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  • The 10 most ridiculous things media figures said about climate change and the environment in 2017

    Blog ››› ››› KEVIN KALHOEFER


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    1. Breitbart’s James Delingpole claimed 400 new scientific papers show global warming is a myth.

    Numerous studies have found near-unanimous scientific agreement on human-caused climate change, with perhaps the most well-known study on the matter finding that 97 percent of scientific papers taking a position on the cause of global warming agree that humans are behind it. And this year, a review of the 3 percent of papers that deny climate change found that they were all flawed. Nonetheless, Breitbart writer Delingpole claimed that 400 scientific papers published this year demonstrated that climate change is a “myth,” basing his article on a post on the denialist blog No Tricks Zone.The fact-checking website Snopes roundly debunked Delingpole’s article, giving it a “False” verdict after speaking with authors of some of the cited papers who said their work was grossly misinterpreted or misrepresented.

    2. The Daily Mail claimed government researchers “duped” world leaders with "manipulated global warming data."

    Daily Mail reporter David Rose alleged that climate scientists "rushed" to publish an "exaggerated" paper in an attempt to convince leaders to support the Paris agreement and spend billions to fight climate change. Rose, who has written his fair share of climate misinformation for the Mail, based his story on an “exclusive interview” with and a blog post by retired U.S. government scientist John Bates. The error-ridden article quickly made its way around right-wing media in outlets such as The Daily Caller, National Review, and Breitbart, and was even promoted by GOP members of the House science committee, including its chairman Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX). The story’s claims also received “at least 752,300 shares, likes, comments, or other interactions on social media,” according to a Buzzfeed analysis. But the claims in the article were widely discredited by climate scientists, including Bates’ former colleagues and even Bates himself. The errors in the Mail’s article were so significant that the Independent Press Standards Organization (IPSO), an independent media regulator in the U.K., issued a ruling that "the newspaper had failed to take care over the accuracy of the article ... and had then failed to correct ... significantly misleading statements." The Daily Mail was required to publish IPSO's reprimand.

    3. Radio host Rush Limbaugh said he was "leery" of hurricane forecasts because they advance a "climate change agenda."

    As Hurricane Irma barrelled toward Florida, Limbaugh spun conspiracy theories and told his listeners that hurricane warnings are part of a scheme to benefit retailers, the media, and people like Al Gore who want to "advance this climate change agenda." Notably, Limbaugh didn’t have any skepticism about the danger Irma posed when it came to his own well-being, as he fled from his Florida home to Los Angeles before Irma made landfall. It's not the first time Limbaugh has spouted irresponsible conspiracy theories about hurricane forecasts. He was criticized last year for doing the same thing during Hurricane Matthew, earning himself a spot on the 2016 edition of this list.

    4. New York Times columnist Bret Stephens argued that because political operatives were wrong in predicting Hillary Clinton would win the election, people should be skeptical of climate science.

    After Trump’s election, The New York Times launched an ad campaign billing itself as the antidote to Trumpian “alternative facts.” Shortly after that campaign, though, the Times hired Stephens as a columnist -- a serial misinformer who had called climate change a “sick-souled religion” during his time at The Wall Street Journal. In his inaugural column for the Times, Stephens encouraged skepticism of climate scientists and compared those who advocate climate action to Cold War-era authoritarians. Stephens’ column was short on actual facts and science; the one time he cited a scientific report, he got it wrong. The Times added a correction to the column, but numerous scientists pointed out that the correction wasn’t sufficient, and a number of scientists canceled their subscriptions over Stephens’ hiring, his problematic column, and the Times public editor’s dismissive defense of Stephens’ column. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt later cited Stephens' column to defend the Trump administration's decision to pull out of the Paris agreement.

    5. Conservative media commentator Stephen Moore claimed that Trump created tens of thousands of coal jobs in the first few months of his presidency.

