Numerous local newspapers failed to identify the fossil fuel funding behind Thomas Pyle, president of the American Energy Alliance, while allowing him to publish op-eds across the country misleadingly attacking a potential tax credit for wind power, while ignoring subsidies for the oil and gas industries.
Reuters' climate coverage has continued to drop significantly under the regime of its new "skeptic" editor, with less than half the amount of climate coverage compared to before the editor took over, according to a Media Matters study. This finding comes despite two major reports on climate science that occurred during this period, suggesting that the paper's "climate of fear" may have persisted.
A massive spill of toxic coal ash in a North Carolina river on February 2 has been entirely ignored by ABC, CBS and NBC. The spill has led to a federal investigation and allegations that the state's Governor -- who worked for the corporation behind the spill and has received substantial campaign donations from it -- has been too lenient on the company, which was discovered to have spilled coal ash into the river again on February 18.
Each year, Republican Senator Tom Coburn releases a "Wastebook" reviewing government projects that he views as wasteful, and each year, the media eagerly promote his report. Yet television news ignored a report by the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office (GAO) finding that U.S. taxpayers are being stiffed by coal companies buying federal land for less than its worth, which a previous report estimated has cost taxpayers nearly $30 billion over the last 30 years.
On Tuesday, the GAO found that the Bureau of Land Management was not adequately documenting reasons for accepting bids below the determined market value. Furthermore, as many states are not considering exports in their market value analyses, they may be underestimating the value in the first place. Sen. Edward Markey (D-MA), who requested the study, stated that "Given the lack of market competition in coal leases" -- the GAO found the vast majority did not have a single competitor, as seen in the chart below -- "if the fair market value set by Interior is low, it can lead to significant losses for taxpayers. For instance, for every cent per ton that coal companies decrease their bids for the largest coal leases, it could mean the loss of nearly $7 million for the American people."
Based on the report, Sen. Markey's office estimated that recent leases could have yielded an additional $200 million in revenue and "possibly hundreds of millions more." A previous report from the Institute for Energy Economics estimated that selling federally-owned coal for less than fair market value has cost taxpayers $28.9 billion in lost revenue over the last 30 years. That finding adds to the economic damages that coal pollution and disasters exact on the economy. A 2011 study, for instance, found that air pollution from coal-fired power plants imposes more costs on society than the value added to the economy by the industry -- and that study did not include climate change damages. Recently, the spill of a chemical used to clean coal in West Virginia cost the local economy $61 million, according to a preliminary study that did not include the cost of clean-up or emergency expenditures.
Yet none of the major television networks covered the GAO report confirming that coal companies are underpaying the federal government*.
The "Wastebook" received considerably more attention when it was released in December 2013, drawing uncritical coverage from all the major television networks except MSNBC (ABC, CBS, CNN, and Fox News uncritically touted the report at least once, and NBC hosted Sen. Coburn where he raised the report without pushback). LiveScience reported that nearly a quarter of the projects Sen. Coburn's office listed in 2013 were science-related and that the "Wastebook" often distorts the studies. Last year, for instance, Fox News promoted the Wastebook's attack on a "government study" on Tea Party intelligence that was actually a non-government funded blog post. CNN's S.E. Cupp and others also attacked a study of duck penises included in the "Wastebook," contributing to the pattern of basic research being cut in the face of what MSNBC's Chris Hayes called "ignorant mockery."
Fox News host Sean Hannity has asserted 192 times that he and other Republicans do not want "dirty water." Yet he has not once covered the recent coal-washing chemical spill that left 300,000 West Virginia residents with no tap water to drink or bathe in -- an incident made more likely by the anti-regulation policies he supports.
On January 9, a storage tank at a Freedom Industries facility in West Virginia holding chemicals used to "clean" coal leaked into a river located near a water-treatment center. Residents noticed a strong odor soon after and were told to stop using their water.
The incident outraged many, but Hannity has instead focused his ire at those warning that Republican-backed deregulation would put people at risk of dirtier air and water. He has decried those saying these policies would lead to "dirtier air, dirtier water" 192 times*, calling the warnings "absurd and irresponsible scare tactics" and a vicious "lie." In fact, Hannity has wholeheartedly supported allowing more coal and enforcing fewer regulations -- a plan that could lead to more disasters like the one in West Virginia that he has ignored**.
