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Sunday morning political shows’ coverage of climate change in March was driven by Democratic presidential candidates, a number of whom are making climate change a key campaign issue. The five major Sunday shows aired a combined six segments in March that included substantive discussion of climate change, and all of them were interviews with 2020 hopefuls.
The two most in-depth climate conversations came during interviews with Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, who is focusing his presidential campaign around the need for climate action. Inslee appeared on the March 3 episode of ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos and the March 10 episode of CNN’s State of the Union. On State of the Union, Inslee gave a detailed response to host Jake Tapper's question about the seriousness of his climate-focused candidacy, discussing the severity of the climate threat, how high climate change ranks among issues voters care about, and how climate issues intersect with other issues such as the economy, health care, and national security.
JAKE TAPPER: So let's talk about climate change. First of all, what do you say to a Democratic voter who hears that your campaign is about climate change, and they think, “Oh, well, then he's not really serious about running for president, he's just trying to get an issue on the agenda”?
JAY INSLEE: I would say several things. Number one, I would say that we are the first generation to feel the sting of climate change, and we are the last generation that can do something about it. And we have got one shot. And that's the next administration. We have to have this be the primary, first, foremost, and paramount duty of the next administration, because the world's on fire. And we’ve got to act. And we got a climate denier in the White House. The second thing I would say is: If you care about climate change, you're not alone. A poll just came out in Iowa saying it's the top, number one priority, tied with health care. And the third is, this is not a single issue. It is all the issues. Look, if you care about the economy, the economy is now being ravaged by climate change. And the economic growth that we can have -- I’ve been on a tour looking at all the job creation going on, solar power in Iowa, batteries in Nevada, wind power in Washington. So, I have been on this tour, nationally, looking at what a tremendous job-creating opportunity this is. It's a health issue. It's asthma and infectious diseases. It's a national security issue. I met with Adm. [William] Fallon in Seattle, who talked about the Pentagon telling us what a national security threat it is and how we have Trump trying to tear up the intelligence report.
Other Democratic presidential candidates who discussed climate change on Sunday shows last month included Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, IN. On the March 17 episode of Fox News Sunday, host Chris Wallace asked him about the Green New Deal and Buttigieg responded by emphasizing the need to "act aggressively and immediately on climate."
Massachusetts Rep. Seth Moulton, who is considering a run for president, appeared on the March 31 episode of State of the Union, where Tapper asked him about the Green New Deal's job guarantee. Moulton said the U.S. could fight climate change and strengthen the economy at the same time by putting people to work doing things like making buildings more energy-efficient.
Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar and former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper both discussed climate change during appearances on NBC’s Meet the Press, even though host Chuck Todd didn’t ask them about the subject. During her March 17 interview, Klobuchar talked about the economic consequences of climate change and extreme weather, noting the role climate change played in the recent devastating flooding across the Midwest as well as in hurricanes and wildfires. On the March 31 episode of Meet the Press, Todd asked Hickenlooper how he would respond to critics of his fossil fuel ties, and Hickenlooper used the opportunity to talk about methane regulations he helped put in place in Colorado and the need for global action to tackle climate change.
CBS' Face the Nation is the one major Sunday show that failed to air a single substantive discussion of climate change in March. It was the fourth month in a row that the show neglected to cover climate change.
The number of segments that included substantive discussion of climate change was down a little in March compared to February, when many of the shows included conversations about the Green New Deal; there were six substantive segments in March versus seven in February. In January, the Sunday shows featured no substantive discussions of climate change.
Altogether, the first quarter of 2019 featured much more climate coverage than the first quarter of 2018, in which the Sunday shows aired just a single episode that included notable discussion of climate change.
But climate coverage in the first quarter of 2019 was actually down compared to the last quarter of 2018, when the Sunday shows discussed climate change in the wake of two major reports on climate science from the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the U.S. government.
In March, the shows missed opportunities to engage in meaningful conversations about climate change beyond interviews with Democratic presidential contenders. None of the shows' hosts asked questions about the historic and calamitous Midwest flooding that took place last month; Klobuchar is the only person who brought it up. The Sunday shows even failed to address the political maneuvering around the recent Senate vote on the Green New Deal, which is an odd omission for programs that are normally so focused on political fights and one-upmanship. The shows still have work to do to increase the quality and quantity of their climate coverage.
Sunday news shows of four of the major broadcast networks and CNN ignored new reporting from The Washington Post which detailed how President Donald Trump may have committed bank fraud.
The Post reported on March 28 that congressional and New York investigators are examining whether Trump had used misleading documents called “Statements of Financial Condition,” in which he inflated his wealth or “omitted properties that carried big debts,” to fraudulently obtain loans from lenders or low premiums from insurers. The Post report revealed some details about how Trump lied about his properties and wealth in these statements:
These documents sometimes ran up to 20 pages. They were full of numbers, laying out Trump’s properties, debts and multibillion-dollar net worth.
But, for someone trying to get a true picture of Trump’s net worth, the documents were deeply flawed. Some simply omitted properties that carried big debts. Some assets were overvalued. And some key numbers were wrong.
For instance, Trump’s financial statement for 2011 said he had 55 home lots to sell at his golf course in Southern California. Those lots would sell for $3 million or more, the statement said.
But Trump had only 31 lots zoned and ready for sale at the course, according to city records. He claimed credit for 24 lots — and at least $72 million in future revenue — he didn’t have.
He also claimed his Virginia vineyard had 2,000 acres, when it really has about 1,200. He said Trump Tower has 68 stories. It has 58.
These two investigations have stemmed from “testimony last month by Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen, who told Congress that Trump had used these statements to inflate his wealth — and then sent them to his lenders and his insurers.” The Post also explained, “Trump is far from the first real estate developer to inflate his projects or wealth. But there are laws against defrauding insurers and lenders with false information.” It is also unclear if Trump will face any legal consequences.
Yet none of the Sunday shows of ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox Broadcasting Co., or CNN covered the story, according to a closed captioning search of mentions of Trump in the Grabien video database. Three of these shows invited senior Trump administration officials as guests but failed to bring up the ongoing investigations: Both ABC’s This Week and CNN’s State of the Union interviewed acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, and Fox’s Fox News Sunday talked to counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway.
Unfortunately, much of the discussion was superficial, and some of it included climate deniers
Sunday morning political shows discussed climate change much more in February than they did in January. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), who is calling on the programs to give climate change more attention, released a scorecard on the shows' February performance:
It indicates a notable increase in climate coverage compared with the first month of the year, when none of the shows aired substantive segments on climate change and altogether they made just four passing mentions of the topic.
Most of the coverage in February focused on the Green New Deal resolution that Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) introduced on February 7. While it was encouraging to see more media attention on climate policy ideas, the discussions tended to be narrowly focused on the potential political ramifications for Democrats and Republicans instead of whether the Green New Deal contains worthy ideas for addressing climate change.
On a more discouraging note, some of the Sunday show discussions about the Green New Deal included climate deniers -- most notably right-wing radio host Rush Limbaugh, who appeared on Fox News Sunday on February 17. During a wide-ranging conversation, Limbaugh called climate change a "hoax" after host Chris Wallace brought up the Green New Deal. Limbaugh went on, "There's no evidence for it. Climate change is nothing but a bunch of computer models that attempt to tell us what's going to happen in 50 years or 30." Wallace did not push back against Limbaugh's outright climate denial. This was the lowlight of February's climate coverage.
