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  • The 15 most ridiculous things media said about climate change in 2018

    Blog ››› ››› TED MACDONALD


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    1. Fox host Lou Dobbs says that climate change is a UN plot “to take over the world”

    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.

    2. CNN commentator Rick Santorum says that that climate scientists are “driven by the money”

    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.

    3. Infowars host suggests John Kerry broke up a hurricane with an energy beam shot from Antarctica

    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.

    4. Fox commentator Tammy Bruce calls climate change a “malleable issue” for “the left” as they can “blame everything on it”

    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.”

    5. Former Daily Caller contributor Ian Miles Cheong says that climate change is a neo-Marxist hoax invented to dismantle capitalism

    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.)

    6. During cold weather spell, Fox & Friends host urges Trump to take credit for solving global warming

    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.”

    7. Former Rep. Allen West says God has climate change “under control”

    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.”

    8. Conservative host Mark Levin likens climate change to Marxism

    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.

    9. According to radio host Rush Limbaugh, the Hurricane Florence forecast was “all to heighten the belief in 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.”

    10. Fox’s Sean Hannity says that “they do lie to us repeatedly about global warming”

    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.”

    11. CNN commentator says there is a “climate change industrial complex”

    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.

    12. Commentator Mark Steyn says that that climate change is a form of class war

    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.

    13. Breitbart’s James Delingpole claims that the “great global warming scare” was launched by “dirty tricks”

    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.

    14. Columnist Cal Thomas doesn’t think climate change is “settled science”

    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).

    15. Conservative author Ann Coulter cites white nationalism as a reason to pretend to “believe in global warming”

    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.

  • Here's what you need to know about the National Black Chamber of Commerce

    EPA chief Andrew Wheeler to announce major environmental rollback alongside fossil-fuel-funded front group

    Blog ››› ››› EVLONDO COOPER

    On Thursday, the Trump administration is expected to announce a regulatory rollback that will make it easier to build new coal-fired plants by eliminating Obama-era rules requiring such plants to include carbon-capture technology. Andrew Wheeler, acting administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), is scheduled to make the announcement alongside Harry Alford, president of the National Black Chamber of Commerce (NBCC), a minority business front group that has received funding from fossil fuel interests and other corporate sources, including ExxonMobil and Koch Industries.

    Alford and the organization he runs have long teamed up with conservatives and business interests to fight regulations that would protect and clean up the environment. A 2017 Bloomberg investigation described the NBCC as “a shoestring operation, run by a husband-and-wife team." But despite its small size, the group provides outsized value to corporations and industry groups. The NBCC has been criticized by a number of prominent environmental justice leaders and organizations, including Green For All, GreenLatinos, and WE ACT for Environmental Justice.

    Here's a quick overview of NBCC activity on behalf of polluters.

    NBCC campaigned against the Clean Power Plan

    The Clean Power Plan, put in place by the Obama administration in 2015, aimed to curb carbon emissions from existing power plants, part of a larger effort to fight climate change. According to Obama's EPA, it also would have improved public health by cutting air pollution. Civil rights leaders, environmental justice groups, and environmental activists successfully pushed the agency to make sure the rule addressed many of the environmental and economic concerns of minority and low-income communities.

    But the NBCC opposed the Clean Power Plan while claiming to be speaking on behalf of African-Americans. The group commissioned and promoted a flawed study that falsely claimed the plan would disproportionately harm minorities. The study was swiftly debunked. And yet Alford became a central figure in a disinformation campaign backed by fossil-fuel interests. He placed anti-Clean Power Plan op-eds in at least seven newspapers and saw right-wing outlets echo and amplify his discredited assertions.

    NBCC's debunked study found new life in the Trump administration. When the EPA, under Wheeler's leadership, proposed to replace the Clean Power Plan with a weaker substitute, the White House cited the NBCC study in its talking points. 

