Natural Disasters | Media Matters for America

Natural Disasters

Tags ››› Natural Disasters
  • How broadcast TV networks covered climate change in 2017

    ››› ››› KEVIN KALHOEFER

    Broadcast TV news neglected many critical climate change stories in 2017 while devoting most of its climate coverage to President Donald Trump. Seventy-nine percent of climate change coverage on the major corporate broadcast TV networks last year focused on statements or actions by the Trump administration, with heavy attention given to the president's decision to withdraw from the Paris agreement and to whether he accepts that human-caused climate change is a scientific reality. But the networks undercovered or ignored the ways that climate change had real-life impacts on people, the economy, national security, and the year’s extreme weather events -- a major oversight in a year when weather disasters killed hundreds of Americans, displaced hundreds of thousands more, and cost the economy in excess of $300 billion.

  • Here's why journalists can be more confident reporting on climate change and extreme weather

    The rapidly developing field of climate attribution science gives reporters and meteorologists a valuable tool for educating the public

    Blog ››› ››› LISA HYMAS


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Journalists too often fail to note how climate change worsens extreme weather events, as Media Matters has documented on multiple occasions. But they should feel increasingly confident doing so. In recent years, climate change attribution science -- research that documents how climate change made specific weather events worse -- has become much more robust.

    Vice News correspondent Arielle Duhaime-Ross reported on the increasing speed and confidence with which scientists can now measure climate change’s impact on individual incidences of extreme weather in a January 3 segment for HBO’s Vice News Tonight:

    ARIELLE DUHAIME-ROSS: This science is really new. The first proper climate attribution study was published in 2004. Before that, scientists had struggled to explain exactly how specific weather events were connected to climate change.

    Now, more and more solid, peer-reviewed studies show how climate change affects the likelihood and severity of extreme weather. And the studies are getting published really quickly after extreme weather events take place.

    Remember that study from 2004? It looked at a European heat wave that took place in 2003, and it took a year and a half to complete. In contrast, just three months after Hurricane Harvey, scientists at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory published a study showing that Harvey dropped 38 percent more rain than it would have without underlying climate change.

    E&E News reporter Chelsea Harvey published an in-depth piece on the fast development of attribution science on January 2:

    Extreme event attribution not only is possible, but is one of the most rapidly expanding subfields of climate science.

    [...]

    Over the last few years, dozens of studies have investigated the influence of climate change on events ranging from the Russian heat wave of 2010 to the California drought, evaluating the extent to which global warming has made them more severe or more likely to occur.

    The Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society now issues a special report each year assessing the impact of climate change on the previous year's extreme events.

    The Bulletin's most recent report, on 2016, found that human-caused climate change was a “significant driver” for 21 of 27 extreme weather events during the year.

    Scientists cannot currently determine the impact of climate change on a specific event while that event is happening, but they might be able to in the future. "Some scientists hope to eventually launch a kind of standardized extreme event attribution service, similar to a weather forecasting service, that would release immediate analyses—with the same uniform methods used for each one—for every extreme event that occurs," E&E News reported.

    Oxford climate scientist Myles Allen made the same point in the Vice segment: "We should be able to do this much faster, but in my view, in the long term, this should be part of the duties of the weather service. It's no longer enough for the weather service just to predict the weather. They should be in the business of explaining it as well."

    Journalists too should be in the business of explaining what's behind extreme weather, not just reporting on that weather. Attribution science can help, even before it reaches the point of being able to offer real-time analyses.

    The next time a hurricane makes landfall in the U.S., reporters can go beyond noting that scientists have told us to expect more damaging storms because of climate change. Reporters can point to attribution studies done on Hurricane Harvey, for example, and note that climate change boosted the storm's rainfall and made its extreme rainfall three times more likely.

    Attribution studies don't predict how climate change will affect future storms, but they can help the public understand that climate change is affecting our weather right now. And as attribution science improves, climate journalism has a good opportunity to improve as well.