Other people who have denied or downplayed the climate threat were also asked about the Green New Deal on the Sunday shows. On the February 10 edition of Fox News Sunday, Wallace raised the topic with National Review Editor Rich Lowry and with acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney. And on February 10 on ABC’s This Week, host George Stephanopoulos brought up the Green New Deal with former New Jersey governor and ABC contributor Chris Christie. None of them expressed climate denial in these conversations, but Lowry used the opportunity to criticize the Green New Deal as "socialist" and "radical" and Mulvaney expressed delight that the plan is dividing Democrats.
More insightful climate coverage included a segment on the February 24 episode of CBS’ Face the Nation during which Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democratic presidential hopeful, called for action to fight the climate emergency. Additionally, a panel discussion on the February 10 episode of NBC’s Meet the Press included MSNBC host Katy Tur offering a vivid reminder that climate change could kill millions of people and cause billions of dollars in economic damages. (Actually, it could cause trillions in damages.)
But the highlight of the month's climate coverage came from a panel discussion on NBC’s Meet the Press on February 24, when Heather McGhee, former president and current senior fellow at the liberal policy group Demos, injected a passionate call for climate action into what was otherwise shaping up to be a typical, insubstantial conversation about Green New Deal politics. The panel was discussing the tactics behind a viral video that showed Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s (D-CA) condescending to young activists from the Sunrise Movement who were pressing her to support the Green New Deal. McGhee reminded the others of the big picture and the urgent need for action:
Dianne Feinstein has been great. And she has been in office and not had the urgency that is required. This is an emergency in this country. It's an emergency on this planet. There's no higher responsibility of anyone who has any kind of political power right now than to try to stop a global catastrophe that's not happening in three generations, it's happening now.
McGhee came close to tears during her comments, as she noted afterward on Twitter:
This morning I got choked up on air when discussing the political reluctance to be bold on climate change. It’s never happened to me before, but there’s no precedent for the threat we are facing. https://t.co/LXQrm6YhlV
— Heather C. McGhee (@hmcghee) February 24, 2019
She then followed up by writing a piece invoking her infant son and explaining that “we need more emotion and more urgency in the fight for the future.”
In 2018, the Sunday shows hardly covered climate change at all, and when they did, those discussions too often featured climate deniers. Now -- after the release late last year of landmark climate reports from the United Nations and the U.S. government and the introduction this year of the Green New Deal resolution -- the programs are addressing climate change more often, and at least some of the coverage is constructive. We hope to be seeing a lot more.
Meet the Press was the only major Sunday political news show to mention the arrest
After the arrest of a white nationalist Coast Guard lieutenant who, according to charging documents, was allegedly planning “to murder innocent civilians on a scale rarely seen in this country," NBC’s Meet the Press was the only one of the five major Sunday political news shows to mention the news. The failure of the other shows to cover the story follows a trend of many mainstream outlets largely ignoring the creeping and real threat of right-wing extremism and domestic terrorism in the United States.
On February 15, federal authorities arrested Christopher Hasson, a Coast Guard lieutenant and “a self-described white nationalist” who sought “to establish a ‘white homeland’" and wrote that he was “dreaming of a way to kill every last person on earth.” According to court documents, officials allege Hasson is a “domestic terrorist bent on committing acts dangerous to human life that are intended to affect government conduct." Authorities also discovered a stockpile of weapons and “a hit list of possible targets” including “high-ranking current and former Democratic politicians, activists, political organizations and media personalities.”
According to a Media Matters review of the major political Sunday shows -- 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 -- Meet the Press was the only one to discuss the arrest.
As right-wing extremism and violence in the United States have surged over the last decade, mainstream media outlets have failed to properly frame and report on the growing threat. From print outlets to network and cable news, the normalization of white nationalist rhetoric and the overall growth of a violent ideology have been, for the most part, treated as backburner issues among mainstream outlets. And while mainstream media play catch-up to what is a real and serious threat -- as the arrest of a self-described white nationalist within the ranks of the U.S. Coast Guard reminds us -- Fox News, the most-watched cable news outlet in the country, continues to unabashedly and irresponsibly pander to such extremists.
All five major Sunday morning political shows touched on the Green New Deal on February 10 -- the first time in 2019 that any of the programs have addressed climate change with more than a passing mention. But most of the discussion was superficial and narrowly focused on whether the Green New Deal will cause intra-party fighting among Democrats or end up benefiting Republicans, not on whether its policy ideas are good approaches for fighting climate change.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) introduced a Green New Deal resolution on Thursday, outlining an aggressive plan for achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. within a decade.
NBC's Meet the Press featured a conversation about the Green New Deal with a panel of guests. Host Chuck Todd kicked it off by briefly outlining the plan's big goals and then asking Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas, “Is this a healthy debate [for the Democratic Party] that's happening right now?" In a follow-up comment to David Brody, chief political analyst for the Christian Broadcasting Network, Todd said, “Obviously the president's team sees a reelection opening." The panel discussion on the show largely focused on which party could benefit from consideration of the Green New Deal. Only MSNBC host Katy Tur talked about the dire climate impacts the Green New Deal is designed to mitigate:
The U.N. said we have 12 years before complete disaster. You talk to the representative of the Marshall Islands, and he's calling it what could amount to genocide if we allow things to go as they are. The reports aren't just, "Hey, it's going to get bad." The reports are, "People will die. Millions and million, and millions of people will die." And I think that there is an appetite among voters out there, especially Democratic voters and potentially swing voters, to say, "Hey, let's do something about this now because it's, it’s going to affect our future." And there's real economic damage that can happen as well. Billions of dollars in economic damage from crops to deaths, to losing oceanfront homes and businesses in, over the next century.
On CNN's State of the Union, host Jake Tapper brought up the Green New Deal twice. His interview with Peter Buttigieg, Democratic presidential hopeful and mayor of South Bend, IN, included a substantive exchange on the plan and on climate impacts. Tapper briefly mentioned the Green New Deal’s broad aims, questioned Buttigieg about how it could affect his constituents and industry in the Midwest, and asked if he endorsed it. Buttigieg affirmed his support for the general framework of the Green New Deal, specifically “the idea that we need to race toward that goal and that we should do it in a way that enhances the economic justice and the level of economic opportunity in our country.” Buttigieg also noted that action is needed because extreme weather is already hurting Americans. Later in the show, during an interview with Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT), Tapper noted that Murphy was a Green New Deal co-sponsor before saying, “Independent senator Angus King of Maine as well as Obama's former energy secretary Ernest Moniz say they don't think that this plan is realistic.” Murphy responded, “It's absolutely realistic and I frankly think we need to set our sights high.” Murphy emphasized the reason why bold steps are required: "Global warming is an existential threat to the planet."
Fox News Sunday included two segments that discussed the Green New Deal, but host Chris Wallace seemed less interested in how it would address climate change and more interested in whether it could be labeled “socialist.” During a discussion with a panel of guests, Wallace listed some of the plan’s policy goals before asking former Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD), “Couldn't you call it socialist?” In a follow-up question to Edwards, Wallace lumped the Green New Deal in with other progressive policy proposals such as free college tuition and a guaranteed jobs plan, asking her again, “Couldn't you argue that's pretty radical and possibly socialist?” During a separate interview with Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, Wallace asked if President Donald Trump views the Green New Deal as “the view of a wing of the [Democratic] party or does he think that's the prevailing opinion of Democratic leaders?”