    Experts and journalists have repeatedly noted that President Donald Trump's campaign promise to bring back coal jobs is an empty one, since the decades-long decline in coal mining jobs has been driven much more by economic forces, such as increased automation and competition from natural gas and renewables, than by government regulations. But that didn’t stop Moore, a frequent Fox and CNN commentator and former Trump economic advisor, from proclaiming in op-eds in The Washington Times and Breitbart that Trump had already made good on his promise after just a few months in office. Moore cited jobs reports from March and April to claim that Trump had added tens of thousands of mining jobs, thereby restoring the coal industry. But Moore grossly misrepresented the data he cited, which actually included jobs in a number of sectors like oil and gas. Had Moore bothered to look at the actual coal mining jobs category, he would have seen that it had only grown by approximately 200 jobs through April, barely moving since Election Day.

    6. Radio host Hugh Hewitt recommended appointing Rush Limbaugh to a national commission to study climate change.

    In an op-ed for The Washington Post, Hewitt proposed creating a “national commission led by men and women of impeccable credentials” to determine whether and how the U.S. should address climate change, arguing that the country needs a group of “[d]iverse, smart non-scientists who are going to listen to the scientists -- all of them -- and report back on what ought to be done.” But Hewitt’s proposal instantly lost all credibility when he suggested including Rush Limbaugh as one of the commission members. Limbaugh has repeatedly called climate change a hoax, promoted dangerous climate-related conspiracy theories, misrepresented research in an attempt to dispute that global warming is happening, and even criticized a TV show for portraying climate change as a reality.

    7. Fox hosts attacked a journalist and called him "stupid" for asking a Trump official about the links between hurricanes and climate change.

    2017 was a record year for hurricanes, as Harvey, Irma, and Maria wreaked havoc along their respective paths. A number of climate scientists have explained how climate change exacerbates some of the worst impacts of hurricanes. While CNN and MSNBC frequently aired segments discussing the link between climate change and hurricanes like Harvey and Irma, Fox News hosts almost exclusively covered the climate change-hurricane link by criticizing others who raised the issue. The September 11 episode of Fox's The Five, for example, featured a lengthy discussion in which hosts criticized CNN's Jim Acosta for asking Homeland Security Advisor Tom Bossert whether there's a link between climate change and powerful hurricanes. The hosts said that Acosta was “anti-science” and looked “stupid” and “dumb,” and they called his question was "politically opportunistic." Fox's Jesse Watters said concern about climate change stems from liberal “guilt” and a desire to control people’s lives. Likewise, on the radio show Breitbart News Daily, host Alex Marlow pushed EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt to deny the link between climate change and hurricanes, which Pruitt did, stating, “For opportunistic media to use events like this to, without basis or support, just to simply engage in a cause-and-effect type of discussion, and not focus upon the needs of people, I think is misplaced."

    8. Rush Limbaugh argued that the historic BP oil spill caused no environmental damage.

    Limbaugh cited an article in the right-wing Daily Caller headlined “Bacteria Are Eating Most Of The 2010 BP Oil Spill” and concluded, “The BP spill didn’t do any environmental [damage].” The Deepwater Horizon spill, which leaked oil for 87 days, was the largest accidental spill of oil into marine waters in world history. Researchers have documented a wide array of negative environmental impacts from the disaster. For example, a 2016 study found that the BP spill may have caused irreversible damage to one of the Gulf shore’s most important ecosystems. The spill is believed to have killed tens of thousands animals in 2010, and for years afterward, dolphins and other animals in the area continued to die at higher-than-normal rates.

    9. Fox News’ Jesse Watters claimed, “No one is dying from climate change.”

    During a discussion about Al Gore’s warnings on climate change, Watters, a co-host of Fox News’ The Five, declared, “People are dying from terrorism. No one is dying from climate change.” Rush Limbaugh also made the same assertion this year. But an independent report commissioned by 20 governments in 2012 concluded that climate change already kills more people than terrorism, with an estimated 400,000 deaths linked to climate change each year.

    10. Radio host Alex Jones said it was "suspicious" that Hurricane Irma came along shortly before the release of a climate disaster movie.

    Jones briefly speculated about the possibility that Hurricane Irma was “geoengineered” or created by humans before stating, “Meanwhile, though, right on time with these superstorms, we have the new film Geoengineering (sic) 2017, coming soon on October 20. Oh, just a little bit more than a month or so after Irma is set to hit. Isn’t that just perfect timing? Like all these race war films they’ve been putting out. This is starting to get suspicious. Here it is, Geostorm.” The action movie Geostorm featured satellites that controlled the global climate. Jones' speculation about the film is just one of the countless conspiracy theories he has promoted over the years.