    NBCC took part in a deceptive campaign against solar energy

    In 2016, the NBCC was part of Consumers for Smart Solar, a utility-backed and Koch-backed astroturf group that campaigned on behalf of a deceptive ballot initiative in Florida. The initiative was designed to appear pro-solar, but it actually would have slowed the growth of rooftop solar while protecting the utilities from competition. Voters ended up rejecting the measure. 

    Alford fought EPA’s rule to limit smog pollution

    After the EPA moved in 2015 to impose limits on ozone, a component of smog, Alford went on a speaking tour to convince minority audiences that the EPA’s rules would harm them economically, echoing a message broadcast by the NBCC’s corporate donors. When confronted with evidence that smog disproportionately hurts minority and low-income communities, Alford said it was a “farce.”

    NBCC backed a climate denier's effort to discredit carbon pricing

    Earlier this year, NBCC joined right-wing organizations supporting an anti-carbon tax resolution proposed by Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA), a climate denier. Alford signed a letter supporting the resolution, listing his name alongside far-right figures like Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform and Myron Ebell of the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

    Alford: "Coal is essential to our way of living"

    Alford is on the board of the Partnership for Affordable Clean Energy, also known as Energy Fairness, a self-described “coalition of working people, business owners, environmentalists, and trade organizations who are fighting for fair, responsible energy policies.” In actuality, the group and a partner organization, Working People for Fair Energy, have been closely aligned with utility companies fighting coal-ash regulation, according to a 2010 investigation by the Institute for Southern Studies.

    In October 2016, Alford went on a tour of coal mines in Alabama that was sponsored by the Partnership for Affordable Clean Energy. In a blog post about the tour that he published on PACE’s website, Alford wrote, “Coal is essential to our way of living. If some politicians and activists think they can ‘kill coal’ they are terribly mistaken.”

    Alford and Wheeler are two of a kind

    Alford and the NBCC have consistently worked against the interests of minority communities and working families to advance a pro-fossil fuel agenda. Like Wheeler did when he was a lobbyist, Alford has cashed oil, gas, and coal company checks for years. So it is fitting that they will be standing together to announce the Trump administration's latest assault on our environment and climate.

  • CNN keeps letting guests and paid commentators lie about climate scientists

    It's not true that scientists do climate research to get rich, and CNN knows it

    Blog ››› ››› LISA HYMAS & EVLONDO COOPER



    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    This post was updated on November 28.

    CNN has let at least three commentators argue this week that scientists are warning the public about climate change because they're getting rich by doing so -- a ridiculous and patently false claim. CNN knows it's ridiculous and false because the network ran a fact-checking segment debunking the claim and interviewed a climate scientist who explained why it's wrong. But even that didn't stop the network from continuing to spread the lie.

    To make matters worse, the three people who made this lie on CNN -- former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA), former Rep. Tom DeLay (R-TX), and Trump-boosting economist Stephen Moore -- have themselves been the beneficiaries of fossil fuel money, but CNN failed to disclose that information.

    CNN lets liars lie

    Following the release of the National Climate Assessment, a major government report about the dangers that climate change poses to the U.S., CNN contributor Santorum came on State of the Union on Sunday morning to discuss it. Among other idiotic things, he said:

    I think the point that Donald Trump makes is true, which is -- look, 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, and of course they don't receive money from corporations and Exxon and the like. Why? Because they're not allowed to because it's tainted. But they can receive it from people who support their agenda, and that, I believe, is what's really going on here.

    Santorum's comments about climate scientists doing it for the money were widely mocked on Twitter. But that didn't stop other conservative commentators from repeating the bogus claim during CNN appearances.

    DeLay, who resigned as House majority leader in 2005 after being convicted of money laundering and conspiracy, made similar comments on CNN Right Now on Monday: 

    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.

    Moore, a right-wing economist with a record of being wrong, echoed those points later on Monday on Erin Burnett Outfront:

    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.

