Joseph L. Bast | Media Matters for America

Joseph L. Bast

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  • Networks Covering March For Science Provided Platform For Climate Deniers

    Blog ››› ››› KEVIN KALHOEFER

    On Saturday, hundreds of thousands of demonstrators participated in the March for Science in Washington, D.C., and sister marches around the globe. Many participants were protesting the Trump administration and Republican Party’s climate denial and their attacks on science. But some television networks covering the marches also devoted airtime to climate deniers, who misled their viewers about the impacts and extent of global warming.

    The April 22 edition of CNN’s New Day Saturday featured a guest panel discussing the marches that included Bill Nye the Science Guy and physicist William Happer, a climate change denier. In the segment, Happer perpetuated the myth that carbon dioxide is not a harmful pollutant and that it benefits the planet, and he claimed incorrectly that temperatures are not rising as fast as climate models predicted. He also called for the cancellation of the Paris climate agreement because it “doesn’t make any scientific sense. It’s just a silly thing,” and then compared it to the Munich Agreement and British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s appeasement of Hitler.

    Nye rebutted Happer in each instance and expressed his disappointment with CNN’s decision to host the climate change denier, stating, “I will say, much as I love the CNN, you’re doing a disservice by having one climate change skeptic and not 97 or 98 scientists or engineers concerned about climate change.” Indeed, the segment was in line with CNN’s typical approach of elevating conflict among panelists over truth telling.

    On the same day, CBS Weekend News aired a segment on the marches, as well as a report on rapidly melting Arctic ice and the future impacts of climate change. But later in the program, a segment titled “Climate Realists” featured an interview with Joseph Bast, the president of the climate-denying Heartland Institute. Bast, who is not a scientist, falsely argued that the warning signs of climate change are just the natural order of things and that climate change is beneficial because of decreased deaths from cold (it’s not).

    The segment briefly noted that “most climate scientists, the United Nations, as well as NASA dismiss these arguments as propaganda for fossil fuels.” But given that 97 percent of climate scientists fall into this category, featuring Bast in the first place perpetuates a false balance by giving viewers a skewed picture of the issue. The report also neglected to mention that the Heartland Institute is funded by fossil fuel interests, including the Koch Brothers and Exxon. Heartland later celebrated Bast’s appearance on the program in a press release that states, “On Saturday, April 22, millions of viewers watching CBS News got a rare glimpse of what many scientists have been saying for years: Global warming is not a crisis, and the war on affordable and reliable energy should be ended.”

    Lastly, immediately following its coverage of the march, C-SPAN aired a “Science & Public Policy” panel discussion (which did not include any scientists) hosted by the climate denial groups the Heritage Foundation and the Discovery Institute about “what some consider the suppression of their dissenting views on climate change, evolution, and other issues.” During the discussion, Marlo Lewis of the fossil fuel-funded Competitive Enterprise Institute wrongly declared that “consensus” climatology is “not supported by observations.” Lewis’ claim runs directly in contrast to the facts released by NASA, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and the United Kingdom’s national weather service.

    The March for Science is an important story that highlights concerns over the GOP and Trump administration’s opposition to scientific evidence and facts. It’s a shame, then, that these networks chose to juxtapose their coverage of the marches with the very sort of climate science denial and misinformation that so many took to the streets to protest.

  • What A German Climate Denial Rap Tells You About The Heartland Institute

    Blog ››› ››› SHAUNA THEEL

    Austrian rapper Kilez More performs

    The Heartland Institute, an organization notorious for its virulent climate denial, opened its conference on climate change with a German rap on the "Climate Swindle" that claims "saving the climate means wiping out the humans," according to an English translation.