Here are the five most infuriating things about the West Virginia spill that a self-declared "clean water" defender could have covered:
1. The company behind the spill is avoiding liability by filing for bankruptcy. MSNBC host Chris Hayes described how Cliff Forrest, the owner of the Freedom Industries who previously handed out "stop the war on coal" signs attacking President Barack Obama, filed for bankruptcy while opening another company that could take over "a big chunk of Freedom Industries' assets":
2. The company initially failed to disclose a second chemical in the water. The public only learned about the second chemical 12 days after the leak, as the company had originally told state regulators that the chemical was "proprietary" information. The Centers for Disease Control said that information about the chemical is "limited" but that they didn't anticipate any new health concerns.
3. West Virginia residents still aren't sure if their water is safe. After five days of not being able to use their water, residents were told by West Virginia American Water that the water was safe to drink. However, two days later, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) stated that pregnant women should not drink the water. Hospital admissions have doubled since the ban was lifted, and many health experts have said that not enough is known about the chemical to state definitively that the water is safe to drink or bathe in. West Virginia Governor Earl Ray Tomblin said of the water supply, "it's your decision ... I'm not a scientist."
4. There's a bill that might've stopped all of this. There are more than 62,000 chemicals that have not been publicly tested, including the chemical that spilled in West Virginia, which hampered authorities' attempts to assess and address the health risks it poses. The Safe Chemicals Act, opposed by the chemical industry, would address this by requiring companies to prove a chemical's safety before selling it.
5. But water pollution laws on the books aren't even being enforced. A 2009 New York Times investigation found that "In the last five years alone, chemical factories, manufacturing plants and other workplaces have violated water pollution laws more than half a million times. The violations range from failing to report emissions to dumping toxins at concentrations regulators say might contribute to cancer, birth defects and other illnesses. However, the vast majority of those polluters have escaped punishment."
Fox News thinks it's "heartbreaking" that a "one-sided" pro-fracking film was rejected from a film festival in Minnesota, questioning the right to "freedom of speech." But the screening was canceled simply because it did not live up to the festival's standards.
On January 23, Fox and Friends hosted Phelim McAleer, director of the pro-fracking film called FrackNation, to complain about the film's cancellation from the Frozen River Film Festival. Co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck lamented that the cancellation "has to just be heartbreaking," that Ireland-native McAleer came to America "to express [his] freedom of thought [and] expression." In McAleer's eyes, the festival organizers "don't want the people of Minnesota to be exposed to an alternative point of view." Co-host Steve Doocy ended the segment by asking, "Freedom of speech? You be the judge."
Doocy has previously answered his own question, acknowledging that "a private company can do anything they want" and it's "not [a] free speech [issue]."
A chyron during the segment stated that "MCALEER REJECTED INDUSTRY FINANCING FOR FILM." However, a review by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette found that "scores of energy industry associates" donated to the film's Kickstarter campaign, which was promoted by several pro-industry lobbying groups. What's more, McAleer and his co-director Ann McElhinney previously produced two anti-environment films openly funded by the fossil fuel industry. They are both listed as "experts" on the Heartland Institute's website, an organization infamous for climate change denial. It's no wonder that the San Francisco Chronicle previously dubbed McAleer "climate denial's Michael Moore" for his misleading film portraying global warming as "junk science."
The festival organizers cited the film's industry ties as one reason that they decided to cancel it, following in the footsteps of the Sundance Film Festival and Telluride's Mountian Film Festival (Frozen River's partner festival).
While Fox News noted that the film was called "methodically researched" by the New York Times, other movie reviewers have panned it. A Los Angeles Times review called it a "one-sided attack piece" that "doesn't add much to the conversation." The New York Daily News gave it a whopping one-star review, and wrote, "the accuracy of this crowd-sourced documentary -- funded by small donations on Kickstarter -- seems as reliable as a Wikipedia entry."
Fox News' Neil Cavuto continued to ignore the desperate need for infrastructure investment in the United States, repeatedly arguing instead that the government is stealing or misappropriating existing resources.
On the January 13 edition of Fox News' Your World, host Cavuto invited former Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood to discuss proposals to raise the federal gas tax to fund construction, repair, and renovation of America's crumbling transportation infrastructure. Rather than acknowledging the need to raise revenue to fund necessary projects, Cavuto made the unsubstantiated claim that federal, state, and local funds for infrastructure investment are being stolen or abused:
The paranoid and unsupported claims made by Cavuto during the segment echo his comments from a contentious December 3 interview with Representative Earl Blumenauer (D-OR). On both occasions, Cavuto claimed without evidence that "someone" in the government had "stolen," "abscond[ed]," or "[run] off with" billions of dollars earmarked for vital improvements to roads, bridges, dams, and other infrastructure systems.