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

    Blog ››› ››› KEVIN KALHOEFER


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • 2017 was a terrible year of climate disasters -- and too many media outlets failed to tell the story

    Blog ››› ››› LISA HYMAS


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    From hurricanes to heat waves to wildfires and beyond, 2017 has been a terrifying year of disasters in the U.S. And too many media outlets have missed a key part of the story: These aren't just natural disasters; in many cases, they're climate disasters.

    Some wildfire coverage explored the climate angle, but much of it didn't

    Even before vicious wildfires tore through Southern California in December, the state had experienced its worst-ever wildfire season, which many scientists said was likely worsened by climate change.

    The Los Angeles Times did a good job of explaining the climate-wildfire link in a December 6 editorial titled "While Southern California battles its wildfires, we have to start preparing for our hotter, drier future." Fires have long been a part of California ecosystems, and many factors have played a role in making the Thomas Fire and other December blazes so destructive, the editorial board noted, but underlying all of that is the brutal fact of global warming: "What should make Southern California fearful is that climate change could mean a future of more frequent and more intense wildfires."

    Indeed, a number of scientific studies have linked climate change to increased wildfire risk in California. PBS's NewsHour aired a segment on December 13 that featured climate scientists explaining some of these links. "I think the science is pretty solid to indicate that wildfire risk is likely to increase in the future due to climate change," said scientist Radley Horton, a professor at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. "I think exhibit A has to be the increase in temperature that we have observed. In California, we have seen about a 1.5-degree increase in temperature over the last century."

    Unfortunately, many media outlets have not been connecting the dots between climate change and wildfires the way the L.A. Times and PBS did.

    When huge fires raged through Montana and the Pacific Northwest this summer, and when fires tore through Northern California wine country in October, the major broadcast TV news programs and Sunday morning talk shows did not air a single segment discussing climate change in the context of those fires, Media Matters found. This despite the fact that scientists have determined that climate change is a major factor in forest fires in the western U.S.

    Media coverage of heat waves and hurricanes often fell short

    Beyond fires, many mainstream media outlets missed critical opportunities this year to discuss how other kinds of disasters are made worse by climate change.

    In June, parts of the southwestern U.S. baked in a record heat wave that brought temperatures up to 119 degrees in Phoenix, so hot that certain types of small planes couldn't get off the ground. The record temperatures coincided with publication of a comprehensive peer-reviewed study that found deadly heat waves are on the rise thanks to climate change. But major television network affiliates in Phoenix and Las Vegas completely failed to discuss how climate change exacerbates heat waves like the one the region was experiencing, according to a Media Matters analysis.

    News coverage of the impact of climate change on hurricanes has been sorely lacking this year, too. Even the unprecedented one-two-three punch of hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria wasn't enough to spur some key mainstream outlets to tell an increasingly obvious story.

    ABC and NBC both completely failed to bring up climate change during their coverage of Hurricane Harvey, Media Matters found. So did the New York Post, one of the highest-circulation newspapers in the country, according to a report by Public Citizen. The Weather Channel, where many Americans turn when weather disasters loom, also failed to address the climate-hurricane connection during Harvey. Worse still, both Fox News and The Wall Street Journal ran more pieces that disputed a climate-hurricane link than pieces that acknowledged it. These findings by Media Matters and others inspired climate activists to launch a Twitter campaign calling on media to end the #climatesilence.

    TV news showed modest improvement at connecting the dots between climate change and hurricanes during Hurricane Irma, but still came up short. And when Maria hit, much of the mainstream media didn't even give adequate coverage to the storm itself or its aftermath, let alone the climate angle, as both Media Matters and MIT Media Lab researchers found.

    Climate change cannot be blamed for wholly causing any one individual weather disaster, but it effectively loads the dice in favor of abnormal and extreme weather, as climate scientist James Hansen and his colleagues have explained.

    And after a weather event has occurred, scientists can analyze the extent to which climate change was a contributing factor. A new set of papers published this month found that human-caused climate change was a “significant driver” for 21 of 27 extreme weather events in 2016, including the year's record-breaking global heat. Some scientists have already done these kinds of attribution studies for 2017's hurricanes and found that climate change increased rainfall from Hurricane Harvey by between 15 and 38 percent.

