Climate change deniers should not be given a place in business coverage at a time when industries from agriculture to insurance are making real financial decisions dealing with its impact, according to some of the nation's top business journalists.
Last month Media Matters reported that more than half of the climate change segments on CNBC this year cast doubt on man-made climate change. That network's coverage drew criticism from top business journalists who said such coverage does not serve their viewers.
"It doesn't seem to me at this point to be a point of serious controversy within the corporate establishment," said Paul Barrett a Bloomberg BusinessWeek reporter (Bloomberg BusinessWeek's sister company Bloomberg News is a CNBC competitor). "The insurance industry, which is a key barometer of these things, has reached the conclusion that whatever your politics are on this, the costs of extreme weather are so great and the patterns over the last couple of decades are so distinct that the corporate establishment absolutely must recognize these risks."
Barrett added, "It's past the point of letting ideology shape the dollars-and-cents calculations that businesses are already making, it is not a question of whether business should do this, business is doing this."
Michael Hiltzik, a veteran Los Angeles Times business columnist, agreed.
"I accept the evidence of climate change," he said. "I don't think I've ever run into a legitimate business leader or business owner in the course of my reporting who doesn't. I think, for the most part, it is settled science and the debate is really over what to do about it."
Hiltzik and others stressed that in business reporting, information is so vital to those running large and small companies that facts have to be on point and disregard political calculations.
"There is no percentage in denying it, there's no point. You can't hold back the tide," Hiltzik said. "It seems to me that denial is basically a political position, it's not a practical position, especially for a business that is in an industry that is going to be impacted by climate change."
With climate scientists in agreement that climate change is occurring and being triggered by human activity, major companies are acknowledging and evaluating the impact of that change on their businesses. Top consulting groups have pointed out that climate change is a major risk to insurance companies, and a 2011 survey found that most investors now consider climate change consequences across their organization's entire investment portfolio.
In spite of this emerging consensus among business leaders that climate change is a real concern for their companies, Media Matters found that 24 of the 47 substantial mentions or segments on climate change in 2013 on CNBC, or about 51 percent, cast doubt on whether man-made climate change even existed. Prominent CNBC figures have claimed that climate change is simple "a scam analysis" by "high priests." More than 14,000 people have signed Forecast The Facts' petition calling urging CNBC's executives to stop their network from promoting climate change denial.
Climate change is "just kind of a scam analysis" by "high priests," according to some at CNBC. Rhetoric such as this is not uncommon at the cable business channel, as a new Media Matters report finds that the majority of its coverage of climate change casts doubt on the science behind it.
Watch as CNBC hosts and contributors attempt to counter 97 percent of climate scientists:
So who are these CNBC figures?
Joe Kernen, the co-anchor of Squawk Box, was the most vocal CNBC figure on climate change in 2013, frequently pointing to cold weather to suggest that global warming is not occurring. Kernen has long pushed climate science misinformation. In a 2007 segment, he cited the "The Great Global Warming Swindle," a movie that promoted discredited claims, to criticize singer Sheryl Crow and "An Inconvenient Truth" producer Laurie David for speaking to college students about climate change. In 2011, Kernen co-authored a book titled Your Teacher Said What?!: Trying To Raise a Fifth Grade Capitalist in Obama's America that compared climate scientists to "high priests" whose work should not be trusted.
The majority of CNBC's coverage in the first half of 2013 cast doubt on whether manmade climate change exists. However, denial is not prudent for the business professionals viewing CNBC, who can reduce risk and increase profits by analyzing how climate change is impacting their industries.
The research consistently cited by media figures to support cutting government spending has recently been invalidated, raising questions about how mainstream coverage of economic policy promoted incorrect data.
In January 2010, economists Carmen Reinhart and Ken Rogoff released a study that suggested when countries reach debt levels of 90 percent relative to GDP, economic growth would be compromised. Conservatives in politics and media alike repeatedly cited the figure in discussions about the economy.
A study released on April 16, however, found that the conclusions reached by Reinhart and Rogoff were based on data that was riddled with errors. Reinhart and Rogoff's response to the critique -- in which they maintain they never implied that rising debt caused lower growth, just that the two were associated -- shows that media's handling of the figure was wrong all along.
These new developments show that media consistently used an apparently incorrect figure for the past few years to call for austerity measures. Here's a look back at how major cable networks cited the figure in its coverage of the budget and economic policy:
Video by Alan Pyke.
In light of news that the economy declined in the fourth quarter of 2012, media outlets have a responsibility to refocus their coverage of the economy, which has largely ignored the issue of economic growth and instead highlighted secondary concerns.