Once again, the only proof that Cavuto provided to support his claims is the fact that American infrastructure is in a state of disrepair. As Media Matters has shown in the past, the dilapidated condition of America's infrastructure is entirely the result of insufficient funding, not the alleged fraud, theft, or misappropriation suggested by the Fox host.
According to the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), the public infrastructure of the United States earned a D+ grade in 2013 and is in need of $3.6 trillion worth of investments and upgrades by 2020. The ASCE estimates the cost of modernizing only America's bridges to be $121 billion, roughly equivalent to all of the revenue streams cited by Cavuto as excessive and wasteful during his tirade against the gas tax.
The reason that former Secretary LaHood, Representative Blumenauer, and others advocate raising the gas tax is precisely because the amount currently raised and spent by the federal government on infrastructure investments is too small. The federal tax, which has not be raised in 20 years, is one of many proposals to close this funding gap.
Instead of engaging in a substantive and important policy discussion, Fox News would rather promote its own narrative that all federal spending is riddled with fraud and abuse.
Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2), a national community of over 850 business leaders, is calling on CBS to correct their most recent 60 Minutes report, "The Cleantech Crash." Simultaneously, a climate change advocacy group is calling for CBS to appoint a public editor to investigate its one-sided story, which followed a string of poor reporting from the program.
"The Cleantech Crash" aired on the January 5 edition of CBS' 60 Minutes, and shortly thereafter drew wide criticism from members of the clean energy industry and among energy reporters. In the segment, correspondent Lesley Stahl wondered if clean tech has become a "dirty word," and concluded,"instead of breakthroughs, the [clean tech] sector suffered a string of expensive tax-funded flops." But critics have pointed out that Stahl focused too narrowly on the failure of a few companies and ignored most of the industry's success. In an interview with Media Matters, San Francisco Chronicle energy reporter David Baker called the segment "a pretty poor piece of journalism," adding, "There are areas of this field that are hurting, but there are others that are doing very, very well."
E2 is now asking CBS producers for a correction to the "misguided" report, writing, "it was shocking for those of us who know about creating businesses, jobs and clean energy to see a respected news organization get this story so wrong in so many ways." They concluded:
The litany of factual mistakes and distortions in 60 Minutes' piece cries out for a correction. While the networks by tradition are strangers to the concept of a public mea culpa, setting the record straight would continue CBS's more responsible position of owning up to the facts.
At the same time, Forecast the Facts, a climate change advocacy group, is calling for 60 Minutes to appoint a public editor to investigate the "Cleantech Crash" segment and ensure that "all future reporting serves the public interest." The group organized a petition to be delivered to Jeff Fager, chairman of CBS News and executive producer of 60 Minutes, asking him to "hire a Public Editor to investigate the broadcast immediately and ensure 60 Minutes' climate reporting is accurate." The petition already has thousands of signatures.
In its latest piece of shoddy journalism, CBS News' 60 Minutes is labeling cleantech a "dirty word" by ignoring the overall success rate of clean energy investments.
In October, 60 Minutes aired a report criticizing the response to the attacks on the U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya, which eventually had to be pulled as it relied on an untrustworthy "witness" who apparently fabricated his story. Two months later, the news program was widely criticized for a one-sided report on the National Security Agency's surveillance program.
In another one-sided report on Sunday, 60 Minutes reporter Lesley Stahl concluded that "instead of breakthroughs, the [cleantech] sector suffered a string of expensive tax-funded flops" after stimulus investments, including the Department of Energy's loan guarantee program. However, 60 Minutes simply ignored the cleantech breakthroughs that did occur in order to advance this misleading narrative. Here are four facts CBS left out of the story:
1. The DOE Loan Program Has A 97% Success Rate. In July 2012, the former head of the loan guarantee program testified to Congress that funds that went to bankrupt companies represented less than 3 percent of the total Department of Energy portfolio. In other words, the program so far has a 97-percent success rate, far better than that of venture capitalists.
