And Fox's coverage of the plan was riddled with misinformation, mockery, and climate change skepticism
Blog ››› ››› TED MACDONALD
In the last week of March, Fox News aired more than twice as many prime-time segments discussing the Green New Deal as MSNBC and CNN combined, Media Matters found. Fox ran 22 segments on the Green New Deal, and only half of them even mentioned climate change. MSNBC and CNN aired 14 and five segments, respectively, but all of those discussed climate change.
Fox aired more Green New Deal segments than CNN and MSNBC combined from March 25 to 31
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Sen. Ed. Markey (D-MA) introduced the Green New Deal on February 7, thrusting the issue of climate change into the national political conversation. On March 26, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) called a procedural vote on the resolution, attempting to embarrass Democrats by forcing them to take a stance on it before senators had a chance to hold hearings and debate the measure. Almost all Senate Democrats banded together to call McConnell's bluff by voting "present" instead of yes or no.
Media Matters analyzed prime-time cable news coverage of the Green New Deal during the week of the Senate vote. From March 25 to 31, Fox News ran 22 segments discussing the Green New Deal on its weekday and weekend prime-time shows airing between 5 p.m. and midnight. Across this same period, MSNBC aired 14 prime-time segments discussing the Green New Deal, and CNN aired five.
Only half of Fox's Green New Deal segments mentioned climate change, 11 out of 22, despite the fact that the plan is designed specifically to address the climate crisis. In contrast, all segments about the Green New Deal on MSNBC and CNN discussed climate change.
Media Matters did a similar analysis in February in the days after the Green New Deal was introduced. It found that Fox covered the Green New Deal more than three times as often as MSNBC and CNN combined from February 7 to 11; Fox aired 34 segments that mentioned the proposal, MSNBC aired eight, and CNN aired three. And during that period, Fox mentioned climate change in 41% of its Green New Deal segments, MSNBC mentioned climate change in 62%, and CNN mentioned it in 67%.
Comparing those earlier findings to our new ones, Fox ran fewer segments on the Green New Deal in the last week of March than it had during that stretch in early February, and a similar proportion of the segments mentioned climate change. MSNBC and CNN, in contrast, both improved their performance, airing more segments on the Green New Deal and discussing climate change in all of them. And in the case of MSNBC in particular, many of the segments were longer and more substantive and informative.
But the overall trend of Fox covering the Green New Deal more than its cable competitors continued, and that's a significant problem because Fox's coverage is so bad.
Fox's coverage of the Green New Deal was rife with misinformation and mockery
In the last week of March, many of Fox’s 22 segments mentioning the Green New Deal contained misinformation. A number of them falsely suggested or stated that the plan would ban airplanes or cars, which it would not. Others claimed that the Green New Deal would cost $93 trillion or $100 trillion, though both figures have been debunked. In four cases, the misinformation came directly from President Donald Trump; he maligned the Green New Deal during a speech in Michigan, and Fox aired footage of that speech without rebutting Trump's false statements. Donald Trump Jr. spread false information too. On the March 25 episode of Tucker Carlson Tonight, he mocked the plan and said, "we don't exactly have $93 trillion to spend to say you're going to take a bus to Hawaii."
Another classic example of a Fox discussion about the Green New Deal came on the March 30 episode of Watters' World, in which Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale was interviewed:
JESSE WATTERS (HOST): Good, now, what is the data telling you about socialism? The Green New Deal, are people responding to that? Or is this a killer at the ballot box?
BRAD PARSCALE: I mean, look, I think it’s a great issue for the president. I think it's just, as he said last -- as he's been trying to say all week, I think it’s incredible how much they just want $100 trillion, destroy the economy, turn us into Venezuela.
WATTERS: He wants to run against the Green New Deal.
PARSCALE: Oh yes. Oh yeah.
WATTERS: He is licking his chops.
PARSCALE: Yeah, it's like a juicy steak. I mean, getting rid cows, airplanes, no more Hawaiian senators --
WATTERS: Right, yes, it's like the Big Mac president running against the vegans. It's not going to fly.
Two of Fox's prime-time Green New Deal segments cast doubt on the scientific consensus around climate change. One came from Tucker Carlson on the March 27 episode of Tucker Carlson Tonight, during which he said, “The climate seems like it is changing. Climate changes a lot, always has, maybe human activity is causing it.” In the same episode, he also made the false claim that “nobody is dying from global warming in this country.” The next night on Hannity, guest Rush Limbaugh was more explicit in his climate denial, claiming, “We don't even have the power to impact the climate. We can't change it for better or worse. But it is constantly changing. All we can do is adapt to it. We're the best in the world at that.”
But both Tucker Carlson Tonight and Hannity, Fox's flagship evening opinion shows, spent less time on the Green New deal in the last week of March than they had in early February, when they both aired rants about its allegedly oppressive nature.
In contrast, Fox News @ Night with host Shannon Bream, which Fox bills as a straight "news" program, aired more segments on the plan in the last week of March than it had in early February. The Fox News @ Night segments also spread misinformation, like the false claim that the plan would cost $100 trillion. Fox News @ Night also gave a platform to Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) on March 27 to continue the ridiculous attack he had made on the Green New Deal on the Senate floor earlier that day; on the show, Lee mocked the plan further, saying, "The Green New Deal is its own punch line."
