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Broadcast networks are decreasing their climate coverage at a time when the case for reporting on the issue is become more and more compelling. By ignoring this serious matter, media are failing to inform audiences about pressing impacts on human migration patterns, women, and the economy.
In 2016, media had no shortage of compelling reasons to cover climate change -- from the revelation that it was the third consecutive hottest year on record to the United States’ election of a climate denier to its highest office. Yet broadcast news outlets’ coverage of climate change dropped a whopping 66 percent from 2015 to 2016, making it the third consecutive year of declining coverage.
When media turn a blind eye to climate change, they ignore an issue that will have devastating impacts and multiply existing threats across the globe. According to The New York Times, unmitigated climate change could displace between 50 million and 200 million people by 2050. But the effects of climate change are already visible. Un the U.S. last year, the federal government allocated $48 million in grants to resettle residents of Isle de Jean Charles in Louisiana, which represents “the first allocation of federal tax dollars to move an entire community struggling with the impacts of climate change.”
Climate change poses a particular threat to women. A whole host of studies have concluded that women will bear the brunt of climate change-induced natural disasters and severe weather events. According to a United Nations analysis, “Women are more vulnerable to the effects of climate change than men—primarily as they constitute the majority of the world’s poor and are more dependent for their livelihood on natural resources that are threatened by climate change.” The analysis also stated, “When coupled with unequal access to resources and to decision-making processes, limited mobility places women in rural areas in a position where they are disproportionately affected by climate change.”
The prospect of a warming planet also presents a huge risk to the global economy. Researchers at Stanford University and the University of California, Berkeley found that climate change could "reshape the global economy by reducing average global incomes roughly 23% by 2100 and widening global income inequality." The National Climate Assessment reported that in the U.S., “more than 5,790 square miles and more than $1 trillion of property are at risk of inundation from sea level rise of two feet above current level by 2050.” Not surprisingly, Bloomberg recently reported that most of the world’s biggest investors now consider climate change when making investment decisions.
More and more Americans are waking up to the threat of climate change. Recent polls have found that a majority of Americans are concerned about global warming and believe action should be taken to address it. And yet there’s an inverse relationship between Americans’ growing concern about climate and the media’s coverage of it.
By dropping the ball on climate change, media are doing audiences a huge disservice. As Washington Post Deputy Weather Editor Angela Fritz wrote, “The media have a responsibility to report the facts. If scientists agree an extreme weather event was made worse by climate change, viewers need to know that, not just because it is true, but because people do think it’s a problem. I don’t know whom network news and Congress are serving by turning a blind eye to climate change, but according to these poll results, it’s not the voters.”
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn finally unveiled President Donald Trump’s plan for a major overhaul of individual and corporate income taxes in the United States during an April 26 press briefing. The plan, which seemed to many observers like a less detailed version of the budget-busting agenda Trump campaigned on, was assailed by reporters and economic analysts on the major broadcast evening news programs for its sparse details and profligate giveaways to the wealthy, including a likely tax break for the president himself.
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.
Trump Apologists Continued To Deflect Concerns Over Conflicts And Corruption In The White House
Broadcast and cable news programs heaped additional scrutiny on Ivanka Trump in the hours after The Associated Press broke a bombshell report that the lifestyle brand she owns had secured valuable trademarks in China before she met with the Chinese president for dinner at her father’s private Mar-a-Lago resort. News of the glaring conflict of interest between Trump’s role as a White House adviser and her private business empire was carried by the major broadcast networks --ABC, CBS, NBC, and PBS -- as well as CNN and MSNBC. Fox News ignored the issue entirely during its evening and prime-time programming, and longtime Trump apologist and former Fox host Greta Van Susteren actually defended Trump during her program.
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President Donald Trump and the Republican Party have demonstrated an alarming disregard for science and evidence-based policy and decision-making, prompting scientists to voice their concerns.
Since the election, multiple media outlets have accused the Trump administration and the Republican Party of waging a “war on science.” And with good reason: The Trump administration has appointed a climate denier to head the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), proposed budget cuts that would eliminate billions of dollars for scientific research programs, called climate-related government programs “a waste of money,” and banned the use of the term “climate change” at the Department of Energy. As for the rest of the GOP, House Republicans have passed bills that would “stifle science at the EPA,” and the Republican-led House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology has endorsed climate science denial and bogus accusations of data manipulation promulgated by propaganda outlet Breitbart.com. The committee has also held a hearing aimed at disputing the scientific consensus on human-caused climate change.