    The conference, which is being held in Las Vegas this week, featured a live performance by Austrian rapper Kilez More of "Klimawandel (Klimalüge, Klimaschwindel)" -- translation "Climate Change (Climate Lies, Climate Swindle)" -- alongside speakers who are largely industry-funded and have no scientific expertise. According to an English translation by the German climate denial blog NoTricksZone, the rap claims that hacked "Climategate" emails showed scientists "fudging the data" to fake warming, contrary to every independent investigation into the matter, in order to gain "more power, more money, more control, more global tax." The chorus repeats that "climate change was not made by man," shouting "nein!" Later, the rap really goes off the rails, claiming that climate change advocates believe that "there's only one way here to clean the planet / saving the climate means wiping out the humans."

    A July 7 Heartland Institute press release quoted More stating he's "honored" and "pleased the Heartland Institute liked the song and invited me to present it live on stage."

    You might have thought that after the Heartland Institute ran a billboard campaign in 2012 comparing those that accept climate science to the Unabomber -- later pulling the billboards but refusing to apologize -- that the media would have already stopped turning to the organization for analysis. However, The Washington Post, Bloomberg News, and Fox News all quoted Heartland Institute President Joseph Bast casting doubt on a 2013 scientific report by the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, without noting that he has no climate expertise and previously denied the science showing secondhand smoke can lead to cancer.

    Heartland Billboards

    The conference in Las Vegas is also being co-sponsored by Hubbard Broadcasting Inc., which owns mainstream television and radio stations across the country. What would it take for the media to stop taking the "kings of unintentional climate-comedy" seriously?

  • Why Is A Mainstream News Company Sponsoring Climate Denial?

    Hubbard Broadcasting Co-Sponsoring Heartland Institute's Climate Conference

    Blog ››› ››› SHAUNA THEEL

    KSTP hosts the Heartland Institute

    UPDATE (6/30/14): According to the Minneapolis City Pages, KSTP News Director Lindsay Radford was "in touch with [Hubbard's] camp" and said that Hubbard "isn't actually 'sponsoring' the conference ... [b]ut Hubbard did provide the Heartland Institute with a $1,000 check for an award to be given out during it." However, Hubbard is listed as a co-sponsor on the Heartland Institute's website:

    Heartland Institute screenshot 6/30/14

    When asked why KSTP has aired climate denial, Radford responded, "[j]ust like any story, we strive to give all sides." However, climate change is the classic case of a story where giving "all sides" can be misleading because the scientific facts lie firmly on one side. As New York Times public editor Margaret Sullivan explained, the public wants "real answers" not false balance:

    Simply put, false balance is the journalistic practice of giving equal weight to both sides of a story, regardless of an established truth on one side. And many people are fed up with it. They don't want to hear lies or half-truths given credence on one side, and shot down on the other. They want some real answers.

    ORIGINAL POST:

    A news organization that runs several ABC and NBC affiliates nationwide is co-sponsoring a Heartland Institute conference promoting climate denial, in line with its chief executive's views, which have seeped into the stations' reporting.

    In July, the Heartland Institute will host its annual conference railing against the scientific consensus that humans are the main cause of climate change. The conference was nearly ended in 2012, after funders fled the organization for running a short-lived billboard campaign comparing those that accept climate change to the Unabomber. The co-sponsors of the 2014 conference, who pay anywhere from $150 to $10,000 and are asked to "[w]rite at least one story" before and after the event,* are mostly right-wing groups such as the Heritage Foundation, the Media Research Center, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, and the Leadership Institute. However, one group stands out: Hubbard Broadcasting Inc., an American television and radio corporation that owns several ABC and NBC affiliates across the country.

    Hubbard Broadcasting is run by billionaire Stanley Hubbard, who, according to Rolling Stone, has said that global warming is "the biggest fraud in the history of America." Hubbard has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to political candidates (most of whom are Republicans) both individually and through his corporation. He supported former Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN), who denies man-made climate change, in the 2012 Republican primary for president. He was a major funder of a now-defunct group founded by Newt Gingrich that promoted increased extraction of fossil fuels. Hubbard has also told the Koch brothers, billionaire Republican donors who made their fortune in the oil industry, that they can "count" on him and attended at least one strategy conference run by the Kochs.

