Fox News host Sean Hannity's attempt to blame oil spills from deepwater drilling on environmentalists rather than under-regulated oil companies was debunked by a news service that largely serves energy industry clients.
On May 22, Hannity spoke at the Williston Basin Petroleum Conference in North Dakota, a state that has recently experienced a boom in oil and gas production. Platts, an industry journal that specializes in covering the oil industry for those employed in relevant industries, reported in coverage of the conference that "Hannity did not know some important details about the drilling industry" including falsely claiming that oil companies were drilling in deepwater because environmentalists forced them out of shallower waters.
In the aftermath of the BP oil spill in 2010, Sean Hannity and other Fox News figures repeatedly claimed that BP was only drilling in dangerous deepwater because environmentalists had "pushed us out there." However, as Media Matters pointed out at the time and Platts is now reporting, companies were actually drilling in deepwater due to discoveries of large, potentially lucrative reserves there.
Platts also pointed out that a reporter challenged Hannity on his portrayal of the fossil fuel industry as a panacea for unemployment, noting that some states "such as Vermont, Georgia or Idaho, which have no oil production" while North Dakota has "naturally abundant resources" (North Dakota also has a very small population, making the impact of the boom on the unemployment rate unusual compared to the rest of the country). Hannity, who has been hosting fossil fuel companies on his radio show as part of a "Get America Back to Work campaign," reportedly replied that increasing oil production in some states would trickle down to other areas.
The Associated Press summarized Hannity's speech as arguing that "government needs to get out of the way" of the oil industry. However, investigative reporter David Cay Johnston argued instead that the government needs to get involved in North Dakota, where worker fatalities have soared because "preventing accidents costs much more than paying off the families of dead workers." An AFL-CIO study found that North Dakota has more workers dying on the job than any other state -- with a worker fatality rate "more than five times the national average" and "one of the highest state job fatality rates ever reported for any state." The study noted that "the oil and gas industry in North Dakota has been a major source of these fatalities" and that North Dakota's fatality rate has "more than doubled" since 2007, around the time that North Dakota's oil boom took off.
Fox News figures often suggest that historical shifts in the global climate somehow disprove the notion that human-driven climate change is threatening our way of life. However, the past transformations of the global climate -- and the mass extinctions that accompanied them -- actually give good reason to worry.
On May 11, Senator and potential presidential candidate Marco Rubio (R-FL) picked up a talking point that is often made on Fox News to dismiss climate change, suggesting that because "[o]ur climate is always changing" we should not worry about man-made climate change.
Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson debunked this suggestion in an episode of FOX Broadcasting Network's Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey that explored large shifts in the global climate that occurred prior to human civilization. In that episode, Tyson concluded: "We are dumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere at a rate the Earth hasn't seen since the great climate catastrophes of the past -- the ones that led to mass extinctions." Watch the difference between the political games of Fox News and the credible science touted by its sister channel, the FOX Broadcasting Network:
It is a logical fallacy to argue that because climate change has occurred naturally in the past, it cannot change unnaturally now. Skeptical Science analogized it to arguing that because people have died of natural causes, they cannot be murdered.
Video made by John Kerr and Coleman Lowndes.
Conservative activist James O'Keefe suggested that in his new video he would show that "a lot" of environmental "propaganda" is funded by foreign oil interests. O'Keefe duped two small-time filmmakers into accepting funding from a man posing as an oil tycoon from the Middle East, but his attempts to broaden the scope of the sting to more prominent organizations and activists were based on deceptive edits.
O'Keefe hyped his latest YouTube video, titled "Expose: Hollywood's War On U.S. Energy," by suggesting in a fundraising email that it would expose "the darker side of how a lot of the feel-good environmentalist propaganda gets funded by international interests who jeopardize national security." In it, he convinces the filmmakers of FRACKED, an upcoming documentary about the risks of fracking, to accept funding from an actor posing as "Muhammed," an oil tycoon from the Middle East who is being represented by an ad executive. The filmmakers said in a statement that they agreed to this funding because "It was understood that the investor would have no control over the content of the film and that we, the directors, would have final cut. We thought to ourselves 'oh the irony! We'll use the funding from an oil company to make a film that promotes green energy!'" Encouraging reliance on green energy, rather than oil from domestic or foreign sources, is essential to national security and it's not clear how a real "Muhammed" would benefit from this.
