Video ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF
Loading the player reg...
Loading the player reg...
Major broadcast networks mentioned climate change in just 2 percent of wildfire reports, ignoring science that links climate change to more intense fires
As wildfires raged in the Western U.S. this summer, the major broadcast TV networks largely failed to explain how climate change influences such fires, mentioning climate change in less than 2 percent of their reports on the fires. Media Matters analysis of coverage on the networks’ morning and evening news shows found that ABC made no mention at all of climate change during its 172 segments reporting on wildfires, while CBS brought up climate change in only six of its 183 segments that mentioned wildfires, and NBC discussed climate change in only three of its 116 wildfire segments.
Wildfires have ravaged huge swaths of the Western U.S. this year. According to the National Interagency Fire Center, fires had burned over 7.7 million acres of land as of September 28 -- nearly 1.8 million acres more than the 10-year year-to-date average from 2008-2017. The most destructive wildfires blazed in California, and they were some of the worst on record. The Ranch Fire, part of the massive Mendocino Complex, in August became the largest single fire in California history, while the Carr Fire was one of the deadliest, killing seven people. Five of the 10 most destructive fires in the state’s history happened in just the last three years. The 2018 wildfire season is still ongoing, with blazes active in 12 states.
Destructive wildfires have not been limited to the U.S. -- they also burned through parts of Europe this summer. In Greece, nearly 100 people were killed by wildfires outside of Athens. In Sweden, scorching temperatures contributed to over 50 fires, including some inside the Arctic Circle, and forced evacuations. As of late July, the number of European fires in 2018 was up 40 percent on average.
Numerous scientific studies have found that human-caused climate change has exacerbated both the frequency and duration of wildfires. Other variables affected by climate change, such as extreme heat and drought, are also increasing the risk for longer and more intense wildfires. “To dismiss the role of climate change on these fires is simply incorrect,” Michael F. Wehner, a senior staff scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, told The New York Times. And Noah Diffenbaugh, a professor of Earth system science at Stanford University, told The Independent in July that the longer fire season in California is related to climate change:
What we’re seeing over the last few years in terms of the wildfire season in California … [is] very consistent with the historical trends in terms of increasing temperatures, increasing dryness, and increasing wildfire risk. They’re also very consistent with what we can expect in the future as global warming continues.
California’s recent Climate Change Assessment estimated that the average acreage burned across the state annually will rise by 77 percent by the end of the century. Some firefighters, including the director of California's firefighting department, have also pointed to climate change as a factor making the blazes worse.
The broadcast networks devoted a lot of coverage to wildfires this summer, but very little of it discussed climate change. A Media Matters analysis of the ABC, CBS, and NBC morning and evening news shows over the summer, from June 21 to September 21, showed that out of 471 segments discussing the wildfires, only nine of them, or 1.9 percent, mentioned climate change.
ABC completely ignored climate change during its wildfire coverage. ABC aired a total of 172 segments that discussed wildfires on its morning and evening news shows this summer, including 89 news reports or in-depth segments, 57 weather reports, and 26 news headline rundowns -- and not one of them mentioned climate change. That makes ABC the worst-performing network at incorporating climate change into its reporting on the fires, which is in line with the network's recent history. In June, ABC 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 in August, ABC was the only major network that did not mention climate change during its coverage of Hurricane Florence, just as it failed to mention climate change during coverage of Hurricane Harvey last year.
CBS and NBC mentioned climate change in roughly 3 percent of their segments on wildfires. CBS' morning and evening news shows aired a total of 183 segments reporting on wildfires, including 84 news reports or in-depth segments, 14 weather reports, and 85 news headline rundowns. Only six of the 183, or 3.3 percent, mentioned climate change. NBC ran a total of 116 wildfire segments, of which 73 were news reports or in-depth segments, 22 were weather reports, and 21 were news headline rundowns. Only three of the 116, or 2.6 percent, included discussion of climate change.
Sunday shows on the major broadcast networks made no mention of the wildfires. Thirty-eight combined episodes of ABC's This Week, CBS' Face the Nation, and NBC's Meet the Press aired from June 21 to September 21, and not one of them mentioned the wildfires, let alone the ways that climate change influences such fires. This is sadly consistent with the Sunday shows' lack of coverage of past disasters exacerbated by climate change. Last year, the weekend after Hurricane Maria made landfall and knocked out power to 3.5 million Americans, the five major Sunday political talk shows dedicated less than one minute to coverage of the storm and its effects.