A January 30 report by the Bureau of Economic Analysis highlighted a grim reality - in the fourth quarter of 2012, the economy contracted by 0.1 percent. Media outlets have been rightfully promoting the figure, which is in stark contrast to their recent approach in covering the problem of stagnant economic growth.
A Media Matters report analyzing television news coverage of the debt ceiling found that the topic of economic growth was largely absent from discussions. In fact, of the 273 segments analyzed, only 33 even mentioned that growth should be a priority of any fiscal policy.
Economists, however, have strongly promoted growth as a means of reducing the deficit. Throughout the debt ceiling debate, many attempted to argue that economic expansion was far more important than worrying about short-term deficit reduction. Since the media ignored the topic of growth and rarely hosted economists as part of discussions, their voices went largely unheard.
In light of this economic contraction, economists are taking the opportunity to re-inject growth and jobs back into public debate. The Economic Policy Institute released the following statement:
The Bureau of Economic Analysis reported today that the U.S. economy contracted at a 0.1 percent annualized rate in the last quarter of 2012. While this quarter's contraction likely does not signal a return to recession (it was driven by decelerating inventory investments and a very large reduction in defense spending, which are not likely to be repeated in coming quarters), the economy had grown at an average rate of just 2.1 percent for the first three quarters of 2012, which is not fast enough to lead to rapid improvements in the nation's job situation. Today's data emphasizes the need to reorient the policy debate back to growth and jobs and away from rapid fiscal contraction.
Economists have long realized that growth is far more important than what the media has been focusing on, namely deficit and debt reduction. With this clear indication that economic growth is in fact a pressing concern, will the media shift its focus to acknowledge this reality?
The decision by television news producers to rely on political guests and reporter-pundits in their coverage of the recent debt ceiling dispute not only pulled focus away from economic reality, it also gave TV media influencers room to reinforce a key falsehood about the nature of our deficits.
A Media Matters study of 273 cable news segments on the debt ceiling found 55 segments attributing deficits primarily to entitlement program spending, compared to just four segments acknowledging that rising health care costs and the economic collapse are to blame.
Economists are clear about the primary sources of recent deficits -- on top of the Bush tax cuts, the Great Recession triggered massively higher counter-cyclical spending, some of which was automatic for things like jobless benefits and food stamps, and some spending that was newly enacted to buoy a collapsing economy. Middle- and long-term deficit projections are more controversial, but many economists argue that once economic growth catches up to its potential, our fiscal health will depend almost entirely on our ability to control health care costs. This mainstream economist perspective appeared in just 1.4 percent of the debt ceiling segments Media Matters reviewed from a three week period, while over 20 percent of those segments blamed entitlements for the fiscal gloom.
CNBC, Fox News, and Fox Business viewers were far more likely to be told that Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are dimming America's fiscal horizon than those who tuned into CNN or MSNBC for their debt ceiling coverage:
The tendency by the most conservative networks to focus on entitlement spending is telling in light of the right's claims about a struggle between "takers" and "makers." For conservative outlets and their mainstream enablers, each successive skirmish over spending and debt is an opportunity to re-focus the conversation on the supposed need to cut entitlement spending.
If economic experts were included in that cable news conversation, they could reveal some key data. For example, conservative proposals for Medicare would likely accelerate the growth of health care costs; minute changes to the payroll tax system could make Social Security solvent for 70 years; and "entitlement" programs spur economic growth for everyone.
Media outlets have focused heavily on the topics of deficits and debt, while largely ignoring economic growth during their coverage of the debt ceiling debate. However, experts agree that the need for growth is more pressing than problems of debt, and that growth itself can be a deficit reduction tactic.
A Media Matters study of television coverage over the past three weeks found that while pundits and guests focused heavily on discussing the debt ceiling, the topic of economic growth was sorely lacking. Of the total 273 segments analyzed, only 33 mentioned economic growth.
Instead of touching upon economic growth, Media Matters found that guests and hosts spent most of their discussions focusing on other issues, such as the role of entitlement spending and political leverage in negotiations between parties.
While the debt ceiling issue is certainly important - and failing to raise it would have a negative impact on the overall economy - many economists have eschewed the focus on debt, arguing instead that economic growth should be the primary concern.
Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman has long argued that the media and political focus on debt is misguided, and that recent increases in debt were necessary to prevent the economy from entering another recession. Jared Bernstein, senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, further argues that the focus on deficits and debt distracts policymakers from the very real problem of sustained high unemployment and a weak economy.
In fact, Krugman echoed Bernstein's point on the January 28 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe:
In recent weeks, media outlets have focused heavily on negotiations regarding raising the debt ceiling. But television news has failed to highlight the pressing need for stronger economic growth. Furthermore, discussions about the debt ceiling often ignore facts about deficits, instead pivoting the focus to entitlements as a driver of deficits.
