The Republican party's deep divisions on climate change and the environment were on full display at the recently-concluded Conservative Political Aciton Committee (CPAC). How the GOP presidential contenders attempt to navigate these divisions is an important news story that deserves media attention in the weeks and months ahead.
Several weeks ahead of CPAC, a poll came out showing that 48% of Republicans would be more likely to vote for a candidate who supports taking action on climate change, compared to just 24% who would be less likely to vote for such a candidate. The poll also showed that GOP supporters are inclined to oppose candidates who view climate change as a "hoax" by the same 2-to-1 ratio.
While many self-described Republicans support climate action, it seems unlikely that the same can be said of the conservative activists and donors who attended this year's CPAC.
CPAC attendees are far more engaged than rank-and-file Republicans, and the GOP presidential contenders know that winning support -- financial and otherwise -- from the CPAC base will be crucial if they hope to emerge from a crowded primary field and ultimately capture the presidency. But trying to appease the CPAC crowd's anti-environmental extremism without alienating most Americans -- and even many Republicans -- could prove to be an insurmountable task.
The Washington Post's Glenn Kessler claimed that President Obama "appears to be purposely ignoring" the U.S. State Department's conclusions on whether most of the refined oil products from the Keystone XL pipeline would be exported. However, the State Department did not find that the majority of the refined oil products from Keystone XL would be consumed in the U.S., as Kessler suggested, and groups opposing Keystone XL note that the coastal refineries Keystone XL would service currently ship more than half of their refined oil products overseas.
Sen. Jim Inhofe's (R-OK) embarrassing attempt to disprove global warming with a single snowball was rightfully dismissed by the mainstream media -- but it was applauded on Fox News.
The February 28 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends Saturday featured a clip of Sen. Inhofe's recent speech in which he brought a snowball onto the Senate floor to dispute the scientific finding that 2014 was the hottest year on record. The clip preceded an interview with Inhofe, in which co-host Tucker Carlson asked why some people are "trying to shut down debate" on the causes of climate change. Inhofe responded that "there are so many people out there in the extreme community, the far left ... and they're trying to revive this as an issue," adding that "it's become a religion." The only other questions Inhofe received during his interview were whether the U.S. should be "nixing" all climate change-related funding, and how he was able put together such a "nicely packed, well-constructed" snowball:
Other media outlets had a different take on the issue.
New York Magazine's Jonathan Chait called Inhofe's argument "breathtakingly devoid of a factual or logical grasp of its subject matter."
On the March 2 edition of The View, conservative co-host Nicole Wallace described Inhofe's action on the Senate floor as "moronic," adding: "if we want to get people younger than him to join our party I think it's time to stop denying and just say let's debate the solutions."
The Washington Post editorial board wrote that the stunt shows how Inhofe's position as chair for the Environment and Public Works Committee is a "national embarrassment," adding: "The Republican Party should be mortified by the face of their environmental leadership."
Following former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush's announcement that he is exploring a 2016 presidential run, Hispanic media outlets have celebrated his Mexican-American family and fluency in Spanish, portraying them as appealing to Latino voters. This focus on biographical details has come at the expense of reporting on Bush's positions on health care and climate change -- issues on which his positions are at odds with the interests of most Latinos.
For instance, Jorge Ramos, host of Univision's Al Punto, helped feed the narrative of Bush as a "Hispanic candidate" (Spanish-language video clip) during a January 18 conversation with Carlos Gutierrez, who was commerce secretary under George W. Bush. Throughout the discussion, Ramos left Bush's policy stances unquestioned, relying on Gutierrez's glowing review of Bush's personal leadership qualities. At one point, Ramos suggested that Bush could be grouped with other potential Republican presidential candidates who are Latino.