Networks' climate change mentions in wildfire coverage almost all occurred in August, more than a month after their summer coverage of wildfires began in earnest. CBS aired its first wildfire segment of the summer on June 24, but it didn't mention climate change in such a segment until August 1 -- over one month later. NBC ran its first summer wildfire segment on June 25, but didn't incorporate climate change into any such segments until July 28. By that point, the Carr Fire had already killed five people, and by August 1, 16 of the largest wildfires in California were burning an area larger than Los Angeles.
CBS' first mentions of climate change in the context of wildfires were brief and not particularly informative. The August 1 episodes of CBS This Morning and CBS Evening News featured Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman saying, “I don't care where you stand on your opinion of global warming. There's something changing, and we're seeing fires that have never happened in this area before.” Mendocino County was the site of the massive Mendocino Complex fire, which was not fully contained until September 18.
CBS’ next mentions of climate change as it relates to wildfires occured on the August 4 episodes of CBS This Morning and CBS Evening News. Both shows aired segments on a European heat wave that featured Time magazine climate reporter Justin Worland, who said, “Human fingerprints are all over this particular heat wave.” The segments reported that wildfires in Europe were being fueled by hot and dry conditions, blaming the region's “unusually hot air on warming Arctic temperatures due to greenhouse gases.”
CBS' other mentions of climate change in wildfire segments came during the August 7 episode of CBS This Morning. Reporter John Blackstone noted President Donald Trump’s inaccurate claim that wildfires were worsened by California’s water policy, and contrasted it with the view from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection that “the true problem is climate change.” Later on in the episode, anchor Gayle King pointed out that 15 of the 20 largest fires in California have happened since 2000, and noted, "State fire officials say that is a direct result of climate change."
Two of NBC’s wildfire reports that incorporated climate change featured climate scientist Michael Mann, who was interviewed for segments that aired on August 7 and August 8. On the August 7 episode of NBC Nightly News, Mann said, “You take epic drought, you combine it with high temperatures, you've got all the ingredients for unprecedented wildfires”:
PBS NewsHour incorporated climate change into 16 percent of its wildfire coverage. Public broadcaster PBS has typically produced more quality coverage of climate change than its corporate counterparts, and its reporting this summer continued that trend. Out of 25 segments about the wildfires that aired on PBS NewsHour on weekdays from June 21 through September 21, four discussed climate change. On the July 27 episode of NewsHour, Columbia University bioclimatologist Park Williams noted that forests are “where we really see a strong link between climate change and increased fire.” On August 7, correspondent Nick Schifrin said, “Hotter weather attributed to climate change drives more severe conditions that authorities say residents cannot ignore.”
And on August 6, NewsHour devoted almost six and a half minutes to discussing how climate change makes wildfires more extreme, including more than four minutes interviewing Mann on the topic. This was the most in-depth segment on climate change and wildfires on any broadcast network:
Newspapers did better than corporate broadcasters at connecting wildfires to climate change, but they still fell short, Public Citizen found. A recent report by the nonprofit group Public Citizen analyzed both newspaper and TV coverage of the wildfires during 15 days this summer, from July 23 to August 7. It found that less than 13 percent of wildfire articles in the 50 highest-circulation U.S. newspapers mentioned climate change. The New York Times, The Sacramento Bee, and the Los Angeles Times published the most articles connecting climate change and the wildfires.
A local TV network showed the right way to weave climate change into wildfire coverage. Sometimes local TV stations -- whose viewers are more likely to be immediately affected by fires -- do a better job of reporting on the climate/wildfire connection than national networks. For example, Salt Lake City’s ABC affiliate KTVX aired a segment on its August 9 Good Morning Utah show about how climate change affects the length of wildfire season:
A recent poll points to the need for more and better media coverage of climate change. A survey conducted by Quinnipiac University in mid-August found that a slim majority of American voters believed climate change was worsening the California wildfires. But that means almost half of voters didn't understand the connection -- including 71 percent of Republicans. The media can help fill that knowledge gap.
Much has already been said this year about the need for journalists to report on how climate change influences extreme weather events like wildfires. But we also need outlets to discuss responses and solutions to the climate crisis, so that Americans understand the need to mobilize as a society to fight climate change and shift quickly to clean energy.