The video suggested that not only would the filmmakers, Josh and Rachel Tickell, accept oil money but that larger environmental organizations may as well, by adding a false voiceover. The voiceover claimed that the Tickells named environmental groups "When asked if environmental partners would be willing to be paid off":
VOICEOVER: And when asked if environmental partners would be willing to be paid off...
"AD EXECUTIVE" REPRESENTING "MUHAMMED": Which ones? Which ones?
REBECCA TICKELL: Environment California and CodeBlue.
"AD EXECUTIVE": Would that be something that --
JOSH TICKELL: And the NRDC.
"AD EXECUTIVE": Like they accept donations and things like that too?
REBECCA: Absolutely. They would work with us on this film.
But the Tickells were actually stating that they could reach out to these groups to promote their film, not that these groups would accept oil funding - the parts in bold were in the unedited tape starting at 3:28:30 but not in the edited version:
JOSH TICKELL: What's our market reach? We essentially work with six verticals. And these are things that we have developed for the better part of two decades. Grassroots? We have a number of organizations that actively activate our grassroots base. [...] Universities -- as I said, we do a lot of work with universities. That builds credibility, it also allows you to do a back and forth when you're taking people from the university, putting them in the film, and then you're screening it. That university becomes part of your prestige of the film -- oh we have an MIT professor, oh we have this professor, we have that professor. NGOs --
REBECCA TICKELL (interrupting): Which these two organizations, their main focus is anti-fracking.
"AD EXECUTIVE": Which ones? Which ones?
REBECCA TICKELL: Environment California and CodeBlue.
"AD EXECUTIVE": Would that be something that --
JOSH TICKELL: And the NRDC.
"AD EXECUTIVE": Like they accept donations and things like that too? I want my client to --
REBECCA: Absolutely. They would work with us on this film. They would make sure that all of their members saw the film. They would speak at the screenings, they would send out email blasts.
Kate Kiely, a spokeswoman for The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), said in a statement to Media Matters that "NRDC actually has very strict rules about donations. We have a hard and fast policy not to accept money from any fossil fuel industries. Nor do we accept money to advocate for projects. Our advocacy is always based on strong science, law and policy." When asked whether the organization had "ever accepted funding from foreign oil interests" or if they had any part in the upcoming film FRACKED, Kiely wrote that the answer to both was "a resounding 'NO.'"
Most environmental organizations and activists do not accept funding from special interests that contradict their values. As the Tickells stated during O'Keefe's video, public knowledge that they had agreed to accept Middle Eastern oil money would damage their credibility among environmentalists.
However, according to O'Keefe, his deceptive editing job has already convinced a Senate committee to investigate:
Just as some conservative media figures have cried censorship when their terrible movies aren't promoted in film festivals, they now think that if their error-laden, unoriginal papers pushing climate "skepticism" aren't published in top scientific journals, there is a "cover-up."
The Drudge Report, an influential conservative news website, devoted the top spot of their site on May 16 to hype an article that claims climate scientists "COVERED UP SCEPTIC'S 'DAMAGING' REVIEW" and even compared it to the faux "Climategate" scandal.
The article by The Times, a British newspaper owned by Rupert Murdoch, suggests that because a paper by the University of Reading's Lennart Bengtsson was not published in a prestigious scientific journal, politically motivated suppression is behind the "cover-up." Bengtsson recently resigned from the Global Warming Policy Foundation, which criticizes almost any policy to address climate change and sometimes misleads on climate science. He claimed that he faced criticism from fellow academics for joining an organization, which he compared to the political witchhunts of Joseph McCarthy.
Nicola Gulley, the editorial director of IOP Publishing, which oversees the journal in question (Environmental Research Letters) stated that the draft paper was not published because it "contained errors" and "did not provide a significant advancement in the field." Top journals typically reject about nine out of ten papers submitted -- it is not a "cover-up" but a standard practice to accept only the papers that most advance the field.
