A Media Matters analysis found that four of the ten largest-circulation newspapers in the country published op-eds, editorials, or columns that denied climate science while criticizing the international climate change negotiations in Paris, including The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, the New York Post, and The Orange County Register. Altogether, 17 percent of the 52 opinion pieces that the ten largest newspapers published about the Paris conference included some form of climate science denial, and many of them repeated other myths about the climate negotiations as well.
Three days before CNN hosted the fifth Republican presidential debate, leaders from every country in the world struck a historic climate change agreement in Paris to reduce fossil fuel emissions and face up to one of the greatest threats facing our country and our planet. The Paris agreement was a front page story in newspapers throughout the U.S. and around the globe. So considering that the Pentagon says climate change "could impact national security" and experts have identified a relationship between global warming and the rise of ISIS, the issue clearly belonged in the December 15 CNN debate, which co-moderator Wolf Blitzer described as a "discussion about the security of this nation."
CNN's own Michael Smerconish pointed to the significance of the Paris climate agreement in the cable outlet's debate preview coverage the night beforehand, yet CNN failed to ask a single question about the agreement or climate change more broadly during the debate itself. While GOP candidates may have their own political reasons for avoiding the issue -- and a couple of them dismissively brought climate change up on their own -- CNN is a news organization with a responsibility to press the candidates for our nation's highest office on the most important issues facing the country and the world, particularly when there are major new developments to address.
CNN did not immediately respond to a request for comment on why the network did not deem the Paris climate agreement worthy of a question (or three) during the debate. So for now, we're only left to wonder how such an inexcusable omission could occur.
During CNN coverage previewing the network's December 15 Republican debate, CNN's Michael Smerconish contrasted the fact that all 195 nations in the world reached an historic agreement to tackle climate change with a recent poll showing that 57 percent of likely Republican caucusgoers in Iowa say that "climate change is a hoax." Smerconish asked Republican National Committee Communications Director Sean Spicer if he is concerned about "brand damage harming [GOP candidates] down ballot," and whether issues like climate change and GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump's plan to ban Muslims from entering the U.S. could "catch up with the GOP come the fall." Later, Smerconish noted that when it comes to climate change, "there's a huge disconnect between what's going on in the nation and what's going on with this incarnation of the Republican Party."
Indeed, unlike GOP caucusgoers in Iowa and GOP presidential candidates themselves, most Americans support both an international climate agreement requiring emission cuts and the Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Power Plan, the cornerstone of America's commitment to addressing climate change. CNN debate moderators Wolf Blitzer and Dana Bash should take this opportunity to follow Smerconish's lead and press the candidates on how they plan to appeal to general election voters who strongly disagree with them on climate change.
From CNN's GOP debate preview coverage, which aired during the December 14 editions of Anderson Cooper 360 and CNN Tonight:
From the December 14 edition of Late Night with Seth Meyers:
From the December 14 edition of Fox News' Your World with Neil Cavuto:
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A professor who was caught agreeing to hide the oil funding behind a climate denial research paper named Breitbart News as a media outlet that could "likely help" publicize the research, according to emails unearthed as part of an undercover investigation by Greenpeace. Indeed, Breitbart News has frequently cited Princeton Emeritus Professor William Happer to promote the supposed "benefits" of climate-warming carbon pollution and argue against a "war on CO2" -- including just days before the Greenpeace investigation was released. And now that Greenpeace has exposed Happer's ethically dubious actions, Breitbart News is defending Happer's behavior as "morally and scientifically unimpeachable."
On December 8, Greenpeace released the results of its investigation, in which Greenpeace UK reporters claiming to represent oil and coal companies asked two university professors to write industry-friendly research papers, and the professors agreed to do so without disclosing the fossil fuel funding behind them. According to Greenpeace, the investigation details "how fossil fuel companies can secretly pay academics at leading American universities to write research that sows doubt about climate science and promotes the companies' commercial interests."
As part of its report about the investigation, titled "Exposed: Academics-for-hire agree not to disclose fossil fuel funding," Greenpeace released a series of emails between its undercover staffers and the two academics, William Happer and Penn State Emeritus Professor Frank Clemente. In an email exchange in early November, a Greenpeace employee who was posing as an oil company consultant based in Beirut asked Happer if he could write a briefing paper "examin[ing] the benefits of fossil fuels to developing economies," and if there were any "US outlets or contacts you may have" that could help "get this research out far and wide." The Greenpeace employee also mentioned a London Times column praising carbon emissions by Matt Ridley, who Happer said was in "close touch" with a pro-carbon group called the CO2 Coalition that Happer helped organize. The Greenpeace employee then asked Happer if Ridley -- a Times columnist who also frequently writes op-eds published by The Wall Street Journal -- "would help to disseminate our research." Happer replied: "I am sure Matt Ridley will be interested in whatever you produce. The Breitbart news organization would also likely help, as would various blogs, syndicated columnists, etc."