Media Matters searched Nexis and iQ Media for broadcast network TV news segments that covered wildfires using the search terms wildfire(s) or fire(s), and then we searched within those segments for mentions of climate change or global warming or greenhouse gas(es). Our analysis covered morning news shows (ABC's Good Morning America, CBS This Morning, and NBC's Today), nightly news shows (ABC World News Tonight, CBS Evening News, and NBC Nightly News, plus weekday episodes of PBS NewsHour), and Sunday morning shows (ABC’s This Week, CBS’ Face the Nation, and NBC’s Meet the Press) from June 21 through September 21.
News headline rundowns included mentions of the wildfires within announcements of top stories of the day. Weather reports included mentions of the wildfires within a meteorologist’s report or a general discussion of weather. We did not count teasers or rebroadcasts.
ABC did not mention climate at all during Florence, while CBS, PBS, CNN, and MSNBC did worse than last year during Harvey
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.
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.
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.”
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.
Media Matters analyzed the morning, nightly, and Sunday news shows on ABC, CBS, and NBC from September 7-19.
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.
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.
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.
Conservative guests outnumbered progressive guests on four of the five major Sunday political news shows since the confirmation hearings for Brett Kavanaugh began. On the September 9 and 16 Sunday shows, 46.5 percent of guests leaned conservative while just 31.5 percent of guests leaned liberal. Additionally, 22 percent were neutral.
Out of the 73 guests who appeared on CBS’ Face the Nation, Fox’s Fox News Sunday, NBC’s Meet the Press, CNN’s State of the Union, and ABC’s This Week, 34 guests were either Republicans or leaned conservative. Only 23 guests were Democrats or liberal-leaning, and 16 guests were ideologically neutral.
Of the guests who discussed Kavanaugh, 13 leaned conservative while nine leaned liberal.
On four of the five shows -- This Week, Face the Nation, Fox News Sunday, and Meet the Press -- conservative guests outnumbered progressive guests. CNN’s State of the Union featured an equal number of right- and left-leaning guests. Fox News Sunday had the clearest partisan bias; eight guests leaned conservative while only three guests leaned liberal.
Panels on most shows tended to tilt conservative as well. Panels on both episodes of Meet the Press and Fox News Sunday tilted conservative. On Face the Nation, one panel tilted liberal while the other panel was neutral. Panels on This Week and State of the Union were all neutral.
Steve Morris and Tyler Monroe contributed to this piece.
And since the hurricane hit, the shows have devoted a total of less than 90 minutes to the issue
Since Hurricane Maria made landfall on Puerto Rico on September 20, 2017, the five Sunday morning political talk shows have given the disaster scant coverage.
ABC’s This Week, CBS’ Face the Nation, CNN’s State of the Union, Fox News’ Fox News Sunday, and NBC’s Meet the Press have spent only one hour and 27 minutes discussing Hurricane Maria and its impact on Puerto Rico since September 24, 2017, but the vast majority of that coverage came shortly after the hurricane hit. In 2018, the Sunday shows have mentioned Puerto Rico for a total of just 20 seconds even as the island was dealing with power outages, revisions in the official death toll, and other ongoing recovery challenges.
This week, The Associated Press reported that Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello raised the official death toll from Maria from 64 to almost 3,000 based on research from the Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University.
The first official death toll came a week after landfall on September 27, when Rossello announced that 16 people had lost their lives. The following week, that figure was increased to 34. Since the hurricane, various studies have put the death toll estimates anywhere from about 1,000 to 8,000.
Puerto Rico’s recovery has been a long process, and the impact has been ongoing. What hasn’t been ongoing is the media’s focus on the island. In February, a New York Times report revealed that a FEMA contract that called for 30 million meals to be sent to Puerto Rico resulted in only 50,000 meals being delivered. This story was mostly ignored by cable and broadcast media. In May, a new study came out that found the death toll from Maria could have potentially been 72 times higher than the official count. Media were too occupied with Roseanne Barr to devote much coverage to it, and the Sunday shows entirely ignored it. In June, nine months after Maria hit, AEE Power, which provides electricity to almost 1.5 million Puerto Ricans, reported that thousands of its customers were still without power. It wasn’t until August, 11 months after the hurricane, that power was restored almost fully. That same month, the Puerto Rican government finally acknowledged a higher death toll, and the media still failed to pay much attention, with Sunday shows again ignoring the story completely.