Other Spanish-language outlets like the newspaper El País have also credited Bush's Mexican wife and children with making him a "Hispanic candidate," calling these personal factors an "advantage" to win the Latino vote. Briefly glossing over his "moderate" foreign policy stances -- a popular trope in English-language media -- El País highlighted Bush's Mexican wife yet again to address Bush's claims that he is not like his brother George W. Bush. MundoFox, a Spanish-language cable channel that is partly owned by Fox News' parent company, has celebrated Bush's ability to speak Spanish fluently as well as his Mexican wife to position him as a GOP front-runner several times since Bush's announcement in December.
When Hispanic media outlets do cover Bush's policy positions, they rarely go beyond the single issue of immigration. And while it is encouraging to see positive coverage of Bush's multicultural family and bilingualism, a review of Al Punto episodes and close monitoring of El País' and MundoFox's websites following Bush's announcement reveal that they have not covered his conservative stances on climate change and health care reform.
On climate change, Bush has admitted denialism, claiming that "the science has been politicized." As The Guardian's Suzanne Goldberg wrote, Bush is in "lock-step with the other climate deniers in the Republican party."
According to recent polling from The New York Times, Stanford University, and the nonpartisan environmental group Resources for the Future, 63 percent of Hispanics, compared to 49 percent of whites, agreed that the "federal government should act broadly to address global warming." Furthermore, 54 percent of Hispanics said that global warming is "extremely or very important to them personally, compared with 37 percent of whites." The Times quoted Latino Decisions researcher Gabriel Sanchez pointing out that "Hispanics often live in areas where they are directly exposed to pollution, such as neighborhoods near highways and power plants." Sanchez also said that Latinos are key advocates in the fight for climate change awareness: "There's a stereotype that Latinos are not aware or concerned about these issues. ... But Latinos are actually among the most concerned about the environment, particularly global warming." Experts agree that Hispanics are "particularly vulnerable to climate change impacts."
Similarly, Bush has criticized the Affordable Care Act (ACA), calling it "flawed to its core" and a "job killer." However, the Los Angeles Times highlighted a September report from the nonprofit Commonwealth Fund that found the ACA "has dramatically increased coverage among Latinos," who are "a historically underinsured community." As the Times reported, the report found, ¨Overall, the percentage of Latinos ages 19 to 64 lacking health coverage fell from 36% to 23% between summer 2013 and spring 2014.¨ And according to the New York Times blog The Upshot, the "biggest winners from the law include people between the ages of 18 and 34; blacks; Hispanics; and people who live in rural areas." The Times also noted that parts of Nevada, New Mexico, and southern Texas -- all places with high percentages of Latinos -- are among the areas with the "largest increases in the health insurance rate."
Conservative media have been quick to rush to the defense of climate science denier Willie Soon, a scientist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics who has recently come under fire for accepting over $1.2 million from the fossil fuel industry without disclosing this conflict of interest in most of his scientific papers. Among the most impassioned defenses of Soon was an article penned by a writer at the Daily Caller with connections to some of the organizations that funded Soon's research.
Documents obtained by Greenpeace and the Climate Investigations Center detail the extensive and problematic relationship between the fossil fuel industry and Soon, one of the contrarian scientists often cited by prominent climate science deniers like Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK). The documents reveal that Soon described many of his scientific papers, which largely focus on the claim that the sun is primarily responsible for recent global warming, as "deliverables" produced in exchange for money from fossil fuel interests. The revelations, which were recently covered by several media outlets, reveal a potentially serious breach of scientific ethics in at least eight of the papers Soon has published since 2008, and the Smithsonian Institution has directed the organization's Inspector General to investigate Soon's ethical conduct.
Several right-wing media outlets are already aggressively defending Soon. Shortly after the initial reports, the Daily Caller published an article criticizing the "attack campaign" against Soon by "firm believers in global warming." The article's author, PG Veer, dismissed the criticisms of Soon, claiming that opponents "are looking for conflicts of interest" rather than challenging Soon on "the facts."