These alarming trends have prompted scientists, educators, and other citizens to organize and participate in the March for Science and the People’s Climate March at end of April. But in the months leading up to the marches, scientists have been voicing their concerns in the media. Here are a few recent examples of scientists speaking out against the Trump administration and GOP’s anti-science policies, science denial, and ignorance.
On the February 23 edition of Late Night with Seth Meyers, climate scientist Ben Santer appeared on the show as a private citizen, explaining, “It seems kind of important to talk about the science that we do, but I'm not sure how the folks who fund my research will feel about that. So it just seems kind of safer to do it this way.” When Meyers mentioned that Trump has called climate change a “hoax,” Santer answered that it “feels tough” to have his life’s work dismissed as a conspiracy and a hoax, but added, “You have a choice. What do you do with that? You can either retreat to your office, close the door, and be silent. Or you can choose to push back against ignorance and say, ‘Hey, this is not our understanding. We know something about the causes of climate change.’” Santer concluded by stating, “I want to tell people, this is our understanding. These are the likely outcomes if we do nothing about the problem of human-caused climate change. And let's have a respectful, honest debate on what to do about it. But let's not dismiss this incorrectly as a hoax or a conspiracy. We all lose if we embrace ignorance with open arms.”
Santer also appeared on CBS Evening News the day after Trump took his biggest step yet toward fulfilling his campaign promise to dial back former President Barack Obama's climate policies. In an interview with correspondent John Blackstone, Santer discussed Trump’s anti-science views and policies, a letter he wrote to Trump urging him not to listen to “ignorant voices” denying climate change, and the “new climate of intimidation” that the Trump administration has created for scientists.
On the April 7 edition of NPR’s Science Friday, Penn State University climate scientist Michael Mann discussed his appearance as the sole witness voicing the scientific consensus on human-caused climate change in a House science committee hearing that The Washington Post described as “an act of gamesmanship from a body intent on manufacturing doubt on scientific issues which have long been settled.” Mann described House science committee Chairman Lamar Smith as a “climate change denier” who has “spent much of his time as the chair of the House science committee going on the attack against climate scientists” and “taken on an adversarial position when it comes to the science of climate change.” Mann added that he thought the hearing was “intended to try to convey [Smith’s] doubts and his critiques of the science.”
When asked by host Ira Flatow why Mann decided to appear before the committee knowing that he would face opposition, Mann replied:
My good friend Bill Nye the Science Guy has really demonstrated, I think, that you do sometimes have to take the science straight to the critics. You really do have to take on science denial because if it goes unopposed then some of it becomes sort of accepted. The doubts, the confusion becomes part of the discourse and it clouds the public understanding of science. And so we do need to do our best to inject science into those fora, and so that’s what I saw my role as being, to really communicate why it is that there is such a widespread consensus about human-caused climate change.
And during the committee hearing in question, after Rep. Paul Tonko (D-NY) brought up the roles of climate deniers Myron Ebell and Scott Pruitt in Trump’s EPA, Mann lamented that the EPA is now headed by a climate denier for the first time ever, stating that “to have an EPA administrator who has a position that’s so at odds with the scientific evidence -- there is no precedent, even in past Republican administrations, under Nixon, under Reagan, under George H.W. Bush. They each had EPA administrators that embraced science.”
On the day of the House science committee hearing, NASA climate scientist Gavin Schmidt criticized Republicans’ attacks on climate science, tweeting that the committee’s hearing was “being held to obfuscate well characterized, oft reproduced, inconvenient science”:
Hearing aims: "to examine sci method & process as it relates to climate change" also "underlying science that helps inform policy decisions"
— Gavin Schmidt (@ClimateOfGavin) March 29, 2017
However, let's be clear, this hearing & others like it are being held to obfuscate well characterized, oft reproduced, inconvenient science
— Gavin Schmidt (@ClimateOfGavin) March 29, 2017
Everyone is for the sci method. Everyone is pro sci integrity. So when scis push back on politicised harassment it's not because they don't.
— Gavin Schmidt (@ClimateOfGavin) March 29, 2017
Cherry-picking datasets, ignoring indep replications, targeting individual scientists with inconvenient papers are, rightly, condemned
— Gavin Schmidt (@ClimateOfGavin) March 29, 2017
Drinking game (I know it's early). Every time someone says "the science isn't settled" as a talisman to ward off textbook conclusions.