Throughout all these developments, the Sunday morning political talk shows -- which have an outsized role in setting the political agenda week after week for the Washington elite -- have hardly covered this humanitarian disaster. The Sunday after Maria made landfall, only two Sunday shows even mentioned the hurricane: State of the Union for just seven seconds and Meet the Press for 24 seconds. Almost all of the Sunday shows’ coverage came the following week on October 1, 2017: This Week covered the story for about 18 minutes, Face the Nation for almost six minutes, State of the Union for approximately 19 minutes, Fox News Sunday for nearly 17 minutes, and Meet the Press for about 15 minutes. In total, the Sunday shows covered Maria for just over one hour and 15 minutes that day. Since then, they have provided only approximately 11 minutes of additional coverage -- of which, only 20 seconds has been in 2018.
Media Matters searched the Nexis transcript database for mentions of “Puerto Rico” or “Hurricane Maria” from September 17, 2017 -- three days before landfall -- through August 26, 2018, for the five Sunday morning political talk shows: ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos, CBS’ Face the Nation with Margaret Brennan, CNN’s State of the Union with Jake Tapper, Fox News’ Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace, and NBC’s Meet the Press with Chuck Todd. We timed each teaser for an upcoming segment, passing mention, news correspondence from reporters on the ground or in studio, and guest interview or panel for coverage of Maria. We timed only relevant speech and excluded speech on other topics.
NBC host Chuck Todd said Sunday that Fox News is responsible for the dramatic decline in public trust in journalists over the past two decades. He’s absolutely right, and that network’s corrosive influence on the public debate is endangering our democracy.
Over the past few decades, public confidence in the press has declined steadily, with Republicans driving the stomach-turning plummet:
On Meet the Press, CBN News’ David Brody argued that President Donald Trump benefits from the low marks the mainstream media receive from the public, highlighting a recent survey that found 62 percent of Americans think the news is biased. Todd responded by putting the blame squarely on Fox.
“The conservative echo chamber created that environment,” Todd said. “It has been a tactic and a tool of the Roger Ailes-created echo chamber. So let’s not pretend it’s not anything other than that.” He later added that the conservative critique of a biased media “was a campaign tactic,” not an argument “based in much fact.”
Todd is exactly right. As The Washington Post’s Erik Wemple notes, Fox built the largest following in cable news by turning the purported bias of other media outlets into a central plank of the network’s platform, labeling itself “Fair and Balanced” in contrast to the rest of the press. Ailes, a former advisor to three Republican presidents, sought to build power for his party by denouncing his competitors and convincing conservatives not to trust them. He succeeded -- so well that even some at Fox itself are unnerved.
Fox’s propagandists constantly tell their audience that other outlets are irretrievably liberal and, in recent days, vehemently opposed to Trump, seizing on their errors as evidence of conspiracies and on their failures as evidence of bad faith. Fox and Trump use the same methods to the same ends, undermining the press to condition their supporters not to trust anyone else.
Today’s edition of Fox & Friends, the network’s propagandistic morning show, is a case in point: On stories big and small, the hosts provided an undercurrent of contempt for their colleagues at other outlets. The program’s take on the president’s former lawyer accusing Trump of conspiring in crimes was that the president is “under attack” from the media, running over the caption “The President Vs. The Press.” A segment on Trump’s polling numbers featured a jab about former President Barack Obama having received “a lot of hype, … a lot of support from the media.” “Reporter fails at getting [golfer Tiger] Woods to bash Trump” was a real chyron that aired on national television.
Hour after hour, day in and day out, a right-wing cable news channel bathes its audience members in conservative messages and warns them that anything less is liberal claptrap. The result is an alternative reality for Fox viewers, into which critical facts cannot penetrate. It’s a good sign that Todd is pointing out that dynamic -- there’s no way to end Fox’s hold without admitting that it exists.
Following the Trump administration’s implementation of a policy requiring the separation of immigrant children from their parents as they cross the border, some self-described “pro-life” organizations and media figures have failed to denounce this policy. Others, though, have seemingly attempted to distract from the outrage about the policy by making outlandish and inaccurate comparisons to abortion.
Following a new study estimating that almost 5,000 people died as a result of Hurricane Maria, Sunday news shows completely ignored the devastation and death toll that is 72 times higher than the government’s official number of 64.
Written up by the Washington Post, a May 29 Harvard University study “estimates that at least 4,645 deaths can be linked to the hurricane and its immediate aftermath,” and noted that “health-care disruption for the elderly and the loss of basic utility services for the chronically ill had significant impact.”