    Hubbard Broadcasting's flagship station, KSTP-TV, an ABC affiliate broadcasting on Channel 5 in the Twin Cities and surrounding area, has cast doubt on climate change by citing the Heartland Institute. In September 2013, the news station conveyed false balance by hosting Heartland Institute CEO Joseph Bast to cast doubt on findings from the "Intragovernmental [sic] Panel on Climate Change." KSTP did not give any background information about Bast, who claimed in the 1990s that smoking "in moderation has few, if any, adverse health effects." In 2008, KSTP reportedly aired a 10-minute video by the Heartland Institute titled "Unstoppable Solar Cycles" that espouses the long-debunked claim that recent climate change is being driven by changes in the sun. The station's chief meteorologist has also suggested that the sun, rather than human activities, is the primary driver of climate change.

    Hubbard stations WNYT and WHEC, which serve parts of New York State, have also seen the impact of their CEO's climate denial. In 2008, former WNYT anchor Ed Dague suggested at his Times-Union blog that his popular former colleague Lydia Kulbida was let go in part because she resisted inserting climate denial into the news:

    Lydia Kulbida was a member of the union's "mobilization committee" and had resisted some of management's attempts to insert Hubbard family opinions into news content. The Hubbards do not believe in global warming and have distinct views about unionization. My belief is that her salary didn't make her a target for the cutback but her activism and attitude did.

    WHEC's chief meteorologist, like KSTP's, also denies climate change. At a Tea Party rally in 2010, WHEC's Kevin Williams claimed the "Earth is not warming." Williams has also promoted climate denial on Twitter.

  • Heartland Institute's Smoke And Mirrors Attempt To Debunk Consensus Science

    Blog ››› ››› SHAUNA THEEL

    Joseph Bast

    Fox News is suggesting a report by the Heartland Institute "debunked" a top climate change report while obscuring the background of the organization, which previously denied the science demonstrating the dangers of tobacco and secondhand smoke.

    On Fox News' America's Newsroom and America's News Headquarters, Heartland Institute President Joseph Bast said that "We can't trust what appears in our most prestigious [scientific] journals anymore." Instead, Bast wants Fox News viewers to trust his organization's "Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change" (NIPCC), which puts out a report imitating -- and attempting to debunk -- the consensus report from the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which forecasts "severe and widespread impacts" from manmade global warming.

    But how much trust should you put in the Heartland Institute? In 1998, Bast was claiming that "smoking in moderation has few, if any, adverse health effects," citing a few "experts." (Simultaneously, he was touting to a tobacco industry funder that "Heartland does many things that benefit Philip Morris' bottom line.") This was left out of Fox News' report. Today, his organization is claiming in the NIPCC that "few (if any) [species] likely will be driven even close to extinction" from climate change and "no net harm" overall will result, citing a few "experts." (The organization's current funders are largely unknown, often funneled through the right-wing's "dark money ATM," but it has received funding from ExxonMobil and Koch-connected foundations in the last decade.)

    While IPCC's dozens of authors are unpaid, at least three of the NIPCC's four lead authors are paid by the Heartland Institute. One of the authors, Craig Idso, used to work for the coal company Peabody Energy and wrote a contracted study for the industry group The American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity. The IPCC reviews the current state of scientific knowledge, while the NIPCC's references in its Summary for Policymakers include publications that date back to 1904 and few references from this century other than non-peer-reviewed reports from itself and its authors. As climate scientist Donald Wuebbles noted at the end of the Fox News report, the NIPCC report is "full of misinformation" and "not peer-reviewed."

    So far, Fox News has dedicated nearly as much time to the NIPCC (over 4 minutes) as it did to the actual IPCC report (over 5 minutes of disparaging coverage). When Fox News equated the first NIPCC report with the first IPCC report on the physical science basis of climate change, scientist Kevin Trenberth of the National Center for Atmospheric Research told Media Matters it was "irresponsible":

    The NIPCC has no standing whatsoever. It is not a reviewed document, it is not open for review at any point and it contains demonstrable garbage and falsehoods. In contrast the IPCC process is rigorous, open and there are 2 major reviews. This is irresponsible journalism.