Right-wing media labeled the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) plan to garnish the wages of polluters who have failed to pay their fines a "power grab," even though the agency is acting with authority granted to it by decades-old federal law that is already used by 30 other federal agencies.
On July 2, the EPA announced that it would implement a provision of the Debt Collection Improvement Act that would allow the agency to collect delinquent debts from polluters by garnishing their wages without first obtaining a court order. This law, which was approved by an overwhelming majority in both houses of Congress and signed into law in 1996, is applicable not just to the EPA but all federal agencies. According to the text of the law and Department of the Treasury guidelines, all federal agencies who collect delinquent debts can "collect money from a debtor's disposable pay by means of administrative wage garnishment to satisfy delinquent nontax debt" without going to the courts first.
Right-wing media outlets like The Washington Times were quick to accuse the EPA of "flexing its regulatory muscle under President Obama" to "unilaterally garnish the paychecks of those accused of violating its rules," because the EPA's proposed rule would no longer require the agency to "obtain a court judgment before garnishing non-Federal wages." The Times framed the announcement as an EPA "power grab," even though the report later pointed out that "every federal agency has the authority to conduct administrative wage garnishment." Fox News was similarly outraged over the EPA's announcement, with Townhall.com news editor Katie Pavlich appearing on The Kelly File to claim that "the EPA now is acting as judge, jury, and executioner" by attempting to adopt the wage garnishment rule.
But Fox's senior judicial analyst, Judge Andrew Napolitano, took it even further on the July 10 edition of Fox & Friends. Napolitano complained that the EPA did not have the authority to garnish wages without a court order because "Congress never authorized it. Congress couldn't authorize it. It blatantly violates the Constitution." Napolitano went on to claim that the EPA's proposed plan was "not legal" because the rule didn't protect debtors' "right to a hearing," and that it was "the president's people" who were behind the rule change:
From the July 8 edition of CBS' CBS This Morning:
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The Heartland Institute, an organization notorious for its virulent climate denial, opened its conference on climate change with a German rap on the "Climate Swindle" that claims "saving the climate means wiping out the humans," according to an English translation.
The conference, which is being held in Las Vegas this week, featured a live performance by Austrian rapper Kilez More of "Klimawandel (Klimalüge, Klimaschwindel)" -- translation "Climate Change (Climate Lies, Climate Swindle)" -- alongside speakers who are largely industry-funded and have no scientific expertise. According to an English translation by the German climate denial blog NoTricksZone, the rap claims that hacked "Climategate" emails showed scientists "fudging the data" to fake warming, contrary to every independent investigation into the matter, in order to gain "more power, more money, more control, more global tax." The chorus repeats that "climate change was not made by man," shouting "nein!" Later, the rap really goes off the rails, claiming that climate change advocates believe that "there's only one way here to clean the planet / saving the climate means wiping out the humans."
A July 7 Heartland Institute press release quoted More stating he's "honored" and "pleased the Heartland Institute liked the song and invited me to present it live on stage."
You might have thought that after the Heartland Institute ran a billboard campaign in 2012 comparing those that accept climate science to the Unabomber -- later pulling the billboards but refusing to apologize -- that the media would have already stopped turning to the organization for analysis. However, The Washington Post, Bloomberg News, and Fox News all quoted Heartland Institute President Joseph Bast casting doubt on a 2013 scientific report by the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, without noting that he has no climate expertise and previously denied the science showing secondhand smoke can lead to cancer.
The conference in Las Vegas is also being co-sponsored by Hubbard Broadcasting Inc., which owns mainstream television and radio stations across the country. What would it take for the media to stop taking the "kings of unintentional climate-comedy" seriously?
From the July 7 edition of MSNBC's All In with Chris Hayes:
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Fox News claimed that a move to protect an endangered jumping mouse from ranchers who graze cattle on public lands is "going to run [them] out of business" for a mouse they "can't even find," but the mouse is a critical part of the food chain that can be protected if ranchers simply don't let their cattle trample on its habitat.