    CNN does fact-checking, confirms that the lie is a lie

    On Tuesday morning, CNN's John Avlon played clips of what Santorum and DeLay said and then proceeded to debunk their claims in a "Reality Check" segment:

    JOHN AVLON (POLITICAL ANALYST): Now that talking point you're hearing is a classic bit of distraction and deflection designed to muddy the waters just enough to confuse the clear consensus. 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 ten times their salaries by working for something like Big Oil. So it turns out that this idea that climate change scientists are rolling in the dough Scrooge McDuck-style is so pervasive that it had to have its own Yale study debunking it.

    The Yale study that he referred to is a guide by the Yale Climate Communications group that lists arguments refuting the "persistent myth" that scientists are in it for the money.

    CNN then hosted the climate scientist Avlon cited, Dr. Katharine Hayhoe, who laughed at the claim that she and her colleagues are paid to advance an agenda and explained why it's incorrect:

    KATHARINE HAYHOE (ATMOSPHERIC SCIENTIST): I got paid zero dollars to write this report. My salary would have been exactly the same if I had or hadn't. And if I were studying astrophysics like I used to, I'd probably get exactly the same salary as well. The reality is that I’ve found people often accuse us of doing what they would often do themselves in our position. If we just cast our eye down the richest corporations in the world on Wikipedia's list, the vast majority of those owe their wealth to fossil fuels, so therefore they have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo as long as possible.

    CNN invites liar back on to repeat lie

    But even after CNN debunked the lie with its own programming, the network invited Moore back on to double down and repeat the discredited claim. During At This Hour With Kate Bolduan on Tuesday, host Bolduan played Moore a clip of Hayhoe's comments and let him respond:

    MOORE: She runs the climate change center at the school in Texas. What keeps those centers alive is the climate change industry. My only point is that the government in the United States and around the world has spent billions and billions of dollars on climate change. It has become an industry. That does call into question some of the partiality of this research. But the bigger point is --

    BOLDUAN: You still don't think she is just motivated by science?

    MOORE: She may be. I'm not calling out any single person. I'm just saying that the industry is very, very well funded. It’s in the billions of dollars. People have a vested financial interest in talking about armageddon and these kinds of things.

    CNN invited Moore back on for yet another appearance on Tuesday, again on Erin Burnett OutFront, in which he continued to repeat specious right-wing talking points about the National Climate Assessment.

    And Santorum also got another chance to repeat the lie about climate scientists being motivated by money. During an appearance on Anderson Cooper 360° on Tuesday night, Santorum said:

    I said this the other day and I've gotten a -- I've become a very popular man on Twitter in the last couple of days for the comment I made about scientists making money. There would be no chair of the head of climate studies at every university in America if we didn’t have a crisis. These people make money because there's a crisis.

    Santorum's appearance on Anderson Cooper 360° was all the more egregious because Cooper interviewed climate scientist Hayhoe for the episode, and even teased the interview during the show, but ultimately didn't air it. Hayhoe revealed this fact in a tweet, part of a longer thread about the experience:

    CNN did end up posting the interview with Hayhoe on its website. In it, Hayhoe said:

    HAYHOE: What I do take personally is when we are accused of being in it for the money. I got paid zero dollars to write this report, and honestly, I could have spent those hundreds of hours elsewhere. We don't do this for the money. We do it because we're physicians of the planet. We understand that our planet is running a fever. The impacts are serious and will become dangerous, and we have to act now, not for the good of the planet but for the good of every single human who lives on it.

    COOPER: I mean, that is something the president has said in the past, that this is a hoax, and that there are people who've said on our air that this is a money-making scheme essentially, this is a money-making venture.

    HAYHOE: I would ask them where are they getting their money from.

    Great points from Hayhoe. Too bad they didn't make it on the air.

    CNN fails to disclose that liars have received fossil fuel money

    While CNN lets its commentators falsely accuse scientists of being motivated by graft, the network has failed to disclose that those very commentators have financial motivations of their own: All three have gotten money from fossil fuel interests that oppose climate action.