MSNBC aired strong coverage of the Green New Deal and climate change, thanks in large part to Chris Hayes
MSNBC aired 14 segments on the Green New Deal in the last week of March, and nine of them ran on All In With Chris Hayes. All of MSNBC's segments discussed the plan within the context of climate change.
Hayes produced standout coverage of the Green New Deal, including substantive discussion of what it aims to do and why climate action is critical. After the Senate vote on March 26, Markey appeared on All In With Chris Hayes to explain the reasoning behind the Democrats’ strategy to vote “present”:
SEN. ED MARKEY (D-MA): I voted “present” because Mitch McConnell and the Republicans, who are making a mockery of the legislative process, they gave us no hearings. We could have no expert witnesses. We could have no scientists. We could have no people from the states which have been affected by the massive climate-related damage, which has occurred from forest fires in California to the storms across the Midwest, the hurricanes sweeping through Texas and Florida. None of that was allowed to be presented as part of a hearing process.
CHRIS HAYES (HOST): Today illustrated to me the enormous gap -- I mean, I think the Republicans by and large, your fellow colleagues, they see it all as a joke, as a stunt. I mean, the gap between what the actual physics are -- what the science says, what the scale of the challenge is -- and where the Republicans are, it almost seems un-overcomeable to me. Does it to you?
MARKEY: It is pretty big. I mean, the United Nations and their scientists at the end of 2018 said that climate is warming so rapidly that it now poses an existential threat to the planet. The 13 federal agencies with jurisdiction over climate issued their own report at the end of 2018. They came to a conclusion that said this is very serious and we had to do something about it.
On March 29, All In With Chris Hayes aired a special episode in which Hayes interviewed Ocasio-Cortez and a host of others about climate change and the Green New Deal. This episode accounted for four of MSNBC's segments about the Green New Deal in the last week of March. Hayes also aired segments about how Republicans are failing to substantively engage on climate change and how climate change is already affecting residents of the Bronx, among others.
According to a recent Public Citizen analysis, Hayes discussed climate change more than his MSNBC peers over the past 24 months -- even though he called climate change a “palpable ratings killer” last July. He was criticized for that comment, and since then he's aired climate coverage more often. Public Citizen is now calling on Hayes to commit to cover climate change at least once a week.
Other discussions of the Green New Deal on MSNBC came during interviews with politicians, including Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) on MTP Daily, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) on Politics Nation, and Markey again on The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell.
One MSNBC segment included a guest who argued against taking dramatic steps to combat climate change. On the March 26 episode of MTP Daily, New York Times columnist Bret Stephens warned that we could "bankrupt ourselves in the process of ensuring ourselves against the potential risk." Host Katy Tur and NBC analyst Heather McGhee both pushed back against Stephens' claim that climate change isn't serious enough to warrant bold action.
CNN infrequently mentioned the Green New Deal, but connected it to climate change when it did
CNN aired only five prime-time segments that discussed the Green New Deal in the last week of March. Climate change was brought up in all of them.
Three of these discussions occurred during interviews with Democratic presidential candidates. On the March 26 episode of Erin Burnett Tonight, Julián Castro, former secretary of Housing and Urban Development, said he was a "fan of the Green New Deal." Though he did not say the words "climate change" or "global warming," he spoke about the climate crisis, noting the need to "protect our planet" and the promise of renewable energy. Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper appeared on CNN Tonight on March 26 and said he does not support the Green New Deal, but he thinks climate change is "one of the defining issues of our times." And during a CNN town hall on March 27, Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) restated his support for the Green New Deal and emphasized the importance of fighting climate change.
Fox is distorting the public conversation about the Green New Deal
It is good news that MSNBC and CNN have been discussing the Green New Deal in the context of climate change, and in some cases examining its policy ideas in-depth.
Unfortunately, Fox News is still talking about the Green New Deal more than its cable competitors, and often in dishonest and destructive ways. By spreading misinformation about the proposal, Fox is distorting the national dialogue about it. Sean McElwee -- co-founder of Data for Progress, a progressive think tank that helped to shape the Green New Deal -- made this point in a March 27 op-ed in The New York Times:
The core challenge the Green New Deal faces is not so much on the merits of the concept or even its political feasibility; it is that many of its Democratic supporters have met an aggressive and one-sided onslaught from the right with very little by way of response.
Though many components of the Green New Deal are popular, the Republican propaganda machine has already reshaped the narrative, and it has done so with virtually no coordinated pushback from progressives, or certainly nowhere near enough, a worrying pattern.
Progressive pushback has emerged more often in recent weeks, especially on MSNBC. But Fox, by covering the Green New Deal so aggressively and negatively, is already prejudicing many voters against it before they have a chance to learn what it actually calls for and why. McElwee cited polling by the progressive project Navigator that found Republican Fox viewers were more likely than other voters both to have heard a lot about the Green New Deal and to have seen negative coverage, and a recent poll by Navigator found that Fox News viewers were more inclined than others to deny that human-made climate change is happening.
Fox is unlikely to change its approach, so other media outlets need to step up with more frequent, honest, and probing coverage of the Green New Deal and other proposals for addressing the climate crisis. Failure to do so will distort the overall discourse around climate change and hinder the process of finding solutions.
Media Matters conducted Nexis and IQ Media searches for mentions of "green new deal" in programs that aired on CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC between 5 p.m. and midnight from March 25 to 31. We then searched within those transcripts for mentions of “climate” or "global warming." We counted any segments that were devoted to the Green New Deal or made substantial mention of it. We did not count teasers, passing mentions, or rebroadcasts.