During his speech at the annual White House Correspondents' Dinner on April 25, President Obama invited comedian Keegan-Michael Key to reprise the Comedy Central bit in which Key plays Luther, Obama's "anger translator." What followed was highly amusing -- but also quite revealing of the President's frustration with how the media covers climate change.
As he spoke to an audience of thousands of journalists, media executives, politicians, and celebrities, Obama began the sketch by emphasizing that "we count on the press to shed light on the most important issues of the day." That line provided an opening for Luther to piercingly mock Fox News' fearmongering that "Sharia law is coming to Cleveland" and CNN's "wall-to-wall Ebola coverage." He even landed a few good one-liners about Ted Cruz and Hilary Clinton as they pursue contributions for their presidential campaigns.
But the skit took a noticeable turn when Obama told the media-heavy crowd that "we do need to stay focused on some big challenges, like climate change." After Luther joked that drought conditions have made California "look like a trailer for the new Mad Max movie up in there," it quickly became apparent that Obama needed no assistance from his anger translator to spell out how the media and climate change deniers in Congress are failing to take this threat seriously:
OBAMA: I mean, look at what's happening right now. Every serious scientist says we need to act. The Pentagon says it's a national security risk. Miami floods on a sunny day and instead of doing anything about it, we have elected officials throwing snowballs in the Senate.
LUTHER: Okay, Mr. President. Okay, I think they've got it, bro.
OBAMA: It is crazy! What about our kids! What kind of stupid, short-sighted, irresponsible, bull--
Luther cut Obama off before he engaged in any presidential profanity, but the President had already gotten his point across. As a less angry Obama put it in June 2014, "the media doesn't spend a lot of time covering climate change and letting average Americans know how it could impact our future."
Rush Limbaugh grossly distorted a new study from Duke University, claiming it shows that "there isn't any [global] warming going on." But one of its authors noted that the study actually confirms humans' role in driving global warming and said that Limbaugh's claim is "ridiculous."
On the April 22 edition of his show, Limbaugh touted the Duke University study as "[b]ad news for the climate change crowd" and claimed the Duke researchers are part of a "consensus" of people who think "there isn't any warming going on." He went on to assert that the study, which examines temperature records over the past 1,000 years, shows that "there's no evidence whatsoever to suggest that long-term warming over the next 100 years is going to be anything even noticeable, abnormal."
TV weather forecasters aren't always climate change experts. But they are often responsible for informing the public about climate change impacts in real time, so it's important that they accurately reflect the science.
Fortunately, a new survey from George Mason University provides some hope in that regard. It found that more than nine out of ten broadcast meteorologists acknowledge that climate change is happening, and about two-thirds say human activities play a significant role.
On the most recent editions of CBS' Face The Nation and Fusion's America With Jorge Ramos, presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) was asked about his past remark that "I do not believe that human activity is causing these dramatic changes to our climate." But while Fusion's Jorge Ramos made clear that Rubio's claim runs counter to the findings of 97 percent of climate scientists, CBS' Bob Schieffer did not.
During the April 19 edition of Face The Nation, Schieffer asked Rubio if he has said that "humans are not responsible for climate change." Watch how Schieffer allowed Rubio to again deny the science of climate change with no pushback:
In contrast, when Rubio appeared in an interview that aired on the April 21 edition of Fusion's America with Jorge Ramos, Ramos emphasized that "97 percent of the studies on climate change say that you are wrong":
It's Earth Day, a day on which people around the world put "environmental concerns front and center" to help build "a clean, healthy, diverse world for generations to come." But for the right-wing media, Earth Day signifies something else entirely: The opportunity to engage in another round of conspiracy theories, anti-science claims, and unwarranted attacks. Here's how they are celebrating this year:
Rush Limbaugh celebrated Earth Day by inventing a new and extremely bizarre conspiracy theory: Earth Day has prompted the government to tell people to ignore food expiration dates, which will lead them to "ration" health care and eventually lead to "death panels."
