Denise Robbins

Author ››› Denise Robbins
  • What Media Should Know About The GOP Attorneys General Suing To Block EPA’s Climate Plan

    Investigations Exposing Attorneys General-Fossil Fuel Alliance Provide Key Context For Clean Power Plan Fight

    ››› ››› DENISE ROBBINS

    As the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals hears challenges to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Clean Power Plan, media should note that the Republican attorneys general suing the EPA have formed what a New York Times investigation described as an "unprecedented, secretive alliance" with the fossil fuel industry. Since the Times investigation was published, additional details of this alliance have come to light, including the revelation that fossil fuel companies paid for private meetings with Republican attorneys general shortly before the attorneys general sued the EPA to block the flagship climate change policy.

  • As Trump Visits Flint, Media Should Remember His Anti-Clean Water Agenda

    ››› ››› DENISE ROBBINS

    Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump is visiting Flint, MI, a city that is still struggling to recover from a drinking water crisis that Trump claimed “would have never happened if I were president.” Media should be wary if Trump repeats this claim, given his plans to dismantle the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and rescind the EPA’s Clean Water Rule, as well as his energy adviser’s reported statement that the Clean Water Act would likely be “rolled back" by a Trump administration.

  • Media Call Out Trump For Dodging Key Science Questions

    ››› ››› DENISE ROBBINS

    Media are calling out GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump for providing vague and evasive answers to a series of science-related questions posed by a coalition of major science organizations, including a question about climate change. Trump has a long track record of denying the reality of climate change, but he was not asked about the topic during any of the 12 GOP presidential primary debates.

  • ANALYSIS: Wall Street Journal Opinion Section Is Chief Apologist For Exxon’s Climate Change Deceit

    ››› ››› KEVIN KALHOEFER, ANDREW SEIFTER & DENISE ROBBINS

    The Wall Street Journal has published 21 opinion pieces since October opposing state or federal investigations into whether ExxonMobil violated the law by deceiving its shareholders and the public about climate change, a new Media Matters analysis finds, far more than The New York Times, The Washington Post, or USA Today published on either side of the issue. The Journal has yet to publish a single editorial, column, or op-ed in support of investigating Exxon’s behavior, and many of its pro-Exxon opinion pieces contain blatant falsehoods about the nature and scope of the ongoing investigations being conducted by state attorneys general.

  • STUDY: Newspaper Opinion Pages Feature Science Denial And Other Climate Change Misinformation

    ››› ››› DENISE ROBBINS, KEVIN KALHOEFER & ANDREW SEIFTER

    The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and The Washington Post all published climate science denial and other scientifically inaccurate statements about climate change on their opinion pages over the last year and a half, while The New York Times avoided doing so, according to a new Media Matters analysis of those four newspapers. The Journal published by far the most opinion pieces misrepresenting climate science, while all three instances of climate science denial in the Post came from columns written by George Will. The Journal and USA Today also published numerous climate-related op-eds without disclosing the authors’ fossil fuel ties, while USA Today, the Post, and particularly the Journal frequently published some of the least credible voices on climate and energy issues.

  • Fifty-Six Prominent Organizations Urge Media To Press Presidential Candidates On Science

    Blog ››› ››› DENISE ROBBINS

    A coalition of U.S. nonpartisan organizations representing more than 10 million scientists and engineers is calling on journalists to press the presidential candidates about major science policy issues in the lead-up to the election.

    The nonprofit ScienceDebate.org has been running a campaign calling for at least one presidential debate exclusively focused on science, health, tech, and environmental issues. It teamed up with several prominent science-focused organizations -- including the American Association for the Advancement of Science; the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine; the Union of Concerned Scientists; and more -- to crowdsource the best science-related questions for the candidates. Now, the coalition of 56 organizations has released its list of 20 questions for journalists to ask the presidential candidates. In a press release, Rush Holt, CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, said that a president’s “attitude toward and decisions about science and research affect the public wellbeing, from the growth of our economy, to education, to public health.” The coalition’s list of 20 suggested questions for candidates contains topics ranging from space exploration to vaccination to technological innovations, and three of the questions focus on addressing global changes in the climate:

    • The Earth’s climate is changing and political discussion has become divided over both the science and the best response. What are your views on climate change, and how would your administration act on those views?
    • We now live in a global economy with a large and growing human population. These factors create economic, public health, and environmental challenges that do not respect national borders. How would your administration balance national interests with global cooperation when tackling threats made clear by science, such as pandemic diseases and climate change, that cross national borders?
    • There is growing concern over the decline of fisheries and the overall health of the ocean: scientists estimate that 90% of stocks are fished at or beyond sustainable limits, habitats like coral reefs are threatened by ocean acidification, and large areas of ocean and coastlines are polluted. What efforts would your administration make to improve the health of our ocean and coastlines and increase the long-term sustainability of ocean fisheries?

