This year saw landmark reports on climate change, detailing the ever-increasing scientific certainty that human activities are driving catastrophic climate change and that action needs to be taken to prevent the worst effects. Yet despite the fact that more Americans than ever support action on climate change, conservative media went to ridiculous lengths to cast doubt on the scientific consensus behind global warming, citing everything from free market economics to witchcraft, touting conspiracy theories and predictions of an "ice age," and even fulfilling Godwin's law.
Here are the 11 dumbest things conservative media said about climate change this year:
11. Bill O'Reilly: "It's Easier To Believe In A Benevolent God, The Baby Jesus" Than Manmade Climate Change. On the December 16 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor, Bill O'Reilly led a discussion on whether or not it is easier to believe in the birth story of Jesus than in manmade climate change, positing that it is "easier to believe in a benevolent God, the baby Jesus, than it is in some kind of theory about global warming." When his guest pointed out that 97 percent of climate scientists agree that human activities are driving global warming, O'Reilly baselessly countered, "I wouldn't put it that high. I've read a lot about it." He concluded: "[I]t's a choice -- people choose to believe."
From the November 19 edition of CNBC's Squawk Box:
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Media are promoting Republican gains in the House and Senate in Tuesday's midterm elections as evidence that the country has shifted to the "center-right" on political issues, despite the fact that ballot initiatives and national polling reveal broad support for progressive positions.
A flagship report found that acting on climate change and improving the economy go hand in hand, which was reported by business media outlets across the globe. But three prominent outliers left their audiences in the dark: CNBC, Fox Business, and The Wall Street Journal.*
On September 16, many major business media outlets from Fortune Magazine to BusinessWeek reported on a recent analysis finding that the next 15 years are essential for acting on climate change, and that it is possible to do so while simultaneously growing the global economy. The report, titled "The New Climate Economy" and carried out by the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate, refutes the "false dilemma" between economic growth and climate change mitigation -- an important finding for businesses that want to thrive in the decades ahead. From Reuters:
Investments to help fight climate change can also spur economic growth, rather than slow it as widely feared, but time is running short for a trillion-dollar shift to transform cities and energy use, an international report said on Tuesday.
Yet the report was ignored by three prominent business media outlets -- a disservice to their business audiences who deserve to know the economic risks of global warming. The outlets that ignored the findings of the "New Climate Economy" report may not come as a surprise: CNBC, Fox Business, and The Wall Street Journal all have a sordid history with reporting on climate change.
When the "Risky Business" report was released earlier this year -- another report detailing the economic costs of climate change inaction -- CNBC was caught soliciting a writer to talk about "global warming being a hoax" to rebut the report's findings. The network's on-air coverage of "Risky Business" featured Squawk Box co-host Joe Kernen criticizing the acceptance of global warming as "Orwellian groupthink." Media Matters analyses found that CNBC misled their audience on global warming in the majority of their reporting on the topic in 2013.
Fox Business also regularly offers demonstrably false reporting on global warming. Co-hosts have often claimed that global warming is over, or even that we are in a period of global cooling. When the Risky Business report was released, Fox Business mocked its findings of heat-related mortalities and dismissed the report entirely as using "scare tactics."
Similarly, Wall Street Journal dismissed the findings of the Risky Business report, with its editorial board calling one of its authors' suggestions for a carbon tax as economically harmful as the 2008 financial crisis. The Journal has downplayed and dismissed the impacts of climate change and other environmental threats for decades, and gives a frequent platform to "skeptics" that urge inaction on climate change and dismiss the basic science behind the consensus.
The New Climate Economy was heralded by political leaders around the world advocating a transformation in the global economy. By ignoring it, these outlets are showing that their priorities are at odds with businesses that want to prosper in a changing climate.
*Based on a search of internal video archives from September 15 to 12 p.m. September 17 for "climate" for Fox Business and CNBC, and a Factiva search for "climate" for Wall Street Journal.
The cable business channel CNBC continued to push climate change denial on its network, hosting a professor who compared the "demonization" of carbon dioxide to the Holocaust.
Physics Professor William Happer has published no peer-reviewed research on climate change, yet co-host Joe Kernen introduced him as an "industry expert" on the July 14 edition of Squawk Box. After a softball interview with Kernen, co-host Andrew Ross Sorkin challenged Happer for "not believ[ing] in climate change" -- to which Happer responded by telling Sorkin to "shut up." Sorkin then asked Happer about comments he made to The Daily Princetonian in 2009 comparing climate science to Nazi propaganda. Happer doubled down on his comments, stating that "the demonization of carbon dioxide is just like the demonization of the poor Jews under Hitler. Carbon dioxide is actually a benefit to the world, and so were the Jews."
Sorkin also noted that Happer, who has suggested that people should be "clamoring for more atmospheric carbon dioxide," is the chairman of the Marshall Institute, which received $865,000 from ExxonMobil from 1998 to 2011.
While Sorkin's pushback was admirable, it's difficult to determine what benefit CNBC is giving its business viewers by once again hosting Happer to push climate denial, especially as it's becoming clear that unchecked climate change is inherently an economic issue that provides serious risks to businesses. A 2013 Media Matters report found that 51 percent of CNBC's climate change coverage cast doubt on the basic fact that the Earth is warming and that the majority of recent warming is manmade, contrary to a consensus of 97 percent of scientists. The channel recently came under fire for soliciting a story about "global warming being a hoax."
CNBC might also be able to find a few scientists who question whether HIV causes AIDS, whether secondhand smoke is dangerous, or whether vaccines cause autism -- as all three have a few contrarian "experts" supporting their cause -- but it wouldn't be responsible to give them a platform.
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?"
From the May 22 edition of CNBC's Squawk Box:
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Conservative media are latching on to the climate change denial of Patrick Moore, who has masqueraded as a co-founder of Greenpeace. But Moore has been a spokesman for nuclear power and fossil fuel-intensive industries for more than 20 years, and his denial of climate change -- without any expertise in the matter -- is nothing new.
In the first half of 2013, a little more than half of CNBC's climate change coverage cast doubt on the consensus position that it exists and is manmade. In the three months since, little has changed -- in a disservice to its viewers, who will need to factor climate change into their long-term business planning, CNBC has continued to deny the science.
CNBC has rolled out a week of climate change programming. The special coverage comes after a Media Matters report finding that the majority of CNBC's climate reporting in the first half of 2013 was misleading, leading over 28,000 people to call for improved coverage in a petition organized by the advocacy groups Forecast the Facts and Environmental Action.
On Monday, CNBC host Carolin Roth reported on "CNBC's special week of climate coverage" on her daily news show Worldwide Exchange. Tuesday, Roth again mentioned the "special week on climate change" during a segment on shale gas. On the show, Emily Wurth from Food and Water Watch asserted that "we know that all climate scientists tell us that we need to keep fossil fuels in the ground and we can't drill for every last drop of oil and gas."
However, this special programming has so far been limited to Worldwide Exchange, while CNBC's worst offenders are still misleading their audience on climate change.
From the May 1 edition of CNBC's Squawk Box:
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Media figures have repeatedly forwarded the notion that the United States is currently facing a debt crisis. However, leaders of both parties agree there is no immediate crisis, and by focusing attention too heavily on deficit and debt reduction, the media distract from the more imminent problem of growth and jobs.
Throughout news coverage of recent budget negotiations, media figures have consistently framed discussions around the notion that the country faces a debt crisis, an assertion that is often presented uncritically and accepted as an indisputable fact. Since discussions are predicated on the assumption that a debt crisis exists, ensuing analysis of budget proposals is often solely focused on how far they go in reducing short term deficits and debt.
While media are convinced that a debt crisis exists, leaders of both parties have made explicit statements to the contrary. In a March 12 interview with ABC's George Stephanopoulos, President Obama claimed that "we don't have an immediate crisis in terms of debt," a statement that was immediately criticized by conservative media. When asked if he agreed with Obama's statement regarding debt on the March 17 edition of ABC's This Week, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) conceded that there is no immediate crisis. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) made a similar admission on CBS' Face the Nation, saying "we do not have a debt crisis right now."
Furthermore, the media's focus on a "debt crisis" has necessarily steered the debate about budgets toward how the parties will sufficiently address short term deficits. Economists, meanwhile, have repeatedly argued that undue focus on deficits and debt distracts from the more pressing need for economic growth and reduced unemployment.
The bipartisan admission that there is no immediate debt crisis provides media with an opportunity to reframe their budget negotiations coverage around economic growth.
Video by Alan Pyke.
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.
The temptation to try to create campaign news during the slow summer months is one that journalists ought to resist. If not, they could end up looking like CNBC did on Tuesday when the business news channel lost its bearings (again) and invited disgraced birther Donald Trump on to weave his tired conspiracies about the president's supposedly hidden past. Worse, CNBC.com then wrote up Trump's appearance while touting as news a comically awful right-wing fantasy published this week about Obama's years at Columbia University.
Appearing on CNBC's "Squawk Box," Trump was pushing what he claimed to be a brilliant campaign maneuver for the Romney campaign, which finds itself under pressure to release the candidate's tax records, as all presidential candidates have done in recent years. According to Trump, Romney should finally release years of his tax returns, but only if Obama released his college transcripts.
What Trump apparently doesn't understand, and what nobody on CNBC bothered to point out, is that as a rule presidential nominees do release extensive tax returns, and as a rule they do not release their college transcripts. (Romney hasn't.) Trumps brilliant dare to the Obama campaign doesn't make any sense because tax returns and college records have never been treated similarly by campaigns from either party.
CNBC's Trump troubles were compounded online with a report that soft-peddled Trump's birther past, while claiming serious new questions have been raised about Obama's time at Columbia.
During today's Squawk Box, CNBC co-anchor Joe Kernen assisted guest Donald Trump's effort to push debunked claims about President Obama's birthplace by citing a supposed quote from Obama in which Obama purportedly suggested that he wasn't born in the United States. The quote is an internet hoax and was never said by Obama, who was born in Hawaii.
After reading the fake quote, Kernen said that "the question is whether there was a time in Obama's life where he thought it was, I don't know, more attractive to be a more international type guy and maybe didn't change the impression that he wasn't. I don't know." He sourced the quote to a "report that was on some of the conservative websites" and added that he hasn't "even confirmed it." Watch:
KERNEN: There is a weird -- in that same report that was on some of the conservative websites and I haven't even confirmed it, Donald, but there was a quote from one of his debates when he was running for state senator, I believe, and one of his opponents said, well, you know, you weren't -- this was at the time when it still -- the Kenya thing was still on some of his biographies or something and the guy said, 'Well, you know, you weren't even born here,' and he said, 'Well, it doesn't matter if I wasn't born here, I'm running for -- I'm not running for president' at the time. And it was a quote that looked like it was right from a debate. I don't know whether you saw it. I'm going to look it up right now.
TRUMP: There was a quote --
KERNEN: -- but from him. And almost so -- but the question is whether there was a time in his life where he thought it was, I don't know, more attractive to be a more international type guy and maybe didn't change the impression that he wasn't. I don't know.
The CNBC anchor appears to be referring to an internet rumor about an exchange that allegedly happened during a 2004 Illinois debate between Alan Keyes and then-state senator Obama during their campaign for the state's U.S. Senate seat.
However, an adviser to the 2004 Keyes campaign who attended the Keyes-Obama debates told Media Matters that the purported exchange is a "hoax."