— Gavin Schmidt (@ClimateOfGavin) March 29, 2017
On the April 3 episode of Crooked Media’s Pod Save America podcast, climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe told hosts Tommy Vietor and Jon Lovett that the selection of Scott Pruitt as EPA administrator was “like putting one of the world’s leading atheists in charge of the Church of England. It just doesn’t make sense. Why would you do that?” When asked what worried Hayhoe the most about Trump’s executive order rolling back Obama’s climate legacy, she answered, “The most concerning thing to me is that these regulations are going to be rolling the United States back from an international perspective, from a technological perspective -- back into even possibly a second-world country.”
TOMMY VIETOR (CO-HOST): It’s hard to overstate what a radical pick Scott Pruitt was to run the EPA. He’s sued the agency 14 times, he doesn’t believe that CO2 is a primary driver of climate change, which is stunning. Even ExxonMobil has said that. Can you talk about his selection -- what it means for U.S. climate policy. Is there anything states, cities, or citizens can do to weigh in and push back?
KATHARINE HAYHOE: Yeah, I agree, I mean putting somebody who doesn’t believe in something in charge of that very institution is like putting one of the world’s leading atheists in charge of the Church of England. It just doesn’t make sense. Why would you do that?
JON LOVETT (CO-HOST): So, one thing that Trump did, speaking of these standards, is an executive order called the Energy Independence Order, or something like that? But really it’s about rolling back the clean climate plan -- uh, the Clean Power Plan. It was sort of a catch-all, there was a lot in there. What is the most worrisome to you?
HAYHOE: Yeah. [Laughs] Well, where should I start? So first of all, though, let’s be clear. The Clean Power Plan was what the president could do with the abilities that he had at the time, but it would not take us all the way to the Paris agreement. So the Paris agreement, signed about a year and half ago almost, says that we should limit warming to at least 2 degrees and possibly 1.5 if we can to avoid the most dangerous impacts of climate change. And the Clean Power Plan was only part of the way there. We needed more. Now of course we’re looking at not even that, we’re looking at a lot less. But we’re also looking at things that just lack common sense, like investing in the coal economy when there’s already twice as many jobs in the solar industry, and coal jobs have been dropping like a rock, not because of the Clean Power Plan, but just because it’s not as economically viable a form of energy anymore. It’s like investing in shoring up horse farms when Henry Ford is already rolling out the Model T on his assembly line.
Honestly, the most concerning thing to me is that these regulations are going to be rolling the United States back from an international perspective, from a technological perspective -- back into possibly even a second-world country. China is already poised to take the leadership, not just in the clean energy economy -- they’re already taken leadership there -- but with the climate plan as well. So the U.S. is losing leadership, and how long will it take to regain, if ever?
Climate scientists Kevin Trenberth and Reto Knutti co-authored an April 5 op-ed published in The Conversation decrying the Trump administration’s climate science denial: “The kinds of statements made by Smith, the president and Pruitt are misguided. They show a woeful ignorance about science and how it works, and in particular about climate science. Consequently, they ignore sound advice on how to best plan for the future.” They added, “The failure of Lamar Smith and his ilk to recognize that climate scientists ask legitimate scientific questions, and moreover, that they that they provide very useful information for decision-makers, is a major loss for the public.”
From the April 5 op-ed:
Chairman Smith accused climate scientists of straying “outside the principles of the scientific method.” Smith repeated his oft-stated assertion that scientific method hinges on “reproducibility,” which he defined as “a repeated validation of the results.” He also asserted that the demands of scientific verification altogether preclude long-range prediction, saying, “Alarmist predictions amount to nothing more than wild guesses. The ability to predict far into the future is impossible. Anyone stating what the climate will be in 500 years or even at the end of the century is not credible.”
At the same time, President Trump has been dismissive of climate change and EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said in March that “measuring with precision human activity on the climate is something very challenging to do…so, no, I would not agree that it’s a primary contributor to the global warming that we see.”
The kinds of statements made by Smith, the president and Pruitt are misguided. They show a woeful ignorance about science and how it works, and in particular about climate science. Consequently, they ignore sound advice on how to best plan for the future.
Accordingly, we have many facts and physical understanding of the Earth’s climate. The role of scientists is to lay out the facts, their interpretation, and the prospects and consequences as best we can. But the decision about what is done with this information is the responsibility of everyone, including and often led by politicians. The failure of Lamar Smith and his ilk to recognize that climate scientists ask legitimate scientific questions, and moreover, that they that they provide very useful information for decision-makers, is a major loss for the public.