    As the weather gets worse, we need our journalism to get better

    We all lost big in the climate-rigged dice game this year. There were so many record-setting extreme weather incidents and disasters in 2017 that it's hard to remember them all. Consider a few you might have forgotten:

    • The hottest World Series game in history took place in Los Angeles in late October, with temperatures hitting 103 degrees and staying there past 5 p.m.
    • Hurricane Ophelia traveled farther east than any major Atlantic hurricane on record, and so far north that it went off the storm-tracking maps generated by the National Weather Service. It caused severe damage in Ireland and Scotland even after it had been downgraded from hurricane status.
    • An unprecedented and devastating drought pummelled the Northern Plains states for seven months. It laid the groundwork for vicious wildfires.

    As USA Today recently put it, "From record flooding to disastrous wildfires, 2017 will go down as one of the USA's most catastrophic years ever for extreme, violent weather that disrupted the lives of millions of Americans."

    But that USA Today piece neglected to note the role climate change played in juicing up 2017's count of big disasters.

    Some news organizations consistently do a better job of reporting on climate change. The New York Times and The Washington Post have published strong reporting and good editorials and opinion pieces on the impact of climate change on disasters. CNN and MSNBC outperformed other TV news outlets in discussing how hurricanes Harvey and Irma were affected by climate change. In one recent segment, CNN invited climate scientist Michael Mann to explain the connection between climate change and hurricane intensity, offering a great model for other outlets:

    But those kinds of segments are all too rare. Many of the most influential mainstream media outlets need to do better at reporting on the connections scientists are finding between climate change and extreme weather. When a disaster hits, that's a prime opportunity to report on climate change, a topic that at other times might not seem newsy. When a long string of unprecedented disasters hit, as happened this year, that's even more of a call for media to tell the story of global warming.

    Good journalism is needed not just to help Americans understand the reality of climate change, but to inspire them to fight the problem by pushing for a rapid shift to cleaner energy, transport, and agriculture systems.

    Let's hope to see more climate-focused, science-driven journalism in 2018.

    -----

    Methodology: To search for broadcast television and Sunday show coverage of the Northwest and Northern California wildfires and climate change, Media Matters searched Nexis using the term (fire! OR wildfire!) w/30 (climate change OR global warming OR changing climate OR climate warm! OR warm! climate OR warm! planet OR warm! globe OR global temperatures OR rising temperatures OR hotter temperatures).

  • Media can't let Puerto Rico become the next Flint

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    As Puerto Rico begins a recovery effort from Hurricane Maria that could take years, the national media have already moved on. This has happened before, specifically in Flint, MI, where residents have been struggling for years to obtain clean drinking water. National media turned away from the ongoing disaster in Flint, and if the past is any indication, the people of Puerto Rico may face the same fate.

    A Media Matters analysis found that from October 3 -- the day President Donald Trump visited the island -- to November 3, prime-time cable news coverage of the recovery in Puerto Rico has fallen dramatically. On October 3, 22 segments ran on prime-time cable news about the recovery efforts. On November 3, that was down to just one segment.


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Save for a small spike in coverage -- which coincided with a tweet from Trump threatening the island’s aid -- prime-time cable news programs have moved on from the ongoing recovery efforts, even though they could continue for years.

    The situations in Puerto Rico and Flint (where lead-tainted water still runs through the pipes) have a good deal in common. For one thing, both have dire impacts on public health. In Puerto Rico, some people who are desperate for water have turned to drinking from a hazardous-waste site. And a recent study found that the lead-poisoned water in Flint had a “horrifyingly large” effect on fetal deaths.

    Both of these crises have hit areas populated primarily by racial minorities and low-income people. As CNN reported, Flint is “mostly black and about 40% poor.” And as the Pew Research Center noted in a 2011 report, “The population of Puerto Rico is almost entirely of Hispanic origin,” and 44 percent of Hispanic people in Puerto Rico “live in poverty.”