Both ABC's This Week with George Stephanopoulos and CBS' Face the Nation just made passing mentions of the Green New Deal. This Week host Stephanopoulos directed a comment about Trump’s sarcastic tweet about the Green New Deal to ABC News contributor Chris Christie, but Christie didn't address the topic. Face the Nation host Margaret Brennan didn’t bring up the Green New Deal herself, but one of her guests, National Review Senior Editor Jonah Goldberg, referenced it in passing to claim that it could harm the Democrats politically.
Sunday’s Green New Deal coverage did not include any guests who voiced climate denial, which is an improvement over the last time all of the major shows covered climate change, on November 25, after release of the National Climate Assessment. But this time around, none of the shows hosted guests with particular expertise in climate change to discuss the plan, like climate scientists or environmental journalists. This is an unfortunate, long-running trend: The Sunday shows rarely feature climate experts.
The Green New Deal is sparking Sunday show discussion of climate policy, which we've seen very little of in recent years. (And it’s freaking out conservatives and right-wing media figures.) But the coverage needs to get better. Media outlets have a responsibility to move discussions of climate-related issues like the Green New Deal beyond superficial horse-race coverage and into real substance. That means acknowledging that the Green New Deal is not merely a political ploy; it is an effort backed by a broad array of environmental groups, environmental justice organizations, and unions, as well as high-profile Democratic politicians, to comprehensively address the climate crisis. Sunday shows should be fostering discussion of whether the Green New Deal is the right approach to deal with climate change, not whether it will help one side or another score quick political points.
Whitehouse: “Our broadcasters hold a special responsibility to inform the public on the most pressing challenges facing the American people”
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) is calling on the Sunday morning news shows to significantly improve their coverage of climate change. On February 1, he announced the launch of a monthly scorecard to monitor the shows' climate coverage, with the goal of prodding them to do better.
The inaugural scorecard his office put out, based on data from Media Matters, illustrates the problem: None of the five major Sunday shows aired substantive segments on climate change in January of this year. In total, there were just four passing mentions of the topic on ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos, CBS’ Face the Nation, CNN’s State of the Union, Fox News Sunday, and NBC’s Meet the Press.
Whitehouse's office issued a press release highlighting findings from a recent Media Matters analysis of major Sunday shows' climate coverage in 2018, which found that less than 6 percent of their episodes last year featured significant discussion of climate change. The analysis also found a decline from 2017 to 2018 in the number of segments on the Sunday shows that discussed climate change.
The press release included a quote from Whitehouse:
Our broadcasters hold a special responsibility to inform the public on the most pressing challenges facing the American people. With each passing day, the climate crisis grows more dire and our government’s response to that crisis more urgent. That is why this report is so troubling. It shows some of our most important voices in the national media falling silent on climate change at precisely the wrong moment.
The press release called attention to one bright spot last year: an entire episode of Meet the Press in December that was dedicated to discussion of climate change and pointedly excluded climate deniers. But the release noted that “climate change coverage made up a tiny fraction of Sunday shows’ programming in 2018”; very few episodes featured any significant discussion of the issue.
Percentage of Shows' Episodes Including Climate Change
ABC’s This Week: 3.8% (2 out of 52 episodes)
CBS’ Face the Nation: 9.8% (5 out of 51 episodes)
CNN’s State of the Union: 3.8% (2 out of 52 episodes)
Fox News Sunday: 7.7% (4 out of 52 episodes)
NBC’s Meet the Press: 4.1% (2 out of 49 episodes)
Less than 6 percent of episodes on the major Sunday shows discussed global warming, and some of them included climate deniers
Less than 6 percent of episodes of the five major Sunday morning news shows in 2018 featured any substantial mentions or discussions of climate change, according to a Media Matters analysis. And the number of times the shows addressed climate change was down from the previous year: They ran 13 percent fewer climate-focused segments in 2018 than they did in 2017, continuing the shows’ multi-year trend of neglecting climate change.
Media Matters analyzed climate change coverage and guest appearances on the five major Sunday morning shows: ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos, CBS’ Face the Nation, CNN’s State of the Union, Fox News Sunday, and NBC’s Meet the Press.
The Sunday shows help set the media and political agenda for the week, but it's not only politicians, pundits, and other media figures who take their cues from them -- members of the public do too. The four broadcast Sunday shows attracted a combined audience of nearly 11 million viewers in the last quarter of 2018. Because of their wide viewership and political prestige, Sunday news shows play a crucial role in determining which issues and voices are included in the national dialogue.
In 2018, the five major Sunday shows aired a combined total of 256 episodes, and only 14 of them made significant mention of climate change -- less than 6 percent.
During the course of the year, there were only nine Sundays when at least one show aired a segment that focused on climate change. On the other 43 Sundays, or 83 percent of them, climate change was not substantively addressed.
The shows also neglected to cover climate change during six months of the year, including June, when a heat wave broke records across much of the U.S.; August, when the Mendocino Complex became the largest fire in California’s history; and September, when Hurricane Florence devastated parts of North Carolina.
The total number of segments addressing climate change was down from 2017: The shows aired 27 segments in 2018 compared to 31 segments the year prior, a decline of 13 percent. Face the Nation and Meet the Press aired eight climate-related segments each in 2018, followed by Fox News Sunday with five, and This Week and State of the Union with three each. (Not all of the segments were good; some featured climate deniers making false statements. More on that below.)
When the Sunday shows did air climate-focused segments, the discussions were dominated by white men and unrepresentative of America's population.
People of color made up only 17 percent of Sunday show guests discussing climate change in 2018
Of the 35 guests featured during climate-focused segments in 2018, just six were people of color, or 17 percent. This is a slight improvement from 2017, when only four out of 35 guests on climate segments were people of color, or 11 percent.
The guests of color who participated in climate change discussions in 2018 were:
ABC’s This Week was the only Sunday show that did not host a guest of color during one of its climate-focused segments.
The underrepresentation of communities of color in the Sunday shows' climate discussions becomes apparent when you consider that non-white and/or Hispanic/Latino people constitute 39 percent of the U.S. population according to census data. People of color should also have more of a voice on the shows because they tend to bring different perspectives: They are more concerned about climate change than whites and more likely to say they feel its impacts, according to a 2015 survey and other polls. A 2015 poll of African Americans found that 60 percent ranked global warming as a serious issue, and 67 percent said that actions should be taken to reduce the threat of global warming. And a 2017 survey found that 78 percent of Latinos were worried about global warming, compared to 56 percent of non-Latinos.
Just 13 of 35 guests who joined in the Sunday news shows' climate discussions in 2018 were women, or 37 percent. Meet the Press led the way this year with seven women, State of the Union followed with three, Fox News Sunday had two, and This Week had one. Face the Nation failed to feature a woman during any of its climate-related segments.
This represents a slight increase from 2017 when women were nine of the 35 guests, or 26 percent.
Despite the fact that women constitute roughly 51 percent of the population, the trend of males dominating Sunday show guest slots continues, whether they're discussing climate change or any other topic. Again, this leads to a loss of valuable perspective: Polls indicate that American women are more worried about climate change than men. According to a 2015 survey, 69 percent of women in the U.S. are concerned that climate change will affect them personally, compared to only 48 percent of men. And a December 2018 poll found that 71 percent of American women say there's enough evidence of climate change to warrant action, compared to just 61 percent of men.
