Holman Jenkins

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  • New Book Provides Illustrated Guide To Media-Fueled “Madhouse” Of Climate Change Denial

    Blog ››› ››› ANDREW SEIFTER

    Sometimes even the world’s most serious problems are best handled with a little bit of humor.

    Case in point: The Madhouse Effect (Columbia University Press), a new book by Penn State University climate scientist Michael Mann and Washington Post cartoonist Tom Toles, which lays out a plan for media, politicians, and the public at large to “escape the madhouse” of climate change denial before it’s too late.

    There is no shortage of books about climate change. But what makes this one unique is the way it combines Mann’s science communication skills, which help succinctly describe the roots, methods, and implications of climate science denial, and Toles’ illustrations, which provide an equally biting and amusing perspective on the dynamics the book describes. The book speaks to both our left and right brains, with the hope that it will motivate many to push for climate action -- and maybe even convert a few deniers along the way.

    The Madhouse Effect is also a book about media, and it dissects many common media failings that we frequently analyze and write about here at Media Matters.

    First among them is false balance, which the book describes as giving false industry-friendly claims about climate change “an equal place on the media stage with actual science.” As we documented in a recent study of newspaper opinion pages, one place where this problem is alive and well is USA Today, which often pairs scientifically accurate editorials about climate change with “opposing view” op-eds that flatly deny climate change is happening or that it's caused by human activities.

    Several of these climate science-denying “opposing views” in USA Today were written by Republican members of Congress, exemplifying another point Mann and Toles make in the book: False balance is “greatly exacerbated by the increasing polarization of our public discourse.” This can also be seen in print and TV news coverage of GOP presidential candidates’ climate denial, which frequently failed to indicate that the candidates' statements about climate change conflicted with the scientific consensus on the issue.

    Mann and Toles argue that false balance has been further worsened by the decentralization of news sources, particularly the rise of the “right-wing echo chamber” led (at least in the U.S.) by Rupert Murdoch-owned outlets Fox News and The Wall Street Journal. Indeed, climate science denial remains a staple of both outlets, with the Journal editorial board and Journal columnist Holman Jenkins peddling every denialist trope imaginable, and Fox News recently erasing all mentions of climate change (and coincidentally, Mann) from an Associated Press article about Tropical Storm Hermine.

    The Madhouse Effect also pinpoints where these denialist talking points often originate, detailing many of the fossil fuel front groups whose representatives frequently mislead about climate change in major print and TV media without disclosing their glaring conflicts of interest. Among them are leading opponents of climate action such as Americans for Prosperity, the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), the Heartland Institute, and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), all of which have received funding from the oil billionaire Koch brothers.

    The book exposes many of the individual industry-funded operatives known for misinforming about climate change, too, including the Cato Institute’s Patrick Michaels, Heartland’s Fred Singer and James Taylor, Junkscience.com editor Steve Milloy, ClimateDepot’s Marc Morano, and CEI’s Chris Horner and Myron Ebell.

    Mann and Toles give special attention to Bjorn Lomborg, a frequent contributor to The Wall Street Journal and USA Today:

    Of Lomborg’s particular style of misinformation, they write:

    Lomborg’s arguments often have a veneer of credibility, but scratch the surface, and you witness a sleight of hand, where climate projections are lowballed; climate change impacts, damages, and costs are underestimated; and the huge current subsidies to the fossil fuel industry, both direct and indirect, are ignored.

    (Unfortunately, after Mann and Toles wrote a September 16 op-ed in the Washington Post profiling Lomborg and other members of the book’s climate “deniers club,” the Post opted to publish its first Lomborg op-ed in nearly two years on its website on September 19.)

    Thankfully, The Madhouse Effect debunks many of the top climate falsehoods promoted by these industry operatives -- and conservative media. These include claiming that addressing climate change will keep the poor in “energy poverty”; citing the global warming “hiatus” or “pause” to dismiss concerns about climate change; pointing to changes in the climate hundreds or thousands of years ago to deny that the current warming is caused by humans; alleging that unmitigated climate change will be a good thing; disputing that climate change is accelerating sea level rise; and denying that climate change is making weather disasters more costly.