    Santorum received $763,331 in contributions from the oil and gas industry during his time in the Senate from 1995 to 2007. His long career of shilling on behalf of fossil fuel interests paid off after he left Congress and started doing lucrative work as a consultant, including earning $142,500 in 2010 and the first half of 2011 from Consol Energy, a Pennsylvania coal and gas company. Santorum is also currently the co-chair of biofuels advocacy group Americans for Energy Security and Innovation. Anderson Cooper disclosed that Santorum is paid by the biofuels group before his discussion with Santorum, but did not note the fossil fuel money Santorum has raked in over the years.

    DeLay received $739,677 in contributions from the oil and gas industry from 1985 to 2008, and gave enormous handouts to the industry during his time in office.

    For his part, Moore has worked for many fossil fuel-backed advocacy groups, including the Koch-funded Cato Institute, Club for Growth, and Donors Capital Fund. He was also chief economist at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank that has been funded by ExxonMobil and the Kochs. And just last last month, Moore gave a speech at the annual meeting of the Oklahoma Oil and Gas Association. 

    At the very least, CNN should disclose its commentators' conflicts of interest. Better, of course, would be not to give them a platform from which to spew their nonsense. But CNN is more dedicated to showy fireworks and conflict than to the truth.

  • Sunday shows finally talk about climate change (but that doesn’t mean the coverage was good)

    After bombshell climate report, Sunday political talk shows bring on climate deniers

    Blog ››› ››› EVLONDO COOPER



    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    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.

    Though the Sunday shows covered the new climate report, much of the coverage was poor

    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.

  • National broadcast TV news mentioned climate change in less than 4 percent of California wildfire coverage

    While ABC, CBS, and NBC again dropped the ball, local TV news programs in California brought up climate change numerous times during wildfire reporting

    Blog ››› ››› TED MACDONALD


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    This month’s catastrophic California wildfires garnered significant media coverage, with major national news programs on ABC, CBS, and NBC airing more than 100 segments about the unfolding disasters. But Media Matters found that just 3.7 percent of those segments mentioned the link between climate change and worsening wildfires. That's a minuscule improvement over their coverage of Western wildfires this summer, when the networks incorporated climate change into less than 2 percent of their segments.

    On the local level, TV news programs on California stations included discussion of climate change in numerous segments about the ongoing wildfires. News shows on major TV network affiliates in the state’s three largest media markets aired 44 episodes that addressed how climate change exacerbates wildfires.

    Climate change is a critical factor contributing to the growing severity of wildfires in the United States, according to researchers. Scientists have documented an increase in both the number of large fires and the total area burned per year in the U.S. Fifteen of the 20 largest wildfires in California’s history have occurred since 2000, as rising temperatures in the West have lengthened wildfire season by several months. Jonathan Overpeck, a climate scientist and dean of the University of Michigan’s environmental school, told The Associated Press that the increasing severity of fires is “much less due to bad management and is instead the result of our baking of our forests, woodlands and grasslands with ever-worsening climate change.”

    NBC mentioned climate change in just two segments, while ABC and CBS each made only one mention

    The three national broadcast TV networks -- ABC, CBS, and NBC -- aired 107 segments about the California wildfires on their major morning and evening news programs from November 8 to 13. Only four of these, or 3.7 percent, included discussion of climate change. NBC aired two of the segments that mentioned climate change, while ABC and CBS aired one each.


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Both of NBC’s climate change mentions came from weather anchor Al Roker on the November 12 episode of Today. During the show’s 7 a.m. hour, Roker discussed the factors that have made the fires so bad: “July was the hottest month ever recorded in California. That hot weather dries out the vegetation. They’ve had no rain to speak of really in the last three months. Parched conditions. And this is all due to climate change.” He noted that the annual number of large fires in the state has more than tripled since 1970, and that there have been six times as many acres burned per year on average since then. He made many of the same points in a later segment during the same episode. Here's the first segment:

    CBS’ climate change mention came on the November 11 episode of CBS This Morning, during a segment by WCBS New York weather anchor Lonnie Quinn. He said researchers believe that “both forest management and the changing climate play a role” in worsening wildfires. “California’s temperatures have increased 2 to even 3 degrees over the last century," he explained. "Making matters worse, there was a five-year drought from 2011 to 2016. That drought killed more than 129 million trees. That's just fuel for the current fires that are out there."