The Times selectively quoted from one of the independent, anonymous peer-reviews of Bengtsson's submission, to suggest that the paper was rejected because it would help climate "skeptics," which would be "harmful." Gulley said that comments were "taken out of context" as the full quote from the reviewer was: "Summarising, the simplistic comparison of ranges from [three scientific assessments], combined with the statement they are inconsistent is less then helpful, actually it is harmful as it opens the door for oversimplified claims of 'errors' and worse from the climate sceptics media side." The reviewer outlined that the paper notes differences between the assessments but "does not make any significant attempt at explaining or understanding the differences" even though such explanations are readily available. He or she also noted that the "overall innovation of the manuscript is very low, as the calculations made to compare the three studies are already available within each of the sources."
As Professor Myles Allen of the University of Oxford explained to the Science Media Centre, "[w]hether there is a story here at all depends on" how you read "harmful," which could mean "harmful to our collective understanding of the climate system" rather than "harmful to the case for a particular climate policy." Dr. Simon Lewis added that the editor, not the reviewer, would have final say: "What counts are the reasons the editor gave for rejection. They were because the paper contained important errors and didn't add enough that was new to warrant publication. Indeed, looking at all the comments by the reviewer they suggested how the paper might be rewritten in the future to make it a solid contribution to science. That's not suppressing a dissenting view, it's what scientists call peer review."
Prof. Allen further noted that leaking a cherry-picked comment from a review for a politicized media story, as The Times did, is harmful to the progression of science:
The real tragedy here is that climate scientists are now expected to check their comments in an anonymous peer review to ask themselves how they might 'play' if repeated in the Times or the Mail. The progress of science since Galileo has depended on the principle that an anonymous graduate student can point out errors in a paper by a Nobel laureate confident that their comments will be used solely for the purposes of editorial judgement.
Even Bengtsson himself took issue with The Times article, saying he did not believe that there is "any systematic 'cover-up' of scientific evidence on climate change or that academics' work is being 'deliberately suppressed'"
I do not believe there is any systematic "cover up" of scientific evidence on climate change or that academics' work is being "deliberately suppressed", as The Times front page suggests. I am worried by a wider trend that science is being gradually being influenced by political views. Policy decisions need to be based on solid fact.
"I was concerned that the Environmental Research Letters reviewer's comments suggested his or her opinion was not objective or based on an unbiased assessment of the scientific evidence. Science relies on having a transparent and robust peer review system so I welcome the Institute of Physics publishing the reviewers' comments in full. I accept that Environmental Research Letters is entitled to its final decision not to publish this paper - that is part and parcel of academic life. The peer review process is imperfect but it is still the best way to assess academic work.
The news that an Antarctic ice sheet is disintegrating and could contribute to a dramatic rise in sea level was ignored on CNN, in contrast to other major television networks.
Two new studies found that a large section of the West Antarctica ice sheet is deteriorating due to warm ocean waters and that its loss appears to be unstoppable. Many news outlets recognized it was a rare moment in climate change reporting, with the story making the front page of The New York Times, the evening broadcasts for all the major networks and even The Weather Channel's coverage.*
On cable news, MSNBC covered the ice sheet's disintegration in six separate shows, Al Jazeera in two, and even Fox News covered it once, when anchor Shepard Smith declared that "climate change -- it is real, the science is true":
However, CNN U.S. failed to cover the story at all. Only CNN International covered the story in a segment that was simulcast on CNN U.S. at 3 a.m. on Tuesday. This is not the first time that CNN did not cover a major climate story, leading Jon Stewart to mock it for favoring sensationalist news over more important topics like climate change.
Meanwhile, the Daily Caller tried to distract from this harrowing news by pointing to Antarctic sea ice, which has grown slightly in recent decades despite warming in the Southern Ocean. The Daily Caller used this growth to claim that "[g]lobal [c]ooling" is taking place and that the "South Pole isn't melting." However, as NASA, which conducted one of the studies, explained in an online quiz, "sea ice loss in the Arctic dwarfs any gains in the Antarctic."
If the Antarctic sea ice were melting it would not measurably contribute to sea level rise -- just as if ice cubes in a glass melted, they would not raise the level of the water. By contrast, the melting Antarctic ice sheets mean that "a rise in sea level of 10 feet or more may be unavoidable in coming centuries," according to The New York Times, but cutting our carbon emissions can slow the rise and avoid greater sea level rise.