    Such questions would fill a glaring gap in the debates thus far. A Media Matters analysis found that only 1.5 percent of the questions posed to candidates during the first 20 presidential primary debates were about climate change. Instead, the debate moderators gave outsized attention to the political horse race and other non-substantive issues. And, of the few climate-related questions that were asked during the primary debates, zero were directed to Donald Trump.

    Now the case for pressing Trump on the issue is even greater, given recent comments he has made. This week, Trump announced he would “cancel” the Paris climate agreement and “rescind” the Climate Action Plan. He has also repeatedly called global warming a “hoax” and recently told The Washington Post’s editorial board that he is “not a great believer in man-made climate change.”

    In his book The War on Science, ScienceDebate.org chair Shawn Otto wrote that in 2008, media figures dismissed his concerns that science policy issues were being overlooked in the presidential race. News directors and editors told Otto that they “thought it was a niche topic, and the public wasn’t interested.” But a 2015 national poll commissioned by ScienceDebate.org and Research!America shows that a large majority of Americans “say it is important that candidates for President and Congress have a basic understanding of the science informing public policy issues.” And a more recent Gallup poll found that nearly two-thirds of Americans worry about global warming, leading Gallup to conclude that “Americans are now expressing record- or near-record-high belief that global warming is happening, as well as concern about the issue.”

  • Media Explain How Trump Distorted Obama's Clean Energy Revolution

    Blog ››› ››› DENISE ROBBINS

    The New York Times and The Washington Post both explained how GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump flipped the script on energy and electricity in his August 8 speech on economic policy. Despite Trump’s fearmongering over the Obama administration’s energy policies and his claim of rising costs of electricity, the U.S. has seen stable electricity prices and a boon in clean energy over the past eight years.

    In his August 8 speech at the Detroit Economic Club, Trump asserted that the “Obama-Clinton Administration has blocked and destroyed millions of jobs through their anti-energy regulations, while raising the price of electricity for both families and businesses.”

    But as The Washington Post’s Chris Mooney pointed out, home electricity prices increased greatly under the Bush administration -- from about 8 cents per kilowatt hour to 12 cents, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) -- and “there hasn’t been as much growth since then.” The New York Times’ editorial board noted that the EIA projects a decrease in electricity prices this year, from 12.82 cents per kilowatt hour to 12.64 cents.

    Trump also completely overlooked the renewable energy and natural gas sectors, which have spurred an increase of energy-related jobs, when he claimed that “millions of jobs” have been “blocked and destroyed” during Obama’s administration. The Post cited a recent study from the Solar Foundation that found the solar industry added 115,000 jobs over the past six years and another Duke University study that found coal job losses between 2008 and 2012 were far outpaced by job gains in wind and solar and natural gas, resulting in a net increase of about 125,000 jobs over these sectors. The Times pointed out the irony of calling for an “energy revolution” that makes “no mention of carbon-free renewable energy sources.”

    Multiple outlets also pointed out that Trump’s pledge to put coal miners “back to work” is an unachievable promise based on a false premise. Vox’s Brad Plumer explained that the coal industry is “collapsing” and is “not coming back,” and CNBC’s Tom DiChristopher cited the EIA saying the demise of coal has been "mainly a market-driven response to lower natural gas prices that have made natural gas generation more economically attractive.”

    Many of the false claims Trump made about energy have been debunked before, which allowed journalists at The Washington Post to fact-check his speech while it was happening. The Post’s Glenn Kessler tweeted a fact check of the bunk study Trump cited on the cost of federal regulations, and Michelle Ye Lee Hee pointed to another fact check explaining how conservatives distorted Clinton’s speech discussing her plan to provide aid to struggling coal communities.

    The Post’s Mooney summarized Trump’s speech:

    In the end, Trump’s negative picture of the energy sector is similar to his dire picture of the economy, which has been criticized for being inaccurately skewed towards the negative. U.S. energy is definitely undergoing major changes. Whether it’s in trouble — that’s a much tougher argument.

    Photo at the top via Flickr user Greens MPs with a Creative Commons license.

