love the Green New Deal, hate it, or want to quibble over its specifics, you can't deny that it's spurring more discussion of climate policy than the U.S. has ever seen. 

    The Green New Deal inspired The Washington Post to dedicate five consecutive days of editorials to substantive discussion of a comprehensive climate plan (handily compiled into one online piece). It got the major Sunday morning political shows talking about climate change with more fervor than they did during most of last year. It prompted an unusual amount of prime-time cable climate coverage. It sparked MSNBC's Chris Hayes to host a special event with Ocasio-Cortez -- after he said last year that climate coverage was a "palpable ratings killer." And it propelled young Americans to march in the streets and confront their senators, thereby pushing their messages into the press.  

    The Green New Deal has even motivated a handful of Republican members of Congress to cough up some of their own ideas for addressing aspects of the climate crisis, as The Washington Post recently noted, sparking still more media coverage of climate policy. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) went on NPR's All Things Considered to tout his plan for advanced nuclear power, natural gas, carbon capture, and other greener technologies (and he took the opportunity to bash the Green New Deal). Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) was interviewed by Vice about his forthcoming proposal to spur "innovation" in some of the same areas as Alexander's plan (Gaetz bashed the Green New Deal too). The GOP proposals are not big or comprehensive, as McClatchy DC pointed out; milquetoast would be a kind way to describe them. Same with some new Democratic climate proposals such as the Climate Action Now Act. Suggestions from industry lobbyists are even weaker. But they're all putting climate solutions in the news.

    Presidential hopeful Jay Inslee, the Democratic governor of Washington state, is also helping by making climate change the central issue in his campaign. He emphasized the need to fight climate change on two of the major Sunday morning political shows in March -- ABC's This Week With George Stephanopoulos and CNN's State of the Nation -- as well as on Fox & Friends, Trump's favorite show. The other Democratic presidential candidates are also talking up the importance of climate change and in many cases endorsing the broad outlines of the Green New Deal, taking cues not just from Ocasio-Cortez but from Democratic voters, who rank climate change among the very top issues that they want candidates to talk about, and from voters across the spectrum, who overwhelmingly say they're worried about global warming. Given all that, we're likely to see debate moderators this year and next ask political candidates more questions about climate change than they did in 2016 or 2018.

    So the quantity of coverage is up, but how about the quality?

    Some of the climate coverage we've seen so far this year been informative and constructive. See: The Washington Post's editorial series and Chris Hayes' special with Ocasio-Cortez. Some of it has been superficial. See: Beltway pundits. And some of it has been a mess of lies, mockery, and fearmongering. See: Almost everything on Fox News.

    When the major networks' Sunday morning political shows discussed the Green New Deal the weekend after the resolution was unveiled, "most of the discussion was superficial and narrowly focused on whether the Green New Deal will cause intra-party fighting among Democrats or end up benefiting Republicans, not on whether its policy ideas are good approaches for fighting climate change," as Media Matters' Evlondo Cooper pointed out.

    Carlos Maza at Vox looked at a broader selection of TV coverage and found the same thing, as he described in a video:

    I have watched hours of segments about the Green New Deal and none of them actually explained how it might work. Instead, they focus on the politics. Is it gonna pass? Does Pelosi like it? What did Trump tweet about it? Everything except: Is it a good idea?

    This kind of narrow, horse race-style coverage of policy proposals is one of the climate-coverage pitfalls we need to be on the watch for in 2019.

    Another problem is that some coverage of the Green New Deal doesn't even mention climate change. More than half of Fox News' segments on the plan in the days after it was released didn't include any discussion of climate change. Fox personalities and guests often talked about the proposal as though it were a pointless scheme to oppress the masses, not a plan to address a major looming threat. CNN and MSNBC weren't nearly that bad, of course, but they also ran segments that failed to bring up climate change and discussed the Green New Deal as a political football. When the Green New Deal was voted on in the Senate in March, we again saw Fox News talking heads discuss it without mentioning climate change.

    One of the biggest problems with coverage of the Green New Deal is that there's a lot more of it on Fox and other right-wing outlets than on mainstream and left-leaning outlets -- and in many cases, Fox and its ilk are straight-up lying. From February 7 to 11, Fox aired more than three times as many segments about the Green New Deal as CNN and MSNBC combined. With their heavy coverage and repetition of misinformation -- like completely bogus claims about sky-high costs -- right-wing media are distorting the national dialogue just as it's getting going.

    Sean McElwee of the progressive think tank Data for Progress explained how this is playing out in a recent New York Times op-ed:

    According to data shared with The Times from Navigator, a progressive polling project, 37 percent of Republican viewers of Fox News had heard “a lot” about the Green New Deal, compared with 14 percent of all registered voters.

    When asked simply, “Based on what you know, do you support or oppose the Green New Deal?,” 22 percent of respondents are in support, 29 percent are opposed and 49 percent are not sure. But 74 percent of Fox-viewing Republicans oppose the Green New Deal (65 percent strongly), and only 21 percent have not formed an opinion. 