A Scientific American editor revealed that a Fox News producer asked him to not talk about climate change during a segment on future trends in science and technology.
Talking Points Memo reported that Michael Moyer, an editor at Scientific American, had stated on Twitter that Fox News told him to not discuss climate change during an April 30 appearance on Fox & Friends:
Fox & Friends producer wanted to talk about future trends. I said #1 will be impacts of climate change. I was told to pick something else.-- Michael Moyer (@mmoyr) April 30, 2014
Here is video of that segment, which includes Fox & Friends' notoriously dim-witted co-host Brian Kilmeade asking -- to Moyer's apparent dismay -- whether newly found Earth-like planets "have football":
Moyer later wrote up the interaction, stating that he thought climate change was a relevant topic because "[a]bout the only interesting thing that the scientific community is sure will happen in the next 50 years is that climate change is going to get worse, and that we're going to have to deal with the impacts."
Went on Fox & Friends this morning. Kinda feel like I should take a shower. http://t.co/SjlFBPE0QE-- Michael Moyer (@mmoyr) April 30, 2014
This is not the first time we have gotten a glimpse into the behind-the-scenes mechanisms that lead Fox News to cover climate change inaccurately 72 percent of the time. In 2010, Media Matters obtained a memo sent by a Fox News executive during the height of the fabricated "Climategate" scandal ordering the network's journalists to "refrain from asserting that the planet has warmed (or cooled) in any given period without IMMEDIATELY pointing out that such theories are based upon data that critics have called into question." More recently, in February 2014, an O'Reilly Factor producer accidentally emailed a climate activist website asking for "the best arguments against global warming being caused by humans."
UPDATE: Fox News is claiming that "there was never an issue on the topic of climate change" in a statement to Business Insider, which Moyer denies, saying he was told to replace climate change with a different talking point:
"We invited Michael on for a segment on technological and scientific trends we can expect in the future. We worked closely with him and his team and there was never an issue on the topic of climate change," Suzanne Scott, SVP of programming at Fox News, said in a statement. "To say he was told specifically not to discuss it, would be false."
In an email, Moyer told Business Insider that "the specific language used (in an email, by the Fox producer) was 'Also, can we replace the climate change with something else?'"
Jonah Goldberg criticized environmental reporters for focusing on climate change, saying that they were missing "serious problems, such as ocean acidification." However, ocean acidification is caused by the same carbon pollution driving climate change.
In his syndicated column on April 23, National Review Online editor-at-large Goldberg wrote that Republican politicians "still care about the environment," suggesting that they pay attention to environmental problems "such as ocean acidification, overfishing, elephant and rhino poaching, and loss of habitat" rather than climate change:
Contrary to what you may have heard, GOP politicians still care about the environment, but they take their cues from public opinion, not from the green lobby.
Important work is being done on serious problems, such as ocean acidification, overfishing, elephant and rhino poaching, and loss of habitat. None of these issues get a fraction of the coverage they deserve. That's because many environmental reporters think their beat begins and ends with climate change.
Ocean acidification is sometimes known as the "evil twin" of climate change as it is also driven by carbon dioxide emissions, making the ocean more acidic -- surface ocean waters are now about 30 percent more acidic than they were at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, as carbon dioxide builds up in the atmosphere and is increasingly absorbed by the ocean. Goldberg is correct that ocean acidification does not get the attention it deserves, as it threatens coral reefs that provide coastal protection from storms and tourism, and shellfish that make up a large part of the fishing industry.
Climate change also exacerbates species loss further threatened by overfishing, poaching and habitat destruction -- the other issues Goldberg names as truly "serious." In addition, climate change is itself emerging as one of the main drivers of habitat loss. This is why environmental groups and reporters have focused on climate change, while continuing to address environmental problems from overfishing to poaching, as it is a threat multiplier with global consequences.
While Goldberg is now calling for attention to these particular environmental topics, he has not given much attention to them himself in the past. The only time Goldberg has previously mentioned ocean acidification in his column* was to claim that we could address it by giving the ocean "some antacid" in 2009:
Is the atmosphere getting too hot? Cool it down by reflecting away more sunlight. The ocean's getting too acidic? Give it some antacid. The technology's not ready. But pursuing it for a couple of decades will cost pennies compared with carbon rationing.