In June, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) finalized protection for the endangered New Mexico meadow jumping mouse, which is at risk of extinction chiefly due to excessive cattle grazing. On July 7, Fox News' Fox and Friends hosted rancher Mike Lucero to lash out against the potential that fences will be erected to further protect the local streams that form the mouse's habitat from his cattle. Co-host Steve Doocy suggested that because Lucero has not seen the jumping mouse, it may not even exist anymore, calling it "crazy" that "they're doing all this to protect a mouse that might not even be there":
The New Mexico meadow jumping mouse is generally nocturnal and hibernates for about nine months a year. It's also "precariously" endangered with only 29 "small" surviving populations, according to the Center for Biological Diversity. So it's not that surprising that Lucero has not seen one of these mice, which are critical because their extinction could disrupt the entire food chain. Jay Lininger of the Center for Biological Diversity explained in a Tech Times article: "They're a highly sought-after food source for a variety of snakes, foxes, and birds like redtail hawks. The entire food chain suffers if the jumping mouse blinks out." The jumping mouse is a "bellwether species" for the Southwestern stream habitats critical to their survival, according to Brian Byrd of WildEarth Guardians. The mouse's stream habitat, critical to preserve clean water in the region, has been degraded primarily due to damaging livestock practices.
While Lucero claimed that protection of the mice's stream habitats will force him "out of business," ranchers can simply pipe water from the river to their cattle rather than letting them go to the river in order to more responsibly graze, according to Lininger. Details such as this have been left out of local media coverage, including an article by New Mexico's largest newspaper, the Albuquerque Journal, titled "Endangered mouse may cost NM ranchers their livelihood" and from the right-wing Franklin Center's New Mexico Watchdog.org.
They say comedy is just a funny way of being serious. So it's natural that a deepening climate crisis would produce a deepening well of climate comedy. We don't yet have our climate-themed Dr. Strangelove, but there's now a feature film's worth of gags, skits, and riffs exploring the lighter side of a cooking planet. Stand-up comics, from mainline stars like Louis C.K. to niche acts like the Christian comic Paul Kerensa, have mined climate change for material. Climate activist groups like 350.org have recently begun to take a cue from Comedy Central. Even NASA climatologists have gotten awkwardly into the act.
Like the global temperature, the phenomenon is on an upswing. In May, a New Yorker science blogger mused on the benefits of employing a "comedic frame" in climate coverage. A couple weeks later, the Guardian collected climate-comedy highpoints, from The Onion to "Ali G." The newest item on the list came from a May bit from an exasperated John Oliver on the media habit of "balancing" the climate consensus with fringe skeptics.
The biggest sign the genre is maturing hums with neon. Today, Chicago's Heartland Institute, the kings of unintentional climate-comedy, will hit the Vegas strip with a three-day show at Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, featuring a chorus line's worth of hilarious climate rejectionists. The line-up will collectively perform the energy-policy equivalent of a Henny Youngman routine: "Take my planet capable of supporting civilization. Please!"
The think tank that flacked for Big Tobacco against the science of lung cancer will perform off the same playbook to flack for Big Carbon against the science of greenhouse gases. Tickets to see these self-styled climate researchers and political operatives -- almost none of whom are climate or earth systems scientists and nearly all of them funded at one- or two-degrees remove by oil and coal interests -- run $129, including meals.
On the Strip, Heartland speakers will pretend to be qualified to dissent from the equivalent to the National Academy of Sciences of every industrial country. Against the faint ring of slot machines, they'll dismiss the stark warnings of experts from 130 countries who contribute to the authoritative assessments of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Because the first rule of improv comedy is "Yes, and...", some Heartland speakers will concede that, yes, man-made warming is occurring. The kicker comes when they echo Heartland's April report concluding that this is a net positive for all carbon-based life forms. With this pivot toward "Yes, and...", Heartland is ensuring they'll continue to have topical comedy fodder for years to come, even after their carbon denial becomes as outdated as their lung cancer material.