    He concludes that "the Republican propaganda machine has already reshaped the narrative."

    We don't expect Fox to improve (some news outlets are beyond redemption), but mainstream and left-leaning news organizations can do better. They need to cover the Green New Deal and climate change more often to provide a counterweight to the bunk coming from the right. And they should cover it not as a political story (who "won" the day when Mitch McConnell held a stunt vote on the Green New Deal?), but with substantive reporting and discussion about how to implement climate policies that are fair, effective, and commensurate with the enormous size of the problem.

  • Media Should Not Sanitize Trump Immigration Adviser Kris Kobach’s Extremism, Ties To White Supremacists

    Kobach “Wrote The Book” On Muslim Registry And Was Behind Anti-Immigrant SB 1070

    ››› ››› DINA RADTKE

    A reported architect behind President-elect Donald Trump’s extreme immigration proposals, radio host and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach has received significant media attention following the announcement that he was joining Trump’s transition team. However, media outlets are failing to note his ties to hate groups and nativist organizations and his attacks on immigrants and LGBTQ people.

  • There Is No Trump Mandate

    ››› ››› OLIVER WILLIS

    Mainstream and conservative media figures are echoing House Speaker Paul Ryan’s assertion that President-elect Donald Trump has “earned a mandate” with his electoral victory. But Trump appears to have lost the popular vote, and he is the first presidential candidate to win the office without winning a majority of the votes since 2000.

  • One Big Fact Media Are Missing On Jeb Bush, The Pope, And Climate Change

    Coverage Of Bush's Criticism Of Pope's Encyclical Should Include Candidate's Secret Coal Industry Meeting

    Blog ››› ››› ANDREW SEIFTER

    Jeb Bush

    Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush made news on his first official day as a GOP presidential candidate by suggesting that Pope Francis' forthcoming encyclical on climate change could inappropriately push religion "into the political realm" and declaring: "I don't get my economic policy from my bishops or my cardinals or my pope." But the media should be covering Bush's remarks in the context of a closed-door meeting he held with coal industry CEOs earlier this month -- an important piece of information that could shed some light on who Bush is actually getting his "economic policy" from when it comes to climate change.

    Bush's June 1 appearance at the Coal & Investment Leadership Forum was first revealed in a May 29 report by The Guardian, based on materials the newspaper received from the Center for Media and Democracy, a non-profit watchdog group. As The Guardian reported at the time:

    The former Florida governor is appearing at the invitation of six coalmining company owners and executives: Joe Craft III of Alliance Resource Partners, Kevin Crutchfield of Alpha Natural Resources, Nick DeIuliis of Consol Energy, Garry Drummond of Drummond Company, John Eaves of Arch Coal, and Jim McGlothlin of United Coal Company.

    Between them, the six companies have spent more than $17.4m on campaigns and lobbying since the last presidential elections, according to the Center for Responsive Politics Open Secrets website.

    The Guardian further noted that the meeting occurred "at a critical time for the energy industry and for Bush's political ambitions," with the Environmental Protection Agency "expected to finalize new rules for carbon pollution from power plants this summer" and Bush "relatively free of fundraising disclosure requirements until the official launch of his presidential campaign." 

  • How The Mainstream Media Helped Romney Hide His Extreme Positions

    ››› ››› MIKE BURNS

    In the weeks leading up to Election Day, major media outlets whitewashed many of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's extreme positions, including on abortion, health care, and the situation in the Middle East. In doing so, these outlets aided Romney's efforts to remake himself as a moderate politician.

  • Way Back When "Politicizing" Terrorist Deaths Was OK

    Blog ››› ››› SIMON MALOY

    Perusing the political media these days you can't help but notice the hand-wringing consensus that the Obama administration is running a risk by "politicizing" the death of Osama bin Laden. Foreign policy achievements, we're told, are somehow sacrosanct and shouldn't be sullied by the taint of electioneering.

    The president, according to McClatchy, is in "a roiling dispute between his re-election campaign and Republicans, who accuse Obama of politicizing a unifying event by taking credit for ordering the raid that got bin Laden." The ever-eager Fox News reports that "President Obama faced mounting criticism Tuesday for allegedly politicizing the anniversary of Usama bin Laden's death, with Sen. John McCain scolding the commander-in-chief and former New York Gov. George Pataki going so far as to call on Obama to apologize."

    It would be nice if the press, when wrestling with this narrative, could dive deep into their memories and travel all the way back to June 2006, when the government of Iraq announced that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the head of Al Qaeda in Iraq, had been killed in an airstrike. The Bush White House and the Republican Congressional majority, facing terrible poll numbers and an angry electorate, were ecstatic at the news that one of the world's most wanted terrorists had met his end at American hands and immediately set to work politicizing his death.

    The New York Times reported on June 13, 2006:

    It came as Republicans began a new effort to use last week's events to turn the war to their political advantage after months of anxiety, and to sharpen attacks against Democrats. On Monday night, the president's top political strategist, Karl Rove, told supporters in New Hampshire that if the Democrats had their way, Iraq would fall to terrorists and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi would not have been killed.

