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  • National TV news is still failing to properly incorporate climate change into hurricane coverage

    ABC did not mention climate at all during Florence, while CBS, PBS, CNN, and MSNBC did worse than last year during Harvey

    Blog ››› ››› TED MACDONALD


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    A Media Matters analysis of Hurricane Florence broadcast news coverage from September 7-19 found that ABC failed to air a single segment that mentioned the links between climate change and hurricanes like Florence, while NBC aired one segment and CBS aired two. PBS NewsHour also aired two. A review of weekday, prime-time coverage of Florence on the three major cable news networks found that MSNBC ran four segments that mentioned climate change in the context of hurricanes, and CNN ran two. Fox aired six segments, but these either downplayed or outright dismissed the link between climate change and hurricanes. Overall, coverage was down from a year ago: The majority of the networks mentioned the connections between hurricanes and climate change in fewer segments than they did while covering Hurricane Harvey last year.

    Florence brought historic levels of rainfall and destruction to the Carolinas. Scientists say that climate change worsened these effects.

    After making landfall over North Carolina on September 14, Hurricane Florence dumped record amounts of rainfall over the region. Swansboro, N.C., had over 30 inches of rain, which broke the previous record of 24 inches set by Hurricane Floyd in 1999. South Carolina’s record for most rain in a single spot was also broken, as over 18 inches of rain fell in Marion. Additionally, Florence brought tides to record levels. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the tide gauge at Wrightsville Beach, N.C., surged to more than four feet above normal, breaking the previous record by over a foot.

    At least 44 deaths have been attributed to Florence. The storm unleashed significant flooding that has affected thousands of people, with several river gauges either near or above record levels. Florence has created a massive environmental crisis as well -- hog waste and coal ash have leaked into flood waters, and Duke Energy now fears that coal ash may be leaking into the Cape Fear River, which is the source of drinking water for more than 60,000 people. And as with most hurricanes, lower-income and minority communities are suffering the brunt of its destruction.

    Scientists say that climate change is exacerbating some of the worst effects of hurricanes like Florence. Climate scientist Jennifer Francis of the Rutgers Climate Institute told Bloomberg:

    Warming oceans, a more rapidly warming arctic, melting ice sheets are all contributing in various way to conditions like what we’re observing now. ... It’s favoring slow moving weather patterns, more intense tropical storms and heavier downpours. And they’re all more likely as we continue to warm the Earth.

    Regarding heavier downpours, there is a growing body of work linking wetter storms to climate change. NOAA’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory notes, “Tropical cyclone rainfall rates will likely increase in the future due to anthropogenic warming and accompanying increase in atmospheric moisture content.” In the wake of Hurricane Harvey’s record-breaking rainfall, two studies concluded that climate change increased the amount of rainfall that Harvey dumped by estimates of 15 percent and 38 percent, respectively. Before Florence made landfall, a first of its kind pre-attribution study estimated that the storm's “rainfall will be significantly increased by over 50% in the heaviest precipitating parts of the storm.”

    Florence’s record storm surge was also likely worsened by climate change. According to atmospheric scientist Marshall Shepard:

    We do have higher sea level because of climate change. So whenever we have these types of storms, you’re probably dealing with a more significant storm surge because of that than you would perhaps 100 years ago.

    Broadcast networks: ABC completely dropped the ball in explaining how climate change affects hurricanes, while CBS and NBC did a little better

    Media Matters analyzed the morning, nightly, and Sunday news shows on ABC, CBS, and NBC from September 7-19.


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    CBS and PBS each aired fewer segments on the links between climate change and hurricanes than they did last year during coverage of Harvey. In 2017, as Hurricane Harvey menaced parts of Texas, Media Matters tracked the number of TV news segments about the hurricane that mentioned climate change. Harvey, like Florence, was the first major hurricane of the year to make landfall in the continental U.S. In comparing last year's Harvey coverage to this year's Florence coverage, we found that networks overall did a worse job of drawing links between climate change and hurricanes this year.

    During its Harvey coverage, CBS aired three segments discussing the ways that climate change influences hurricanes, but it aired just two such segments during Hurricane Florence coverage. NBC was the only network that improved its coverage: Last year, it aired zero segments mentioning the climate-hurricane connection in the context of Harvey while this year it aired one during its Florence coverage. ABC failed to air any segments mentioning climate change during coverage of either Harvey or Florence. We also analyzed weekday episodes of PBS NewsHour and found that its coverage had declined: Last year, the show aired three segments about Harvey that discussed climate change. This year, it aired only two such segments about Florence. 

    ABC was the only network that did not mention climate change in its coverage of Florence at all. ABC's failure on this score was not surprising, as the network has a history of neglecting climate change. Earlier this year, it was the only major broadcast network to make no mention of climate change in relation to the deadly heat wave that affected much of the U.S., and it spent less time last year reporting on climate change on its nightly and Sunday shows than did CBS and NBC.