    Much has been written of the lackluster media coverage of the crisis in Flint -- specifically, as Harvard’s Shorenstein Center put it, “the failure of national media outlets to respond to the Flint water crisis in an urgent manner.” Then-New York Times Public Editor Margaret Sullivan, now a Washington Post media columnist, wrote last year about the Times’ coverage of the crisis, suggesting that if initial reporting “had been followed up with some serious digging, and if the resulting stories had been given prominent display, public officials might have been shamed into taking action long before they did.” Sullivan added, “With its powerful pulpit and reach, The Times could have held public officials accountable and prevented human suffering. That’s what journalistic watchdogs are supposed to do.” It would be reasonable to fear that a similar lack of national media attention could slow down or stall recovery efforts in Puerto Rico.

    Puerto Rico already faces plenty of obstacles to a full recovery. The island’s economic problems (officials declared bankruptcy in May) are expected to make the recovery efforts harder, as are the territory’s infrastructure issues. And, as USA Today reported, donations to Puerto Rico have been lackluster compared to those directed to Florida and Texas after hurricanes struck those regions.

    It’s impossible to know how much increased attention by the national media would impact the recovery efforts in Puerto Rico, but it certainly couldn’t hurt.

  • Sunday political talk shows barely cover Hurricane Maria’s devastation of Puerto Rico

    The entire island is without power, a dam is in danger of bursting, and Sunday political talk shows talked about it for less than a minute

    Blog ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS

    On September 20, Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory, and knocked out power to the entire island of 3.5 million people. Puerto Rican officials have described “apocalyptic” destruction, and a dam is in danger of bursting, threatening to flood already devastated areas. Officials fear power could be out for months. Despite the extensive destruction, on their first editions since the storm hit, the five major Sunday political talk shows dedicated less than one minute in total to covering the growing humanitarian emergency. 

    Even though Maria first made landfall in Puerto Rico several days ago, ABC’s This Week, CBS’ Face the Nation, and Fox Broadcasting Co.’s Fox News Sunday all failed to mention the extensive destruction and the millions of American citizens without power or shelter. CNN and NBC’s Sunday political talk shows both mentioned the story but spent minimal time covering the devastation. On CNN’s State of the Union, Our Revolution President Nina Turner implored President Donald Trump to “use his energy to fight for our sisters and brothers in Puerto Rico who have no power,” and on NBC’s Meet the Press, moderator Chuck Todd closed the program by telling its viewers how they could “help your fellow Americans in Puerto Rico” and displaying contact information for four highly-rated charities assisting recovery efforts.

    Eric Holthaus, a meteorologist and contributing writer for Grist, demonstrated the importance of reporting on the devastation in Puerto Rico in a September 22 article, which noted that Hurricane Maria’s “rains fell at a rate exceeding that of Hurricane Harvey in Texas with wind speeds exceeding that of Hurricane Irma in Florida.” Holthaus also reported that “90 percent of homes and businesses have suffered ‘complete’ damage,” comparing the “$30 billion” in estimated destruction in Puerto Rico to “a $500-billion disaster in New York City or a $700-billion disaster in California.” Holthaus warned that “if the aid response is not swift, the situation in Puerto Rico has all the makings of a major humanitarian crisis”:

    The rain and winds may be over, but Maria’s impact on Puerto Rico is only just beginning.

    The storm’s rains fell at a rate exceeding that of Hurricane Harvey in Texas with wind speeds exceeding that of Hurricane Irma in Florida. In the span of 24 hours, Maria knocked out Puerto Rico’s entire power grid, 95 percent of cellphone towers, the bulk of the island’s water infrastructure, as well as roads, bridges, schools, hospitals, airports, and seaports.

    Officials warn it may take up to six months to fully restore power. In some communities, 90 percent of homes and businesses have suffered “complete” damage. To make matters worse, more than 40 percent of Puerto Rico’s 3.5 million residents live below the poverty line, making the uphill climb to recovery even more steep.