If the Harvard study is accurate, Maria will be the second deadliest hurricane in U.S. history. Thousands are still waiting for power. It is already estimated to and have caused $90 billion in damages in Puerto Rico alone. The devastation in the U.S. Virgin Islands from Hurricanes Irma and Maria has caused billions more in damage. And 2018 Hurricane season is officially underway as of June 1.
Despite this less than a week old study, the major Sunday political talk shows -- which include CNN’s State of the Union, ABC’s This Week, CBS’ Face the Nation, NBC’s Meet the Press, and Fox Broadcasting Co.’s Fox News Sunday -- were all silent on the subject.
MSNBC’s AM Joy and CNN’s Reliable Sources both noted the discrepancy between coverage of Hurricane Maria’s devastation, and Roseanne Barr’s racist and anti-Semitic tweets that resulted in her eponymous show being canceled.
CNN’s New Day Sunday highlighted the Harvard study’s reported death toll and noted Puerto Rico is “still recovering” and that “11,000 residents still do not have power” as the country enters the official 2018 hurricane season.
The media has routinely ignored the destruction caused by Hurricane Maria, dating back to just one week after the storm made landfall when these Sunday shows covered the devastation for less than a minute. Cable news quickly turned away from Puerto Rico following the hurricane as well. The day the Harvard study was released, cable news gave it 30 minutes of coverage that was drowned out by ten hours spent on Roseanne.
Sunday shows largely ignored America’s treatment of migrant children, even as new reports and outrage on social media show a growing humanitarian crisis.
In April, a top official with the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) told Congress that HHS had lost track of 1,475 unaccompanied minors who were detained at the US-Mexico border. This news has raised concerns that HHS has not taken the proper precautions to protect these migrant children in government custody from abuse and human trafficking. An ACLU report this week revealed that immigrant children suffer “pervasive abuse” while in the custody of U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Following the ACLU report, these missing migrant children got new attention from a social media campaign #WhereAreTheChildren.
One target of this social media campaign is the Trump administration’s new policy of separating children from parents when migrant families and asylum seekers attempt to pass through the southern border -- a policy which Trump recently called "horrible" and blamed Democrats for. Earlier in May, Attorney Jeff Sessions announced “zero tolerance” separation policies which are believed to cause detrimental effects on migrant children. Families separated at the border face significant challenges in contacting each other. The Arizona Daily Star told the story of a mother who “covered her eyes with her hands as tears streamed down her cheeks” as she wondered if she would ever see her children again.”
Despite all of this, only three of the five Sunday shows, ABC’s This Week With George Stephanopoulos, Fox News' Sunday With Chris Wallace, and NBC’s Meet the Press failed to discuss immigration whatsoever. CBS's Face the Nation did discuss the Trump administration’s separation policies with Sen. Marco Rubio and Rep. Mark Meadows, and briefly mentioned them again during a panel discussion.
Sen. @marcorubio: “I’d be open” to changing the law that separates undocumented parents from their children after they cross the border illegally. Says the “ideal scenario” is for families to be kept together and returned to their countries of origin.
— Face The Nation (@FaceTheNation) May 27, 2018
The only Sunday show to mention the missing children was CNN’s State of the Union during a roundtable discussion. During the show, CNN contributor Rick Santorum called news of the missing children “hyperbole to try to create an issue."
Loading the player reg...
Loading the player reg...
On Friday, April 13, President Donald Trump announced joint cruise missile strikes with the U.K. and France against several Syrian chemical weapons facilities in retaliation for an apparent April 7 chlorine gas attack in Douma, Syria. Over the weekend, the Sunday morning political talk shows had plenty to discuss about the airstrikes, but not much to say about the ongoing plight of Syrian refugees.
On Sunday, CNN’s State of the Union, CBS’ Face the Nation, NBC’s Meet the Press, and ABC’s This Week all failed to mention Syrian refugees while discussing the airstrikes. The only mention of Syrian refugees on any of the Sunday morning political talk shows was on Fox Broadcasting Co.’s Fox News Sunday, when host Chris Wallace asked UN Ambassador Nikki Haley just one question about them.
A few other Sunday morning programs on cable news channels did better in discussing concerns about refugees: There were segments on CNN’s Fareed Zakaria GPS and New Day Sunday, which played (albeit briefly) a clip of earlier commentary from a Syrian chemical attack survivor. The Sunday edition of Fox & Friends Weekend also featured two passing mentions of the refugees across its four-hour broadcast; in both instances, the guests brought up the subject unprompted.