During a March 9 report about Pruitt’s comment that he does not believe carbon dioxide is a primary contributor to global warming, CBS Evening News correspondent Chip Reid asked senior climate scientist and director of climate science at the Union of Concerned Scientists Brenda Ekwurzel, “If you were talking to Mr. Pruitt right now, what would you tell him?” Ekwurzel replied, “Listen to the scientists. Ninety-seven percent of scientists who have studied climate change agree that carbon dioxide is the primary cause of human-driven climate change.”
Victoria Herrmann, managing director of the Arctic Institute, wrote a March 28 op-ed in The Guardian about “politically motivated data deletions” of her work by the Trump administration. Though Herrmann was able to find archived materials to replace defunct links to her work, she wrote that having to do so evoked “a bit of anger at the state of the country.” She continued, “The consequences of vanishing citations, however, pose a far more serious consequence than website updates. Each defunct page is an effort by the Trump administration to deliberately undermine our ability to make good policy decisions by limiting access to scientific evidence.” Herrmann concluded, “While working in one of the most physically demanding environments on the planet, we don’t have time to fill new data gaps created by political malice. So please, President Trump, stop deleting my citations.”
From the op-ed:
At first, the distress flare of lost data came as a surge of defunct links on 21 January. The US National Strategy for the Arctic, the Implementation Plan for the Strategy, and the report on our progress all gone within a matter of minutes. As I watched more and more links turned red, I frantically combed the internet for archived versions of our country’s most important polar policies.
All in all, emails about defunct links of sites that weren’t saved are annoying, but harmless. Finding archived materials to replace them add maybe 20 minutes of internet searches to my day – and a bit of anger at the state of the country.
The consequences of vanishing citations, however, pose a far more serious consequence than website updates. Each defunct page is an effort by the Trump administration to deliberately undermine our ability to make good policy decisions by limiting access to scientific evidence.
These back-to-back data deletions come at a time when the Arctic is warming twice as fast as the global average. Just this week, it was reported that the Arctic’s winter sea ice dropped to its lowest level in recorded history. The impacts of a warming, ice-free Arctic are already clear: a decline in habitat for polar bears and other Arctic animals; increases in coastal erosion that force Alaskans to abandon their homes; and the opening up of shipping routes with unpredictable conditions and hazardous icebergs.
In a remote region where data is already scarce, we need publicly available government guidance and records now more than ever before. It is hard enough for modern Arctic researchers to perform experiments and collect data to fill the gaps left by historic scientific expeditions. While working in one of the most physically demanding environments on the planet, we don’t have time to fill new data gaps created by political malice.
So please, President Trump, stop deleting my citations.
Scientists Ploy Achakulwisut and Geoffrey Supran co-authored an April 11 op-ed published in Mashable explaining that “the Trump administration's unrelenting attacks on climate science and our generation's future” had motivated them to participate in the People’s Climate March on April 29. They urged readers to do the same, adding, “Their attacks on climate science are an affront to all the scientists working to understand and solve this singular crisis of our time. … Now, more than ever, we need to demonstrate that the majority of the public understands the realities of climate science and demands clean air, clean water, and clean energy.”
From the op-ed:
As scientists and as a couple in our twenties, it's been excruciating to watch the Trump administration's unrelenting attacks on climate science and our generation's future. Knowing that policy decisions made over the next four years could impact the lives of hundreds of generations to come, we're more determined than ever to do not only our best work as scientists, but our best activism as citizens.
On April 29, we'll stand up for climate science, justice, and democracy in the People's Climate March. If you're appalled at the Trump administration's anti-climate agenda, we hope you'll join us.
Then Donald Trump was elected, and our battles to stand up for science became a war. President Trump, EPA head Scott Pruitt, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and Chairman of the House Science Committee Lamar Smith are just some of the many politicians abusing their positions of power to advance their ideological agendas. Their attacks on climate science are an affront to all the scientists working to understand and solve this singular crisis of our time. What's more, people's lives are at stake. "The War on Science is more than a skirmish over funding, censorship, and 'alternative facts,'" says scientist Jon Foley. "It's a battle for the future, basic decency, and the people we love."
Now, more than ever, we need to demonstrate that the majority of the public understands the realities of climate science and demands clean air, clean water, and clean energy. That we won’t allow our democracy to be hijacked by Big Oil and billionaire ideologues. We've already seen how concerted opposition by activists, lawyers, and journalists can stop the Trump administration in its tracks on immigration and health care. We are not powerless to change the course of history.
The day after President Donald Trump made good on his campaign promise to roll back former President Barack Obama’s executive orders aimed at fighting climate change and reducing carbon pollution, the nightly newscasts finally covered the impact of Trump’s presidency on climate policy -- providing the type of reporting that was glaringly absent in their pre-election coverage in 2016.