    All indications are that Hurricane Maria has inflicted one of the most extreme and catastrophic weather events in American history. If the aid response is not swift, the situation in Puerto Rico has all the makings of a major humanitarian crisis.

    [...]

    Initial estimates of damage to the island exceed $30 billion. That’s roughly one-third of Puerto Rico’s annual economic output — making Maria the rough equivalent of a $500-billion disaster in New York City or a $700-billion disaster in California. With the Puerto Rican government already saddled with more than $70 billion in debt, help is going to have to come from outside the island.

    Methodology: Media Matters searched SnapStream for mentions of “Puerto Rico,” “Hurricane,” and “Maria” on the September 24 editions of 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.

  • Fox & Friends hosts EPA chief Scott Pruitt, misrepresents new climate study

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt was a guest Tuesday morning on Fox & Friends, President Donald Trump's favorite program. The show's co-hosts used the occasion to misrepresent a new scientific study on climate change and cast doubt on the impact of climate change on hurricanes.

    Near the top of the segment, co-host Ainsley Earhardt said that "a new British study finds climate change is not as threatening to our planet as previously thought." Later she brought the study up again, citing an article in the British Telegraph newspaper: "The Telegraph had an article this morning that said climate change poses less of an immediate threat. Scientists got their modeling wrong. Now, let's talk about the Paris climate agreement." Pruitt then launched into criticism of the Paris agreement.

    Earhardt was referring to a paper published this week in the journal Nature Geoscience, which argues that it is realistically possible to keep the planet from warming more than 1.5 degrees Celsius over preindustrial levels. Limiting warming to no more than 1.5 C is a stretch goal that the international community agreed to at the Paris climate talks in 2015. Many scientists argue that such a limit is needed if we're going to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, but previous research has indicated that we have a very slim chance of staying under the limit. This new study reached the conclusion that the goal is achievable and the world has more time than previously believed to avoid the most dangerous climate change scenarios.

    But it's a clear misrepresentation of the study to say it finds that climate change is less threatening than previously believed. The authors take the threat of climate change very seriously and state in their paper that dramatic action is needed to meet to the 1.5 C goal, including stronger targets under the Paris agreement. They write that "limiting warming to 1.5 C is not yet a geophysical impossibility, but is likely to require delivery on strengthened pledges for 2030 followed by challengingly deep and rapid mitigation." (Other climate scientists are skeptical of the new paper and suggest it might be overly optimistic.)

    Pruitt also used his guest appearance to push his pet idea of a "red team/blue team" debate on climate change, which would invite fringe scientists who question the consensus on climate change to argue their points on a level playing field with mainstream scientists, even though the fringe scientists represent only about 3 percent of actively publishing climate scientists. As Media Matters reported previously, Pruitt and right-wing media figures have worked in tandem to promote the "red team/blue team" idea.

    Though Pruitt's Fox & Friends appearance happened as Hurricane Maria, a Category 5 storm, was headed for the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, Pruitt made no mention of the hurricane. Fox co-host Brian Kilmeade brought up the topic of hurricanes at the beginning of the segment, but just to say that "liberals" are "constantly blaming climate change" for such storms and that the Trump administration is trying to "challenge that theory." Kilmeade's comments continued a pattern of Fox hosts dismissing or mocking connections between climate change and hurricanes; they did this repeatedly during hurricanes Harvey and Irma, Media Matters found. Climate scientists have explained that climate change can make hurricanes stronger and more destructive.

    This Fox & Friends appearance was just the latest in a long string of Pruitt guest spots on right-wing media shows, as Media Matters and Mother Jones have documented.

    From the September 19 edition of Fox & Friends:

    BRIAN KILMEADE (CO-HOST): With more major hurricanes like Maria on the horizon and liberals constantly blaming climate change, the Trump administration is looking for ways to challenge that theory to find out the real impact of these storms, if any.

    AINSLEY EARHARDT (CO-HOST): This, as a new study, a new British study finds climate change is not as threatening to our planet as previously thought.

