Video ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF
Loading the player reg...
Loading the player reg...
In 2016, evening newscasts and Sunday shows on ABC, CBS, and NBC, as well as Fox Broadcast Co.'s Fox News Sunday, collectively decreased their total coverage of climate change by 66 percent compared to 2015, even though there were a host of important climate-related stories, including the announcement of 2015 as the hottest year on record, the signing of the Paris climate agreement, and numerous climate-related extreme weather events. There were also two presidential candidates to cover, and they held diametrically opposed positions on the Clean Power Plan, the Paris climate agreement, and even on whether climate change is a real, human-caused phenomenon. Apart from PBS, the networks also failed to devote significant coverage to climate-related policies, but they still found the time to uncritically air climate denial -- the majority of which came from now-President Donald Trump and his team.
When President-elect Donald Trump made seemingly open-minded remarks about climate change during a November 22 meeting with staff of The New York Times, it set off a wave of television coverage about how Trump had supposedly “reversed course” on climate change. But few of these reports addressed any of the substantive reasons that is highly unlikely, such as his transition team’s plan to abandon the Obama administration’s landmark climate policy, indications that he will dismantle NASA’s climate research program, and his appointment of fossil fuel industry allies as transition team advisers -- not to mention the full context of Trump’s remarks to the Times.
In his interview with reporters, editors and opinion columnists from the Times, Trump contradicted his long-held stance that climate change is a “hoax” by stating that he thinks “there is some connectivity” between human activities and climate change (although even that statement doesn’t fully reflect the consensus view of climate scientists that human activities are the “dominant cause” of global warming). Trump also declined to reaffirm his earlier statements that he would “renegotiate” or “cancel” the international climate agreement reached in Paris last year, instead saying that he has an “open mind” about how he will approach the Paris agreement.
But there are many reasons to take these comments with a grain of salt. For one, Trump has given no indication that he will preserve the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, which is the linchpin of the United States’ emissions reduction commitments under the Paris climate agreement. To the contrary, The Associated Press reported that internal documents from Trump’s transition team “show the new administration plans to stop defending the Clean Power Plan and other recent Obama-era environmental regulations that have been the subject of long-running legal challenges filed by Republican-led states and the fossil fuel industry.” Moreover, a senior Trump space policy adviser recently indicated that the Trump administration plans to eliminate NASA’s climate change research program, a move that would likely be accompanied by significant funding cuts to climate research.
Additionally, Trump has appointed Myron Ebell, a climate science denier from the fossil fuel-funded Competitive Enterprise Institute, to lead his EPA transition team, and two other close allies of the fossil fuel industry, Kathleen Hartnett White and Scott Pruitt, are reportedly Trump’s leading contenders to run the EPA. Trump also named Thomas Pyle, president of the fossil fuel-funded American Energy Alliance, to head his Energy Department transition team. According to The Washington Post, “Hartnett-White, Pyle and Ebell have all expressed doubt about climate change and have criticized the findings of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).”
Then there are Trump’s Times comments themselves, which have been “wildly misinterpreted” in the media, as Grist’s Rebecca Leber has explained. In addition to saying there is “some connectivity” between human activities and climate change, Trump said during the Times interview that there are “a lot of smart people” on the “other side” of the issue, and added: “You know the hottest day ever was in 1890-something, 98. You know, you can make lots of cases for different views.” Trump also appeared to reference the thoroughly debunked “Climategate” scandal about emails among climate scientists at a U.K. university, stating, “They say they have science on one side but then they also have those horrible emails that were sent between the scientists.”
Nonetheless, Trump’s two seemingly climate-friendly remarks to the Times -- that he has an “open mind” about the Paris climate agreement and that humans play some role in climate change -- generated a tremendous amount of uncritical television coverage:
Trump’s climate remarks also received wall-to-wall coverage on cable news, although unlike the broadcast networks’ reports, several of the cable segments did feature pushback on the notion that Trump had actually changed his position on the issue.
Trump’s climate comments were uncritically covered on several CNN programs, including New Day, Anderson Cooper 360, and CNN Tonight with Don Lemon. And on the November 27 edition of Inside Politics, host John King and senior political reporter Manu Raju agreed that Trump’s climate remarks were a “big deal.” Some of these programs included speculation about whether Trump truly meant what he said to the Times or whether it was a negotiating ploy, but none mentioned any specific steps Trump has taken since the election that undermine claims that he has reversed course on climate change.
