James Inhofe | Media Matters for America

James Inhofe

Tags ››› James Inhofe
  • What you need to know about EPA nominee Andrew Wheeler and the media

    Wheeler mimics Scott Pruitt's press strategy ahead of his Senate confirmation hearings

    Blog ››› ››› LISA HYMAS


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    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.

    Wheeler's EPA press office attacks journalists and media outlets

    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 favors right-wing media for his televised interviews

    Pruitt heavily favored Fox News and other right-wing media outlets, giving them far more interviews than mainstream news organizations.

    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.

    Wheeler embraces right-wing outlets and bashes mainstream media via his Twitter account

    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:

    • a Donald Trump Jr. tweet linking to The Daily Caller and mocking CNN
    • a tweet from frequent Fox guest and NRATV host Dan Bongino that slammed MSNBC
    • a tweet from libertarian talk show host Dave Rubin that bashed HuffPost

    Wheeler promotes climate denial and racist memes via his Twitter account

    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.

    Wheeler now turns back to major mainstream newspapers as he faces confirmation fight

    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.  

  • On TV networks across the nation, meteorologists made a colorful statement about the impacts of climate change

    Weather forecasters used ties, necklaces, and mugs to educate viewers about global warming

    Blog ››› ››› KEVIN KALHOEFER


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    If you happened to watch your local weather forecast last week, you might have noticed a striking pattern being featured. On June 21, the first day of summer, meteorologists across the country and around the world took part in the #MetsUnite campaign to raise awareness of climate change by featuring a distinctive “warming stripes” pattern in their broadcasts.

    On air and on social media, meteorologists donned ties and necklaces and showed off coffee mugs featuring the red, white, and blue stripes. The pattern, created by climate scientist Ed Hawkins, uses a color scale to illustrate rising global temperatures driven by climate change from 1850 to 2017. From left to right, each stripe represents a year with blue stripes indicating cooler average temperatures and red stripes indicating warmer ones, making for a clear visual representation of our recent record warming.

    Ed Hawkins

    The #MetsUnite campaign was started by meteorologist Jeff Berardelli of CBS affiliate WPEC in West Palm Beach, FL, who was inspired after seeing Hawkins’ image. “It struck me as an opportunity to communicate climate change in the simplest way possible,” Berardelli told The Washington Post’s Capital Weather Gang. “In the past few years, it seems the impacts of climate change have accelerated. … And most climate scientists agree we have literally no time to spare to turn the ship around. When we look back, we will view 2015 to 2017 as the turning point years; the years when climate change ‘got real.’”

    Berardelli discussed the campaign during his broadcast on June 21 and connected global warming to West Palm Beach, saying, “Here locally, our temperatures have been shooting upwards. In fact, days above normal, back in 1970 we were at about 30; now our days above normal are over 60, so more than double.”

    Altogether, more than 100 meteorologists around the world took part in the campaign, with many of them making impassioned calls for accepting and addressing the reality of global warming.

    On Minnesota CBS affiliate WCCO, meteorologist Mike Augustyniak emphasized humans’ centrality to global warming, stating, “[Today is] a day where meteorologists across the U.S. are uniting as real scientists to say that climate change is real, it’s happening now, it’s us, we’re causing it, and if we act now, we can actually do something to reverse this.”

    One of the strongest segments came from another South Florida station, which is not surprising given that rising sea levels in the region have driven home the reality of climate change for residents and politicians. On NBC affiliate WTVJ, meteorologist John Morales interviewed Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL) about the need for Republicans to embrace the science behind climate change and take action to address it. Morales then concluded the segment by stating, “We will continue to enhance the message that we need to act on climate. Climate change is real, it’s us, and it’s serious.”

    And on NBC affiliate KRNV in Reno, NV, meteorologist Cassie Wilson talked about how the city has been experiencing an increasing number of hotter-than-normal days in recent years, and can expect still more thanks to "the buildup of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere":

    Even as a large number of meteorologists are making strong statements on climate change, members of Congress are attempting to stymie a program that helps meteorologists communicate about climate science during their broadcasts. On the same day that the #MetsUnite campaign took place, four GOP senators attacked the Climate Matters program, which has received some funding from the National Science Foundation. The senators, including Ted Cruz (R-TX) and James Inhofe (R-OK), sent a letter to the National Science Foundation’s inspector general calling for an investigation into the agency's grant-making process. 