  • Right-wing media pushed false, racist narrative of widespread looting during Hurricane Harvey

    Blog ››› ››› LISA HYMAS


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Fox News and other right-wing media outlets overhyped the threat of looting during their coverage of Hurricane Harvey last week. Some conservative blogs ran stories warning about looting that featured tweets from fake accounts, which have since been deleted. This coverage often had a racist element, either subtly or overtly accusing African-Americans of rampant criminal behavior.

    In fact, looting has not been a widespread problem, according to law enforcement officials. Experts say the threat of looting is often exaggerated during disasters, and that appears to be the case with Harvey. "The Houston Police Department says very little looting occurred during the first week of flooding in the wake of Hurricane Harvey," Snopes reported on September 1. A spokesperson for the department told Snopes, "Looting is almost non existent in Houston. People have been cooperative not just with each other, but also with Houston PD. The weather is at its worst but Houstonians are at their best." Los Angeles Times correspondent Matt Pearce, who drove around Houston to report on Harvey, called claims of widespread looting "bullshit."

    When news outlets overhype the risks of looting and violence, it can have dire consequences, one expert told WNYC's On the Media. "The media has a responsibility here to be very nuanced in the way it talks about crime in the midst of a disaster, which is that if people are overly concerned about that, they may not evacuate," said Scott Gabriel Knowles of Drexel University, a historian and author of the book The Disaster Experts: Mastering Risk in Modern America.

    Fox News and Alex Jones stoke fears of looting in Houston  

    On August 30, Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo announced that his officers had arrested 14 people for looting. But in a metropolitan area with 6.6 million residents, that's not a large number.

    Nonetheless, President Donald Trump's favorite program Fox & Friends played the arrests up on August 30 and scaremongered about looters, with correspondent Griff Jenkins describing them as "criminals that have unleashed the worst that humanity has to offer." 

    Fox News' Tucker Carlson and his guest, former police officer and GOP congressional candidate Dan Bongino, also used over-the-top rhetoric on August 30 while discussing a tweet from ABC's Tom Llamas that described looting at a supermarket in Houston. Bongino said, "What kind of like certifiable savage man-beast do you need to be to walk into a small business [and loot]?"

    Other Fox News programs inflated the looting danger too, like America's Newsroom, which featured this chyron on September 1:

    Conspiracy theorist and radio host Alex Jones, a Trump friend and ally, displayed blatant bigotry when he blamed looting on black people on his August 29 show, citing tweets he claimed to have seen. "It's got the racist black gangs are there saying, 'Look at what we looted, look at what we got.' They're putting it on Twitter, 'We're robbing the white folks, they deserve it.' And then of course there's black folks helping white folks and white folks helping black folks. It's a very small minority of scum that's doing this. But can you imagine if there were white people robbing black neighborhoods right now? And you know, I'm sure I bet some of that actually goes on."

    Twitter trolls and right-wing blogs pushed false narrative of blacks looting in Houston

    Other conservative outlets pushed the same false narrative, in some cases basing their stories on tweets from fake accounts. Snopes investigated a "proliferation of dozens of tweets hashtagged #HarveyLootCrew threatening widespread looting and purporting to prove that a great deal of looting had already taken place," and found that the tweets were entirely bogus:

    A series of tweets from the accounts (since deleted) of “Jamaal Williams” (@RUthlessFCB) and “Jayrome Williams” (@BrotherTooTurnt), for example, spoke of looting white neighborhoods and “racist Trump supporters”

    [...]

    The tweets were taken at face value by some mainstream media outlets (including Click2Houston), as well as by several right-leaning blogs such as Pacific Pundit, DC Clothesline, and Think Americana, with the latter using them as the basis for a report stating that “far leftists promote looting of homes and businesses of only Trump supporters”.

    What we found when we looked at the tweets carefully, however, was that all of them were fake, originating from troll accounts set up under assumed identities. None of the photos depict anything that actually took place in Houston, much less in 2017.

    [...]

    It isn’t difficult to discern the motivation behind these fake tweets, which were obviously created to sow fear and racial hatred in a time of crisis.