Yet Veer himself is a former fellow at the Charles Koch Institute, which was created from the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation -- one of the organizations that provided money for Soon's research. Veer currently works for the Franklin Center, which has received significant funding from Donors Trust, another organization that bankrolled Soon.
Breitbart has also carried Soon's water, defending him in at least five different articles so far. Columnist James Delingpole defended Soon for "telling the truth" about climate change, writing that the latest news is a "continuation of a vendetta which has been waged for years against an honest, decent, hardworking -- and incredibly brave -- scientist who refuses to toe the official (and increasingly discredited) line on man-made global warming."
From the February 10 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Bret Baier:
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Taking their cues from the Drudge Report, right-wing media are echoing a London Telegraph columnist's false claim that scientific agencies intentionally adjusted years of weather station data to show a global warming trend that isn't really there, which the author dubbed the "biggest science scandal ever." But far from being a scandal, historical temperature records are routinely subject to peer-reviewed adjustments to account for changes to measuring instruments, the time of day measurements are taken, and other factors -- and they do not negate a global warming trend.
MSNBC host Joe Scarborough claimed that "there is still a debate" in the scientific community about "how much man contributes" to climate change, but the reality is that the vast majority of climate scientists agree human activities are the dominant cause of global warming. Although Scarborough frequently stresses that he believes humans play a role in climate change, this isn't the first time he's made a statement that conflicts with established climate science.
A Media Matters review of several major newspapers found that their coverage of congressional efforts to force approval of the Keystone XL pipeline has been missing an essential component of the story: the hundreds of millions of dollars that the fossil fuel industry spent in the midterm elections to elect members of Congress who support Keystone XL and other aspects of the oil industry's agenda. Of the newspapers reviewed, only The New York Times tied congressional support for Keystone XL back to the fossil fuel industry's campaign contributions.
CBS News reported that a "coalition of big oil companies, environmental groups and food companies have been aggressively lobbying" against the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) "amid concerns that it is doing little to address climate change and is having unintended environmental consequences." However, major oil and food companies oppose the RFS out of concern for their own economic well-being, not concern for the environment, and some prominent environmental groups support the standard.
In 2014, PBS NewsHour provided far more climate change-related segments and interviewed far more climate scientists than the nightly news programs at ABC and NBC, while also outperforming CBS. Additionally, like CBS Evening News, PBS NewsHour managed to avoid airing any segments that provided a platform for climate science deniers, whereas NBC Nightly News and ABC's World News Tonight both featured a segment in which a guest either denied that climate change is occurring or questioned the scientific findings of the National Climate Assessment.
Although it airs for twice as long as its broadcast network counterparts, PBS NewsHour's number of climate segments and scientists more than made up for this difference, particularly in comparison to ABC's World News Tonight. PBS NewsHour, which runs for 60 minutes, aired 45 reports last year that covered climate change. By comparison, CBS Evening News, NBC Nightly News, and ABC's World News Tonight, which are each 30 minute programs, aired 22, 14, and 11 climate-related reports in 2014, respectively. PBS NewsHour's 45 climate-related reports were a substantial increase over 2013, when the program aired 35 such reports.
PBS NewsHour also provided scientific perspectives in climate change stories more often than any of the other major networks, interviewing or quoting 27 scientists over the course of the year. In comparison, CBS Evening News and NBC Nightly News interviewed or quoted 11 and 7 scientists, respectively, while ABC's World News Tonight interviewed or quoted just two scientists.
Scientists lent their insight on a range of topics on PBS NewsHour, providing perspective on landmark reports on climate change, describing the impact of climate change on wildlife habitats, and illustrating how climate change is already having an impact on communities in places as disparate as Alaska and Florida. For example, in a two-part special on climate change's impacts in Alaska, PBS NewsHour interviewed paleoclimatologists, geophysicists, oceanographers, and ecologists to detail how climate change is threatening local wildlife and a centuries-old way of life for many Alaskans.