By contrast, several other CNN programs included pushback on the notion that Trump had “softened” or “reversed” his position on climate change. For instance, on the November 23 edition of Erin Burnett Outfront, CNN senior political analyst Ron Brownstein cited Trump’s plan to repeal the Clean Power Plan as evidence that although Trump is “signaling a different tone” on climate change, “when you get into the guts of the policy, he is going in the same direction”:
Similarly, in an interview with NextGen Climate founder Tom Steyer on the November 27 edition of Fareed Zakaria GPS, host Zakaria noted that despite his comments to the Times, Trump “still has a leading climate change denier [Myron Ebell] as the head of his EPA transition, [and] his actions and contradictory words have climate change activists concerned.” Zakaria added that Trump “does say he's going to reverse a lot of these executive actions that Obama has taken, whether it's on coal-fired plants or vehicle emissions.”
A couple of CNN guests also challenged the premise that Trump had shifted his stance on climate change. On the November 22 edition of CNN’s Wolf, Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY) said of Trump’s climate remarks to the Times, “The real test is who is he appointing and what will his policies be.” And on the November 23 edition of CNN’s At This Hour, Michael Needham of Heritage Action for America (the sister organization of the fossil fuel industry-funded Heritage Foundation), pointed to other remarks Trump made to the Times in order to dispute the idea that Trump had accepted that climate change is “settled science.” Needham stated:
I read the actual transcript of this thing. If you look at what [Trump] says on climate change, it's pretty much what we would have said at Heritage. He said there are questions that need to be looked at, there's research on both sides of the issue, this is not settled science the way some people on the left want to say.
Finally, all of the prime-time MSNBC shows that featured substantial discussions of Trump’s climate remarks included proper context. For instance, on the December 2 edition of MSNBC’s All In with Chris Hayes, Hayes explained that incoming White House chief of staff Reince Priebus had “clarif[ied]” that Trump’s “default position” on climate change is “that most of it is a bunch of bunk.” Hayes also explained that a senior Trump adviser had indicated that “NASA would be limited to exploring other planets rather than providing satellite information and data about what’s happening on the only planet we currently inhabit”:
Similarly, on the November 30 edition of Hardball with Chris Matthews, Matthews aired a clip of Priebus confirming that Trump’s “default position” on climate change is that “most of it is a bunch of bunk.” And on the November 22 edition of MTP Daily, guest host Andrea Mitchell pointed out that Trump “appointed somebody from a very conservative, climate-denying, Koch-sponsored organization, policy institute, to lead the transition on energy and climate issues,” although Mitchell nonetheless maintained that Trump’s statement that he is now open to the Paris climate agreement was “a very big signal internationally.”
ABC, NBC, CBS Show “How A Fake News Story Can Lead To A Real Life-Threatening Situation"
Nightly news programs on NBC, CBS, and ABC examined “how a fake news story can lead to real world consequences” in their reports on a shooting incident at Comet Ping Pong, a Washington, DC, pizzeria.
Accused shooter Edgar Welch entered the pizzeria on December 4 with an AR-15 assault rifle, fired at least one round into the floor, and told authorities he was there to “self-investigate” the conspiracy theory that dozens of prominent liberals are complicit in an international child sex trafficking ring, because emails stolen from Clinton campaign manager John Podesta referenced “pizza.”
While conservative media outlets have typically downplayed fake news stories calling them “silly” and “nonsense,” broadcast nightly news programs on NBC, CBS, and ABC reported how fake news can have dangerous consequences.