    And Mann and Toles detail some of the climate connections that major media outlets often ignore, such as the counterintuitive role of climate change in the winter snowstorms that blanketed the Northeast in early 2015, and the impacts of climate change on national security, the economy, and public health. In part, they attribute this lack of coverage to a modern media environment where very few stories can survive more than a few 24-hour news cycles, which is “prohibitive for raising awareness about slowly growing threats such as climate change.”

    The book concludes with a call to action for readers to “leave the madhouse” and help lead the fight against climate change. The authors convey a sense of urgency, writing: “We will not, we cannot, wreck this planet. There is no Planet B.” As with so much else in The Madhouse Effect, that sentiment is also expressed in cartoon-form, via Toles’ illustration of a thermometer for a chapter titled, “Why should I give a damn?”:

  • ANALYSIS: Wall Street Journal Opinion Section Is Chief Apologist For Exxon’s Climate Change Deceit


    The Wall Street Journal has published 21 opinion pieces since October opposing state or federal investigations into whether ExxonMobil violated the law by deceiving its shareholders and the public about climate change, a new Media Matters analysis finds, far more than The New York Times, The Washington Post, or USA Today published on either side of the issue. The Journal has yet to publish a single editorial, column, or op-ed in support of investigating Exxon’s behavior, and many of its pro-Exxon opinion pieces contain blatant falsehoods about the nature and scope of the ongoing investigations being conducted by state attorneys general.

  • STUDY: Newspaper Opinion Pages Feature Science Denial And Other Climate Change Misinformation


    The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and The Washington Post all published climate science denial and other scientifically inaccurate statements about climate change on their opinion pages over the last year and a half, while The New York Times avoided doing so, according to a new Media Matters analysis of those four newspapers. The Journal published by far the most opinion pieces misrepresenting climate science, while all three instances of climate science denial in the Post came from columns written by George Will. The Journal and USA Today also published numerous climate-related op-eds without disclosing the authors’ fossil fuel ties, while USA Today, the Post, and particularly the Journal frequently published some of the least credible voices on climate and energy issues.

  • Myths And Facts About Nuclear Power

    ››› ››› SHAUNA THEEL

    Media coverage of nuclear power often suggests that environmentalists are illogically blocking the expansion of a relatively safe, low-carbon energy source. However, in reality, economic barriers to nuclear power -- even after decades of subsidies -- have prevented the expansion of nuclear power. While nuclear power does provide meaningful climate benefits over fossil fuels, economic factors and the need for strict safety regulations have led many environmentalists to focus instead on putting a price on carbon, which would benefit all low-carbon energy sources including nuclear.

  • Myths And Facts About Solar Energy

    ››› ››› SHAUNA THEEL

    Conservative media have denigrated solar energy by denying its sustainability, ignoring its successes, and arguing the U.S. should simply cede the solar market to China. Yet this booming industry has made great strides, and with the right policies can become a major source of our power.

  • Wall Street Journal Revives Conservative Notion That Social Insurance Breeds Laziness

    Blog ››› ››› ALAN PYKE

    Holman JenkinsIn a column for the The Wall Street Journal, Holman Jenkins claimed that unemployment insurance and Social Security disability payments encourage recipients to "leav[e] it to someone else to be productive,"   a claim that economic research and data prove incorrect.

    According to Jenkins, "our massive expansion of unemployment and disability subsidies over the past four years" is discouraging the people   who would otherwise build the technologies that "will save us from the Soylent Green solution to an aging society."

    Conservatives arguing that these benefits make people lazy is nothing new, but their claims are still incorrect and unsupported by data. With disability payments, the argument is laughable on its face; people collect disability because they are unable to work. It is the disability, not the payments for it, that prevents these people from contributing to the labor supply. Social Security Administration data show the average disabled worker in the program receives less than $14,000 per year, $9,000 below the poverty line and an unlikely incentive for the malingerers Jenkins is looking to scapegoat. And as Media Matters has noted, the eligibility criteria for disability benefits programs are stringent, and the upward trend in the number of disability recipients dates to a Reagan-era liberalization of the program.