On the April 22 edition of his show, Limbaugh berated the U.S. Department of Agriculture for trying to limit food waste by providing consumers with a tool educating them on the types of foods that have incorrect or overly cautious expiration dates. Limbaugh went on to claim that the government will eventually use expiration dates to ration medicine and health care, and that "there are going to be death panels." He concluded: "All of this has as its root, Earth Day."
Right-wing websites National Review and Townhall thought it was important to "remind" their audiences about the story of Ira Einhorn, who claimed that he was the co-founder of Earth Day and was convicted for murder several years later. Both outlets stated that Einhorn "composted" his girlfriend. Though Einhorm participated in the first Earth Day, leaders and organizers of the original 1970 Earth Week Committee of Philadelphia have made clear that Einhorn inappropriately disrupted the event and played no role in organizing it.
On the five-year anniversary of the worst oil spill in U.S. history, television reporters detailed the devastating environmental and economic impacts still facing the Gulf Coast region today, and directly rebutted BP's misleading spin. But they should not lose sight of another equally-important part of the story: how increasingly risky and expansive offshore drilling practices, along with insufficient oversight, could lead to another major spill.
BP is trying very hard to convince the world that the Gulf of Mexico has recovered from the oil well explosion that killed 11 workers and devastated the region's ecosystem and economy -- but television reporters spent the five-year anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon disaster picking apart BP's claims. MSNBC's Chris Hayes asserted: "As much as BP wants you to think it's all better, it's really not." NBC's Kerry Sanders called out BP's misleading advertisements on Today, rebutting BP's claim that "seafood catches are back to pre-spill levels" by reporting that Louisiana oyster harvest levels have actually decreased by nearly 25 percent. Fox News' Shepard Smith lambasted BP's public relations campaign -- recalling his past criticism of BP, which stood in stark contrast to the rest of the network's BP-friendly coverage in the aftermath of the spill. Smith teased a segment on his show by asking rhetorically: "Five years later you see the BP commercials, everything is great. Right?" He then answered his own question, detailing the tourism and wildlife damages that still exist, and concluding: "Five years later, this ain't over."
It's encouraging to see media figures debunk BP's misleading public relations campaign, which comes as the company seeks to reduce the up to $13.7 billion in Clean Water Act fines it faces if a federal judge r efuses to reconsider a ruling that BP was "grossly negligent" in its handling of the disaster.
But the media should continue to explore the many reasons that offshore drilling still poses immense, inherent risks.
Syndicated columnist George Will claimed that fossil fuel divestment is an ineffective exercise in "right-mindedness" that will only serve to harm universities' endowments, returning to arguments he made almost 30 years ago to dismiss divestment from apartheid South Africa. But many financial analysts have determined that divesting from fossil fuels has a negligible or even positive impact on institutions' investment portfolios, and the track record of past divestment campaigns -- including in South Africa -- suggests that the current movement can be successful by stigmatizing the fossil fuel industry.
The Wall Street Journal is calling on states to "revolt" against the EPA's Clean Power Plan, claiming that "virtually everyone who understands the electric grid" is warning that the plan will threaten grid reliability and could lead to rolling blackouts. In reality, nonpartisan energy experts say the EPA's proposal will not affect Americans' access to electricity.
UPDATE (4/21): Newsweek added an editor's note at the top of Simmons' op-ed, which reads: "Editor's note: The author of this piece, Randy Simmons, is the Charles G. Koch professor of political economy at Utah State University. He's also a senior fellow at the Koch- and ExxonMobil-funded Property and Environment Research Center. These ties to the oil industry weren't originally disclosed in this piece."
Newsweek also published an op-ed in response by the Environmental Defense Fund's Jim Marston, and issued the following correction to Simmons' op-ed: "Correction: This article has been updated with a corrected figure for wind power's current share of US electricity generation. It also clarifies the range of cost estimates from Lazard."
Newsweek missed by a mile when it promised to provide readers with "full disclosure" concerning the author of a deeply flawed opinion piece it published attacking wind energy.