NBC correspondent Tom Costello reported on NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt that “the Pizzagate conspiracy began with the Clinton WikiLeaks and an email stolen from campaign chief John Podesta about a fundraiser involving the restaurant.” Costello noted that 4chan users “suggested without any proof whatsoever that the word ‘pizza’ was code for ‘child sex trafficking’ at the restaurant,” and from there the malicious rumor spread “to Reddit and YouTube, feeding fake online news stories, then jumping to Facebook and Twitter.” Even though “both DC police and federal agents say the story is false,” Costello added that “discredited rumors about sex trafficking” targeting Democrats are “even shared by President-Elect Trump’s choice for national security adviser, General Michael T. Flynn.”:
On CBS’ Evening News with Scott Pelley, Chip Reid took apart the “fictitious online conspiracy theory” started by “right-wing sites that make up fake news” alleging Clinton and her associates were involved in a pedophile ring. Host Scott Pelley noted that the shooter gave up when he “found no evidence that underage children were being harbored in the restaurant,” as the lies on the internet baselessly alleged:
ABC senior justice correspondent Pierre Thomas highlighted the “egregious and deliberate lie” that is the Pizzagate conspiracy on ABC World News Tonight with Scott Pelley. Thomas reported that the suspect “aimed a rifle at an employee and fired a round into the floor” because he decided to “self-investigate” the “utterly false story about child abuse” at Comet Ping Pong. Thomas further reported that “employees have been besieged by death threats” since the right-wing lie gained traction online, “shows how a fake news story can lead to a real life-threatening situation”:
Loading the player reg...
A recent CBS Evening News report on unnecessarily strict voter ID laws engaged in the sort of "he said, she said" reporting that ignores the virtual non-existence of in-person voter fraud, a type of false equivalence that media critics have widely condemned.
On October 9, the Supreme Court issued an order that prevented Wisconsin's voter ID law -- one of the strictest in the nation -- from going into effect just weeks before the November elections. Opponents of the law argued that the new identification requirements were not only unconstitutional but would have caused "chaos" at polling places and could have disenfranchised hundreds of thousands of voters who lacked the appropriate ID. A similarly restrictive voter ID law was struck down by a federal judge in Texas that same day, with the judge calling the law an "unconstitutional poll tax" that unfairly discriminated against the poor and people of color.
These types of strict voter ID laws are popular among Republican lawmakers, despite the fact that they are redundant and there is no evidence of widespread, in-person voter fraud -- the type of fraud voter ID laws are designed to prevent. Nevertheless, on the October 10 edition of CBS Evening News, correspondent Chip Reid's segment on the recent legal decisions affecting Texas and Wisconsin's voter ID laws failed to report this simple truth about voter suppression:
Following the news that President Obama was awarded the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize, numerous media figures have called for him to "turn it down" or "give it back," often asserting that he has not accomplished enough to deserve the prize. On his radio show, Glenn Beck said Obama "has to turn it down. ... [I]t's the only way for him to make a win out of this"; Internet gossip Matt Drudge asked on his website, "Will he turn it down?"; and Michelle Malkin said, "[I]f Obama had an ounce of real humility, he'd refuse to accept the award."
Loading the player reg...
Loading the player reg...
Katie Couric claimed that small-business owners "would pick up a big part of the tab" for Democrats' health care reform plan. But neither Couric nor correspondent Chip Reid noted evidence undermining that suggestion.
You may recall a Media Matters video from May 20 highlighting some odd examples of journalistic excellence from some very unlikely sources. Some, of course, were from people you would have expected. Well, I'd like to present you with "Good News: Ten More Examples Of Journalistic Excellence":
Numerous media figures have advanced the attack that because the current unemployment rate is higher than initial administration predictions, in the words of Newt Gingrich, Obama's "policies are failing." But supporters of a stimulus bill had warned before it was passed that it would not result in an immediate decrease in unemployment.
Loading the player reg...
On the CBS Evening News, Katie Couric stated that the omnibus spending bill was "filled with earmarks," and Chip Reid reported that the bill was "loaded with about eighty-five hundred pet projects known as earmarks, inserted by members of Congress without legislative review." But at no point did they note that according to most estimates, earmarks constitute less than 2 percent of the bill's total spending.
Discussing President Obama's meeting with congressional leaders to discuss the economic stimulus plan, CBS' Chip Reid reported that "when Republicans criticized tax refunds for people who don't pay taxes, sources in the meeting say the president said, quote, 'I won,' referring to the election and making it clear he's sticking with that part of the plan." In fact, Obama has not proposed giving tax refunds to "people who don't pay taxes"; he has proposed giving the tax credit to "working families," which means they pay Social Security and Medicare taxes.