Given Breitbart News' past coverage of Happer, it should come as no surprise that he mentioned Breitbart when asked to name media outlets that would promote his industry-funded, climate-denying research. For instance:
On December 4, several weeks after Happer mentioned Breitbart News in his email to Greenpeace (and just days before Greenpeace released the results of its investigation), Breitbart News published yet another article touting Happer, this one titled "Carbon Dioxide Is Not Our Enemy." In it, Breitbart's John Hayward wrote a highly sympathetic profile of Happer's climate science denial, asserting that a white paper Happer co-authored was "meant to be a conversation-starter" and took "a non-confrontational approach with copious footnotes and supporting sources, inviting readers to perform their own research and gain a fuller understanding of CO2 and its benefits." Hayward also stated that Happer "lamented the vicious treatment given to scientists who showed even modest skepticism toward the link between CO2 and climate change."
After Greenpeace released its investigation, Breitbart News' James Delingpole rushed to Happer's defense with a December 8 article, in which he wrote: "What's clear is that [at] every stage Happer's behaviour was morally and scientifically unimpeachable." Delingpole alleged that Happer was not at fault because he made clear he "would only say in his paper what he believed anyway" and indicated that he did not "wish to benefit personally from the fee, but preferred that the money should go to a tax-exempt educational charity, which pays only his travel expenses."
It's true that Happer has a long track record of advocating for the purported "benefits" of carbon pollution, and it's also true that he requested in his emails to the undercover Greenpeace employee that "whatever fee would have come to me would go directly to the CO2 Coalition" -- the group Happer helped organized earlier this year. But Delingpole tellingly did not provide Happer's answer to two other questions Delingpole noted that Greenpeace had raised: "Would the CO2 Coalition be happy to take a direct donation on condition the donor remained anonymous?" and "Might Happer be able to get his paper peer-reviewed by sympathetic authors?"
This is where Happer's conduct is far from "unimpeachable," as Breitbart News claimed.
The Greenpeace staffer posing as a representative of the Middle Eastern oil company told Happer over email that "we are happy to make a direct donation to the CO2 Coalition, providing it is anonymous," and asked Happer whether "the CO2 Coalition voluntarily discloses its funders." Happer replied that he believed the CO2 Coalition isn't "required to make public any donors, although it is required to disclose them to the Internal Revenue Service." He also forwarded the question to William O'Keefe, another member of the Board of Directors of the CO2 Coalition and former Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of the American Petroleum Institute. O'Keefe replied by suggesting that the oil company funnel the funds through the Donors Trust, which has been dubbed the "dark-money ATM" of the conservative movement:
We are under no obligation to identify donors, except to the IRS but I think that is just organizations. When people ask the IRS or a firms 990 [sic], the donor list is redacted. If the person participates in the Donors Trust, he/she can make the donation through that and have complete confidentiality.
Happer then forwarded O'Keefe's response to the undercover Greenpeace employee. As Greenpeace noted, in his emails "Happer also disclosed that [coal giant] Peabody Energy paid $8,000 in return for his testimony in a crucial Minnesota state hearing on the impacts of carbon dioxide. This fee was also paid to the CO2 Coalition."
The exchange between Happer and the undercover Greenpeace staffer exemplifies how the fossil fuel industry's funding of shoddy science can be hidden from public view, and how this strategy can apply not just to the research papers themselves but also to op-eds and other media coverage about them. Indeed, the other university professor that Greenpeace approached, Penn State's Frank Clemente, listed over email a series of op-eds he had written that had been published in newspapers across the United States, and then observed: "Note that in none of these cases is the sponsor identified. All my work is published as an independent scholar."
The other serious issue raised in Happer's emails relates to peer review, the process by which scholarly work is checked by a group of experts in the same field prior to publication. As Greenpeace documented, in his emails Happer "laid out details of an unofficial peer review process run by the Global Warming Policy Foundation, a UK climate sceptic think tank, and said he could ask to put an oil-funded report through a similar review process, after admitting that it would struggle to be published in an academic journal." Specifically, Happer wrote that if he submitted the research paper to a peer-reviewed journal, it might "no longer make the case that CO2 is a benefit, not a pollutant, as strongly as I would like, and presumably as strongly your client would also like." Instead, Happer proposed a review process that would not be anonymous and would be conducted by the climate-denying Global Warming Policy Foundation, writing that although "purists might object that the process did not qualify as a peer review ... I think it would be fine to call it a peer review."