On Tuesday, Trump took his biggest step yet toward fulfilling his campaign promise to dial back Obama's climate policies and begin “withdrawing and rewriting the Obama-era Clean Power Plan, which would have closed hundreds of coal-fired power plants, frozen construction of new plants and replaced them with vast new wind and solar farms.” During the signing ceremony, Trump announced, “That is what this is all about: bringing back our jobs, bringing back our dreams and making America wealthy again.”
On the same day, the nightly newscasts on ABC, CBS, and NBC all aired segments on Trump’s executive actions, questioning whether he would actually be able to restore coal mining jobs. Some reports noted that increased automation in the industry and competition from natural gas have made the return of coal mining jobs unlikely, and others noted that the renewable energy sector now dwarfs coal mining in employment numbers.
The major networks’ unanimous coverage of Trump’s executive order, while commendable, puts into stark relief their failure to inform viewers before the election about what to expect on climate change and climate-related policies under a Trump administration.
On the campaign trail, Trump had repeatedly promised to eliminate climate regulations enacted by Obama. But as Media Matters’ annual study examining the major networks’ climate coverage in 2016 found, the nightly news and Sunday shows on ABC, CBS, and NBC failed to discuss climate-related ramifications of a Trump presidency until after the election. In fact, the Tyndall Report, which tracks the broadcast networks' weeknight newscasts, found that ABC, CBS, and NBC had all but given up covering issues and presidential policies during campaign season.
PBS NewsHour, by contrast, aired two segments before the election examining what impact a Trump or a Clinton presidency would have on climate-related issues and policies. As it happens, the Trump administration is now proposing significant budget cuts that could severely hamper PBS’ ability to operate.
Segments on ABC’s World News Tonight and NBC Nightly News on Trump’s executive order both featured Trump calling climate change a “hoax” without noting that his comment contradicts the scientific consensus that climate change is real and human-caused -- something we found many networks also did last year.
But there were a few bright spots on CBS Evening News, which has been one of the better nightly shows when it comes to coverage of climate change and science. In CBS’ segment on the executive order, White House correspondent Major Garrett noted that both Trump and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt deny human-caused climate change. But, in contrast to other news shows, anchor Scott Pelley noted earlier in the segment that “methane and coal are the leading contributors to climate warming.”
And following the segment on Trump’s executive action, CBS Evening News aired an interview with climate scientist Ben Santer, who discussed Trump’s anti-science views and policies, a letter he wrote to Trump urging him not to listen to “ignorant voices” denying climate change, and the “new climate of intimidation” the Trump administration has created for scientists.
U.S. senators are calling on broadcast networks to fulfill their duty and bolster their news coverage of climate change, after a Media Matters study found that the networks dramatically decreased their coverage of climate change in 2016, during a campaign in which the U.S. elected a climate denier as president.
Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Brian Schatz (D-HI) issued statements this week calling on the major broadcast networks to fulfill their responsibility and provide audiences with essential reporting on the impacts of and science surrounding climate change, as well as related policies. The senators’ statements were made in response to a study by Media Matters finding that 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.
Sen. Whitehouse stated:
The Trump presidency has brought into sharp focus the critical responsibility of an independent news media to cover the science and policy of climate change. … Donald Trump ran a campaign blissfully unconcerned about climate change, even referring to it as a "hoax." Now President Trump has an ardent climate change denier who received millions from big polluters running the EPA, the former CEO of ExxonMobil heading up the State Department, and other industry operatives making decisions that affect the health and safety of American families. More than ever, Americans will need the free press to deliver the real facts on climate change. We don’t have time to waste on alternative ones.
Sen. Schatz echoed Whitehouse’s sentiment, stating:
In a year when the American people were deciding who our next leader should be, you would think there would have been more discussions about climate change in our news programs, not less. This isn’t just shameful, it’s irresponsible. The climate is changing, and it’s affecting everything from the weather to our national security and our economy. Its impacts are already being felt and the American people deserve to know more about it.
Indeed, as Media Matters found, during the campaign, ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox did not air a single segment about the ramifications and impacts of a Trump or Hillary Clinton administration as they relate to climate change.
In 2016, PBS NewsHour once again surpassed its nightly news competitors in climate coverage, devoted significant airtime to a range of climate-related issues, and hosted a number of scientists. But President Donald Trump’s proposed budget would take aim at the network that has long been the nightly news leader in terms of climate coverage by cutting vital government support for PBS.