    "When it gets tough, and when it gets difficult, they fall back on that party's old pattern of cutting and running," Mr. Rove said at a state Republican Party gathering in Manchester.

    Rove (who is now busily and dishonestly trying to diminish the Bin Laden raid) was delivering a message that synced nicely with the House Republican strategy (elucidated in a confidential memo prepared by John Boehner) to use Zarqawi's death to draw "a portrait of contrasts between Republicans and Democrats with regard to one of the most important political issues of our era."

    Per the memo:

    As a result of our efforts during this debate, Americans will recognize that on the issue of national security, they have a clear choice between a Republican Party aware of the stakes and dedicated to victory, versus a Democrat Party without a coherent national security policy that sheepishly dismisses the challenges America faces in a post- 9/11 world.

    Of course, even if there were no high-profile example of Republicans "spiking the football" over the death of a terrorist, are we really to believe they wouldn't have done exactly that had he been killed under Bush's watch?

    So please: before we lend credence to all the pearl-clutching bluster over "politicizing" the death of a terrorist, let's pay due respect to recent history and common sense.

  • Inventing a Bush comeback

    Blog ››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

    Has any politician's imminent political rebound been (wrongly) foretold more often than George W. Bush's? Recall that throughout 2005, with Bush's approval ratings in free-fall, the media kept insisting he was just about to turn things around. He never did. David Broder, the dean of the Washington press corps, even predicted that Bush's handling of Hurricane Katrina would enhance his standing with the public. Oops. A year and a half later, Broder was at it again, writing that Bush was "poised for a political comeback." Didn't happen. And who could forget Chuck Todd's declaration that if Democrats took control of Congress in 2006, Bush's approval rating would hit 50 percent by the following July? Democrats did win Congress -- but Bush's approval rating barely cracked 30 percent the following July.

    Now Yahoo! News and McClatchy have decided the time is once again ripe for George W. Bush to convince Americans he wasn't a complete disaster of a president after all. But in order to do so, they have to fudge a few things. Like this:

    Oh, really? There's an "apparent shift in public opinion" of Bush? Let's just click through to the article and see what the evidence is:

  • Media invent Obama hypocrisy on recess appointments

    ››› ››› DIANNA PARKER

    Several media reports have suggested President Obama is hypocritical for making recess appointments because he criticized President Bush in 2005 for bypassing the Senate when he appointed John Bolton as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. But Obama was not generally criticizing recess appointments; rather, he -- along with at least two Republicans -- specifically argued that a recess appointment for such a high-profile diplomatic position could affect the United States' credibility and leverage in the U.N.

  • McClatchy misrepresents Quinnipiac poll on Ricci case

    ››› ››› ADAM SHAH

    A McClatchy article misrepresented poll findings from Quinnipiac University to falsely claim that a "strong majority of the American people oppose" Judge Sonia Sotomayor's position in Ricci v. DeStefano. In fact, the poll question to which McClatchy referred did not ask about Sotomayor's position in the case.

  • McClatchy asserts without evidence that a "range of economists" say recovery bill won't stimulate


    A McClatchy article asserted that "a range of economists" believe that the economic recovery bill "is short on incentives to get consumers spending again and long on social goals that won't stimulate economic activity." But the only person identified as being associated with Democrats or progressives in the article did not criticize the bill; rather, as the McClatchy reporter noted, he called it "a necessary condition for economic stabilization and recovery."

  • "Little debate" indeed: Media uncritically quote Bush's claim his policies kept us safe


    Numerous media outlets have uncritically quoted President Bush asserting, regarding the controversial measures adopted by his administration in the name of national security: "There is legitimate debate about many of these decisions. But there can be little debate about the results." But these outlets have failed to note that questions have, in fact, been raised about the importance of Bush administration policies and actions to the obstruction of terror threats.

  • Contradicting own reporting, McClatchy repeated McCain's claim that Obama would raise taxes on business Joe the Plumber wants to buy

    ››› ››› MORGAN WEILAND

    An October 28 McClatchy Newspapers article reported that Sen. John McCain "hammered" Sen. Barack Obama "as someone who'd ... rais[e] taxes on small businesses, much like the plumbing business in Ohio that 'Joe the Plumber' Wurzelbacher said he wanted to buy someday." In fact, McClatchy itself noted in an October 18 article that Wurzelbacher would not likely see a tax increase under Obama's plan if he bought the plumbing business.

  • McClatchy uncritically reported McCain claim that Obama "would raise taxes" on Americans like "Joe the Plumber"

    ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    McClatchy Newspapers reported that Sen. John McCain and Gov. Sarah Palin are claiming that Sen. Barack Obama "would raise taxes on ordinary folks such as Joe the Plumber." The article did not note that Obama has proposed cutting taxes for low- and middle-income taxpayers and that "Joe the Plumber" Wurzelbacher himself has said that he would not see a tax increase under Obama's plan.