    TV meteorologists are well-positioned to help Americans understand how climate change affects their local communities, climate communications experts say, and the Climate Matters program, which was launched in 2012, is helping them do so. In 2010, only about half of broadcast meteorologists in the U.S. accepted that climate change is happening, according to polling by George Mason University. By 2017, the percentage had risen to 95. And there was a 15-fold increase in TV weather forecasters' segments discussing climate change between 2012 and 2017. In 2018, thanks in part to the #MetsUnite campaign, we're likely to see the number of climate segments keep increasing.

  • USA Today claims it doesn't publish climate-denying op-eds. That's not true.

    Blog ››› ››› LISA HYMAS


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Each editorial USA Today publishes is accompanied by an "opposing view" op-ed that presents a counter-argument. This is a particular problem when it comes to the topic of climate change. As Media Matters has documented on multiple occasions, the newspaper's “opposing view” format regularly leads it to publish climate denial and misinformation from authors who have undisclosed fossil-fuel industry connections.

    USA Today has heard from critics who have called on it to stop running climate-denying op-eds, but instead of changing its practices, the paper's editorial board is trying to defend them. Its defense does not hold up to scrutiny.

    Bill Sternberg, the paper's editorial page editor, put forward that defense in a January 26 piece titled, "Why does USA TODAY pair editorials with opposing views?" From the piece:

    In recent years, perhaps no debate topic has been more controversial than global warming. A number of readers and outside groups have demanded that we stop running opposing views from climate change skeptics.

    We’ve tried to adhere to the rule of thumb put forth by the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New York: Everyone’s entitled to their own opinion, but they are not entitled to their own facts.

    In other words, we won’t run pieces that deny the reality of human-induced climate change. The scientific consensus on that point is overwhelming, and increasingly so.

    But we will run opposing views that disagree about proposed remedies, discuss the urgency of the climate change problem compared to other problems, or raise questions about costs versus benefits.

    And whenever possible, we try to disclose potential conflicts of interest, such as whether the writers, or their organizations, have received money from fossil-fuel interests.

    But in fact USA Today has regularly run "opposing view" op-eds that "deny the reality of human-induced climate change." And many of them have been written by people who have "received money from fossil-fuel interests," which the paper typically fails to disclose.

    A 2016 Media Matters study found that USA Today published five “opposing view” opinion pieces featuring climate denial or misinformation from January 1, 2015, through August 31, 2016. All five were written by individuals with fossil-fuel ties, which USA Today did not disclose to readers.

    For example, Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), the Senate's leading climate denier, argued in a March 2015 "opposing view" piece that "the debate on man-driven climate change is not over," though in fact it is over. There is overwhelming scientific consensus that human activity is causing climate change, as Sternberg admits in his own piece.

    And, in October 2015, then-Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) wrote an "opposing view" op-ed claiming that “temperatures have been essentially flat for 18 years," pushing a favorite climate-denier myth that has been thoroughly discredited. USA Today did not disclose that Inhofe and Sessions had both received substantial campaign contributions from fossil fuel industry interests -- millions of dollars in Inhofe's case and hundreds of thousands in Sessions'.

    More recently, in August 2017, USA Today published an op-ed casting doubt on a federal climate report; the piece was written by Chris Horner, who the paper identified only as "a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute." As Media Matters pointed out at the time, Horner's work has been funded by big fossil-fuel corporations for years. Horner has received payments from Alpha Natural Resources, one of the largest coal companies in the U.S., and has numerous other ties to the coal industry. Horner’s employer, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, has received more than $2 million from ExxonMobil over the past two decades, as well as funding from Marathon Petroleum, Texaco, the American Petroleum Institute, the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers, Koch Industries, and the Koch brothers' charitable foundations, among others.

    But USA Today might be making modest progress on disclosure, at least. In September 2017, an "opposing view" piece by longtime climate denier Myron Ebell did acknowledge some of his conflicts of interest. The bio that ran under his piece read, "Myron Ebell is director of the Center for Energy and Environment at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, which has received donations from fossil fuel interests."

    If USA Today recently adopted a policy of disclosing authors' fossil-fuel industry ties, that would be a modest step in the right direction. But it still needs to do more to fix its problem. Instead of giving a platform to an increasingly small group of climate deniers, whose views are far outside the mainstream, the paper should be inviting more commentary from diverse voices in the business, military, scientific, and other communities who are arguing for different kinds of climate solutions.

    The country desperately needs intelligent debate about the best ways to combat and cope with climate change, not about whether climate change is a serious problem. If, as Sternberg claims, USA Today wants to make its readers "better informed," it should publish more op-eds by people who take climate change seriously and create a vibrant forum for honest and constructive back-and-forth about climate action.