    Experts debunk the myth of widespread looting

    Other, more responsible media outlets have pointed out that the frequency of looting during disasters is often greatly exaggerated. "Looting and violence are the exception, not the rule," Brooke Gladstone, co-host of WNYC's On the Media, said while introducing a segment on the topic. "Disasters usually bring out the best in people."

    Knowles told On the Media, "Fifty years of social science research indicates that widespread looting is really pretty much a myth. … There's pretty good evidence, looking at Hurricane Sandy for example, that crime can actually go down in the midst of a disaster."

    The Washington Post cited other experts who made similar points:

    In the wake of massive disasters, fears about crime and other forms of disorder almost always rise, experts say. But while some people do take advantage of the collective distraction, the fear of crime — particularly looting — typically outstrips the reality, said experts who study storms and recoveries.

    There were about 63 people charged with storm-related crimes including burglary and theft from Aug. 26, the day after Harvey made landfall, to this past Thursday, according to the Harris County district attorney’s office. Harris County has a population of nearly 5 million people, including the city of Houston.

    “Fears of looting are common in disasters and maybe even more common than actual looting itself,” said Andy Horowitz, an assistant professor of history at Tulane University who focuses on disasters.

    [...]

    “There’s no doubt that on any given day, there are people who are going to steal other people’s stuff,” said retired Army Lt. Gen. Russel L. Honore, who helped oversee the military response to Hurricane Katrina. “But what we see after these storms is a greatly overexaggerated concern.”

    In the days and weeks after Katrina made landfall, major news outlets relayed reports of rape and murder inside emergency shelters — many of which were later found to be false and may have delayed aid to evacuees.

    Claims of widespread looting often have a racist tinge

    Knowles and Honore both pointed out that claims about looting often have racial and socioeconomic overtones, playing into negative stereotypes about poor, non-white people engaging in criminal behavior.

    “There’s a bias at play," Honore told the Post. "People think that if you’re poor or black you’re always trying to steal something. These warnings about looting validate the stereotypes that people hold about poor people.”

    As Knowles told On the Media, "Looting gets to the media's responsibility to be very careful in the way it portrays neighborhoods that have low socioeconomic status or neighborhoods that are diverse."

    These stereotypes were put front and center in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, as the Los Angeles Times reminded people last week. Two much-discussed wire-service photographs from that period showed people wading through chest-deep water with groceries: One photo that depicted an African-American had a caption describing him as "A young man … after looting a grocery store"; another photo that showed a white couple had a caption describing them as "Two residents … after finding bread and soda from a local grocery store."

    Boston Globe reporter Astead W. Herndon summed up the contrast in a tweet: "The difference between 'looting' and 'finding' is often black and white."

    African-Americans should get extra aid during disasters, not unwarranted accusations

    Black communities tend to get hurt the most by hurricanes in the U.S. "During any natural disaster such as a hurricane, low-income and under-served communities are usually the hardest hit," according to a 2010 study by researchers at Florida A&M University. It assessed "the socio-economic vulnerability of African Americans to hurricanes at the county level in the Gulf Coast region," and found that in nearly half of the counties, "African Americans are in a high vulnerable condition against hurricanes and natural disaster."

    The disproportionate impact on African-Americans was highly visible during Hurricane Katrina. “Katrina was not an equal opportunity storm,” wrote Gary Rivlin, investigative journalist and author of a book on the hurricane, last year for TalkPoverty.org, a project of the Center for American Progress. “A black homeowner in New Orleans was more than three times as likely to have been flooded as a white homeowner. That wasn’t due to bad luck; because of racially discriminatory housing practices, the high-ground was taken by the time banks started loaning money to African Americans who wanted to buy a home.”

    After Superstorm Sandy hit in 2012, the story was similar. "Studies show that low-income and communities of color in the New York-New Jersey area were among the hardest hit by Hurricane Sandy," wrote Pamela Worth of the Union of Concerned Scientists. These same dynamics have been playing out in Houston. And as climate change worsens and leads to more extreme disasters, experts say people of color will continue to bear the brunt.

    But instead of reporting on the struggles of black hurricane victims and the ways that disasters disproportionately hurt non-white communities, some right-wing media outlets have been blaming blacks for fictional crime rampages.

    Now, as Hurricane Irma barrels toward Florida, which has large black and Latino communities, should we expect to see more of the same?