When Face the Nation host Margaret Brennan asked NASA Deputy Associate Administrator Steven Clarke about the National Climate Assessment on November 25, it was the first time in almost three years that a scientist had been included in a discussion about climate change on a Sunday show. The last time it had happened was December 2015, also on Face the Nation. But the discussion between Brennan and Clarke on climate change was brief; most of Clarke's time on the show was spent talking about NASA’s latest mission to Mars.
The next month, during a Meet the Press episode dedicated to climate change on December 30, NASA climate scientist Kate Marvel joined a wide-ranging panel discussion about climate challenges and potential solutions.
That episode of Meet the Press also featured NBC News' Chief Environmental Affairs Correspondent Anne Thompson on its panel -- the first time a Sunday show has included an environmental journalist in a climate-focused discussion since Media Matters began tracking the guest lineups 2013.
Overall, the vast majority of Sunday show guests invited to discuss climate change were politicians, political operatives, or political journalists.
On the few occasions when the Sunday shows did address climate change in 2018, the discussions were often superficial and sometimes featured climate denial or other inaccurate statements, failing to give viewers the substantive, fact-based coverage they deserve.
For example, after the Trump administration tried to bury a major government report, the National Climate Assessment, by releasing it the day after Thanksgiving, all five major Sunday shows covered climate change on the same day for the first and only time all year, on November 25. But the quality of much of that coverage was bad. Some of the hosts, including Meet the Press’ Chuck Todd and State of the Union’s Dana Bash, invited climate deniers to discuss the report, allowed them to make false statements, and failed to offer any meaningful pushback. Others, such as This Week’s George Stephanopoulos, spent only a little time on the report.
When the shows did include people of color or women in their climate change discussions, that didn't necessarily mean the discussions were good. For example, when Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), a Cuban-American, answered questions about climate change on Face the Nation, he suggested that policy solutions would destroy the economy or not be effective. And when Danielle Pletka of the American Enterprise Institute joined in a panel discussion about climate change on Meet the Press, she falsely claimed that the previous two years had been among the coldest on record -- comments so blatantly wrong that the fact-checking website PolitiFact dedicated a post to declaring them "false."
(In some cases, guests on Sunday shows brought up climate change unprompted, but hosts failed to engage or changed the subject. This happened during interviews on This Week with Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT). We excluded these instances from our analysis; instead, we only gave shows credit for airing climate segments when hosts brought up climate change themselves or engaged in discussions on the topic.)
Meet the Press took the unprecedented step of dedicating an entire episode to climate change on December 30, its last episode of 2018. It aired about a month after host Todd was widely criticized for allowing Pletka to make false claims on the air and then failing to push back against them.
Seemingly chastened, Todd opened the episode by saying, "We're not going to give time to climate deniers. The science is settled, even if political opinion is not." The show featured five segments and seven guests, including outgoing Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL), who had introduced legislation to price carbon earlier in the year, as well as outgoing California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg (I), both of whom have made fighting climate change a signature issue.
This episode was the high point of an otherwise dreary year for climate coverage. Without it, Sunday shows would have only aired 22 climate-focused segments featuring 28 guests in 2018, down from 31 segments featuring 35 guests in 2017 -- and Meet the Press would have tied for the lowest number of segments in 2018.
A pair of major reports released in the latter part of the year put our current situation in stark relief. In October, the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published a study that found if global average temperatures rise more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, hundreds of millions of people would be at increased risk of climate change impacts such as flooding and extreme heat. In late November, the U.S. government put out the latest installment of the National Climate Assessment -- a 1,500-page, congressionally mandated document produced by some 300 scientists from 13 federal agencies -- that painted a dire picture of how climate change is already affecting the U.S. and how its catastrophic impacts will intensify in coming years.
Meet the Press’ climate-focused episode demonstrated that Sunday shows can give the topic the serious attention it deserves, with guests who are well-informed about the problem and potential solutions. But this kind of substantive coverage needs to be sustained and incorporated into all of the Sunday shows week after week. And the coverage must include a broader array of guests -- scientists and environmental journalists who can explain the nature of the challenge, and people of color and women who are on the frontlines of climate change and are pioneering solutions to the crisis.
Ted MacDonald contributed research to this report. Charts by Melissa Joskow.
This report analyzes coverage of climate change in 2018 on five Sunday morning news shows: ABC's This Week with George Stephanopoulos, CBS' Face the Nation, CNN’s State of the Union, Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday, and NBC's Meet the Press. To identify segments that discussed climate change, we searched for the following terms in Nexis: climate change, global warming, changing climate, climate warms, climate warming, warming climate, warmer climate, warming planet, warmer planet, warming globe, warmer globe, global temperatures, rising temperatures, hotter temperatures, climate science, climate scientist, paris climate, climate accord, paris accord, climate agreement, paris agreement, and climate deal. Our analysis included any segment devoted to climate change, as well as any substantial mention of climate change (more than one paragraph of a news transcript or a definitive statement by a media figure). The study did not include instances in which a non-media figure brought up climate change without being prompted to do so by a media figure unless the media figure subsequently addressed climate change. We defined media figures as hosts, anchors, correspondents, and recurring guest panelists.
Correction (3/5/19): This piece originally omitted one white woman who appeared as a guest on the November 25 episode of Meet the Press. The text and charts have been updated to reflect her appearance.
The show's recent attention to climate change is welcome -- and it needs to be sustained
NBC's Meet the Press dedicated its last episode of 2018 entirely to climate change -- an unprecedented occurrence on a major Sunday morning political talk show. "We're not going to debate climate change, the existence of it," host Chuck Todd said at the start of the December 30 episode. "We're not going to give time to climate deniers. The science is settled, even if political opinion is not." His guests included NASA climate scientist Kate Marvel and politicians from both sides of the aisle who have advocated climate action, such as outgoing California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) and outgoing Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL).
But it took Meet the Press, which bills itself as “the longest-running show in television history,” an awfully long time to give climate change this much attention. For years before this episode, Meet the Press lagged behind the other Sunday shows in coverage of climate change -- even though the other shows have not been doing such a hot job themselves.
Meet the Press addressed climate change in only one other episode in 2018, and it caught a lot of flak for featuring climate denier Danielle Pletka of the right-wing American Enterprise Institute making the ridiculous claim that global temperatures have been dropping. The fact-checking website PolitiFact determined that Pletka's statement was "false." Media figures and politicians castigated Todd for allowing such drivel on the air, including ABC News political analyst Matthew Dowd, who tweeted, "Lord have mercy. ... Chuck, next time why don’t you have folks on who argue the world is flat. This is crazy. Balance shouldn’t be the goal, truth should."
Altogether in 2018, Meet the Press discussed climate change in two episodes -- fewer than ABC's This Week, CBS' Face the Nation, and Fox News Sunday, and tied for last place with CNN's State of the Union.
In 2017, Meet the Press also addressed climate change in just two episodes, and it had the last-place spot all to itself. The other four major Sunday shows each discussed climate change in at least four episodes -- twice as many as NBC's show.
The year 2016 was even worse. Todd brought up the topic of climate change just once that year on Meet the Press, again tying for last place among Sunday shows. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who was then running for the Democratic presidential nomination, mentioned climate change numerous times during his appearances on the show in 2016, but Todd didn't engage on the topic. During one such interview, Sanders began talking about climate change and Todd actually interrupted him to change the subject, saying, "Senator, right. But I want to go back to the other point."
Todd and Meet the Press deserve credit for finally giving serious coverage to this most serious of challenges. The other Sunday shows should follow suit.