Newsweek stated that the April 11 column's primary author, Randy Simmons, is a "professor of political economy at Utah State University" and added: "Full disclosure: Randy Simmons receives funding from the U.S. Department of Energy (grant has been completed and there is no current funding) and Strata, a 501 (c)3 non-profit organization."
But Simmons isn't just any professor of political economy; he is the former Charles G. Koch professor of political economy at Utah State's business school.* He's also a senior fellow at the Koch- and ExxonMobil-funded Property and Environment Research Center.
If Newsweek was serious about disclosing any pertinent information about Simmons' possible motives for arguing against wind energy, the obvious place to start would be with his ties to the Koch brothers, who have a vested interest in opposing sources of energy like wind that would reduce America's dependence on carbon-based energy sources. Instead, Newsweek considered it "full disclosure" to simply note that Simmons has received grants from the U.S. government and a non-profit organization.
A deceptive op-ed campaign to undermine action on climate change is underway in states across the country. Infamous corporate lobbyist Richard Berman is funding sham "studies" attacking the EPA's Clean Power Plan that are produced by the Beacon Hill Institute and distributed by the State Policy Network -- two organizations with financial ties to the oil billionaire Koch brothers. The Beacon Hill Institute studies, which will appear in 16 states this year, dramatically inflate the Clean Power Plan's projected costs and admittedly don't even analyze the EPA's actual proposal -- so newspapers owe it to their readers to avoid promoting these studies or publishing op-eds that do.
Most of the largest newspapers in the Northeast corridor did not publish a single piece covering this winter's major snowstorms in the context of global warming, despite strong scientific evidence that climate change creates the conditions for heavier snowstorms. The major broadcast networks and cable news channels also provided scant mention of climate change in their discussions of the snowstorms, with the notable exception of MSNBC, which provided extensive coverage of the topic. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Fox News, the Boston Herald and the Providence Journal featured content that used the snowstorms to deny climate science.
Arizona Republic columnist Doug MacEachern clearly didn't like former Arizona Corporation Commission chair Kris Mayes' April 7 op-ed, which alerted the Republic's readers to the Koch brothers' deceptive multi-state campaign against the EPA's Clean Power Plan. But MacEachern's complaints, as detailed in an April 8 column, don't stand up to basic scrutiny.
In her op-ed, Mayes addressed a March 22 Republic op-ed by Tom Jenney, the Arizona state director of Americans for Prosperity and the Americans for Prosperity Foundation. Mayes pointed out that Jenney was peddling "baseless" attacks on the EPA's plan to address climate change by reducing carbon pollution from power plants, and that Jenney cited an industry-funded study that has been "thoroughly debunked."
MacEachern began his response by smearing Mayes as an "EPA propagandist." With that out of the way, MacEachern proceeded to admit to his ignorance about the fossil fuel interests behind Jenney's op-ed, writing:
I don't know this for a fact, but I am going to go ahead and guess that in one way or another Jenney's organization, Americans for Prosperity, gets some money from the Koch brothers. Whether it's true or not, what the heck. Let's just put that on the table.
MacEachern may not know that Americans for Prosperity has been funded by the oil billionaire Koch brothers, but it's an easily verifiable fact. He could even have learned it from David Koch himself, who once boasted that "my brother Charles and I provided the funds to start the Americans for Prosperity." More to the point, the Koch brothers not only funded but co-founded the organization that later became the Americans for Prosperity Foundation, as David Koch alluded to, and it's been well-documented in the media that AFP is, in Politico's words, "the Koch brothers' main political arm."
Right-wing media's bogus claim that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will monitor hotel guests' use of the shower has made the jump to Sen. Rand Paul's (R-KY) 2016 presidential campaign.
The EPA recently awarded a $15,000 grant to student researchers at the University of Tulsa to allow them to develop a device that will "assist hotel guest[s] in modifying their behavior to help conserve water." Conservative media seized on the news to claim the EPA wants to "spy on" people in the shower. Fox News' Heather Nauert claimed that hotel guests should "forget about taking a long, hot shower on vacation, and if you think you're doing it in private, well, you might want to think again" while on-screen text during the segment read "They're Always Watching! EPA To Start Monitoring Showers At Hotels." And Rush Limbaugh asserted that the EPA would not "stop at hotels. You're gonna have one of these [devices] in your house."