    STEVE DOOCY (CO-HOST): Here to help explain what's going on with the federal government, we got the EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt.

    [...]

    Well, tell us a little bit about how the Trump administration is looking to create a red team, because in the military they do the red team/blue team thing to test different models.

    SCOTT PRUITT: Yeah, so the red team/blue team approach, as you’ve indicated, is something that puts people, experts, in a room and let them debate an issue. I mean, with this climate change, we know certain things. We know the climate’s always changing. We know that humans contribute to it in some way. To what degree, to measure that with precision is very difficult. But we don't know is, are we in a situation where it's an existential threat? Do we -- is it unsustainable with respect to what we see presently? Let’s have a debate about that. Bring scientists in, red team scientists, blue team scientists, have a discussion about the importance of this issue so the American people deserve that type of objective, transparent discussion.

    DOOCY: Who are the red team scientists?

    PRUITT: The red team scientists are the ones that don't take for granted, that you see across the spectrum, that the climate is just in this unsustainable path of existential threat, and that humans are 99 percent responsible for that. I mean, we need to have a meaningful debate on what we are facing as a country and as internationally. And I think that’s one of the things that's lost in this discussion. We in this country have done more to reduce our CO2 footprint than most countries around the globe. In fact, we’ve reduced our CO2 footprint by over 18 percent from 2000 to 2014.

    DOOCY: Through innovation.

    PRUITT: Through innovation and technology, largely through the conversion to natural gas in the generation of electricity. Now we burn coal cleaner in this country. Japan has 45 what they call ultra-critical, super-critical coal generation facilities. We have one. So we are doing, I think, a really good job as a country trying to advance innovation and technology to reduce our CO2 footprint.

    KILMEADE: You would think that people would be happy with that, but many in Hollywood and many on the left aren't, including one Stevie Wonder, who at a telethon thought this would be a good thing to say:

    [...]

    He said anyone who questions that there is global warming must be blind or ignorant.

    PRUITT: Yeah, look, I mean, no one questions that the climate changes. No one questions that we contribute to it in some way.

    DOOCY: The world is getting warmer.

    PRUITT: But that's not the question overall. The question is: As we look at this issue, how much do we contribute to it? What can we do about it? The other thing that's lost in this whole debate is: What tools are in the toolbox for the EPA to deal with this? I mean, I think folks forget about that we only have the power that Congress gives us through, what? Statute. The Clean Air Act. The past administration tried twice to regulate CO2, struck out twice. The Clean Power Plan was actually stayed by the U.S. Supreme Court in an unprecedented way. It matters the power given to us by Congress. If you ask those in 1990 that amended the Clean Air Act -- [former] Congressman [John] Dingell being one of those, not the most conservative member of Congress. He said it would be a glorious mess quote, unquote, to regulate GHG [greenhouse gases] under the Clean Air Act. So, we have to ask, one: What’s going on from a scientific perspective? What do we know, what don't we know? Which is the red team/blue team exercise. And then we go to the next step, which is what? What are we empowered to do about it? What tools are in the toolbox to address it?

    EARHARDT: I think it’s great. Skeptics can talk to these scientists and they can challenge each other. That's what they're supposed to do.

    PRUITT: For all the world to see.

    EARHARDT: That’s right, The Telegraph had an article this morning that said climate change poses less of an immediate threat. Scientists got their modeling wrong. Now, let's talk about the Paris climate agreement. What’s the president’s stance on this now? Because [Secretary of State] Rex Tillerson said, he’s kind of alluded to the fact that he might be changing his mind. Is there truth to that?

    PRUITT: I mean, the president has been steadfast. And I tell you, the courage it took to stand in the Rose Garden in June and say to the world that he was going to put America's interests first and not be apologetic to the rest of the world. I mean, when you look at the Paris agreement, China, India, and Russia, what steps did they take to reduce CO2 from that agreement, compared to the United States? As we talked about a minute ago, we are already reducing our CO2 by substantial percentages through innovation and technology. India: no obligations until they receive over $2.5 trillion of money. China: no obligations until the year 2030. So this was not about what reduction in CO2 --

    DOOCY: So the plan is still to pull out unless we could renegotiate?