    CBS aired just two segments that addressed the effects of climate change on hurricanes. Both of the segments, which ran during the September 15 episode of CBS This Morning, included strong analysis. The first mentioned Hurricane Florence in the broader context of the Global Climate Action Summit, which took place in San Francisco from September 12-14. CBS correspondent John Blackstone noted, “For activists here, Hurricane Florence provided an example of the kind of extreme weather scientists have predicted would come more often in a warming world.” The second segment immediately followed the first, and featured meteorologist Jeff Berardelli discussing how climate change can influence hurricanes:

    NBC aired just one segment that reported on the links between climate change and hurricanes. In a good segment on the September 15 episode of Today, NBC correspondent Harry Smith spoke with Adam Sobel, an atmospheric science professor at Columbia University, and Rob Freudenberg, an environmental planning expert, about how climate change affects hurricanes. Sobel said, “What we know certainly about climate change and hurricanes is that because of higher sea-level rise, the risk from storm-surge flooding is going up. And we know with a high degree of confidence that rainfall from these storms is also increasing.”

    PBS NewsHour aired only two segments that connected climate change to hurricanes. Both segments featured strong analysis from climate scientists. On the September 14 episode of PBS NewsHour, Columbia University climate scientist Radley Horton discussed how there is a “very clear link” between climate change and hurricanes. On the September 19 episode of PBS NewsHour, science correspondent Miles O’Brien looked at the science behind hurricanes, and featured several climate scientists. One of them was the University of Wisconsin’s James Kossin, who recently published a study about how tropical cyclones are slowing down due to anthropogenic warming.

    Prime-time cable: CNN and MSNBC mentioned climate change less often during Florence coverage than they did last year during Harvey

    We also analyzed prime-time, weekday shows on CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News from September 7-19. CNN and MSNBC both aired fewer segments that discussed climate change in the context of hurricanes than they did during Hurricane Harvey. Fox aired the same number as last year, but its coverage was even more dismissive of climate science now than it was in 2017.

    CNN aired two segments that discussed the links between climate change and hurricanes, down from five such segments that ran during Harvey coverage. Both of the climate mentions occured on September 11, when CNN commentators only briefly raised the topic during broader discussions. CNN Senior Political Analyst Ron Brownstein mentioned on The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer that hurricanes are influenced by the changing climate, while CNN Political Commentator Van Jones made a similar point on Cuomo Prime Time.

    MSNBC aired four segments that discussed the links between climate change and hurricanes, down from five that ran during Harvey coverage. The September 13 episode of All In With Chris Hayes featured a substantive and informative segment with meteorologist Eric Holthaus -- the best of the prime-time cable segments we analyzed. Holthaus began the discussion by stating, “Florence is a huge hurricane. I mean, this is one of the largest hurricanes that we've ever seen in the Atlantic. And you can't really talk about this without talking about climate change.” He explained that intense rain and storm surge fueled by climate change were major components of the storm. The other MSNBC mentions of climate change occurred in the context of broader discussions: one more on the September 13 All In episode; one on the September 13 episode of Hardball with Chris Matthews; and one on the September 11 episode of The Beat with Ari Melber.

    Fox News aired six segments that mentioned climate change in its Florence coverage, but all of them were dismissive of the issue. That's slightly worse than last year during Harvey, when Fox also aired six such segments, only five of which were dismissive of the links between climate change and hurricanes.

    Of Fox’s six segments that mentioned climate change this year, two featured well-known climate deniers who disputed any connections between climate change and hurricanes: The September 13 episode of Hannity included commentary from meteorologist Joe Bastardi, and the September 14 episode of Tucker Carlson Tonight featured meteorologist Roy Spencer. In the other four Fox segments, hosts took aim at a Washington Post editorial that called President Trump complicit in extreme weather because his administration has been rolling back climate protections. Three of these attacks came from Sean Hannity -- on September 12, 13, and 14 -- and the fourth from Greg Gutfeld on September 12.

    Methodology

    Media Matters ran the search terms "(Hurricane! OR Florence) AND (climate OR warming OR emission! OR carbon OR CO2 OR greenhouse gas!)" in Nexis to identify segments between September 7 and September 19 that mentioned both the hurricane and climate change. On the broadcast networks, we examined the morning, evening, and Sunday news shows on ABC, CBS, and NBC, as well as weekday episodes of PBS NewsHour. For CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News, we examined the networks’ prime-time shows that air on weekdays from 5-11 p.m.