Trump’s budget blueprint released last week included a proposal to completely defund the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), an independent agency that partially funds PBS and NPR. CPB CEO Patricia Harrison said the proposed cuts could start "the collapse of the public media system itself and the end of this essential national service.”
In addition to funding a portion of PBS’ revenue source directly, about half of CPB’s $445 million budget goes to PBS member stations that broadcast PBS NewsHour -- with stations in rural areas being especially reliant on CPB funding. In a statement to Media Matters, CPB stated, “The loss of this seed money would have a devastating effect [on stations in rural America]. These stations would have to raise approximately 200 percent more in private donations to replace the federal investment.” And Variety reported, “WCTE-TV in Cookeville, Tennessee, is a prime example. ... Station manager Becky Magura told [PBS president Paula] Kerger that the station would shut down if it loses CPB funding, which amounts to about half of its operating budget. WCTE is the only TV station that directly serves the town and surrounding areas in Putnam County, population 73,245 as of 2013.”
This loss for viewers would be a shame because, as Media Matters has documented over the years, PBS NewsHour has consistently stood apart from its nightly news counterparts in the scale and scope of its climate coverage, dating back to at least 2012, when Media Matters first identified this trend. Once again, Media Matters’ annual report on broadcast networks’ climate coverage found that in 2016, PBS NewsHour far surpassed its competitors, airing more climate-related segments (46) than ABC, CBS, and NBC did combined (36) in the same year.
PBS NewsHour also stands apart from the major networks for the content of its coverage. In 2016, it was the only show to air a segment that discussed the ramifications of a Trump or Hillary Clinton presidency on climate change before the election. The other nightly news shows, however, failed to provide any issues coverage of climate change during the campaign. PBS NewsHour also led the networks in coverage of the impacts of climate change -- on extreme weather, plants and wildlife, and the economy -- and important climate-related policies and issues, such as the Clean Power Plan and the Paris climate agreement and UN climate summits.
And at a time when researchers studying climate change are under immense pressure from Trump’s anti-science administration, PBS NewsHour also interviewed the largest number of scientists among the nightly news shows and featured the most segments about climate-related scientific research.
To cite just a few examples, PBS NewsHour invited scientists to discuss the news that 2015 was the hottest year on record and the consequences of continued global warming; the significance of the Paris climate accord; and climate change’s role in the record-breaking rainfall and flooding in Louisiana last year.
With the nightly newscasts having significantly decreased their climate coverage in 2016, It's alarming to see the network that provides such essential coverage being threatened with funding cuts. Thankfully, there are promising signs of improvement on the broadcast evening news programs. In early 2017, CBS Evening News and NBC Nightly News are both on their way to far surpass their climate coverage of 2016; in February, CBS Evening News even featured a week of climate segments from Antarctica for its “Climate Diaries” series.
In the meantime, PBS NewsHour still remains the gold standard when it comes to climate change coverage on the nightly news shows.
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.
Broadcast and cable news coverage of ruinous economic policies rolled out by the White House last week was overwhelmed by the president’s false accusation that his predecessor illegally wiretapped Trump Tower during the 2016 election.
On March 13, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) reported that up to 24 million Americans would lose access to health insurance over the next 10 years if the Republican plan to repeal and replace Obamacare goes into effect. On that same day, the Trump administration unveiled an overlooked executive order that encourages cabinet secretaries and agency directors to create a plan to completely reshape a federal bureaucracy of over 2.8 million employees. And on March 16, the Trump administration unveiled its budget outline for the 2018 fiscal year, featuring proposed “massive cuts” to nondefense spending. The proposed cuts, which would offset an increase in spending on military programs and a border wall, would hit almost every facet of the federal government, but they would come down particularly hard on funding for small programs including Meals on Wheels, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and PBS.
Yet according to Media Matters research, from March 13 to 17, President Donald Trump’s false wiretap claim dominated TV news coverage, overshadowing discussion of these important policy moves. While Trump’s lie certainly merits extensive media coverage, it’s also crucial to share details of his policymaking with the public.
Trump ignited a media firestorm in early March when he repeatedly accused former President Barack Obama of illegally wiretapping him in the midst of last year's election. Right-wing media, led by Fox News, sprang to his defense even though the president offered no evidence to support his claim. Meanwhile, legitimate reporters exposed the bizarre accusation’s source as “the right-wing fever swamps” of fringe media and reported that it was pushed by a Russian state-sponsored news network. During March 20 testimony before the House Intelligence Committee, FBI Director James Comey put Trump’s wiretapping lie to rest, telling the committee, “I have no information that supports those tweets.”
Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my "wires tapped" in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 4, 2017
I'd bet a good lawyer could make a great case out of the fact that President Obama was tapping my phones in October, just prior to Election!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 4, 2017
How low has President Obama gone to tapp my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 4, 2017
Yet nearly two weeks after Trump initially made the claim, his smear of Obama still had such an influence on television news coverage that it overshadowed every other discussion about Trump’s policy agenda last week. Media Matters identified 226 segments from March 13 through 17 that focused on Trump during evening programming on CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC and major news programs on ABC, CBS, NBC, and PBS. Of those segments, 64 focused on Trump’s wiretapping allegations -- a figure that dwarfed every other major issue Media Matters identified. Coverage of Trump’s health care plan came in a distant second place, with 37 segments, and stories related to the portion of Trump’s 2005 tax returns obtained by Rachel Maddow ranked third (26 segments). Trump’s proposed budget outline was discussed in just 14 segments, and his executive order to reshape the federal workforce registered just four mentions.
With television news forced to dissect and debunk Trump’s outrageous claims, coverage of pressing economic issues was eclipsed. Coverage of the efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act -- which health care experts have said would be particularly harmful to low-income Americans, seniors, and people dealing with illnesses -- could not overtake that of Trump’s wiretapping tweet, even with the Trump administration attempting to smear the CBO numbers in the press. The executive order, which was described by CNN reporter Stephen Collinson as part of Trump’s larger goal to “dismember government one dollar at a time,” barely registered in news coverage at all. And Trump’s budget cuts, which would decimate social safety net programs, were discussed 14 times during evening news coverage on March 16 and 17, while Trump’s lie about wiretapping was discussed 35 times on those two days.
Trump’s promotion of a discredited lie accusing his predecessor of illegal conduct while in office merits extensive media coverage, but the policies he has enacted or plans to enact can be just as destructive as the misinformation he spreads. Media cannot afford to let Trump's misleading claims dominate the news cycle, drowning out crucial coverage of the pain his policies may cause the United States.
Media Matters conducted a Nexis search of transcripts of evening news programming (defined as 6 p.m. through 11 p.m.) on CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC, as well as the major news programs on ABC, CBS, NBC and PBS, from March 13, 2017, through March 17, 2017. We identified and reviewed all segments that included any of the following keywords: Trump or executive order or federal government or federal employ! or federal worker or federal workers or civil service or government workers or government worker or federal government or budget.
The following programs were included in the data: ABC's World News Tonight, CBS' Evening News, NBC's Nightly News, and PBS' NewsHour, as well as CNN's The Situation Room, Erin Burnett OutFront, Anderson Cooper 360, and CNN Tonight, Fox News' Special Report, The First 100 Days, Tucker Carlson Tonight, The O'Reilly Factor, and Hannity, and MSNBC's For The Record, Hardball, All In with Chris Hayes, The Rachel Maddow Show, and The Last Word With Lawrence O'Donnell. For shows that air reruns, only the first airing was included in data retrieval. This survey includes CNN’s second live hour of Anderson Cooper 360 during the 9 p.m. to 10 p.m. time slot.
For this study, Media Matters included only those segments that contained substantial discussions of Donald Trump. We defined a "substantial discussion" as any segment where a host dedicates a monologue, or portion of a monologue, to Trump, his activities, or the policies he is pursuing as president of the United States, or any segment where two or more guests discuss Trump, his activities, or the policies he is pursuing as president of the United States. We did not include teasers or clips of news events, or rebroadcasts of news packages that were already counted when they first aired in the 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. survey window.
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During the first month of Donald Trump’s presidency, broadcast evening news shows and Sunday political talk shows devoted a total of just over 10 minutes to discussing the allegation that Trump is violating the U.S. Constitution by receiving foreign government payments. The scant reporting that did address this issue failed to mention that such conduct is an impeachable offense.
Article I, Section 9 of the Constitution, known as the Emoluments Clause, creates a broad prohibition on federal officeholders, including the president, receiving payments from foreign governments without the consent of Congress. It reads: “No title of nobility shall be granted by the United States: and no person holding any office of profit or trust under them, shall, without the consent of the Congress, accept of any present, emolument, office, or title, of any kind whatever, from any king, prince, or foreign state.”
The provision is much broader than a ban on receiving bribes. According to legal experts, even “fair market value transactions that result in any economic profit or benefit” count as an emolument, because the Founding Fathers wanted a “prophylactic” rule aimed at preventing even the appearance of corruption.
A president’s violation of the clause is an impeachable offense.