On MSNBC however, AM Joy did two segments concerning Syrian refugees, including this excellent example of how media should discuss the subject, particularly in light of American military action that is likely to displace more people:
JOY REID (HOST): So, a truly humanitarian approach would be to welcome refugees to a democratic country that has the resources to protect and shelter them from the dangers they're trying to escape, yeah? Instead, the Trump administration says it initiated airstrikes as a symbol of support and solidarity for Syrians after the chemical attacks orchestrated by the Syrian president. But with only 11 Syrian refugees accepted into the United States this year -- not 1,100; 11 -- the Trump administration's concern for the Syrian people rings rather hollow.
Media Matters searched SnapStream for mentions of the word “refugee” on Sunday morning political talk and/or news shows on CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, Fox Broadcasting Co., CBS, NBC, and ABC between 06:00 and 12:00.
John Bolton, a Fox News contributor, is reportedly under consideration to replace National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, likely because President Donald Trump enjoys his television commentary. Bolton, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations whose tenure was marred by “his inability to make friends and build alliances,” is a Trump sycophant with a history of warmongering and conspiracy theorizing. He also chairs a think tank that’s been called “anti-Muslim,” and he has connections to anti-Muslim bigots.
Loading the player reg...
Fox News, meanwhile, largely ignored controversies about Pruitt’s extravagant travel
In his first year as the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt appeared on Fox News more than twice as often as he did on the other major cable and broadcast networks combined. During the same period, Fox News devoted significantly less coverage to controversies about Pruitt’s costly travel than the other major cable news outlets, CNN and MSNBC.
Pruitt’s preference for appearing on Fox News is part of a wider trend that extends across the Trump administration, with Fox News serving as the go-to network for administration officials. Fox News’ habit of ignoring unflattering news about Pruitt is also in line with the network’s tendency to ignore negative stories about President Donald Trump and his administration.
Scott Pruitt appeared on Fox News 16 times in his first year at EPA. A previous Media Matters study examining Pruitt’s first six months after taking office on February 17, 2017, found that he appeared on Fox News twice as often as he did on CNN, MSNBC, ABC, CBS, and NBC combined. He continued that trend in his second six months in office, making four more appearances on Fox and only one additional appearance on a non-Fox outlet, CBS. In total, during his first year, he appeared 16 times on Fox and only seven times on the other networks combined.
Pruitt rarely faced tough questioning during his appearances on Fox, with the exception of two interviews by Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday. During most of Pruitt's Fox appearances, he advocated for and defended the president’s decision to withdraw from the Paris agreement, though he also went on the network to defend his rollbacks of other Obama-era environmental protections.
The Fox program he appeared on most often was Fox & Friends, a show that wields agenda-setting influence with the president. Here are all of Pruitt's Fox News appearances from his first year at the EPA:
*The segment on Your World with Neil Cavuto on October 17 used footage from an interview Pruitt did earlier on the same day on the Fox Business Network program Cavuto: Coast to Coast.
Pruitt made just seven appearances on the other major cable and broadcast TV networks combined. In his first year leading the EPA, Pruitt made only seven appearances total on ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, and MSNBC. In the majority of these, he defended U.S. withdrawal from the Paris climate accord, as he did during his Fox appearances. In other cases, he broadly discussed his agenda and priorities and defended rollbacks of environmental regulations.
Here are Pruitt’s appearances on the major broadcast TV networks, CNN, and MSNBC during his first year:
On September 27, The Washington Post published an article about Pruitt taking “at least four noncommercial and military flights since mid-February, costing taxpayers more than $58,000.”
The story received extensive mainstream media coverage, including on other cable news networks. During the week after the story broke, from September 27 to October 3, CNN and MSNBC aired 32 and 31 segments on the controversy, respectively, often mentioning other cabinet members' high travel expenses as well. But Fox News aired just seven segments about Pruitt’s costly charter and military flights. In one Fox segment, on the September 29 episode of Your World with Neil Cavuto, correspondent John Roberts stated, “Scott Pruitt took four, maybe five charter flights. Those were all approved by the EPA Office of Ethics, and he has come up with a full explanation for those. … It's my belief that the other departments, Interior, Treasury, EPA, whatever, are allowed to do those private flights, as long as they have pre-approval for that.”