The recent announcement by NOAA and NASA that 2014 was the warmest year on record should serve as the starkest reminder yet that climate change is an issue deserving of mainstream media coverage. The networks' nightly news programs -- and ABC's World News Tonight in particular -- would do well to follow PBS NewsHour's lead by improving the quality and quantity of their climate change coverage.
From the January 29 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:
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Some conservative media figures have touted the intensity of the recent blizzard that hit the northeast, some have claimed that it is no different than snow storms from the past, and others have deemed the blizzard much less severe than originally forecast. But the one thing they all agree on is that the blizzard somehow disproves the firmly established science of global warming.
Interviewing Environmental Protection Agency administrator Gina McCarthy late last year about the Obama administration's historic climate change agreement with China, MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell asked how the administration would handle Republican critics of the deal. Mitchell wondered what the White House plan was to deal with GOP "climate deniers" firmly entrenched against the carbon emissions agreement.
On the eve of the 2016 presidential season, Mitchell and the rest of the Beltway press face a similar query: How will journalists deal with Republican climate deniers on the campaign trail? The question goes to the heart of informative political reporting and the importance of holding candidates accountable.
Political jockeying over climate change was elevated last week when the U.S. Senate, for the first time in eight years, cast votes on the topic. On January 21, the Senate voted 98-1 to approve a resolution stating, "climate change is real and not a hoax." Then the Senate rejected a second amendment that stated climate change is real and is significantly caused by humans.
"Man can't change the climate," Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK), announced. "The hoax is there are some people so arrogant to think they are so powerful they can change the climate." Republicans, including possible White House candidates Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), voted overwhelmingly against the second resolution, even though the scientific evidence is nearly unanimous that human activity is the dominant cause of climate change.
Meanwhile, the flood of scientific warnings continue and the issue gains urgency. (Tuesday's New England blizzard was the latest example of severe weather that may have been exacerbated by warming seas.) In 2012, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney did not address climate change one time during their three televised debates. But just two years later during the midterm cycle the topic came up "in at least 10 debates in Senate and governor's races" across the country, according to the New York Times. If that trend continues, climate change could well be a cornerstone topic of the next general election campaign season.
For years though, the political press' handling of Republican and conservative climate deniers has been troubling, as journalists politely make room in the debate for fact-free claims about the lack of human involvement. The pending campaign season raises the stakes in terms of holding politicians accountable. But is the press up to the challenge?
New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen Tweeted last week, "This train -- climate change denialism -- is coming directly at the campaign press and they have no clue how to deal."
On January 28, Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI) released a statement in response to Media Matters' study detailing how the major broadcast networks covered climate change in 2014. The Media Matters analysis found that although the networks increased their coverage of climate change, the Sunday shows still underrepresented scientists and most of them provided a platform for climate science deniers.
Sen. Schatz stated that the networks' increase in climate coverage is "not enough," and that he "remain[s] deeply concerned about both the lack and the quality of the coverage." He concluded: "It is time for broadcasters to stop creating a false debate about the reality of climate change and engage in the real debate about how we can solve it."
Sen. Schatz's full press release read:
Washington, DC - U.S. Senator Brian Schatz (D-Hawai'i) today released the following statement in response to a new Media Matters report detailing how broadcast networks covered climate change in 2014:
"While I am pleased that broadcast media coverage of climate change has increased this year, it is not enough," said Senator Schatz. "I remain deeply concerned about both the lack and the quality of the coverage. This new report shows that Sunday shows still aired segments that misled audiences and ignored the scientific consensus by framing the facts of climate change as a "debate". The debate is over. Human-caused climate change is accepted by Fortune 500 companies, school-teachers, religious groups, the United States military, nurses and doctors, professional sports leagues, the majority of other countries, and over 97 percent of climate scientists. It is time for broadcasters to stop creating a false debate about the reality of climate change and engage in the real debate about how we can solve it."