2. Solar And Wind Have Had Big Wins In Recent Years. 60 Minutes made passing mention of Tesla Motors' success after receiving a federal loan guarantee. However, it left out many other successes -- such as SolarCity -- in its myopic focus on Solyndra and other bankrupt companies. Robert Rapier, an energy expert who contributes to the Wall Street Journal and was interviewed for the special, stated on Twitter that he "gave successes they didn't air" and told 60 Minutes "the future is solar power." In 2012, renewable energy was the largest source of new electric capacity, led by wind power. These charts from the Department of Energy highlighted by Think Progress show that as the costs of solar and wind power have decreased, installations have jumped:
3. In Addition To These Strides, Cleantech Jobs Were Created. Stahl claimed that "Everything I've read there were not that many jobs created." However, she never mentioned any actual figures for viewers to assess. The loan program office estimates that its investments have created or saved approximately 55,000 direct jobs.
4. Climate Change Necessitates Cleantech Investments. As energy reporter Dana Hull pointed out, 60 Minutes did not even make a passing mention of climate change. Instead, the program touted the rise of natural gas saying that it was "relatively clean." However, experts from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Council on Foreign Relations have noted that without significant investment to scale up renewables, climate change will continue apace.
UPDATE (1/6/14): Energy expert Robert Rapier told Think Progress that the 60 Minutes report selectively aired his comments, leaving out his response to Stahl's first question that highlighted the successes of solar and wind power and emphasized that Stahl's question, "Clean tech is dead. What killed it?" was based on a false premise. From Rapier's interview with Think Progress:
The first question Lesley Stahl asked me - "Clean Tech is dead. What killed it?"
I immediately said, "Clean tech is not dead." There are many parts of clean tech that are doing very well - solar power is growing by leaps and bounds, prices are plummeting, wind power is growing exponentially.
The evidence for climate change only got stronger this year, with a major climate report finding 95 percent confidence in manmade global warming and the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere hitting a record 400 parts per million. Climate doubters, in turn, became increasingly desperate, citing everything from a verified scam artist to the "Ouija board of weather."
We've compiled the 13 dumbest things media said about climate change in '13 -- you might be surprised to find which mainstream media outlets made the list.
13. Rush Limbaugh: Carbon Emissions "May Actually Be Making Things Cooler, Not Warmer." In April, Rush Limbaugh claimed that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere "may actually be making things cooler," going on to say that manmade global warming is a "political hoax." But the Economist article Limbaugh cited actually examined how much the Earth is warming from emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, which by definition trap heat in the atmosphere.
If 2012 was the year of Solyndra, then 2013 was the year of Tesla, whose initial success has encapsulated the potential of clean energy. The electric automaker received a loan from the same overarching program as Solyndra, the bankrupt solar company that became the target of political attacks, but it turned a profit and became the poster child for clean energy subsidies. This confounded conservative media, who alternated between praising Tesla while denying or ignoring its federal loan, and putting it down just days later.
In addition to the more traditional targets -- electric cars like Tesla's, solar (allegedly "tanking the economy") and wind energy (supposedly causing "devastating" health effects) -- this year conservative media reached so far right as to go after energy efficiency and bike-share programs. We collected some of the worst attacks from conservative media against clean energy technology during 2013.
Fox News host Neil Cavuto refused to listen to the facts about the nation's desperate need for more infrastructure spending, instead repeatedly shouting that prior funding must have been "stolen" because some infrastructure "still sucks."
This week Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) is expected to introduce a bill raising the federal gas tax, which supports the Highway Trust Fund used to build transportation infrastructure, by $0.15 per gallon. On December 3, Blumenauer appeared on Fox's Your World with Neil Cavuto to explain his proposal. But rather than allowing a discussion on the reasoning behind the bill, Cavuto shouted over the congressman for more than nine minutes.
Over and over again, Cavuto demanded to know why additional revenue is needed for transit infrastructure, repeatedly interrupting Blumenauer to ask, "what's happened to all the money we've already allocated?" Cavuto indicated that additional spending would be wasteful, because, according to him, the nation's "infrastructure still sucks" despite present funds.
Cavuto even pushed the conspiracy theory that funds previously allocated for transit infrastructure were "stolen," as revenues from the gas tax would be. He shouted:
CAVUTO: Congressman, do you honestly believe -- working with the folks that you do -- that the money that you might get from this gas tax is going to be used exclusively and only for repairing roads and bridges and fixing our highways? Do you think that's really going to be the case? Does the history with the people you work with indicate that that will ever be the case? Really?