But this needs to represent the start of a new trend of substantive climate change coverage that's sustained throughout the year. The climate crisis deserves to be addressed every week in discussions with informed guests who understand the scale of the problem and the solutions that could help keep it in check. If Todd goes back to avoiding the topic and the Meet the Press climate episode ends up being a one-off, aired over the winter holidays when viewership was likely low, then it will look like a cynical ploy to deflect criticism over the Pletka debacle. We're hoping Todd and Meet the Press are turning over a new leaf, and we'll be watching closely in 2019 to find out.
On the December 4 episode of Lou Dobbs Tonight, Fox Business host Lou Dobbs claimed that the United Nations would “like to take over the world” and it see[s] the perfect opportunity in global warming.” Dobbs then said, “There is great, great debate over whether there is that quote-unquote 'warming'" -- a claim that is, of course, objectively false. Dobbs has peddled inane theories about climate change in the past, calling human-caused global warming a “largely Democratic belief” and suggesting that the sun may be more responsible for global warming than humans.
On the November 25 episode of CNN’s State of the Union, CNN commentator and former Republican Sen. Rick Santorum praised the efforts of the Trump administration to try to bury the release of the National Climate Assessment, claiming that the scientists who wrote it are “driven by the money.” Despite this claim being completely false and widely mocked on social media, Santorum repeated it on CNN just two days later. Santorum failed to note, however, that he himself has received copious amounts of money from the fossil-fuel industry throughout his career.
CNN's Rick Santorum praises Trump administration trying to bury report on climate change: "A lot of these scientists are driven by the money" pic.twitter.com/ndwpkQHUxH
— Media Matters (@mmfa) November 25, 2018
Perhaps the leader in promoting absurd conspiracy theories, Infowars waded into the topic of climate change in the wake of Hurricane Lane hitting Hawaii in August. On the August 23 episode of Infowars’ War Room, host Owen Shroyer proposed the idea that John Kerry shot an energy beam from Antarctica that split the hurricane in two. He said, “Why is John Kerry going down to Antarctica just a week after the election to discuss climate change and then you have energy beams coming out of Antarctica splitting hurricanes? Yeah, what is John Kerry doing down there? That’s awfully suspicious to me.” Kerry later poked fun at the comments on Twitter.
On the September 14 episode of Fox Business Network's Varney & Co., Fox News commentator Tammy Bruce said that climate change is “great” for “the left” because people on the left can “blame everything on it.” She continued, “And this is of course the goal, is it's not even about the nature of the weather itself but the blaming of humanity, of the nature of what we're doing, that we're the problem. And of course that gives you an excuse then to control what people do, to control business, and to control industry.”
On October 9, gamergate supporter and writer Ian Miles Cheong tweeted, “Climate change is a hoax invented by neo-Marxists within the scientific community to destabilize the world economy and dismantle what they call ‘systems of oppression’ and what the rest of us call capitalism.” Cheong followed up with, “To clarify, I’m talking about man-made climate change and the fear mongering surrounding it.” (As if we needed further clarification on this tin-foil-hat take.)
I’m gonna get shit for this, but here goes.
Climate change is a hoax invented by neo-Marxists within the scientific community to destabilize the world economy and dismantle what they call “systems of oppression” and what the rest of us call capitalism.
— Ian Miles Cheong (@stillgray) October 9, 2018
A brutal winter storm in early January left at least 22 people dead on the East Coast, and Fox & Friends used that storm to praise its favorite viewer, President Donald Trump. On the January 7 episode of Fox & Friends Weekend, co-host Pete Hegseth said, “I think President Trump should take credit for solving global warming. Look at how cold it is, that is just another accomplishment that we need to put on the list. Global warming, done. President Trump eradicated it.”
Former Republican Rep. Allen West, a senior fellow at the right-wing Media Research Center, has an interesting theory about climate change. On October 4 West stated on CRTV, “God couldn't get the weather right, it's man-made climate change. I remember when people asked me about climate change, I said yeah, winter, spring, summer, and fall. They said no, man-made climate-- I said no, no -- so, you know, there's a creator that's got this under control. But what they're doing is they’re delegitimizing, they're undermining the sovereignty of the creator.”
On the February 13 episode of LevinTV Tonight on CRTV, Mark Levin laments that because climate change has been “pushed out as a scientific fact,” it's assumed that …“there’s something wrong with” those who dare question it. Levin also calls climate change a “no growth, anti-capitalism movement” that has been “exported to the United States like Marxism itself.” Levin has a history of making idiotic statements denying climate change.
What’s a list of ridiculous climate change claims without right-wing media’s most prolific offender, Rush Limbaugh? On the September 11 episode of The Rush Limbaugh Show, as Hurricane Florence was headed for the Carolinas, he claimed, “The forecast and the destruction potential doom and gloom is all to heighten the belief in climate change.”
Sean Hannity, never one to shy away from denying climate change, did it again in 2018 when discussing a winter storm. On the March 6 episode of his radio program, The Sean Hannity Show, Hannity said, “They do lie to us repeatedly about global warming.” He continued: “They just call it global whatever -- climate change, because this way, it's generic. And if it's hot or too hot, they can say it's climate change. If it's cold, or too cold, they can say it's climate change. But it didn't work out when they said ‘global cooling’ or ‘global warming,’ so they had to fix it.”
Stephen Moore, a CNN commentator and self-described “economist,” is part of CNN's recent climate-denier problem. On the November 26 edition of CNN's Erin Burnett OutFront, Moore tried to discredit the National Climate Assessment by saying, “We have created a climate change industrial complex in this country, with billions and billions and billions of dollars at stake. A lot of people are getting really, really, really rich off the climate change issue.” Moore repeated these claims the next day, again on Burnett’s show. Like Santorum, Moore has been the beneficiary of money from fossil fuel companies, which have funded some of the groups he's worked for.
On the November 29 episode of Tucker Carlson Tonight, commentator Mark Steyn said that climate change “is actually a form of class war.” He continued: “In macro terms it’s a way of the developed world denying the developing world any chance to live the kind of lives that people in the developed world live.” He also stated, “It’s an elite thing. Nobody takes it seriously.” Although Steyn has been attacking the climate consensus for at least the last decade, he has no actual background in climate science.
In June 1988, NASA scientist James Hansen gave now-famous testimony to the Senate in which he described humans’ contributions to global warming. On the 30th anniversary of that landmark testimony, Breitbart writer and notorious climate denier James Delingpole penned an article lambasting it, claiming that Hansen used “dirty tricks” to help launch the “great global warming scare.” Delingpole wrote: “But – like the scare itself – the claims were dishonest, hysterical, misleading, unscientific, needlessly alarmist, and cynically stage-managed.” Some of the “dirty tricks” that Delingpole mentioned include the committee chairman scheduling the testimony on the hottest day in June and opening all of the windows in the room. Delingpole, of course, didn’t mention that the evidence of human-induced global warming existed long before Hansen’s testimony. He also predictably failed to note the incredible accuracy of Hansen’s global warming claims.
Syndicated columnist Cal Thomas criticized the National Climate Assessment in an opinion piece that was published in a number of papers and websites, including the Chicago Tribune. Thomas claimed that climate change is not “settled science” and criticized “scare tactics by leftists who want even more government control over our lives.” To back up his claims, Thomas cited Climate Depot, a website dedicated to denying global warming, and quoted its founder, the industry-funded fraudster Marc Morano. He also cited Patrick Michaels, a climate denier who has received funding from various fossil fuel companies. Finally, Thomas misattributed a quote that called the report a “pile of crap,” saying it came from Princeton oceanographer John P. Dunne when in fact it came from John Dunn of the climate-denier group Heartland Institute. It speaks volumes that a number of newspapers chose to publish Thomas’ column despite its multiple inaccuracies (though some later corrected the quote attribution).