  • New Book Explains Media’s Role In Today’s Toxic State Of Public Discourse

    Blog ››› ››› DENISE ROBBINS

    Why is it so hard to create meaningful action on climate change? Discussion about global warming -- and many other critical issues -- has become “polluted” by toxic rhetoric, argues author and public relations specialist James Hoggan, which in turn “discourage[s] people from taking action.” In his new book, I’m Right and You’re an Idiot: The Toxic State of Public Discourse and How To Clean it Up, Hoggan examines why and how the public sphere has become “polluted” by “polarized rhetoric, propaganda and miscommunication,” and offers advice on how to clean it up.

    In discussions with dozens of scholars and thought leaders, from NASA scientists to the 14th Dalai Lama, Hoggan details several factors that have degraded rhetoric around important political issues. Here are four ways that conservative media have played a key role:

    Right-Wing Tactic #1: Use Ad Hominem Attacks To Damage Credibility Of Advocates, Scientists

    Because science is not on the side of those who oppose acting on climate change, it is much easier for climate science deniers to vilify their opponents than to address the actual issue. Sociology professor Alex Himelfarb pointed out to Hoggan that there is an “increasing and effective use of a classic rhetorical ploy called ad hominem -- where attacks are aimed at a person’s character, not their line of reasoning,” a ploy that is frequently used against climate advocates.

    Media Matters has documented this tactic countless times on Fox News and other right-wing media, where pundits have attempted to smear climate scientists as corrupted by money, falsely claimed the Paris climate conference had a large carbon footprint to paint its participants as hypocrites, and frequently mocked prominent climate activists Leonardo DiCaprio and Al Gore.

    As Yale philosophy professor Jason Stanley explained to Hoggan, deniers “attack and undermine [their] opponents’ integrity while making them appear to have a vested interest” simply because they “can’t rely on [their] own credibility” and “the facts aren’t on [their] side.”

    Right-Wing Tactic #2: Change The Frame -- Or Create A False One

    Conceptual frameworks “permeate everything we think and say, so the people who control language and set its frames have an inordinate amount of power,” argues Hoggan. He spoke with linguistics professor George Lakoff, who noted that “if you do a bad job of framing your story, someone else will likely do it for you.” Hoggan also spoke with social psychologist Jonathan Haidt, who noted that he heard right-wing radio host Glenn Beck say, “Climate change is not about the environment; it’s about control.” In this case, Beck re-framed the discussion about climate change action to be about empowering “the nanny state,” according to Haidt, who added that Beck “very skillfully pushed certain moral buttons that sowed profound doubt.”

    As a case study, Hoggan pointed to the manufactured “Climategate” controversy, an “international campaign to discredit scientists” before the landmark international climate change summit in Copenhagen, according to DeSmogBlog. Fox News had a heavy hand in amplifying the phony controversy, even after official investigations proved -- six times over -- that there was no wrongdoing.

    Hoggan wrote that he was “astonished to see how a group of legitimate climate scientists, with stacks of peer-reviewed evidence on their side, could lose debates to a group of people who had none -- all because of a lens created by mischief-makers.” But he noted that the scientific facts in this controversy were complicated, and the public was not equipped to analyze them on their face. Thus, “Climategate was a battle of frames versus facts, and the frames won.”

    Right-Wing Tactic #3: Silence -- And Erode Trust In -- Mainstream Media

    According to Yale professor Stanley, who wrote the book How Propaganda Works, right-wing media are less interested in reporting “accurate, well-researched stories” and more interested in “broadcasting noise so that it becomes difficult to hear the truth.” Stanley called out Fox News in particular, stating that its “fair and balanced” slogan is not only false, but intentionally so:

    Fox engages in a kind of silencing tactic when describing itself as “fair and balanced,” especially to an audience that is perfectly aware that it is neither. The effect is to suggest there is no possibility of balanced news, only propaganda; this results in a silencing of all news sources by suggesting everyone is grossly insincere.

    The complex science behind global warming, and the huge scale of actions needed to address it, can defy easy description -- a fact that conservative media often exploit. Hoggan cited psychologist and author of State of Confusion: Political Manipulation and the Assault on the American Mind Bryant Welch, who noted that in response to confusion, an “authoritative person who takes command -- ‘think of Fox News or Rush Limbaugh’ -- and spews strong feelings with absolutely certainty is appealing to a beleaguered mind.”