Oyster hatcheries have indeed been resorting to putting the equivalent of Tums into hatcheries to make up for the declining numbers of oysters in the ocean, but dumping huge amounts of antacid into the ocean at large is considered impractical by scientific groups such as the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.
The only time that Goldberg mentioned overfishing** was in 2005. In that same column was the last time that Goldberg mentioned animal habitats, claiming that the United States had "added vast new habitats for animals" without ever mentioning continuing habitat loss.*** Goldberg has never before covered poaching in his column.****
Two Media Matters analyses suggest that over 85 percent of those quoted in the media about climate change are men. Several top women in the field denounced this disparity, noting that women will be disproportionately affected by the impacts of climate change.
A review of a recent Media Matters analysis of print and television coverage of the U.N. climate reports found that women made up less than 15 percent of interviewees. A look back at our analysis of broadcast coverage of climate change unearthed the same stark disparity: less than 14 percent of those quoted on the nightly news shows and Sunday shows in 2013 were women.
Allison Chin, the former president of the Sierra Club, decried this gender gap in a statement to Media Matters:
The gender imbalance among those quoted on the climate crisis is striking, particularly since women around the world are more vulnerable to the dangers of climate disruption and among the most active in the movement for solutions. Globally, existing inequalities give women less access and less control over resources and make them more susceptible to the worst effects of extreme weather. The last thing the media should do is amplify that divide by only covering one set of perspectives.
Rebecca Lefton, senior policy analyst at the Center for American Progress and an expert in international climate change policy and gender equality agreed, telling Media Matters that this is an environmental justice issue because "women are disproportionately impacted by climate change, especially in developing countries." Indeed, studies show, for instance, that women disproportionately suffer the impacts of extreme weather disasters, some of which are exacerbated by climate change, in part because they are more likely to be poor. Lefton added, "Without women's voices we lose the perspective of half of the population and without women's participation, the transition to a cleaner economy will be slower."
The lack of women's voices in climate change conversations in the media is not due to a shortage of powerful women in climate policy and communications. U.N. Climate Chief Christiana Figueres, who is in charge of negotiating a global climate treaty, noted in March that "women often bear the brunt in places where the impacts of climate change are already being felt." The last two heads of the Environmental Protection Agency, which is slated to come out with carbon pollution standards for future power plants, were both women -- current administrator Gina McCarthy and former administrator Lisa Jackson.
Media Matters has previously found that women make up only about a quarter of guests on the Sunday morning talk shows and weekday evening cable news segments on the economy. However, the gender gap on climate change conversations is even starker. One contributing factor may be that the climate sciences have experienced a "female brain drain," according to Scientific American, as have many other scientific fields. This "female brain drain" is also evident in the largely male leadership of the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
Women that do enter the field often face discrimination. Two prominent female climate scientists, Heidi Cullen and Katherine Hayhoe, have both been dismissed by Rush Limbaugh as "babe[s]." Hayhoe, an evangelical Christian who is one of the stars of a new Showtime series on climate change, told E&E News that much of the internet harassment she receives focuses on her gender:
In response to Media Matters' documentation that a group pushing climate change denial has also rejected the known health impacts of tobacco and secondhand smoke, Fox News is suggesting that secondhand smoke is not dangerous.
On the April 9 edition of Special Report, Fox News correspondent Doug McKelway pointed to a report by the "Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change" (NIPCC), which was written in an attempt to debunk the United Nations' recent consensus report, to claim that "a torrent of new data is poking very large holes" in climate science. In an accompanying article at FoxNews.com, McKelway responded to a Media Matters blog post documenting that the group behind the report, the Heartland Institute, has previously denied the health impacts of tobacco, by claiming that the "Heartland's denial of the dangers of second hand smoke was re-affirmed by a large scale 2013 study":
The NIPCC ["Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change"] report was immediately assailed by administration supporters. The website Media Matters reported that the NIPCC study was published by the conservative Heartland Institute, which previously denied the science demonstrating the dangers of tobacco and secondhand smoke. (In fact, Heartland's denial of the dangers of second hand smoke was re-affirmed by a large scale 2013 study in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute which found "no statistically significant relationship between lung cancer and exposure to passive smoke.")