On April 25, Coulter tweeted: “I'm fine with pretending to believe in global warming if we can save our language, culture & borders. #MacronCode.” Coulter, a virulent racist who has long supported Trump’s dehumanizing immigration policies, has made ridiculous claims about climate change before, and once stated that global warming deniers are considered equivalent to Holocaust deniers. Her April tweet, sent on the day that French President Emmanuel Macron addressed the U.S. Congress, points to a disturbing trend in which some white nationalists take climate change seriously only because the changing climate will lead to the northward migration of refugees from the Global South.
I'm fine with pretending to believe in global warming if we can save our language, culture & borders. #MacronCode
— Ann Coulter (@AnnCoulter) April 25, 2018
A version of this post was originally published on Grist.
Right-wingers' efforts to derail media coverage of the National Climate Assessment backfired not once but twice.
First, the Trump administration tried to bury the National Climate Assessment by releasing it on Black Friday, but that tactic bombed. It turns out that "Trump tries to bury a new climate report" is a much sexier headline than "Scientists release a new climate report."
Then, climate deniers fanned out on TV networks to spread lies and deceptive talking about the report, but they got far more criticism than they expected, and that criticism kept climate change in the news.
Overall the report got loads of media coverage in the days after it was released. The quality was decidedly mixed -- some of it was good, some of it was awful -- but the good coverage appears to have outweighed the bad.
At least 140 newspapers around the country featured the National Climate Assessment on their front pages the morning after it was released, according to the Columbia Journalism Review. That included not just The New York Times and The Washington Post, which have strong teams of climate reporters, but also smaller papers all around the U.S., including 20 of them in California. A number of the papers highlighted the ways that climate change is hitting their regions, like the Portland Press Herald in Maine:
If the release of the climate change report really was timed to bury the news, it backfired badly. It’s on the front page everywhere today. We stripped it across A1 with a second story about Northeast/Gulf of Maine impact. Because this is the most important issue of our time. pic.twitter.com/hZELULzawR
— Steve Greenlee (@SteveGreenlee) November 24, 2018
MSNBC aired some strong segments. In one, host Ali Velshi mocked President Donald Trump's claim that his “gut” told him the report is wrong. He then interviewed climate scientist Brenda Ekwurzel of the Union of Concerned Scientists, a co-author of the assessment, who explained the report's findings and how scientists arrived at them.
CNN served up some highly problematic coverage -- more on that below -- but it also did some good interviews with climate scientists about the report, as well as three senators who are serious about addressing the climate crisis. And CNN took a novel approach to real-time fact-checking when White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders lied about the report during a press briefing. The network showed live video of Sanders, but paired it alongside a text bar labeled "Facts First" that corrected some of her false claims:
CNN is airing the briefing -- but this "facts first" side panel seems like a new idea pic.twitter.com/xzZOIbFTFQ
— Lis Power (@LisPower1) November 27, 2018
All of the Sunday morning political talk shows discussed the report on the weekend after it was released. It was the first time in 2018 that every one of them addressed climate change on the same day. They rarely cover climate change at all.
Unfortunately, we would have been better off without some of that Sunday show coverage -- particularly the segments that gave airtime to rabid climate deniers. One of the worst ran on NBC's Meet the Press and featured Danielle Pletka of the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank supported by the Koch brothers. She trotted out a favorite climate denier line -- "I'm not a scientist" -- and then proceeded to spout pure nonsense about how the globe is getting cooler.
Right-wing panelist on Meet the Press on climate change: "I'm not a scientist ... We need to also recognize we had two of the coldest years, biggest drop in global temperatures that we have had since the 1980s, the biggest in the last 100 years. We don't talk about that." pic.twitter.com/OLPUZOpoKR
— John Whitehouse (@existentialfish) November 25, 2018
Egregious drivel about climate change also cropped up on CNN's State of the Union, which asked not one but two climate deniers to weigh in on the report. Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) offered bland, lukewarm climate denial: "Our climate always changes and we see those ebb-and-flows through time." Former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) one-upped Ernst by going all in for scalding-hot climate denial, praising the Trump team’s attempt to bury the report and claiming that the scientists who wrote it were “driven by the money":
CNN's Rick Santorum praises Trump administration trying to bury report on climate change: "A lot of these scientists are driven by the money" pic.twitter.com/ndwpkQHUxH
— Media Matters (@mmfa) November 25, 2018
Santorum was roundly mocked on Twitter for making such a completely bogus claim. You might have thought that this would discourage other climate deniers from following suit, or at least discourage CNN from giving them a platform. You would have been wrong.
The following Monday, CNN hosted two more right-wingers who made the same ridiculous claim that climate scientists were in it for the money: Tom DeLay, who resigned as Republican House majority leader in 2005 after being convicted of money laundering and conspiracy, and Stephen Moore, a Trump-loving “economist” who's worked for Koch-funded groups.
The next day, on Tuesday morning, CNN seemed like it might be trying to redeem itself. It ran one segment in which CNN political analyst John Avlon fact-checked and thoroughly debunked the claim that scientists are getting rich by studying climate change, and another in which climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe explained that she and the other co-authors of the National Climate Assessment were paid "zero dollars" for their efforts.
But a few hours later, the bonkers claims were back. CNN yet again invited both Santorum and Moore to repeat the warmed-over lie that scientists are driven by a multi-billion-dollar climate change industry that has manufactured a false crisis. Santorum presented this ludicrous falsehood and many others in a panel discussion on Anderson Cooper 360°. Cooper had interviewed Hayhoe for that same episode, but her interview got bumped and was only posted online, while the segment with Santorum’s false claims aired during prime time.
Oh, and CNN also failed to note that Santorum, Moore, and DeLay have all received copious amounts of cash themselves from the fossil fuel industry.
Other media outlets bashed CNN and NBC for featuring climate deniers, and that led to still more coverage of climate change and the National Climate Assessment, most of which was good.
The New York Times published a fact-checking piece titled, "The Baseless Claim That Climate Scientists Are ‘Driven’ by Money," which cited and debunked statements made by Santorum and DeLay. PunditFact, a project of the fact-checking site PolitiFact, looked into Pletka's claims and labeled them "false."
New York Times media columnist Jim Rutenberg published a story titled "News Networks Fall Short on Climate Story as Dolphins Die on the Beach," which highlighted the false claims made by Pletka and Santorum and put them in the context of climate change impacts in Florida. The Washington Post's media columnist Margaret Sullivan tweeted out Rutenberg's story.
Climate scientist Hayhoe published an op-ed in The Washington Post that debunked the myths propagated on CNN by Santorum and DeLay, among others.
WNYC's On the Media hosted yours truly in a discussion about coverage of the National Climate Assessment, including the problem of featuring climate deniers on air.
Politico's Morning Media daily newsletter, written by media reporter Michael Calderone, highlighted problems with press coverage of the National Climate Assessment on four different occasions after the report came out.
ABC News political analyst Matthew Dowd was just one of many influential media figures who tweeted their disapproval of segments that featured climate deniers:
— Matthew Dowd (@matthewjdowd) November 25, 2018
The fact that some members of the media screwed up their coverage so royally meant that other members of the media kept reporting on the story longer than they might have otherwise.