Heartland's Vegas appearance also suggests a strategy to avoid repeating the troupe's 2012 funding crisis. Instead of depending on corporate contributions, Heartland could find steady revenue as a regular sell-out act on the Strip. They aren't in a position to challenge Carrot Top for a headlining residency at the MGM Grand, but in a city whose economic base is expected to suffer devastating effects from climate change, there is a role for a group with years' worth of climate change gags, including slide shows and props. Heartland policy advisor Norman Rodgers, for example, would kill audiences with classic one-liners such as, "The few examples of coal or oil companies actually giving money to dissenters or dissenting organizations are so minor that one suspects that the gift was an accident or bureaucratic snafu." James Taylor would have them rolling with lines like, "I successfully completed Ivy League atmospheric science courses, so I'm a scientist by training."
If Don Rickles can make a Vegas career as the "Merchant of Venom," the folks at Heartland can make a run as the "Merchants of Doubt." The timing could not be better. Nevada's nearly 50 golf courses will likely soon be wilting under heat waves and water shortages, and the dwindling number of tourists visiting Vegas will want more air-conditioned entertainment. To draw these crowds, Heartland just needs to punch-up its clunky ad copy, which now reads, "Come to fabulous Las Vegas to meet leading scientists from around the world who question whether 'man-made global warming' will be harmful to plants, animals, or human welfare." A permanent show needs something that sparkles, like the tagline for the Cirque Du Soleil show "O: An aquatic masterpiece of surrealism and theatrical romance."
Heartland's might read, "Take the Money and Run: A planet-crushing masterpiece of delusion and breathtaking corruption."
There are other benefits to turning Heartland events into entertainment spectacles worthy of a Vegas marquee. Real scientists would no longer have to "tie up all our time fighting denialist propaganda," as astronomer Phil Plait put it. Instead, they could relegate Heartland coverage to the entertainment critics at Variety and Las Vegas Magazine. Heartland is a good bet to open to rave local reviews. They already have friends at the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
Heartland is also getting into the movie side of show business. Its main co-sponsor in Vegas this week is the concurrent libertarian event, FreedomFest, held at Planet Hollywood. On Wednesday night, Heartland ticket-holders are invited to attend the debut the film, Atlas Shrugged 3: Where is John Galt? Fox Business host and popular climate comedian John Stossel will introduce the screening and broadcast his show from the FreedomFest floor.
Media Matters has produced brief playbill bios of Heartland's Vegas cast.
Sebastian L. Lüning
Refusing to act on climate change will be bad for business, according to a major recent report assessing the alarming risks of unchecked global warming on the U.S. economy. But while some top business media outlets recognize global warming as a serious issue for their audience, others are still stuck in denial.
On June 23, the Risky Business Project released a comprehensive analysis of the economic impacts of climate change in the United States. The study found that the current path of "business as usual" -- emitting carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases responsible for driving catastrophic climate change without restrictions -- will reduce labor productivity of outdoor workers by up to three percent, reduce agricultural yields by up to 70 percent in some regions, and cost up to $507 billion in property damages from sea level rise by 2100. The co-chairs are calling for business to rein in their greenhouse gas emissions to prevent an economic crash on the scale of the 2008 financial crisis or worse.
However, some top U.S. business media outlets are denying that climate change is a problem worth addressing -- a disservice to their business viewers, who have a lot to lose. Here are the good, the bad, and the ugly cases of business media covering Risky Business:
In covering the study's findings, Bloomberg Television, a cable and satellite business news channel, featured an interview with former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, one of the report's co-chairs and a Republican. Bloomberg's Erik Schatzer began the interview by stating that "the research [on man-made climate change] is overwhelmingly conclusive," and went on to have a rational discussion about solutions to global warming that businesses can take today. Schatzer noted that Bloomberg Television is a child company of the media organization founded by Michael Bloomberg, another co-chair of Risky Business. Paulson suggested that businesses fully disclose their climate change risks, that they invest in "resilience," and that the nation "take out a national insurance policy" to respond to the impacts of climate change, adding that businesses must advocate for government policies that would allow the nation to "avoid the most adverse outcomes."