Media Matters had actually pointed out that the Heartland Institute once claimed that smoking "fewer than seven cigarettes a day" -- not just secondhand smoke -- was not bad for you, while simultaneously being funded by the tobacco giant Philip Morris. Regardless, secondhand smoke is unequivocally dangerous and causally linked to cancers including lung cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute, the American Lung Association, and the Centers for Disease Control. McKelway cherry-picked one study that found no statistically significant link between secondhand smoke and cancer but did find a trend of "borderline statistical significance" among women who had lived with a smoker for 30 years or more. Meta-analyses have previously found that the "abundance of evidence ... overwhelmingly support the existence of a causal relationship between passive smoking and lung cancer." The Environmental Protection Agency states that it does not claim that "minimal exposure to secondhand smoke poses a huge individual cancer risk," but that nonetheless secondhand smoke is responsible for about 3,000 lung cancer deaths a year in U.S. nonsmokers:
The evidence is clear and consistent: secondhand smoke is a cause of lung cancer in adults who don't smoke. EPA has never claimed that minimal exposure to secondhand smoke poses a huge individual cancer risk. Even though the lung cancer risk from secondhand smoke is relatively small compared to the risk from direct smoking, unlike a smoker who chooses to smoke, the nonsmoker's risk is often involuntary. In addition, exposure to secondhand smoke varies tremendously among exposed individuals. For those who must live or work in close proximity to one or more smokers, the risk would certainly be greater than for those less exposed.
EPA estimates that secondhand smoke is responsible for about 3,000 lung cancer deaths each year among nonsmokers in the U.S.; of these, the estimate is 800 from exposure to secondhand smoke at home and 2,200 from exposure in work or social situations.
Fox News is suggesting a report by the Heartland Institute "debunked" a top climate change report while obscuring the background of the organization, which previously denied the science demonstrating the dangers of tobacco and secondhand smoke.
On Fox News' America's Newsroom and America's News Headquarters, Heartland Institute President Joseph Bast said that "We can't trust what appears in our most prestigious [scientific] journals anymore." Instead, Bast wants Fox News viewers to trust his organization's "Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change" (NIPCC), which puts out a report imitating -- and attempting to debunk -- the consensus report from the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which forecasts "severe and widespread impacts" from manmade global warming.
But how much trust should you put in the Heartland Institute? In 1998, Bast was claiming that "smoking in moderation has few, if any, adverse health effects," citing a few "experts." (Simultaneously, he was touting to a tobacco industry funder that "Heartland does many things that benefit Philip Morris' bottom line.") This was left out of Fox News' report. Today, his organization is claiming in the NIPCC that "few (if any) [species] likely will be driven even close to extinction" from climate change and "no net harm" overall will result, citing a few "experts." (The organization's current funders are largely unknown, often funneled through the right-wing's "dark money ATM," but it has received funding from ExxonMobil and Koch-connected foundations in the last decade.)
While IPCC's dozens of authors are unpaid, at least three of the NIPCC's four lead authors are paid by the Heartland Institute. One of the authors, Craig Idso, used to work for the coal company Peabody Energy and wrote a contracted study for the industry group The American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity. The IPCC reviews the current state of scientific knowledge, while the NIPCC's references in its Summary for Policymakers include publications that date back to 1904 and few references from this century other than non-peer-reviewed reports from itself and its authors. As climate scientist Donald Wuebbles noted at the end of the Fox News report, the NIPCC report is "full of misinformation" and "not peer-reviewed."
So far, Fox News has dedicated nearly as much time to the NIPCC (over 4 minutes) as it did to the actual IPCC report (over 5 minutes of disparaging coverage). When Fox News equated the first NIPCC report with the first IPCC report on the physical science basis of climate change, scientist Kevin Trenberth of the National Center for Atmospheric Research told Media Matters it was "irresponsible":
The NIPCC has no standing whatsoever. It is not a reviewed document, it is not open for review at any point and it contains demonstrable garbage and falsehoods. In contrast the IPCC process is rigorous, open and there are 2 major reviews. This is irresponsible journalism.