    Welch has written about “gaslighting” -- the process of manipulating someone into questioning their sense of reality -- and he explained to Hoggan that the tactic is commonplace on Fox News. When “people begin to doubt their own perceptions and observations,” they “become less rational, less capable of thinking for themselves,” and “more and more beholden to Fox News.”

    Right-Wing Tactic #4: Make The Challenge Of Addressing Climate Change Seem Impossible

    The easiest way to inhibit progress on climate change is to make it seem impossible, argues Hoggan -- to promote the “do-nothing stance.” He explains that to take action “requires an anti-gravity position, which is so-called because it takes energy, hard work and a real sense of the common good.” He said deniers “don’t have to convince the public that climate change isn’t real,” but instead can “exaggerat[e] the hazards of solutions to make them seem unbelievably risky.”

    This tactic is common among fossil fuel front groups, which have employed baseless fearmongering and false attacks to attack key climate actions over and over -- and too often, conservative media take the bait, as Media Matters has documented. Dozens of front groups have attacked the Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Power Plan, and many of these groups published bunk studies and reports falsely claiming that the landmark carbon pollution rule would hurt consumers or harm the economy (it won't). Conservative media also targeted a barrage of misleading attacks at the Paris climate agreement reached by 195 countries in December and recycled many of these attacks on Earth Day. This rhetoric has also made its way into mainstream media, with prominent Washington Post columnist Robert Samuelson brazenly declaring that "we have no solution" for addressing climate change.

    Hoggan argues that conversations about climate change should not focus solely on the negative, because doing so can lead to paralysis. Correspondingly, his book includes positive suggestions for the media to help improve public discourse and create “healthier dialogue” that moves people forward instead of exacerbating conflicts and creating divisions.

    Here are some of his suggestions for media:

    Tell More Positive Stories

    A Rutgers University study once found that The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times both frame climate action as ineffective more often than effective. Yet Hoggan argues that barraging people with facts about climate change that evoke feelings of fear and guilt is not going to inspire action. Instead, he writes, it is time to “build hope instead of fear, empathy instead of alienation, people’s sense of self-worth rather than their sense of inadequacy.” Harvard professor Marshall Ganz explained to Hoggan that stories that offer hope can become “an emotional dialogue that speaks about deeply held values, about an inspired future that is hopeful and steeped in those values.” Hoggan also explained:

    Environmentalists must explain why every previous generation did what was necessary to secure the infrastructure and climate for people to succeed, and emphasize this generation’s obligation to do the same.

    Studies have shown that while negative stories about climate change can turn readers into cynics, stories about successful political activism and individual actions can generate enthusiasm.

    Disclose Special Interests Behind Front Groups

    People need to know where most of the climate misinformation is coming from: fossil fuel corporations that want to protect their bottom line. As Hoggan pointed out, corporations are “furiously focused on creating shareholder value,” meaning “they can and must act in the interest of their shareholders.” And when something threatens their license to operate -- such as the knowledge that fossil fuels are disastrously changing the climate -- these big businesses are “motivated to become skilled at propaganda.”

    That’s why it’s so important to disclose the fossil fuel funding behind front groups that claim to represent the best interest of citizens. It’s also why corporations work so hard to hide their support for these groups, through “astroturfing” -- creating fake grass-roots groups that Hoggan says “makes it almost impossible to distinguish between a legitimate groundswell and manufactured opinion.”

    As a case in point, Hoggan details the “ethical oil” PR campaign, when oil companies used the front group EthicalOil.org to rebrand dirty tar sands oil in Canada as “ethical” and tar sands opponents as “foreign-funded radicals.” He also pointed out other industry-funded front groups, including Citizens for a Sound Economy, which pushed the myth of “clean coal.” In fact, there are dozens of fossil fuel industry front groups that are currently attacking environmental protections in the United States, but their industry ties often go unmentioned.

    Invite Scientists To Discuss Climate Change

    Media Matters analyses have shown that when discussing climate change, broadcast news networks have turned to politicians and media figures far more often than scientists. This may be why French scientist Bruno Latour argues that scientists should get more involved in the public debate about climate change -- “to stand up and fight, with full disclosure, full respect, scrupulous honesty, honoring of the democratic process.” As Hoggan explained:

    We have long passed the point where we can talk about a fight between good, clean science and science that has been sullied and distorted by personal and public interests.

    [...]

    We need scientists to become more political because pure evidence -- facts, figures and flow charts -- cannot form an adequate basis for public debate. Why? Primarily because public is not equipped to get to the bottom of such a discussion or analyze all these facts.