Paulson elaborated on "the cost of inaction" alongside former Treasury Secretary under President Bill Clinton, Robert Rubin, in a well-done interview on the June 29 edition of CNN's Fareed Zakaria GPS:
Fox Business's coverage of the Risky Business report ridiculed the impacts of climate change and brushed aside the findings as "scare tactics." On the June 24 edition of Cavuto, Fox Business contributor Lauren Simonetti asserted that the organization is using "scare tactics," going on to entirely dismiss the idea of increasing heat-related mortality, saying "what does that mean -- mortality?"
Conservative media are calling the Environmental Protection Agency's clarification of the Clean Water Act an "unprecedented land grab" that will regulate "nearly every drop of water." However, the proposed revision, which will help protect the drinking water of 117 million Americans, will not add any new categories of waters but will clarify that upstream sources will be protected from pollution.
From the June 28 edition of Fox News' Cavuto on Business:
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CNBC sought someone to write about "global warming being a hoax" in order to counter a major new report that shows the economic cost of failing to take climate action.
As Republic Report first reported, the cable business channel CNBC reached out to DeSmogBlog, a website that rebuts climate change denial, to ask Alan Carlin, an economist who denies that the majority of recent warming is man-made, to write about "global warming being a hoax." (CNBC apparently mistakenly assumed that Carlin worked with DeSmogBlog because they had profiled him.) Media Matters has confirmed that Cindy Perman, the commentary editor of CNBC.com, sent the following message to DeSmogBlog:
Hi there. Given this new report on the cost of climate change, wanted to extend an invitation to Alan Carlin to write an op-ed for CNBC.com. Can be on the new report or just his general thoughts on global warming being a hoax.
As Media Matters has documented, the majority of CNBC's climate change coverage in 2013 falsely suggested that climate change is not occurring or that it is not mostly man-made, even though 97 percent of climate scientists say it is.
The new report that CNBC referred to in its message to DeSmogBlog is by the Risky Business Project, which found that on the planet's current path, as much as $507 billion worth of coastal properties will be underwater by 2100. Increasingly extreme heat will harm labor productivity, particularly agriculture, transportation and construction. Furthermore, the report found that unchecked climate change will diminish crop yields by more than 10 percent in roughly two decades, place greater demand on power grids and expose more people to the risk of heat- and cold-related death.
While the effects of climate change will not be uniform across the United States, the report notes that global warming already is taking its toll on parts of the nation and will continue to do so, hurting businesses and their bottom line.
This report shows why CNBC's choice to promote climate denial is misguided. Its business viewers would be better served by accurate information about the risks that climate change poses for many businesses.
From the June 26 edition of Fox News Radio's Kilmeade & Friends:
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Journalists should not be duped into portraying anti-wind energy activist John Droz Jr. as simply a "physicist" and an expert on issues related to climate change. Droz has cast doubt on man-made climate change and undermined scientifically accurate sea-level rise predictions in North Carolina, despite admitting he has no expertise in either area.
Fox News is reviving accusations that NASA's peer-reviewed adjustments to temperature data are an attempt to "fak[e]" global warming, a claim that even a climate "skeptic" threw cold water on.
Tony Heller, a birther who criticizes climate science under the pseudonym "Steven Goddard," wrote a blog post that claimed "NASA cooled 1934 and warmed 1998, to make 1998 the hottest year in US history instead of 1934." After the Drudge Report promoted a report of this allegation by the conservative British newspaper The Telegraph, conservative media from Breitbart to The Washington Times claimed the data was "fabricated" or "faked." On June 24, Fox & Friends picked it up, claiming that "the U.S. has actually been cooling since the 1930s" but scientists had "faked the numbers":
However, the libertarian magazine Reason noted that even climate "skeptic" blogger Anthony Watts said that Goddard made "major errors in his analysis" and criticized the implication that "numbers are being plucked out of thin air in a nefarious way."