    PRUITT: Look, the president has been consistent. We’re going to make sure that we engage internationally.

    EARHARDT: And make it fair.

    KILMEADE: But not with that deal.

    PRUITT: Not be apologetic about what we’ve done as a country, and make sure America's interests are put first. That's very, very encouraging; it took tremendous courage for him to do that.

    KILMEADE: But let me ask you something: In the big picture, we have to still write checks to these --

    PRUITT: No, that’s stopped.

    KILMEADE: Because I heard we couldn't pull out right away.

    PRUITT: The checks, the moneys stopped with the past administration. In fact, the past administration transferred moneys in January right before President Trump was inaugurated. That has stopped altogether.

    EARHARDT: What do you mean by these checks? Who were we paying?

    PRUITT: There was a Green Climate Fund internationally that the United States committed to over 30 percent of the moneys. And so it was quite something and transferred from other accounts, it was -- but that’s stopped with President Trump.

    DOOCY: All right. Getting answers from the guy at the top. The EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt.

  • Some TV networks continue to lag in covering link between hurricanes and climate change

    NBC finally addressed connection in Irma coverage, after failing during Harvey, while ABC made only a cursory mention

    Blog ››› ››› KEVIN KALHOEFER


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    After failing to note the impact of climate change on hurricanes in their coverage of Hurricane Harvey, ABC and NBC both discussed the link while covering Irma, Media Matters has found in a new analysis of coverage of the more recent storm. But NBC did a better job: It ran a segment that featured a scientist explaining the climate-hurricane connection, while ABC’s sole mention of climate change was cursory and failed to provide viewers with much information.

    Media Matters also analyzed weekday prime-time cable news coverage of Irma and found that Fox News continued its pattern of dismissing climate change, while MSNBC provided extensive coverage of the link between climate change and hurricanes.

    This new analysis of Irma coverage builds on a recent Media Matters study that looked at broadcast and cable news coverage of Hurricane Harvey.

    Climate scientists have explained how climate change exacerbates some of the worst impacts of hurricanes like Harvey and Irma: Rising sea levels lead to worse storm surges; warmer temperatures increase the amount of moisture in the atmosphere and lead to more rainfall; and warmer ocean waters make the storms more intense.

    Broadcast networks: After dropping the ball with Harvey, NBC covers link between climate change and hurricanes in Irma coverage, and ABC gives climate a brief mention

    Media Matters found that during Hurricane Harvey coverage from August 23 to September 7, ABC and NBC completely failed to discuss the link between climate change and hurricanes on any of their morning, nightly, or Sunday news shows. NBC did notably better during its coverage of Hurricane Irma, while ABC made only slight improvement, according to a new analysis of coverage from September 4 -- two days before Irma reached Puerto Rico -- to September 13.

    On September 9, an NBC Nightly News segment featured an interview with Oscar Schofield, chair of the Department of Marine and Coastal Sciences at Rutgers University, who explained, “The ocean is going to continue to warm, and the predictions from a lot of the climate scientists are that we're going to get more and more of these extreme events.” On that same day's episode of NBC's Today, correspondent Kerry Sanders introduced a segment about sea level rise by saying, “Whether you accept or don't what scientists say that global warming is raising our world's oceans, there's an undeniable fact here on Miami Beach: They’ve had to raise the sidewalks and roads … [because] much of Miami Beach goes under water.”

    On the other hand, ABC’s sole mention of climate change during Irma coverage was brief and uninformative. After ABC meteorologist Ginger Zee answered viewer questions about Irma on the September 11 episode of Good Morning America, host George Stephanopoulos said, “I want to throw out one more question, because a lot of people look at these two back-to-back hurricanes -- two powerful hurricanes back-to-back -- and think there must be some connection to climate change.” Zee responded, “And I think it’s irresponsible not to talk about the warmth of the earth, and you have to get that," but then she went on to another subject and said nothing about how climate change influences storms.