According to legal experts, Trump’s retention of an ownership interest in the Trump Organization as president means that he has been violating the Constitution since the moment he took the oath of office. Indeed, just two days after the inauguration, the watchdog organization Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) filed a lawsuit in federal court “to stop President Trump from violating the Constitution.” A press release about the suit notes that the president “is now getting cash and favors from foreign governments, through guests and events at his hotels, leases in his buildings, and valuable real estate deals abroad.” (Other presidents have avoided violating the clause by placing their assets into an independently controlled blind trust, something Trump has refused to do.)
In what should serve as a prompt for investigative journalists, the exact nature of the emoluments Trump has received is unclear in many instances due to Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns. As Emoluments Clause expert Zephyr Teachout, an associate law professor who is a lawyer on CREW’s lawsuit, explained in The Washington Post, while some emoluments Trump is receiving are known -- including rent paid by the Qatari state airline at a Trump property, licensing fees paid by several foreign countries for rights to the TV show The Apprentice, and construction permits granted by the Indian government -- the full extent of his violations is unknown because “Trump hasn’t disclosed any information about his finances.”
In spite of Trump’s secretive business dealings, two concrete new violations emerged during the first month of his presidency.
According to a February 9 report from Politico, “A lobbying firm working for Saudi Arabia paid for a room at Donald Trump’s Washington hotel after Inauguration Day, marking the first publicly known payment on behalf of a foreign government to a Trump property since he became president.” The article notes that the payment “raises questions about whether it represents a violation of the foreign emoluments clause.”
Politico quoted Obama ethics attorney Norm Eisen, who described the payment as part of a “systemic problem,” and constitutional law expert Laurence Tribe, who said, “This example is bound to be one of a vast stream of instances.” Both Tribe and Eisen are lawyers on CREW’s lawsuit.
Then The Associated Press reported on February 14 that Trump was set to score an “unlikely” legal win in China by way of a “trademark for building construction services” following “a decade of grinding battle in China's courts.” According to the report, the legal victory “could signal a shift in fortune for the U.S. president's intellectual property in China. At stake are 49 pending trademark applications -- all made during his campaign -- and 77 marks already registered in his name, most of which will come up for renewal during his term.” (China announced the trademark two days after AP’s article.)
As the AP report aptly noted, “Trump's foreign trademarks have raised red flags with ethics lawyers across the political spectrum who say they present grave conflicts of interest and may violate the emoluments clause of the U.S. Constitution.” (Indeed, a post at the libertarian Volokh Conspiracy blog concluded that the trademark grant qualifies as an emolument received by Trump.)
The nation’s leading news programs have insufficiently covered a story about a president openly taking actions that not only violate the Constitution but also are grounds for impeachment.
CBS Evening News, ABC World News Tonight, and NBC Nightly News have each devoted a single segment to foreign payments to Trump.
A January 20 CBS Evening News segment didn’t mention the Emoluments Clause explicitly, but it included an interview with George Washington University law school professor Steven Schooner, who explained how Trump can profit from foreign governments via the Trump Organization.
ABC World News Tonight and NBC Nightly News each devoted brief segments on January 23 to CREW’s lawsuit.
In total, the issue was covered for just over seven minutes on broadcast nightly news between January 20 and February 20. None of the segments mentioned violating the Emoluments Clause is an impeachable offense:
Sunday political talk shows provided even less coverage. During the January 22 broadcast of ABC’s This Week, host George Stephanopoulos directly asked White House counselor Kellyanne Conway and Sen. Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) about Trump and the Emoluments Clause. During the January 29 edition of NBC’s Meet the Press, host Chuck Todd asked White House chief of staff Reince Priebus why Muslim-majority countries with business ties to Trump were left out of Trump’s travel ban, although the Emoluments Clause was never directly cited. CBS’ Face the Nation, Fox Broadcasting Co.’s Fox News Sunday, and CNN’s State of the Union all failed to discuss the issue.
Sunday show coverage of the issue totaled just under four minutes, with no discussion of how the offense is grounds for impeachment:
Media Matters searched Nexis transcripts for ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox News, and CNN for "emoluments," "emolument," "Trump Organization," "Trump Hotel," Trump w/10 “trump international hotel,” Trump w/10 impeach, Trump w/10 constitution, Trump w/10 "conflict of interest," Trump w/10 conflicted, Trump w/10 payment, Trump w/10 “foreign payment,” and Trump w/10 divest. We identified segments that mentioned foreign payments to Trump in the context of conflict-of-interest questions and/or the Emoluments Clause directly, and then counted those segments for time in iQ media.
Graphics by Sarah Wasko.
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