In fact, the National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) and NASA, which both maintain temperature records that use slightly different methods but show close agreement, have publicly documented the peer-reviewed adjustments they make to raw data. NCDC states that the "most important bias in the U.S. temperature record occurred with the systematic change in observing times from the afternoon, when it is warm, to morning, when it is cooler," and so it must correct this cool bias as well as other biases that, for example, result from moving temperature stations.
NASA's data shows that the nation has not been "cooling" since the 1930s, with several years, including 2012, ranking hotter than 1934 in the continental United States, along with a long-term warming trend. And while The Sean Hannity Show claimed that this shows the "Earth has been cooling," the continental United States makes up less than 2 percent of the Earth's surface -- global surface temperatures have increased significantly.
UPDATE (6/30/14): According to the Minneapolis City Pages, KSTP News Director Lindsay Radford was "in touch with [Hubbard's] camp" and said that Hubbard "isn't actually 'sponsoring' the conference ... [b]ut Hubbard did provide the Heartland Institute with a $1,000 check for an award to be given out during it." However, Hubbard is listed as a co-sponsor on the Heartland Institute's website:
When asked why KSTP has aired climate denial, Radford responded, "[j]ust like any story, we strive to give all sides." However, climate change is the classic case of a story where giving "all sides" can be misleading because the scientific facts lie firmly on one side. As New York Times public editor Margaret Sullivan explained, the public wants "real answers" not false balance:
Simply put, false balance is the journalistic practice of giving equal weight to both sides of a story, regardless of an established truth on one side. And many people are fed up with it. They don't want to hear lies or half-truths given credence on one side, and shot down on the other. They want some real answers.
A news organization that runs several ABC and NBC affiliates nationwide is co-sponsoring a Heartland Institute conference promoting climate denial, in line with its chief executive's views, which have seeped into the stations' reporting.
In July, the Heartland Institute will host its annual conference railing against the scientific consensus that humans are the main cause of climate change. The conference was nearly ended in 2012, after funders fled the organization for running a short-lived billboard campaign comparing those that accept climate change to the Unabomber. The co-sponsors of the 2014 conference, who pay anywhere from $150 to $10,000 and are asked to "[w]rite at least one story" before and after the event,* are mostly right-wing groups such as the Heritage Foundation, the Media Research Center, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, and the Leadership Institute. However, one group stands out: Hubbard Broadcasting Inc., an American television and radio corporation that owns several ABC and NBC affiliates across the country.
Hubbard Broadcasting is run by billionaire Stanley Hubbard, who, according to Rolling Stone, has said that global warming is "the biggest fraud in the history of America." Hubbard has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to political candidates (most of whom are Republicans) both individually and through his corporation. He supported former Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN), who denies man-made climate change, in the 2012 Republican primary for president. He was a major funder of a now-defunct group founded by Newt Gingrich that promoted increased extraction of fossil fuels. Hubbard has also told the Koch brothers, billionaire Republican donors who made their fortune in the oil industry, that they can "count" on him and attended at least one strategy conference run by the Kochs.
Hubbard Broadcasting's flagship station, KSTP-TV, an ABC affiliate broadcasting on Channel 5 in the Twin Cities and surrounding area, has cast doubt on climate change by citing the Heartland Institute. In September 2013, the news station conveyed false balance by hosting Heartland Institute CEO Joseph Bast to cast doubt on findings from the "Intragovernmental [sic] Panel on Climate Change." KSTP did not give any background information about Bast, who claimed in the 1990s that smoking "in moderation has few, if any, adverse health effects." In 2008, KSTP reportedly aired a 10-minute video by the Heartland Institute titled "Unstoppable Solar Cycles" that espouses the long-debunked claim that recent climate change is being driven by changes in the sun. The station's chief meteorologist has also suggested that the sun, rather than human activities, is the primary driver of climate change.