Several conservative media outlets -- including Fox & Friends, Fox Nation, and The Drudge Report -- humiliated themselves by hyping Romney surrogate and fundraiser Donald Trump's latest absurd publicity stunt. In a YouTube video, Trump offered $5 million to charity in exchange for President Obama's college and passport records.
Before the release of the video, Trump had claimed on Fox & Friends that he would reveal "something very, very big concerning the president of the United States." He later claimed "This is not a media event or about Donald J. Trump -- this is about the United States of America."
Trump has previously suggested that Mitt Romney release his past tax returns in exchange for Obama's college records. In the press release accompanying today's stunt, Trump did not make any reference to Romney's still-unreleased records.
In February, Trump recorded robocalls for Romney, then endorsed his candidacy. That was followed by a Romney fundraiser that offered dinner with Trump as a prize to donors. Just a few days ago, Trump was one of the designated "special guests" at a "Romney Victory Fall Retreat." Trump's executive vice president and special counsel Michael Cohen told Business Insider that Trump has given "millions" to SuperPACs supporting Romney's candidacy.
Despite Trump's long history of indulging in conspiracy theories, hyping nonsense and trafficking in classic hucksterism, conservative media dutifully promoted Trump's latest attempt at getting his name back in the news.
Fortune magazine reported that after receiving critical coverage in that publication following his unsupported, conspiratorial claim that the September employment numbers had been rigged by the White House for political gain, former General Electric CEO Jack Welch notified Fortune that he was "terminating" his writing contract with the journal.
"Welch Can't Take The Heat: I Quit," read the Fortune headline.
Note however, that Welch didn't sever his association with CNBC, the partially GE-owned cable channel that Welch used to oversee and where he still regularly appears as a commentator.
Maybe Welch isn't sore at CNBC because the channel played such a central role in promoting Welch's anti-Obama conspiracy last week and giving it legitimacy with constant coverage. "The tweet heard around the world," was how one CNBC anchor described Welch's Twitter-based conspiracy salvo last week.
Indeed, while interviewing Labor Secretary Hilda Solis about the dip in the unemployment rate to 7.8 percent, host Carl Quintanilla's first question to the cabinet member on Friday was about Welch's half-baked claim that the Bureau of Labor Statistics had "fixed" the numbers. Time and again Quintanilla returned to the conspiracy theory, insisting "a lot of people do not believe the 7.8 number." (Later that day Quintanilla referred to Welch as his "former boss" and "a man we all like.")
I'm not suggesting it's been all bad at CNBC since Friday. Several commentators there have poked on-air holes in Welch's unserious job speculation. (See here.) The problem is CNBC kept circling back to the scheme as a topic worthy of serious debate. It wasn't and that should have been self-evident to anyone in the business of journalism.
Yet on Tuesday, CNBC hosted a call-in from Donald Trump who cheered Welch's theory, calling it "100 percent correct." Worse, days after so many experts had dismissed the Welch claim as nonsense, CNBC host Becky Quick told Trump that she agreed with him that the 7.8 figure wasn't "real." He quickly concurred: "Nobody buys it."
What a mess. (And also very Fox-inspired.)
It's fitting though, that just weeks before Election Day CNBC is wallowing in an irresponsible anti-Obama conspiracy theory, considering that just weeks into Obama's presidency the all-business channel engaged in wildly irresponsible Obama bashing, bordering on demagoguery.
From the October 9 edition of CNBC's Squawk Box:
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Media figures have rushed to discredit the newly released jobs numbers, claiming that the drop in the unemployment rate to 7.8 percent has been manufactured to help President Obama's reelection chances. In fact, experts dismiss the claims as unfounded conspiracy theories and agree that the numbers are accurate.
From the October 5 edition of CNBC's Squawk on the Street:
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This morning, regular Fox News and CNBC guest and Mitt Romney surrogate Donald Trump tweeted that Huffington Post founder Arianna Huffington "is unattractive both inside and out. I fully understand why her former husband left her for a man- he made a good decision."
Trump makes weekly guest appearances on Fox News' Fox & Friends and on CNBC's Squawk Box. He often uses those appearances to offer baseless conspiracy theories about President Obama. Indeed, CNBC.com has noted that Trump "has been at the forefront of the 'birther' movement -- those who question whether Obama was born in the U.S."
Shortly after Trump's appearance on CNBC this morning, the program hosted Huffington, who criticized the Republican National Convention for devoting insufficient attention to job creation.
Last year Fox News relentlessly promoted his claims that President Obama was not born in the United States. Earlier this month on CNBC, Trump used an appearance to claim that Mitt Romney should only release his tax returns if Obama releases his college transcripts, echoing a right-wing conspiracy that those documents indicate that he attended college as a foreign student.