Sen. Paul appears to be parroting right-wing media's false claim that the EPA is going to monitor water usage in people's showers. According to National Journal, Paul's campaign sent out a fundraising email on Tuesday claiming the "'EPA is announcing it wants to use our tax dollars to track how long hotel guests spend in the shower so they can start working to 'modify their behavior'!" The Journal also noted that the grant has similarly "been attacked in conservative circles and was subject to coverage by several conservative websites and news outlets last month."
However, the claim has been thoroughly debunked. The EPA is simply supporting research to create a central wireless device that would supply information about guests' overall shower water consumption to hotels, which could help companies reduce waste and save money. EPA deputy press secretary Laura Allen told The Washington Free Beacon, "Let us be very clear: EPA is not monitoring how much time hotel guests spend in the shower." EPA's Liz Purchia added to the Journal:
The marketplace, not EPA, will decide if there is a demand for this type of technology. EPA is encouraging creativity with water-conservation efforts. It's up to hotels to determine their water usage and whether technology like what's being developed at the University of Tulsa is helpful to them.
The University of Tulsa students' research could help reduce some of the millions of gallons of water wasted each year by hotel guests -- a valuable goal, considering the West Coast is currently experiencing a catastrophic drought.
Conservative media are attributing California's devastating drought to a "man-made" factor -- but not the one that is actually worsening it.
The Wall Street Journal editorial board recently recycled many of the same claims it made in a 2009 editorial titled, "California's Man-Made Drought." Right-wing website Hot Air dubbed the drought "California's 'man-made' environmental disaster." And when potential 2016 presidential candidate Carly Fiorina described the drought as "a man-made disaster" during an appearance on Glenn Beck's radio show, Beck demanded to know why "we don't hear that story on the news at all," while Rush Limbaugh declared that "there is a man-made lack of water in California," and "[Fiorina is] right."
No, these media figures haven't suddenly seen the light on climate change. Instead, they're using the historic drought as an opportunity to baselessly attack environmental policies.
This strategy is nothing new. For years, Republican Congressmen, including House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop have been repeating this same talking point on California's "man-made drought" to promote legislation that would redirect water to California's Central Valley at the expense of water currently dedicated to fish, wildlife, and habitat restoration under the Endangered Species Act. As my former employer the League of Conservation Voters put it, this legislation "uses California's current low water supplies as an excuse to weaken federal and state environmental laws." The Los Angeles Times called it "a tired political tactic barely, and laughably, disguised as a remedy for the lack of rainfall."
The multimedia financial services company The Motley Fool criticized ethanol for allegedly relying on government subsidies -- despite the fact that subsidies for corn ethanol, which comprises the vast majority of ethanol used in the country, ended years ago.
In an April 5 Motley Fool post that was posted on USAToday.com, two of their "energy experts" discussed the viability of ethanol -- which currently comprises about 10 percent of the nation's gasoline supply - as an energy source and concluded that ethanol is overly reliant on government subsidies. Travis Hoium wrote that ethanol "requires government subsidies to exist," and Jason Hall agreed that ethanol is "not cost-competitive without government subsidies."
The Motley Fool may have conflated subsidies with the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), which does not provide a monetary tax break but does require refiners to blend increasing amounts of renewable fuels into the nation's motor fuel supply. However, according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), "[fuel] suppliers would probably find it cost-effective to use a roughly 10 percent blend of corn ethanol in gasoline in 2017 even in the absence of the RFS." So even if you (wrongly) considered the RFS to be a "subsidy," The Motley Fool's claim that ethanol needs subsidies to exist simply doesn't hold water.
Meanwhile, immense subsidies are still being handed out to the polluting oil and gas industries -- a fact that was conveniently overlooked by The Motley Fool. President Obama has repeatedly proposed eliminating $4 billion in annual oil and gas handouts from the federal budget - only to have these proposals die in Congress.