Hubbard stations WNYT and WHEC, which serve parts of New York State, have also seen the impact of their CEO's climate denial. In 2008, former WNYT anchor Ed Dague suggested at his Times-Union blog that his popular former colleague Lydia Kulbida was let go in part because she resisted inserting climate denial into the news:
Lydia Kulbida was a member of the union's "mobilization committee" and had resisted some of management's attempts to insert Hubbard family opinions into news content. The Hubbards do not believe in global warming and have distinct views about unionization. My belief is that her salary didn't make her a target for the cutback but her activism and attitude did.
WHEC's chief meteorologist, like KSTP's, also denies climate change. At a Tea Party rally in 2010, WHEC's Kevin Williams claimed the "Earth is not warming." Williams has also promoted climate denial on Twitter.
The Wall Street Journal published an op-ed pushing for a lift on a decades-old ban on crude oil exports without disclosing that the authors' work was funded by the oil industry, which stands to benefit from its claims.
A Wall Street Journal op-ed by the lead authors of a study for the consulting group IHS Inc. argued that the Obama Administration "needs to lift the ban on oil exports." The co-authors advanced their report's claims that ending a 41-year-old ban on crude oil exports would spur domestic oil production, resulting in lower gasoline prices and fueled job creation. However, the Journal did not disclose that this study, titled U.S. Crude Oil Export Decision: Assessing the Impact of the Export Ban and Free Trade on the U.S. Economy, was funded almost entirely by oil and gas corporations, including industry giants ExxonMobil, Chevron, Chesapeake Energy, Devon Energy, and ConocoPhillips:
This research was supported by Baker Hughes, Chesapeake Energy, Chevron U.S.A., Concho Resources, ConocoPhillips, Continental Resources, Devon Energy, ExxonMobil, Halliburton, Helmerich & Payne, Kodiak Oil & Gas, Nabors Corporate Services, Newfield Exploration, Noble Energy, Oasis Petroleum North America, Pioneer Natural Resources, QEP Resources, Rosetta Resources, Weatherford and Whiting Petroleum.
In fact, several top business media outlets repeated the report's boldest claims when it was released in late May -- like that it would lead to $746 billion in investment into the U.S. economy or save U.S. motorists $265 billion by 2030 -- without disclosing its industry funding. CNBC, Bloomberg, USA Today's Money section, and the Wall Street Journal all covered the study with no mention of the oil giants that have a financial incentive to lift the ban on crude oil exports because it would allow them to sell more of their oil at the higher world price. USA Today even noted that two of the report's funders, ExxonMobil and ConocoPhilips, have been pushing for the White House to lift the ban -- but did not disclose their investment in the IHS report. Some outlets got it right: Reuters and conservative news site Breitbart (surprisingly) did mention that the IHS study was funded by oil and energy companies.
The crude oil export ban was enacted in the 1970s in response to an Arab oil embargo, which shocked the U.S. economy. The Center for American Progress explained that lifting the ban would "enrich oil companies," but "could increase domestic gasoline prices and reduce our energy security":
The increase in domestic oil supply, combined with the decline in demand, has also led to a significant decrease in foreign oil imports. These changes make us less vulnerable to a sudden foreign oil supply disruption that could cause price spikes. Unfortunately, the oil industry would squander this newfound price stabilization and energy security by lifting the ban on crude oil exports. Doing so would enrich oil companies by enabling them to sell their oil at the higher world price, but it could increase domestic gasoline prices and reduce our energy security.
Even Goldman Sachs supports keeping the ban - at least until the U.S. market reaches "saturation" where it's producing more oil than it can consume -- because it benefits the economy by keeping refining for U.S. workers.
Lifting the ban on crude oil exports would also be catastrophic for the climate, according to the Sierra Club. Oil Change International published a study finding that keeping the ban on crude exports is imperative for the United States to achieve its climate goals.
The Journal's failure to disclose the background these op-ed authors shared with the oil industry falls in line with a repeated lack of transparency about who the newspaper publishes. In 2012, the Journal was found to have "regularly failed to disclose the election-related conflicts of interest of its op-ed writers."
Image at the top obtained via Flickr user roseannadana with a Creative Commons license.