BLUMENAUER: Why do you say that? Where do you think it's gone? How did the --
CAVUTO: I don't know. Because our roads and bridges are for crap and this is after we've committed tens of millions of dollars each and every year through a variety of sources and they're still falling apart. So you're saying, maybe the difference - maybe the answer is more money, but the fact of the matter is, the money we've already spent we can't account for
BLUMENAUER: Where do you get that, you can't account for it? That's goofy --
CAVUTO: Can you account for $42 billion? Can you spell out for me, congressman, where that $42 billion has gone?
CAVUTO: If the goal was to fix roads and bridges and they're still -- accurately, to your point, falling apart -- methinks someone has stolen it, someone has taken it.
Fox News uncritically aired attacks on the approval of an environmental science textbook by the Texas Education Agency, saying its passage will "push particular viewpoints" as a result of "socialized education." But the textbook's passage had nothing to do with the Common Core Standards, and simply contains scientifically accurate information about hydraulic fracturing and climate change.
The Texas Education Agency (TEA) approved a textbook titled Environmental Science to be on its list of recommended science textbooks last week, despite testimony from oil and gas advocate Becky Berger who claimed that the book is full of inaccuracies and "very one-sided." On November 25, Fox and Friends co-host Steve Doocy interviewed Cynthia Dunbar formerly of the Texas State Board of Education, who fears that the passage of the scientifically accurate textbook is evidence that Common Core standards will beget "indoctrination through our textbooks."
Berger complained in the hearing that Environmental Science was full of "misleading, inaccurate and partial explanations" on the subjects of climate change, wind power, ozone layer depletion, and hydraulic fracturing risks. Berger, an oil and gas geologist who grew up deeply involved in the energy industry, claimed that the textbook in question misleads on the risks of hydraulic fracturing to water supplies. She reportedly spent two hours evaluating the book and provided "no actual written documentation to back up her claims," contrasting the months-long evaluation process from the state's official review teams, which did not find any substantive factual errors in the textbook. The review panel "identified three minor errors, but none of them having to do with the substance of the textbook," the Texas Tribune reported. However, this did not stop Doocy from suggesting that Berger's testimony was "disqualified" solely because she is currently "running for office as a Republican" to be Texas railroad commissioner.
Meanwhile, Common Core Standards have not been enacted in the state of Texas, something that Dunbar even pointed out during her interview with Doocy; the hearing was held by a state agency to approve new science textbooks in Texas public schools. However, Dunbar then advised citizens to be concerned about "socialized education," as textbook publishing companies "gear towards" the Common Core standards. In fact, Common Core currently doesn't have any specified regulations for textbooks; its website explains that the standards are designed simply to "enable collaboration between states on a range of tools and policies, including [...] the development of textbooks, digital media and other teaching materials aligned to the standards."
This is not the first time Fox has fretted over environmental education in public schools; when the Environmental Protection Agency hosted lesson plans on climate change, Fox Business cried "propaganda."
Climate change discussions in the aftermath of a record-shattering deadly typhoon serve as "an excuse" to avoid helping people living in the storm's path, according Fox host Dana Perino, who argued that instead of taking action on climate change, we should provide developing nations with "more fossil fuels." Perino's concern for affordable electricity starkly contrasts with the network's usually dismissive attitude toward those living in poverty and ignores the fact that fighting climate change and keeping energy prices in check for low-income families are attainable and confluent goals.
Super Typhoon Haiyan devastated the island nation of the Philippines last week. The storm may be the most powerful typhoon in recorded history, and the death toll left in its wake is still rising, estimated to be between 2,300 and 10,000.
On the November 14 edition of Fox News' The Five, co-host Dana Perino attacked environmentalists who express concern that manmade global warming could impact the strength of major storms like the super typhoon that devastated the Philippines. Perino argued that discussing global warming "is the perfect excuse not to do anything for people living in the Third World." Perino later doubled down, saying, "it's an excuse to not help people in poverty."
Instead of focusing on global warming, Perino's solution to help those vulnerable to the impacts of climate change would be to "help provide affordable electricity to people that are living there, so that they could've had more information so that they could've gotten out of harm's way. With more affordable electricity that is steady, you have better education, you have better health care, you have better well-being and you have the possibility of trade, which will actually help everybody." Perino concluded, "What we should be doing is providing them with more fossil fuels."