The Global Warming Policy Foundation recently conducted a similar review of another pro-carbon pollution paper, with Ridley -- who used to be a regular columnist for The Wall Street Journal -- deceptively alleging in the London Times that the paper had been "thoroughly peer reviewed."
From the December 14 edition of CNN's New Day:
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From the December 13 edition of CBS' Face The Nation:
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The Washington Post's Paul Farhi explained how Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has pushed right-wing conspiracy theories into mainstream media aided by right-wing fringe sites.
In a December 11 article, Paul Farhi explained that Donald Trump is able to legitimize his misinformation by using "a small fringe" of right-wing "alternative" media, like Alex Jones' Infowars to promote and inflate right-wing conspiracy theories. Farhi added that the right-wing "alternative" media "injects its ideas into the mainstream by gaining the attention of sources broadly popular among conservatives, such as Fox News and the Drudge Report":
Once a small fringe, this "alternative" information ecosystem now includes websites, talk-radio programs, newsletters, conferences and "citizen journalists" who promote, debate and inflate such questionable causes as vaccine denial, climate-change skepticism , and the supposedly imminent imposition of sharia law in America. The fringe nowadays often injects its ideas into the mainstream by gaining the attention of sources broadly popular among conservatives, such as Fox News and the Drudge Report, which devoted attention to rumors that the Operation Jade Helm military exercises last summer in the southwest U.S. were a prelude to a crackdown on civil liberties.
"There's an information-age tsunami out there that just keeps getting bigger and bigger," said Steve Smith, a veteran newspaper editor who now teaches journalism at the University of Idaho. "When you combine this digital tsunami with the loss of quality and quantity in American journalism [due to cutbacks and economic woes] over the years . . . journalists just don't have the ability to keep up once a false narrative gains speed."
At the same time, Trump has been the most aggressive in the Republican field in denouncing the mainstream media, the erstwhile arbiter of fact. Many of his condemnations of mainstream reporters have been echoed by Trump's army of Twitter followers and supportive websites, such as the conservative Breitbart.com.
Trump, in turn, cites his Twitter followers as the source for some of his own non-facts, such as his recent claim that African Americans killed 81 percent of white homicide victims (the actual number is closer to 15 percent, according to Factcheck.org). He defended his position of not allowing Muslims to enter the United States by citing a poll conducted by Center for Security Policy, a think tank known for a variety of conspiracy theories, such as that members of the Muslim Brotherhood have infiltrated the Obama administration. The result is a kind of self-reinforcing information loop in which Trump introduces some inaccurate statement, is called on it by the news media, which is then denounced by Trump for its supposed bias against him.
Trump's most famously false contention, of course, was his long, pre-campaign embrace of "birtherism," the notion that President Obama wasn't born on American soil and is therefore ineligible to be president. Despite ample evidence to the contrary, including a birth certificate issued in Hawaii and a contemporaneous newspaper birth announcement, birther sites -- from Birthers.org to Obamabirthbook.com -- are strewn across the Internet, actively promoting a debunked thesis.
From the December 11 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe:
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Fox News pundits have spent much of the past year mocking and dismissing comments by President Obama, Democratic presidential candidates and others who have described the connection that climate change has to terrorism and the rise of the jihadist group ISIS. But as world leaders strive for an ambitious agreement at the conclusion of the United Nations climate change conference in Paris -- the site of horrific terrorist attacks by ISIS in November -- it's more important than ever that Americans and people around the world recognize the relationship between global warming and global security.
Voiceover by Eric Wuestewald.
Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), the climate science-denying presidential candidate who chairs the Senate Subcommittee on Space, Science, and Competitiveness, convened a December 8 hearing that purported to answer whether the "debate over the magnitude of human impact on earth's climate" is being driven by "data or dogma." One of Cruz's star witnesses is frequent Rush Limbaugh Show guest host Mark Steyn, whose extreme attacks on a climate scientist appear to be the main reason he was invited to participate.
The most obvious explanation for Steyn's appearance would seem to be that Cruz couldn't find enough scientists who oppose the 97 percent of climate scientists that say human activities are causing climate change, so he had to turn to a talk radio shock jock instead. But the fact that Steyn is "not a scientist" only scratches the surface of why he is unqualified to testify on global warming.