    Jenkins is on similarly untenable ground when it comes to unemployment insurance. Conservatives frequently cite economist Larry Katz to argue that unemployment insurance begets unemployment -- but Katz himself has said that his work isn't applicable in today's economy. Other research also indicates that UI spending doesn't substantially increase unemployment. Meanwhile, the stimulative effect of unemployment insurance on the economy is well established. And since the Department of Labor data show the average UI recipient gets just $300 per week, before taxes, conservatives making this claim are saying that many Americans would rather live on less than $16,000 a year than work a shovel-- or in Jenkins' case, than build a robot.

    Finally, if Jenkins is concerned about the amount of labor Americans are willing to supply, he need not be. Based on a monthly survey known as JOLTS -- the Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey -- the Bureau of Labor Statistics calculates the ratio of unemployed persons per job opening. The latest report found 3.3 unemployed Americans for every open job as of October. Even prior to the recession (shown with gray shading in BLS's chart below) the ratio was above 1.

    Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

  • Prius Success Undermines Conservative Attacks On Electric Vehicles

    Blog ››› ››› SHAUNA THEEL

    Source: Bloomberg

    The Prius is now the world's third best-selling car line, but before it became a clear success story, it was the target of attacks from conservative media similar to those now being leveled against electric vehicles.

    In 2000, the year the Prius was released in the U.S., Diane Katz and Henry Payne wrote at the Wall Street Journal that hybrid cars are not "what the public wants." The next year, the Cato Institute's Patrick Michaels declared the Prius would "never" deliver a profit for Toyota and hyped how "demand has been weak" for hybrids. That these conservative pundits have clearly been proven wrong with time is a lesson for today's pundits who suggest that current electric car sales mean that electric cars will never be successful. As Bloomberg reporter Jamie Butters noted in a video report, "a lot of people will criticize the sales of the Chevy Volt by GM or the Nissan Leaf, but when you really look back they're selling at significantly higher opening volumes than the Prius when it came out 15 years ago."

    Even after Prius sales had significantly ramped up, conservative media were still downplaying the market for hybrids in the U.S. In 2004, a Fox News guest declared that "Americans don't want hybrids":

  • Wall Street Journal Manufactures Division To Justify Previous GOP Support For Health Care Mandate

    Blog ››› ››› JUSTIN BERRIER

    In today's Wall Street Journal, columnist Holman Jenkins engaged in an impressive about-face in a piece attacking the "individual mandate" provisions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA). After introducing the subject by claiming "Only fools and angels ... might tread forth to defend a now-embarrassing history of conservative support for the unpopular mandate," he tried to defend the history of conservative support for the individual responsibility provision by attempting to point out how it does not and never did resemble the one passed in the PPACA. His explanation is that, while the conservative model was meant to address the free-rider problem in health care, the Obama model is merely "a tax to pay for someone else's" health care costs.

    The free-rider problem in health care is an issue pertaining to people taking advantage of beneficial rules when they need health care, but not paying into the system when they don't. Although free-rider problems abound in economics, in health care policy it usually manifests in one of two ways. The first case has to do with uninsured people using emergency rooms as primary-care facilities, knowing that if they are unable to pay the state will generally compensate the hospital for the care. The second issue occurs when health insurance is made affordable and accessible, which the PPACA will do. Without a requirement to purchase insurance, people can wait until they need care, then enroll in a health insurance plan which will cover the cost.

    According to Jenkins, only the individual responsibility provisions previously promoted by conservatives such as GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich attempt to address the free-rider problem, but if you "look closely," you can tell that the PPACA's individual responsibility provision is "partly about forcing the young, healthy and otherwise uninclined to overpay for health insurance so the money can be used to pay for heavy users of the health-care system." Jenkins doesn't provide any evidence for these claims, other than asking readers to "look closely" at the PPACA provision.