Conservative media outlets pushed at least eleven misleading attacks on President Obama's energy policies that have become talking points used by Mitt Romney's campaign. The conservative media bubble has largely prevented voters from hearing the facts about clean energy programs, fossil fuel production and environmental regulation under the Obama administration.
Last July, the Interior Department suspended one of its employees, Arctic biologist Charles Monnett, pending an investigation into allegations of scientific misconduct by an anonymous Interior Department employee. Monnett was best known for co-authoring a peer-reviewed paper on drowned polar bears that was cited in the 2008 decision to list the polar bear as a threatened species, along with many other papers establishing the threat that climate change poses for polar bears.
The right-wing media used the investigation not only to reject Monnett's findings, but also to dismiss all the science on polar bears and global warming. Fox Nation promoted an Investor's Business Daily editorial claiming the Monnett investigation was exposing "the global warming fraud" with the headline "Global Warming Industry Rocked by Polar Bear Fraud." Fox Nation also promoted a New York Post op-ed on the Monnett investigation with the headline "Global Warming Theory Faces Sudden Collapse."
But the Interior Department cleared Monnett of all scientific wrongdoing. Monnett was officially reprimanded for an unrelated issue: forwarding government emails to local government and university officials that "ended up being used in litigation against the government." Jeff Ruch of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, which provided Monnett legal representation, said that Monnett leaked the emails under the Bush administration to expose suppression of scientists' concerns about the environmental risks of offshore drilling in the Arctic.
Steve Doocy promised last year on Fox & Friends to "keep [viewers] posted" on Monnett's case. But so far Fox News remains silent not only on Monnett's case but also on the record arctic sea ice loss this summer that portends danger for polar bears.
UPDATE (12/6/13): The reprimand has been removed from Monnett's file and he has received $100,000 in a settlement with the Department of Interior.
In order to distract from the announcement this week that Arctic sea ice is at a record low, right-wing media are pointing to Antarctic sea ice as proof that climate change isn't occurring. But Antarctic sea ice gains have been slight, whereas Arctic ice decline -- a key indicator of climate change -- has been extreme. Furthermore, scientists have long expected the Arctic to experience the first impacts of climate change, and still project that in the long run, sea ice in both regions will decline as greenhouse gas concentrations increase.
On September 16, the National Snow and Ice Data Center announced that Arctic sea ice reached its minimum extent for the year and the lowest seasonal minimum measured since record keeping began in 1979. But in a blog post published the day of that record low, climate contrarian Steven Goddard changed the subject, asserting that Antarctic ice on "day 256" (September 12 in a leap year) was the highest ever recorded for that date, and the eighth highest daily recording ever. A few days earlier, contrarian Anthony Watts cited satellite readings showing "mass gains of the Antarctic ice sheet" to similar end.
Heartland Institute fellow and Forbes contributor James Taylor quickly seized on the argument, complaining that instead of covering the Antarctic, news reporters were "breathlessly spreading fear and warning of calamity because Arctic sea ice recently set a 33-year low." Investor's Business Daily used the Antarctic ice growth to pass judgment on "global warming alarmists" for noting record summer temperatures across much of the U.S. and concluded " The alarmists' bible has turned out to be full of false prophets."
But the low Arctic sea ice came on the heels of a "record-breaking summer," and it is lower than any since observation began "by a wide margin." According to a NASA release on the record, the difference between the new Arctic sea ice extent and the old mark is larger than the state of Texas, whereas, as National Snow & Ice Date Center [NSIDC] Director Mark Serreze told LiveScience, "Antarctic sea ice hasn't seen these big reductions we've seen in the Arctic."
Indeed, the daily sea ice extent for the Arctic is well outside of two standard deviations from the 1997-2000 average, while the Antarctic daily sea ice extent is only slightly outside of this range for 2012:
And according to a study published in Nature of 69 sites around the Arctic, the drop in late summer sea ice in the Arctic is unprecedented in over a thousand years:
Conservative media have claimed that the Obama administration is waging a "war" on "cheap," "clean" coal that will cause blackouts and massive layoffs. In fact, the Obama administration has simply implemented long overdue and legally required clean air regulations to protect public health without hurting electric reliability or employment, and much of the transition away from coal is due to the rise of cheaper, cleaner natural gas.