On February 11, 2018, The Washington Post again detailed Pruitt’s exorbitant spending in an article headlined “First-class travel distinguishes Scott Pruitt’s EPA tenure.” The Post reported that Pruitt racked up $90,000 in taxpayer-funded travel costs during one stretch in early June, and that figure did not include the additional travel costs for Pruitt’s round-the-clock security detail. CBS News reported two days later that Pruitt broke with a government policy that officials fly on U.S. airlines by traveling on the luxury Emirates airline on a return trip from Milan, Italy. The story gained further traction after the EPA changed its tune about whether Pruitt had a blanket waiver to travel first class and clarified what security threats justified Pruitt’s use of first-class travel.
Yet in the week following the Post’s article, from February 11 to February 17, Fox News did not mention the renewed controversy over Pruitt's travel costs even once.* CNN and MSNBC, by contrast, aired four and eight segments on his travel, respectively.
*Fox News did air two segments on the latest Pruitt travel controversy on the February 19 episode of Shepard Smith Reporting and the February 28 episode of Special Report with Bret Baier, but these segments were aired more than a week after the Post story and fell outside the one-year time frame of our study.
Pruitt’s preference for Fox extended to the Fox Business Network. On the cable business news channels, Pruitt again demonstrated a predilection for Fox, making eight appearances on Fox Business, while appearing only twice on competitor CNBC. Fox Business Network has exhibited strong pro-Trump leanings, as outlets including USA Today and Business Insider have reported.
Here are Pruitt's appearances on Fox Business shows:
Fox Business defended Pruitt by attacking a CNN report. After Pruitt gave numerous interviews to Fox Business, the network did Pruitt a favor. In October, it aggressively and baselessly attacked a CNN investigation into moves Pruitt made to help a proposed mine in Alaska right after meeting with the CEO of the mining company pushing the project. The network aired four segments in two days that criticized CNN's story and defended the mine. On all four segments, the hosts and interviewees did not dispute any of the specific facts reported by CNN, but they used highly charged language to try to discredit the story, calling CNN's investigation a "smear," a "hit piece," and "dishonest reporting." (In January, Pruitt reversed his decision and reinstated restrictions on the mine project. Fox News did not report on this reversal.)
Pruitt frequently appeared on radio shows hosted by climate change deniers like Brian Kilmeade and Michael Savage. Media Matters' previous study on Pruitt's first six months in office found that he made half a dozen appearances on popular right-wing talk radio programs hosted by people who deny climate science. He continued that pattern in his second six months, making appearances on programs including The Rush Limbaugh Show (where he was interviewed by guest host and climate denier Mark Steyn), The Hugh Hewitt Show, The Savage Nation, The Brian Kilmeade Show, The David Webb Show, and Breitbart News Daily.
Pruitt's print and online interviews included some mainstream outlets. While Pruitt leaned heavily on right-wing outlets when doing TV and radio, he granted interviews to a wider variety of newspapers, magazines, wire services, and online publications. Some of those interviews were with conservative outlets, including National Review, The Daily Caller, and The Daily Signal. Some were with the business press, like The Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg. And some were with prominent mainstream outlets, including The Washington Post, TIME, USA Today, Reuters, and The New York Times podcast The Daily.
Still, overall, Pruitt heavily favors conservative media when trying to push out his talking points. As Mother Jones recently reported in an in-depth profile of Pruitt, the EPA under his direction "has mostly focused on spreading its message through the right-wing media, talking frequently to Fox News and conservative radio hosts while dismissing less favorable coverage as fake."
Pruitt's preference for right-wing media is continuing into his second year at the EPA. In the 16 days since his one-year anniversary, he has given interviews to the Christian Broadcasting Network, The Daily Signal, and Fox News.
Media Matters searched the following terms in Nexis and iQ Media to find Scott Pruitt's on-air TV appearances from the date of his swearing in as EPA administrator on February 17, 2017, to February 17, 2018: “Pruitt,” “Pruett,” "EPA administrator," "E.P.A. administrator," "EPA chief," "E.P.A. chief," "EPA head," "E.P.A. head," "head of the EPA," "head of the E.P.A.," "head of the Environmental Protection Agency," "Environmental Protection Agency Administrator," or "Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency." We did not count instances of networks airing Pruitt’s appearance at the White House’s June 2 press briefing.
We also used the same terms to search cable news networks’ coverage of Pruitt’s travel controversies from September 27 to October 3 and from February 11, 2018, to February 17, 2018. We did not count instances of networks airing White House briefings that discussed these controversies.