Meanwhile, the folks over at Trump's favorite network were living in their own universe, as usual. Fox News gave the National Climate Assessment very little airtime. A few straight-news segments covered it, but the most popular Fox shows didn't. CNN media correspondent Brian Stelter pointed out that on the day of the report's release, Fox spent more time discussing the shoes of Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) than it did discussing climate change.
— Brian Stelter (@brianstelter) November 25, 2018
Considering what Fox's top personalities would have been likely to say about the report had they bothered to cover it, it's probably just as well that they stayed mum.
Lisa Hymas, director of Media Matters' climate and energy program, went on On the Media to discuss coverage of the National Climate Assessment -- the good coverage as well as the problems that cropped up on the Sunday morning political talk shows and CNN.
From the November 30 edition of WNYC's On the Media:
BROOKE GLADSTONE (HOST): So the National Climate Assessment dropped on Black Friday.
LISA HYMAS: It looked like a pathetically blatant attempt by the Trump administration to keep it out of the public eye. But it didn't work.
A lot of the print media did better than TV. The New York Times and The Washington Post, they have really strong climate teams; they did great coverage. But you saw it in smaller papers all around the country. The Columbia Journalism Review found that at least 140 newspapers around the country put it on their front pages. That includes places like The Chicago Tribune and the Miami Herald, 20 different papers in California. And many of those papers also looked at the local impacts. The Portland Press Herald in Maine, they had a big story about the national implications, but they also, on their print front page, had a big story about the impacts in New England, specifically.
But I think TV was a mixed bag: Sometimes the coverage was good, and sometimes it was not. And in cases where the coverage is poor, we probably would have been better off without it.
GLADSTONE: You said that Sunday was the first time this year that the five major Sunday shows discussed climate change on the same day. We're talking about ABC's This Week, CBS' Face the Nation, CNN's State of the Union, Fox News Sunday, and NBC's Meet the Press -- they all had segments. The most talked-about one on Sunday was probably on Meet the Press.
HYMAS: Yes. NBC's Meet the Press featured Danielle Pletka of the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank that's supported by the Koch brothers. She used a favorite climate denier line ...
[BEGIN AUDIO CLIP]
DANIELLE PLETKA (SENIOR VICE PRESIDENT, AMERICAN ENTERPRISE INSTITUTE): I'm not a scientist. I look at this as a citizen, and I see it, so I understand it. On the other hand, we need to also recognize that we just had two of the coldest years, biggest drop in global temperatures, that we've had since the 1980s, the biggest in the last 100 years. We don't talk about that because it's not part of the agenda.
[END AUDIO CLIP]
HYMAS: No. Climate scientists have been very clear that the global climate has consistently been warming, and the hottest years have been the most recent ones.
GLADSTONE: Yeah. NOAA said that 2015, ’16, and ’17 were the warmest on record, but 2017 was only the third-warmest.
HYMAS: I don't really find that comforting. You know, if you're not a scientist, you ought to listen to scientists. To say, "I'm not a scientist, but I don't believe this," that's nonsense.
I mean, one thing that was frustrating about this last episode of Meet the Press: Host Chuck Todd later in the same show interviewed Tom Steyer, who got his start as an activist by focusing on climate change, and Todd didn't ask him anything about the report. The focus was just on the 2020 presidential race.
GLADSTONE: Let's look at how Fox News handled the report on the day it was released. Here's CNN's Brian Stelter with a recap.
[BEGIN AUDIO CLIP]
BRIAN STELTER (CNN MEDIA CORRESPONDENT): The network actually spent more time talking about Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's shoes on Friday. Now to be fair, the networks' newscasts did air several segments about climate change, about the crisis, on Saturday. But on the president's favorite talk shows, nada, not a word.
[END AUDIO CLIP]
GLADSTONE: Meanwhile, Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace also did not invite a climate scientist on to discuss the report. He spoke with Republican Senator of Nebraska Ben Sasse, who dodged the topic of climate action and spoke vaguely about the need for innovation.
[BEGIN AUDIO CLIP]
SASSE: Because you can't legislate or regulate your way into the past. We have to innovate our way into the future. And right now you don't hear a lot of the people who put climate as their No. 1 issue, you don't hear a lot of them offering constructive, innovative solutions for the future. It's usually just a lot of alarmism.
[END AUDIO CLIP]
HYMAS: You know, notably, Fox's big-name personalities didn't dig in on the report at all. They just stayed focused on their pet issues. So you had Sean Hannity, this past week, ranting about Hillary Clinton's supposed scandals and crimes. I mean, he's still doing that more than two years after she lost the presidential election. And you had Lou Dobbs scaremongering about the migrant caravan. And the Russia investigation is a witch hunt -- that got a lot of coverage this past week, but the climate report didn't.
GLADSTONE: Margaret Brennan of CBS' Face the Nation did speak to a scientist about the report, NASA's Steven Clarke, but that exchange was very brief, and it was buried in a segment that was almost entirely about NASA's Mars probe.
HYMAS: Yes. So, on the one hand, I was glad to see that Face the Nation actually asked a scientist about the climate report. We track how often the Sunday shows incorporate or talk to scientists when they're discussing climate change, and it's been almost three years since any Sunday show has asked a scientist about climate change.
GLADSTONE: What? Seriously?
HYMAS: Yes, the last time was in December of 2015. It was also on Face the Nation.
GLADSTONE: So many opportunities. So many national conferences, so many elections, so many extreme weather incidents, and nothing?
HYMAS: There are climate scientists who are really good public speakers and who do a really great job of explaining the science in terms that normal people can understand, but they don't get the airtime.
GLADSTONE: I think the winner of the week's booby prize, though, would probably be CNN.
HYMAS: I think that's true. Rick Santorum was on CNN claiming that scientists are in it for the money.
RICK SANTORUM (FORMER SENATOR): If there was no climate change, we'd have a lot of scientists looking for work. The reality is that a lot of these scientists are driven by the money that they receive ...
[END AUDIO CLIP]
HYMAS: The next day, we saw Tom DeLay, the former House majority leader.
TOM DELAY (FORMER REPRESENTATIVE): The report is nothing more than a rehash of age-old, 10- to 20-year assumptions made by scientists that get paid to further the politics of global warming.
[END AUDIO CLIP]
HYMAS: He's the disgraced former House majority leader who had to resign after he was convicted of money laundering and conspiracy. Why is this guy qualified to discuss a scientific report about climate change? We saw Stephen Moore, a Trump-loving economist, making the same ridiculous claim on CNN.
[BEGIN AUDIO CLIP]
STEPHEN MOORE: Billions and billions and billions of dollars at stake. A lot of people are getting really, really, really rich off the climate change issue.
[END AUDIO CLIP]
HYMAS: Then on Tuesday morning, John Avlon did a good segment on CNN where he completely debunked this notion that there's a big climate-industrial complex and that scientists are just doing it to get rich.
[BEGIN AUDIO CLIP]
JOHN AVLON (CNN POLITICAL ANALYST): Now, that talking point you're hearing is a classic bit of distraction and deflection. In fact, one of the scientists who worked on the climate change report, Katharine Hayhoe, confirms that she and her colleagues were paid, quote, “zero dollars” for their work and could easily make 10 times their salaries by working for something like Big Oil.