Conservative media outlets are claiming that the military is purchasing more electric vehicles in an attempt to "prop up the Obama administration's green agenda." But military leaders across the political spectrum say that the Pentagon's green initiatives will enhance military effectiveness and strengthen national security.
Last month, Stars and Stripes reported that the Defense Department plans to add about 1,500 "road-capable" electric cars to its fleet over the next few years. So far, the military has purchased 168 plug-in electric vehicles -- including some Chevy Volts. Thomas Hicks, the Navy's Deputy Assistant Secretary for Energy, recently told Scientific American that the goal of the military's green initiatives is "improving our combat capability, improving our mission effectiveness, and reducing our vulnerabilities to foreign sources of fossil fuel."
But conservative media outlets have conjured up another motive, accusing the Obama administration of using taxpayer dollars to boost GM's sales numbers -- even though the military is buying several types of electric vehicles. A Breitbart post said: "The Obama administration is helping General Motors again by buying up its struggling line of electric cars." And a Washington Free Beacon article stated: "The Pentagon's massive car-buying scheme is the latest example of government trying to help GM raise its sales volumes."
Other conservative outlets are calling the purchases a "political statement," and an attempt to "prop up the Obama administration's green agenda." And Fox News, which never misses an opportunity to lambast the Volt, issued the self-fulfilling prophecy that the military's purchase will become "the latest controversy in the Volt's short life."
Several conservative outlets cited a Reuters report that GM is losing up to $49,000 on every Volt sold to suggest that electric vehicles are a waste of taxpayer money. But as the International Business Times pointed out, this figure does not take into account future Volt sales or the application of its technology to other products, which will lower per-vehicle costs. GM called the Reuters figure "grossly wrong," and said that it expects to break even by the time the second-generation Volt is introduced in a few years. Former GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz wrote in Forbes that "[m]aybe the Volt, a first-generation technology masterpiece and the most-awarded car in automotive history, will never make a really decent profit. But succeeding generations of the same technology will."
International Business Times noted that the Volt is a forward-looking investment by GM, which "should be reassuring to investors and the market." Likewise, the military's investment in electric vehicles is part of a long-term strategy to reduce its dependence on oil, mitigate the risks of climate change and enhance national security.
Conservative media outlets are praising Mitt Romney's newly released energy plan, claiming it will lower gas prices, create jobs, and "make America an energy superpower." But experts say Romney's goal of energy independence by 2020 is a "pipe dream" and that his plan overlooks environmental consequences and fails to address the real obstacle to U.S. energy security: our dependence on oil.
Right-wing media outlets have been in full freak-out mode this week, fabricating a myth that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been using drones to spy on Midwestern ranchers. In fact, the EPA has been utilizing manned flyovers -- not drones -- to investigate potential polluters since the Bush administration, in an effort to save money and enforce clean water regulations efficiently.
For the past ten years, the EPA has conducted intermittent flyovers "to verify compliance with environmental laws on watersheds," as Reuters reported:
"EPA uses over-flights, state records and other publicly available sources of information to identify discharges of pollution," said a statement issued by the EPA's Kansas City regional office. "In no case has EPA taken an enforcement action solely on the basis of these over-flights."
EPA has for 10 years used flyovers to verify compliance with environmental laws on watersheds as a "cost-effective" tool to minimize inspection costs, according to the statement.
This article originally said that the EPA was using drones to monitor feedlots, but a representative from Senator Johanns office has alerted us that in actuality manned aircraft have been used to monitor the feedlots. We apologize for the error.
Nevertheless, right-wing commentators began falsely throwing the word "drone" into their reports about the EPA's enforcement mechanisms. For example, Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly:
KELLY: You know, you gotta picture yourself, right, as one of these Midwestern farmers, because what's been in the news lately? The fact that President Obama's killed more terrorists with drones than any other president. That President Obama has a so-called "kill list." And that on that kill list, sometimes civilian casualties go as well, because if you're near an al-Qaeda terrorist, they assume if you're of an adult male age in a certain community, you also are a terrorist.
Even an American terrorist, an American al-Qaeda, was killed by a drone. So now you're in the Midwest, and you know you're not a terrorist, but nonetheless, you gotta get a little squeamish when you see a drone going overhead.