    In Irma coverage on the other broadcast networks, CBS aired two segments discussing the impact of climate change on hurricanes on CBS This Morning, while PBS aired none (though it did discuss how climate change worsens storm surges in a September 4 segment on flooding in Bangladesh on PBS NewsHour). During their coverage of Hurricane Harvey, CBS and PBS each aired three segments highlighting climate change’s impact on hurricanes.

    Prime-time cable: MSNBC provided extensive coverage of the link between climate change and hurricanes, while Fox attacked those who made such a link

    Media Mattersanalysis of Hurricane Harvey coverage on the major cable networks’ prime-time weekday shows found that MSNBC and CNN each aired five segments noting climate change’s impact on hurricanes. A follow-up analysis of the prime-time cable news networks’ Hurricane Irma coverage found that MSNBC aired more segments discussing the climate-hurricane link and CNN aired fewer.

    From September 4 to September 13, MSNBC aired 13 prime-time segments that discussed climate change’s impact on hurricanes, in some cases including multiple discussions of climate change in a one-hour block. For instance, on September 8, the 8 p.m. broadcast of MSNBC Live on featured three segments in which host Chris Hayes brought up climate change with guests, and the 10 p.m. broadcast featured two instances of host Ali Velshi raising the topic of climate change. MSNBC hosts also brought up the climate-hurricane link on the September 6 and September 11 episodes of All In with Chris Hayes; the September 7, September 8, and September 13 episodes of Hardball with Chris Matthews; the September 13 episode of The Beat with Ari Melber; and the September 8 and September 12 episodes of MTP Daily.

    CNN's prime-time weekday Irma coverage featured two segments about the relationship between climate change and hurricanes from September 4 to September 13. Erin Burnett discussed the Trump administration’s refusal to talk about climate change in the wake of the hurricanes on the September 13 episode of Erin Burnett OutFront. The same topic came up on the September 12 episode of CNN Tonight during Don Lemon’s interview with Bob Inglis of RepublicEN and climate denier Myron Ebell, who dismissed the link between climate change and hurricanes by citing an overblown statistic about the lack of major hurricanes to make landfall in the U.S. since 2005.

    Fox News' prime-time Irma coverage included four mentions of climate change, but they were not informative. The network's hosts discussed the climate-hurricane link the same way they did during Harvey coverage: by criticizing those who raised the issue. The September 11 and September 13 episodes of Fox's The Five both featured lengthy discussions in which hosts accused people who brought up climate change’s impact on Hurricane Irma of behaving inappropriately, saying that they were making claims based on “anecdotal evidence,” acting out of liberal “guilt,” and attempting to shame people. The five-minute group rant on the September 11 episode ended with co-host Dana Perino claiming that actress Jennifer Lawrence had blamed Donald Trump for the hurricanes -- a mischaracterization of her actual statement. Fox ran another misleading segment about Lawrence’s comments on the September 8 episode of Tucker Carlson Tonight. According to The Daily Beast, Lawrence’s comments also came up on four other occasions during Fox's weekend coverage of Irma.

    Fox's final prime-time mention of the link between climate change and Hurricane Irma came during the September 13 episode of The Story with Martha MacCullum, in which MacCullum said “things got political” during a celebrity telethon for hurricane relief when Stevie Wonder brought up climate change.

    Methodology

    Media Matters ran the search terms “Irma AND (climate OR warming OR emission! OR carbon OR CO2 OR greenhouse gas!)” in Nexis and searched for “climate change” and “global warming” in SnapStream to identify segments between September 4 and September 13 that mentioned both the hurricane and climate change.

    On the broadcast networks, we examined the morning, evening, and Sunday news shows on ABC, CBS, and NBC, as well as PBS NewsHour, the only PBS program archived in Nexis. For CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News, we examined the networks’ prime-time shows that air on weekdays from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m.

    We counted instances of network hosts, anchors, correspondents, and recurring guest panelists mentioning climate change but excluded instances when other guests brought up climate change unprompted.