[END AUDIO CLIP]
HYMAS: But, later that same day on Tuesday, just hours after Avlon's fact-checking segment ran, CNN again had on Stephen Moore to make that same claim. And what was so frustrating about CNN having these climate deniers on to make ridiculous claims is they didn't disclose the fact that Rick Santorum and Tom Delay, when they were in Congress, they got more than $700,000 each from the oil and gas industry in campaign contributions. Stephen Moore works for a number of groups that are funded by the Koch brothers. Last month, Stephen Moore gave a speech to the Oklahoma Oil and Gas Association. These things were not disclosed, but those men were allowed to accuse scientists of being in it for the money.
GLADSTONE: Why does CNN pay people like Rick Santorum to lie to the public it's supposed to be serving?
HYMAS: I will never understand why CNN pays Rick Santorum.
Cable TV likes to have conflict, and they like to have sparks fly. But there’s much better ways you can do it, even if you do want the conflict. I mean, it's absurd, in 2018, for a discussion about climate change to include someone who contends that we're actually in a period of global cooling. Get people who all recognize the challenge of climate change but propose different responses and solutions to it. There are plenty of conservatives who propose carbon taxes. Let's see them discuss and debate people who are proposing a highly progressive Green New Deal, or a carbon-fee-and-dividend approach. There's a lot to debate. It just doesn't have to be a denier against someone who accepts the reality of climate change.
After bombshell climate report, Sunday political talk shows bring on climate deniers
The Trump administration tried to bury a major government report on climate change by releasing it on the day after Thanksgiving, but the bombshell report still received substantial media attention, including coverage on all five of the major Sunday morning political talk shows.
The latest National Climate Assessment report -- a 1,600-page, congressionally mandated document produced by some 300 scientists from 13 federal agencies -- paints a dire picture of how climate change is already affecting the U.S. and how its catastrophic impacts will intensify in coming years. The report was expected to be released in early December, but three knowledgeable sources told The New York Times' Coral Davenport that "administration officials hoped to minimize the impact by making the assessment public on the afternoon of Black Friday, the big shopping day after the Thanksgiving holiday, thinking that Americans might be unlikely to be paying attention."
But by publishing the report during a slow news period, the Trump team might have inadvertently caused it to get more media attention than it otherwise would have.
Yesterday was the first time this year that the five major Sunday shows discussed climate change on the same day. ABC's This Week, CBS' Face the Nation, CNN's State of the Union, Fox News Sunday, and NBC's Meet the Press all included segments on the new report.
That's more than the number of Sunday shows that covered another major climate report released in early October by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Only three of the Sunday shows -- This Week, Face the Nation, and State of the Union -- covered that IPCC report.
Even though the five big Sunday shows covered the new National Climate Assessment, the quality of the coverage in many cases was downright poor. Some of the hosts invited climate deniers to discuss the report, failed to question them about their denial, and allowed guests to spout denialist talking points with little to no pushback, while other hosts spent only a little time on the report.
The panel that NBC's Chuck Todd invited to discuss the climate report on NBC's Meet the Press included Danielle Pletka of the Koch-backed American Enterprise Institute, who asserted easily debunked nonsense about the last two years being the coldest in recent history. Todd also asked Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) about the report during an interview, without noting that Lee has questioned basic climate science.
CNN's State of the Union hosted two climate deniers to discuss the National Climate Assessment: Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) and former senator and CNN contributor Rick Santorum. In response to host Dana Bash’s question about how climate change could harm agriculture in Iowa, Ernst engaged in lukewarm climate denial, stating, "We know that our climate is changing. Our climate always changes, and we see those ebb and flows through time." Meanwhile, Santorum praised the Trump administration’s attempt to bury the report and claimed that the scientists who produced it were “driven by money,” an assertion that was widely derided on social media.
On Fox News Sunday, host Chris Wallace asked Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) to discuss the climate report’s findings. Sasse decried climate "alarmism," easily dodged Wallace's questions, and pivoted to arguing for further environmental deregulation.
George Stephanopoulos of ABC's This Week addressed the report during an interview with Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), but only spent about two minutes on it.
Margaret Brennan of CBS' Face the Nation questioned NASA's Steven Clarke about the report, but the exchange about climate change was brief and came in the midst of a discussion about NASA's Mars probe. Still, it marked the first time in nearly three years that any of the broadcast Sunday shows included a scientist in a discussion about climate change; the last time a scientist appeared in a broadcast Sunday show climate segment was the December 13, 2015, episode of Face the Nation. Brennan also discussed the climate report with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT).
The fact that most Sunday show hosts only briefly discussed the National Climate Assessment’s urgent findings -- rather than giving them more in-depth coverage with a panel of experts -- is right in line with trends Media Matters has documented in recent years. In the rare instances when Sunday shows address climate change, it is usually within a narrow political framework and includes a similarly narrow range of politicians and political pundits.
The attempt by the Trump team to bury the report and keep information about climate change out of the public eye is also in line with observed trends. The White House has systematically removed climate change information from federal government websites, especially the site of the Environmental Protection Agency, and EPA officials last year told members of a scientific advisory committee that climate change would be de-emphasized by the administration.
Over the past three months, right-leaning guest panels on the five major Sunday political news shows have outnumbered left-leaning panels 33 to six. Nearly half of all guest panels titled right, meaning they had more right-leaning than left-leaning guests; by comparison, less than 10 percent of the panels tilted left. Forty-three percent of the panels were ideologically balanced.
By a wide margin, the show with the most imbalanced panels overall was NBC’s Meet the Press, where 85 percent of all panels tilted right. In total, 11 of the show’s 13 panels leaned conservative, while none of the panels leaned left. Two panels were ideologically balanced.
Panels on Fox News Sunday were the second most conservative leaning, with 62 percent tilting right. In total, eight panels were right-leaning, while just two panels were left-leaning. Three panels were ideologically balanced.
On CBS’ Face the Nation, conservative panels outnumbered left-leaning panels by a ratio of 2-to-1. Six panels tilted right, three panels tilted left, and four panels were ideologically neutral.
On ABC’s This Week, 40 percent of panels were right-leaning while there wasn’t a single left-leaning panel. Overall, six panels tilted right, no panel tilted left, and nine panels were ideologically balanced.
On CNN’s State of the Union, 79 percent of panels were ideologically balanced. Two panels tilted right, one panel titled left, and 11 panels were ideologically balanced.
In total, across all five shows, 33 panels tilted right while just six panels tilted left. Twenty-nine panels were ideologically balanced.
We reviewed every edition of ABC's This Week, CBS' Face the Nation, NBC's Meet the Press, Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday, and CNN's State of the Union from August 5 through October 28. We coded guest appearances for all five programs for political ideology, labeling the guests as Democratic/progressive, Republican/conservative, or neutral. We classified guests based on either their own ideological self-identification or their public affiliation with an openly partisan or ideological organization or institution. The neutral category does not necessarily imply strict ideological neutrality but, rather, might be better understood as neutral/centrist/nonpartisan -- we use the term "neutral" for the sake of brevity.
We coded panels as tilting left when a majority of participants were Democratic or progressive; we coded panels as tilting right when a majority of participants were Republican or conservative; and we coded panels as balanced when Democratic and progressive guests numbered equally with Republican and conservative guests. Neutral guests did not affect a panel's tilt. A panel was defined as a group of multiple guests appearing on a show simultaneously, with the exception of 1) debates between political figures, 2) joint interviews, which we defined as a newsmaker interview with two or more guests where the guests have a tangible connection or are being interviewed with the express purpose of sharing similar viewpoints, and 3) focus groups with voters.