Republicans in Congress are attempting to prevent the military from purchasing alternative fuels, which Senator Inhofe (R-OK) believes are merely "perpetrating President Obama's global warming fantasies and his war on affordable energy." And conservative media are backing the attacks on climate change and clean energy programs, suggesting that these investments come at the expense of national security. But experts across the political spectrum agree that climate change poses a serious threat to our national security, and that transitioning to alternative energy will enhance military effectiveness. Here are 15 current and former national security officials in their own words on the threat of climate change:
The Pentagon recognizes that our dependence on oil is problematic not only because of the threat of climate change, but also because of volatile oil prices and supply disruptions that can threaten the military's energy supply. It's Operational Energy Strategy states:
Conservative media are once again hyping the amount of oil in the U.S. by including oil shale, ignoring that oil companies have found no profitable way to develop that resource.
The most recent flood of misinformation came after testimony by the Government Accountability Office's Anu Mittal about "oil shale," a sedimentary rock that when heated at high temperatures can produce liquid fuels (except gasoline) with a larger carbon footprint than conventional liquid fuels. While some conservative outlets claimed it was major news, the testimony -- which was based on an October 2010 GAO report -- contained no positive developments for oil shale, which has long been known to exist in large amounts in the U.S. but is not commercially viable. Earlier this year, energy expert Robert Rapier wrote, "It is not at all clear that even at $100 oil the shale in the Green River formation will be commercialized to produce oil." Even an editor at the right-wing blog The American Thinker acknowledged that "any large scale operations" for oil shale development would be "prohibitively expensive at this time." And just recently, Chevron gave up its oil shale lease in Colorado.
Mittal noted in her testimony that no technology to develop oil shale "has been shown to be economically or environmentally viable at a commercial scale." But Fox News' nightly news show and CNSNews.com, a project of the conservative Media Research Center, failed to mention that oil shale is not currently commercially viable. Breitbart.com and Investor's Business Daily incorrectly suggested that oil shale is not being developed because of Obama administration policies, rather than economic considerations. And Powerline suggested that oil shale is in fact viable because of the "advance of extraction technology," seemingly confusing oil shale with tight oil from shale rock, which can be extracted via horizontal drilling and hydrofracking.
It's interesting to see that the same people who dismiss the enormous potential of solar and wind power and attack investment in renewable energy are hyping the potential of oil shale. A December 2011 Congressional Research Service report, which classified oil shale as a "sub-economic" resource, stated that "despite government programs in the 1970s and early 1980s to stimulate development of the resource, production of oil shale is not yet commercially viable."
Conservative media figures are suggesting that a recently released memo from Leon Panetta shows that President Obama doesn't deserve credit for ordering the raid on Osama bin Laden's compound in Pakistan. In fact, the memo fits the previously reported timeline of the decision to raid the compound and confirms Obama's role in making that decision.
Last August, The New Yorker reported the details of Obama's decision to order Vice Adm. Bill McRaven, who is in charge of the Joint Special Operations Command, to carry out the raid:
Late on Thursday afternoon [April 28, 2011], Panetta and the rest of the national-security team met with the President. For the next few nights, there would be virtually no moonlight over Abbottabad -- the ideal condition for a raid. After that, it would be another month until the lunar cycle was in its darkest phase. Several analysts from the National Counterterrorism Center were invited to critique the C.I.A.'s analysis; their confidence in the intelligence ranged between forty and sixty per cent. The center's director, Michael Leiter, said that it would be preferable to wait for stronger confirmation of bin Laden's presence in Abbottabad. Yet, as Ben Rhodes, a deputy national-security adviser, put it to me recently, the longer things dragged on, the greater the risk of a leak, "which would have upended the thing." Obama adjourned the meeting just after 7 P.M. and said that he would sleep on it.
The next morning [April 29, 2011], the President met in the Map Room with Tom Donilon, his national-security adviser, Denis McDonough, a deputy adviser, and Brennan. Obama had decided to go with a DEVGRU [SEAL team] assault, with McRaven choosing the night. It was too late for a Friday attack, and on Saturday there was excessive cloud cover. On Saturday afternoon, McRaven and Obama spoke on the phone, and McRaven said that the raid would occur on Sunday night. "Godspeed to you and your forces," Obama told him. "Please pass on to them my personal thanks for their service and the message that I personally will be following this mission very closely." [emphasis added]
For a recent cover article, Time magazine released a memo written by then-CIA director Panetta on the morning of April 29, 2011. Time transcribed the handwritten note:
MEMO FOR THE RECORD Apr. 29, 2011, 10:35 a.m.
Received phone call from Tom Donilon who stated that the President made a decision with regard to AC1 [Abbottabad Compound 1]. The decision is to proceed with the assault. The timing, operational decision making and control are in Admiral McRaven's hands. The approval is provided on the risk profile presented to the President. Any additional risks are to be brought back to the President for his consideration. The direction is to go in and get bin Laden and if he is not there, to get out. Those instructions were conveyed to Admiral McRaven at approximately 10:45 am. [emphasis added]
So, the memo confirms that Obama met with national security adviser Tom Donilon and others on the morning of April 29. Donilon then called Panetta on the phone and told him that Obama had decided to go forward with the raid, and that McRaven was in charge of operational decision-making, as one would expect with any major military operation.
The right-wing media are twisting this final detail -- that McRaven was in control of the operational decisions -- into a suggestion that there was no "gutsy call" by Obama to go forward with the raid.
After the EPA proposed regulations on greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, several conservative media outlets claimed that the new rule would increase electricity prices for consumers by prohibiting the construction of coal plants without carbon dioxide controls. But economists and other analysts say that because low natural gas prices are already suppressing coal-plant growth, the rule will not significantly affect electricity rates.
The Daily Mail is a British tabloid that has repeatedly misrepresented climate research. Naturally, it is also one of Fox News' chief sources on climate science.
Last week the Daily Mail ran a story headlined: "Is this finally proof we're NOT causing global warming? The whole of the Earth heated up in medieval times without human CO2 emissions, says new study." Fox Nation ran a Newsmax summary of the article under the headline "Study Refutes Manmade Warming."
The Daily Mail, along with Newsmax, Fox, and other conservative media, distorted the very research they are trumpeting. The study's lead author, Professor Zunli Lu, said his paper "has been misrepresented by a number of media outlets" and "does not question the well-established anthropogenic warming trend."
It is unfortunate that my research, "An ikaite record of late Holocene climate at the Antarctic Peninsula," recently published in Earth and Planetary Science Letters, has been misrepresented by a number of media outlets.
Several of these media articles assert that our study claims the entire Earth heated up during medieval times without human CO2 emissions. We clearly state in our paper that we studied one site at the Antarctic Peninsula. The results should not be extrapolated to make assumptions about climate conditions across the entire globe. Other statements, such as the study "throws doubt on orthodoxies around global warming," completely misrepresent our conclusions. Our study does not question the well-established anthropogenic warming trend.
Lu also told Peter Sinclair that "The reporter of that Daily Mail article published it anyway, after we told him the angle that he chose misrepresents our work." If this reflects poorly on the quality of journalism at the Daily Mail, what does it say about outlets like Fox who simply parrot the tabloid's inaccurate reports?
In a front page article on Friday, The Washington Post reported that a $50 LED light bulb manufactured in the U.S. by Philips had won the Department of Energy's L-Prize for using only 10 watts of energy to produce light as bright as a 60-watt incandescent bulb. But the Post completely obscured the consumer savings from the LED's energy efficiency, including in an infographic that had to be corrected because its math was wrong.
The graphic claimed we would be better off buying 30 incandescent bulbs over 10 years rather than one of the prize-winning bulbs:
But as several outlets pointed out, the Post greatly underestimated electricity rates. After correcting for this, the LED bulb that the Post called "costly" actually saves consumers a significant amount of money over time, as the corrected infographic shows:
Quite a difference.
Conservative media are claiming that President Obama's proposal to eliminate $4 billion in annual tax subsidies enjoyed by oil and gas companies would raise gasoline prices. But energy experts say that rolling back the subsidies would have an "extremely small" or "imperceptible" effect on the price of gas.
The right-wing media have used President Obama's speech at Walt Disney World as an opportunity to attack him, despite the fact that previous presidents, including Ronald Reagan, have given speeches at Disney parks while in office.