Steyn has a long history of making extreme and scientifically illiterate claims that could give Cruz a run for his money. For instance, Steyn alleged in 2009 that "[t]here has been no global warming this century." In 2010, he declared that "environmentalism is fundamentally anti-human." Most recently, Steyn was seen proclaiming that Democratic presidential candidate and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders' remarks describing the link between climate change and terrorism were "insane," and even imagining terrorists "sawing Bernie Sanders' head off" while Sanders worries about "an emissions trading scheme." According to Science Blogs' Greg Laden, Steyn also "recently self published a book made up, apparently, of cherry picked quotes and related material in an effort to discredit top climate scientists."
In addition to his track record of climate denial, Steyn provided another possible explanation for his inclusion at the hearing when he explained why he was invited to a conference held by the climate science-denying Heartland Institute earlier this year, as Energy & Environment recently reported (emphasis added):
Also testifying will be Mark Steyn, the Canadian National Review writer and author of "Climate Change: The Facts" who told attendees at the Heartland Institute's International Conference on Climate Change this summer that his claim to fame is calling fraudulent the well-known "hockey stick" theory that Michael Mann -- a climate scientist at Pennsylvania State University -- has developed.
"I've made no useful scientific contribution," Steyn said at the [Heartland] conference in July. "I've basically only been invited here because ... I'm being sued by the inventor of the global warming hockey stick, Michael Mann."
Indeed, as Laden observes, "[i]t appears that the Republicans on the Senate science subcommittee are allowing an anti-science Canadian citizen [Steyn] to use the Senate hearing room to argue his side of a civil law suit." As the Union of Concerned Scientists noted, Penn State University climate scientist Michael Mann sued Steyn for defamation after Steyn wrote a 2012 blog post for National Review Online that falsely claimed Mann's "hockey stick" research showing a spike in global warming in the last century was "fraudulent" -- and cited a Competitive Enterprise Institute blog comparing Mann to disgraced Penn State football assistant coach Jerry Sandusky. The CEI blog, by Rand Simberg, asserted that Mann was "the Jerry Sandusky of climate science, except that instead of molesting children, he has molested and tortured data" (that sentence has since been removed). Steyn said of Simberg's accusation: "Not sure I'd have extended that metaphor all the way into the locker-room showers with quite the zeal Mr Simberg does, but he has a point."
The ongoing lawsuit gets at a broader reason why Steyn may have been invited to appear before the subcommittee: to present his story as supposed proof that dogma trumps data in the climate "debate." In his prepared remarks to the subcommittee, Steyn said that his own personal "travails" are relevant "[b]ecause too many people within the climate cartel are demanding that dissent from the alleged 'consensus' should be not merely a civil offense but a criminal one - and far too many legislators and bureaucrats are willing to entertain it." He then used that as a jumping off point to dismiss investigations into wrongdoing by Exxon Mobil, alleging that New York attorney general Eric Schneiderman is "su[ing] Exxon for not holding the same views on climate change as the more pliable oil companies have been forced to adopt in public."
But Steyn's version of events badly misstates the issue. Exxon is not under fire simply for "dissent from the alleged 'consensus'," or for "not holding the same views" on climate science as others. The New York investigation and calls for a federal investigation relate to strong evidence that Exxon knew the science of climate change and then purposely misled stakeholders and the public about the issue.
In the end, this shock jock's trip to Capitol Hill is a notable chapter in the joint efforts of congressional Republicans and conservative media to attack climate scientists and defend the supposed "right" of corporations to intentionally deceive the public about climate change.
So while Steyn freely admits that he is no expert on climate science ("I am not a climate scientist, but I am an acknowledged expert in the field of musical theatre"), he was nevertheless one of the five witnesses testifying on the issue before the Senate today. And to give you an even better sense of how far he should be from a Senate hearing, here are some other instances of Steyn talking about issues he is not an expert on, culled from the Media Matters library:
Fox News hosts are criticizing the UN climate summit in Paris for having a large carbon footprint, despite the fact that France is planning to fully offset the emissions associated with the conference's events and registered participants' travel. This supposed concern with the conference's carbon footprint stands in stark contrast to previous comments by the same Fox News personalities, who have denied that the carbon pollution from burning fossil fuels is warming the planet.
Global leaders convened in Paris for the United Nations climate summit, where they reached a historic international agreement to act on climate change. Conservative media continue to respond with a series of climate-related myths, but here are the facts.
From the December 2 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:
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