  • TV News Takes The Bait On Trump’s Climate Remarks, Ignoring Ample Warning Signs

    Blog ››› ››› ANDREW SEIFTER

    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:

    • ABC: On the November 23 edition of ABC’s morning show, Good Morning America, correspondent David Wright stated that Trump “hit hard” on climate change during the campaign but is “now more noncommittal” about it. Later that day, on the network’s evening news program, World News Tonight, congressional correspondent Mary Bruce reported that Trump was “softening on a host of campaign promises,” including his pledge to “pull out of the Paris climate change deal.” And in an interview with Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) on the November 27 edition of ABC’s Sunday news show, This Week, chief global affairs correspondent Martha Raddatz said that Trump had “changed his tune” on climate change.
    • CBS: On the November 22 edition of CBS Evening News, anchor Scott Pelley stated that Trump “revised” his position on climate change, and national correspondent Chip Reid reported that Trump “changed his tune on the issue of climate change, and whether it`s caused by human activity.” The following morning, on CBS Morning News, correspondent Hena Daniels said that Trump “reversed course on the issue of climate change,” and on that day’s episode of CBS This Morning, co-host Gayle King similarly said that Trump is “reversing” his campaign position on climate change.
    • NBC: On the November 27 edition of NBC’s Meet the Press, host Chuck Todd asked: “From the border wall to global warming, is there a change in the air?” Todd also listed climate change as one of the issues on which Trump “has either backed away from some of the rhetoric or just stayed silent.”

    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”:

    Brownstein made the same point during appearances on the November 22 edition of CNN’s The Situation Room and the November 27 edition of CNN Newsroom.

    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.”

  • CNN Needs To Do Better Than This Trump Chyron

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN

    A CNN graphic that misleadingly claimed President-elect Donald Trump “deliver[ed] on [his] vow to save” jobs at Indiana-based manufacturer Carrier demonstrates the need for the network to continue using on-screen graphics as a way of fact-checking Trump during his transition and presidency.

    Carrier announced on November 29 that it had struck a deal with Trump and the State of Indiana to keep about 1,000 jobs it had planned to move to Mexico in the United States. According to The Wall Street Journal, the state will provide Carrier and its parent company, United Technologies Corp. (UTC), $7 million in tax breaks over the next decade in exchange for keeping the jobs there. In addition to the $7 million in tax breaks, Trump reportedly promised UTC CEO Greg Hayes millions more in future corporate tax reductions.

    Discussing the announcement on the December 1 edition of CNN Newsroom, panelists noted multiple problems with Trump’s actions, including that the announcement could cause a “slippery slope” where “every company will expect to get huge tax incentives to stay in the United States,” a point economists and policy experts have also made. CNN commentator and New Yorker editor Ryan Lizza agreed, noting that “the precedent here can be very dangerous,” and adding, “You basically have this sort of extortion game that companies can now play because Trump has set himself up this way.” Echoing economist Jared Bernstein, Atlantic editor Ron Brownstein argued it is “unlikely that individual interventions in the decisions of individual companies is going to make a big dent in the long-term trajectory of a more automated and globalized manufacturing supply chain.”

    However, someone looking at only the TV screen would not know these potential stumbling blocks with the deal. Instead, they would see only a graphic saying, “Trump Delivers On Vow To Save Carrier Jobs,” essentially giving Trump the talking point he wanted. That graphic presents a stark contrast from what CNN’s own Kate Bolduan noted during a later segment of At This Hour in which she stated: “1,000 jobs remaining in Indiana that would have left, that is to be celebrated. … But it is a far cry from what Trump promised … on the campaign trail.”

    During the presidential campaign, CNN repeatedly used on-screen graphics to call out Trump’s lies and misleading rhetoric, such as "Trump: Never Said Japan Should Have Nukes (He Did)," "Trump’s Son: Father Apologized To Khans (He Hasn’t)," and "Trump Calls Obama Founder of ISIS (He’s Not)." CNN was not the only network to do this, with MSNBC also joining in to fact-check Trump’s claim he watched a “video of Iran receiving cash.” MSNBC’s graphic pointed out that the video was “nonexistent.”

    As ABC News legal affairs anchor Dan Abrams noted during the campaign, this practice of fact-checking Trump in real time helped solve “one of the big problems in cable news” where things sometimes are “just not true” and need to be called out as such.

    CNN’s failure to express the nuanced issues with the Carrier announcement highlights the need for CNN and other networks to have clearer on-screen graphics and continue their practice of on-screen fact-checking. These measures are crucial in preventing misleading talking points and falsehoods pushed by Trump from gaining traction.

  • Journalists Mock Trump’s "Grievanceburg Address" At Gettysburg

    ››› ››› OLIVER WILLIS & ALEX KAPLAN

    Journalists mocked Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s October 22 speech in Gettysburg, PA, which his campaign had said would outline his first 100 days in office if elected president and had compared to President Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. Reporters said the speech was more “like the Grievanceburg Address,” “a personal revenge tour,” and was full of “conspiracy theories & racial animus.”