    ABC's coverage was the weakest, seeming to downplay the effect of climate change on the wildfires. On the November 10 episode of ABC’s Good Morning America, anchor Eva Pilgrim said to ABC senior meteorologist Rob Marciano, “It seems like these fires are getting worse and worse every year. Is this climate change? What’s the deal with all this?” Marciano responded, “This summer we saw excessive heat waves and drought in some cases, you can link a little bit of that to climate change. But this is a Santa Ana season, so this is not unusual to get winds blowing flames like this, and this is a dry season as well.”

    Even this fleeting mention of climate change is a slight improvement for ABC, which rarely brings up climate change at all in its coverage of extreme weather. During this past summer's dramatic wildfire season, ABC's coverage didn't mention climate change a single time, and the network made no mention of climate change earlier this year in its coverage of both a deadly heat wave and Hurricane Florence.

    CBS and NBC also did poorly when it came to incorporating climate change into their reporting on this summer’s wildfires in the Western U.S., even though they didn't completely strike out like ABC. From June 21 to September 21, the main morning and evening news programs on ABC, CBS, and NBC aired a combined 471 segments discussing the wildfires, and only nine of them, or 1.9 percent, mentioned climate change -- six on CBS and three on NBC.

    California local news shows mentioned climate change numerous times in their wildfire coverage

    Media Matters also analyzed news coverage of the wildfires on local affiliates of ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox in the three largest California media markets: Los Angeles, San Francisco-San Jose-Oakland, and Sacramento-Stockton-Modesto. From November 8 to 13, we found 44 news show episodes that mentioned climate change in relation to the wildfires -- 16 in Los Angeles, and 14 each in the Sacramento and San Francisco areas. Over half of these episodes featured a clip of California Gov. Jerry Brown blaming climate change for the destructiveness of the wildfires during a November 11 press conference.

    One example of such coverage came from Los Angeles’ KTTV Fox 11 noon news program on November 12. The segment was wholly focused on Brown's comments about climate change and wildfires:

    A more muddled example aired on Sacramento’s KXTV ABC 10 Morning Blend show. The segment discussed a tweet from President Donald Trump that blamed the fires on poor forest management. The hosts noted Brown's comments about climate change, then invited viewers to take a poll and vote for either forest management or climate change as the bigger contributor to the fires. Most of the poll takers selected forest management:

    Both of these segments would have been better if they had informed viewers of what scientists and other experts actually say: Climate change is a significant contributor, and, in the case of the current fires, forest management is not.

    Still, it's notable that many local news stations made a point of discussing climate change in the context of the fires. Local stations have a greater responsibility than national ones to report on the immediate dangers that wildfires pose to their community members, including evacuation orders and specific details about how fires spread. And yet this month in California, many local programs still found time to report on how climate change worsens wildfires. There's no excuse for national networks not to do the same.

    Methodology

    Media Matters searched Nexis and iQ Media for broadcast network TV news segments that covered wildfires using the search terms wildfire(s), forest fire(s), or fire(s), and then we searched within those segments for mentions of climate change or global warming. Our analysis covered morning news shows (ABC's Good Morning America, CBS This Morning, and NBC's Today) and nightly news shows (ABC World News Tonight, CBS Evening News, and NBC Nightly News) from November 8-13. For local California coverage, we searched IQ Media for news shows between 4 a.m. and midnight on affiliates of ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox in the media markets of Los Angeles, San Francisco-San Jose-Oakland, and Sacramento-Stockton-Modesto.