    There is much more to examine in the book, from pundits repeating false myths over and over to the Dalai Lama’s appeal for “warm-heartedness.” Improving public discourse begins with expanding knowledge, and reading I’m Right and You’re an Idiot is a good first step.

  • Three Things Media Should Know About Harold Hamm, Trump’s Leading Pick For Energy Secretary

    ››› ››› DENISE ROBBINS

    Fracking industry billionaire Harold Hamm is the “leading contender” to be energy secretary in a Donald Trump administration, according to a Reuters source, which would make Hamm the first ever U.S. energy secretary drawn directly from the oil and gas industry. Hamm has a history of influencing government officials to promote legislation that benefits his company’s bottom line, exploited the Orlando shooting tragedy to call for more oil drilling, and tried to suppress scientific research that was unfavorable to the fracking industry.

  • Fox Business' GOP Convention Coverage Promotes 5 Big Coal Myths In 7 Minutes

    Blog ››› ››› DENISE ROBBINS & ANDREW SEIFTER

    During Fox Business’ July 20 coverage of the Republican National Convention, host Maria Bartiromo and coal industry executive Robert Murray peddled industry-friendly myths while attacking clean energy with falsehoods. Murray also said he is thus far “elated” with the GOP convention, which is aligned with a radical anti-environmental platform, and he repeatedly declared that the energy policies of the Obama administration and presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton are “evil.”

    Here are five Big Coal myths that Bartiromo and Murray espoused during the segment:

    Myth #1: Obama regulations are to blame for the coal industry’s decline. Bartiromo aired a clip of Clinton that has repeatedly been distorted by conservative media to claim she wants to harm coal miners, and then Bartiromo claimed that “the policies in place have already put [coal industry employees] out of work.” Murray declared that “there’s hundreds of thousands of people” at the Environmental Protection Agency and other government agencies “writing rules against we who are trying to maintain jobs,” and added: “The coal industry is virtually destroyed … we had 200,000 miners before Obama. We now have 60,000.” But industry experts say market forces, including technological advances and competition from natural gas and renewables, are the primary cause of the coal industry’s decline -- not policies from the Obama administration.

    Myth #2: Murray “cares” about coal miners. As he was attacking environmental protections, Murray stated: “I’ve been forced to lay off 3,300 coal miners this year. It just kills me because I am a coal miner. I care about these people.” Bartiromo might have pointed out in response that Murray has pressured employees to support his favored political candidates, allegedly fired employees to influence the 2012 presidential election, and has repeatedly fought against health benefits, safety protections, and labor rights for coal miners.

    Myth #3: Coal energy is cheaper than wind energy. During the segment, Murray claimed that wind energy is highly subsidized and far more expensive than coal, which he said provides “low-cost reliable electricity.” However, according to both the U.S. Energy Information Agency and the investment banking firm Lazard, the unsubsidized cost of wind energy is substantially lower than that of coal.

    Myth #4: It’s not possible to retrain coal miners for jobs in the clean energy economy. Bartiromo baselessly dismissed the concept of retraining coal miners for clean energy industry jobs, declaring: “The other thing is the skill sets and the training. What does a coal miner know about windmills? How do they know about solar panels? There’s no training." However, according to a recent study by researchers at Oregon State University and Michigan Technological University, “a relatively minor investment in retraining would allow the vast majority of coal workers to switch to [solar photovoltaic]-related positions even in the event of the elimination of the coal industry.”

    Myth #5: There is a “war on coal.” The “war on coal” is a favorite talking point of the coal industry and the Republican party, most recently adopted in the GOP’s 2016 energy platform. Fox Business endorsed it with on-screen text:

    The “war on coal” was manufactured by the GOP and the coal industry to attack Democrats during the 2012 election -- as Greenpeace has pointed out, then-presidential candidate Mitt Romney released an ad claiming President Obama was “ruining” the coal industry around the same time that House Republicans pushed a “Stop the War on Coal Act.” Associated Press reporter Vicki Smith succinctly explained the misleading nature of the phrase at the time:

    The war on coal is a sound bite and a headline, perpetuated by pundits, power companies and public relations consultants who have crafted a neat label for a complex set of realities, one that compels people to choose sides.

    It's easier to call the geologic, market and environmental forces reshaping coal — cheap natural gas, harder-to-mine coal seams, slowing economies — some kind of political or cultural "war" than to acknowledge the world is changing, and leaving some people behind.

    The full video, from the July 20 edition of Fox Business’ Mornings with Maria: