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."
The total coverage of climate change on ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox continued to increase for the third consecutive year, according to a Media Matters analysis, yet still remained below the level seen in 2009. Coverage on the networks' Sunday shows reached a six-year high after a group of senators demanded they provide more coverage of the issue, but the Sunday shows still infrequently interviewed scientists.
From the January 27 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:
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From the January 26 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:
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On January 21, 98 U.S. senators voted to affirm that "climate change is real and not a hoax." But the media should not misconstrue that vote as evidence that the Republican-led Senate is now seeing eye-to-eye with scientists on the issue. Moments later, 49 senators voted to deny that "human activity significantly contributes to climate change" - the position held by the vast majority of climate scientists.
Climate scientists say that human activity is not only a "significant" cause of climate change; they say it's the primary cause. According to the latest report by the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), "It is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century." The IPCC defines "extremely likely" as having 95-100% probability. NASA similarly notes: "Most climate scientists agree the main cause of the current global warming trend is human expansion of the 'greenhouse effect' -- warming that results when the atmosphere traps heat radiating from Earth toward space."
But some Senators who deny the science may be hoping the media won't call them out on a sleight of hand in which they vote to acknowledge that "climate change is real" while continuing to maintain that it is only happening because of natural causes. This is akin to conservative media pundits and other climate science deniers who frequently declare that "the climate is always changing."
When it comes to discussing climate change, the issue of causation is central. It's impossible to have a debate about how to address climate change without first agreeing that human activity -- specifically the burning of fossil fuels -- is causing it. Climate scientists settled that question a long time ago, but the debate continues to play out in the Senate, a point that should not get lost in media coverage of the Senate's acknowledgement that "climate change is real."
Misinformer of the Year George Will reversed the timeline of events surrounding President Obama's threat to veto a bill forcing the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline and distorted a quote from Obama about the number of jobs Keystone XL would create.
In his January 15 syndicated column, Will wrote, "[T]here no longer is any reason to think [Obama] has ever reasoned about [Keystone XL]. He said he would not make up his mind until the Nebraska Supreme Court ruled. It ruled to permit construction, so he promptly vowed to veto authorization of construction." However, Will's version of events is backward.Obama announced on January 7 that he would veto H.R. 3, the House of Representatives bill that would force theapproval of Keystone XL. That was two days before the Nebraska Supreme Court ruled on January 9 that a group of landowners did not have standing to challenge the state over a law that approved the pipeline's route through the state.
Moreover, Obama emphasized in his announcement that he would veto the bill not just because of ongoing litigation in Nebraska, but also because the bill "seeks to circumvent longstanding and proven processes for determining whether cross-border pipelines serve the national interest." When asked about the Nebraska court decision on January 9, White House deputy press secretary Eric Schultz similarly stated that the Obama administration's "position hasn't changed" and that Obama would still veto the bill and then wait for the State Department review process to play out before he "makes any decisions" regarding Keystone XL.
Will also mischaracterized a quote from Obama to falsely suggest the president had touted job numbers for the pipeline that were at odds with the State Department's own estimates. Will claimed: "[Obama] said it would create 'a couple thousand' jobs (the State Department study says approximately 42,100 'direct, indirect, and induced')." However, the full quote shows Obama said that "the construction of the pipeline itself will create probably a couple thousand jobs" (emphasis added). Obama's figure is entirely consistent with the State Department's Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement, which said:
During construction, proposed Project spending would support approximately 42,100 jobs (direct, indirect, and induced), and approximately $2 billion in earnings throughout the United States. Of these jobs, approximately 3,900 would be direct construction jobs in the proposed Project area in Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, and Kansas (3,900 over 1 year of construction, or 1,950 per year if construction took 2 years).
Finally, Will turned to mocking the environmental concerns of pipeline opponents: "To oppose the pipeline is to favor more oil being transported by trains, which have significant carbon footprints, and accidents. To do this in the name of environmental fastidiousness is hilarious." However, there is no shortage of studies that back up environmentalists' concerns and contradict Will's claim that the tar sands oil that would flow through Keystone XL will simply be "transported by trains" if the pipeline is not built. In fact, even the State Department report, which considered it unlikely that building Keystone XL would significantly affect the production of carbon-intensive Canadian tar sands oil, noted that the pipeline could do so if oil prices fell below $75 a barrel -- which is exactly what has happened since the report came out.
Environmentalists view stopping Keystone XL as a critical part of addressing climate change, and Will has a long record of denying that climate change is a real, manmade problem with drastic consequences.
Many news outlets are uncritically touting the State Department's conclusion that building the Keystone XL pipeline would not significantly worsen climate change without noting that this determination was based on an expectation of high oil prices. Some media outlets, however, have reported the significance of the recent plunge in oil prices, such as the Associated Press, which noted that "[l]ow oil prices could make the pipeline more important to the development of new oil sands projects in Canada than anticipated by the State Department ... and therefore is more likely to increase emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases linked to global warming."
From the January 15 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:
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