Media coverage of climate change may have a hand in making the public apathetic towards acting on climate, according to two recent studies. But one study also details how the media can improve.
A new study from the policy think tank Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives found that the media can breed cynicism about climate change when reporting emphasizes "the failures of climate politics." The study, titled "News Media and Climate Politics: Civic Engagement and Political Efficacy in a Climate of Reluctant Cynicism," concluded that such news stories can "intensif[y] feelings of political alienation, despair and cynicism."
The study's findings go hand in hand with another study by researchers at Rutgers University, which examined how four major U.S. newspapers frame their reporting on climate change. That study, published in Public Understanding of Science, found that The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and USA Today often include "negative efficacy" (framing climate change actions as unsuccessful or costly) as opposed to "positive efficacy" (framing climate actions as manageable or effective). The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times in particular framed climate action as ineffective more often than effective:
The Canadian study also found that consuming stories about political activism and individual actions -- "especially news that featured a local focus, a compelling narrative and an accessible 'everyday hero'" -- can have the opposite effect on readers. Study participants who read and discussed such stories reported "much greater enthusiasm and optimism for political engagement."
But according to the Rutgers study, these types of stories are rarely reported, at least at the national level. The study found that for non-opinion climate change articles in four major national newspapers from 2006 to 2011, just 9.7 percent discussed behavior change and just 13.6 percent discussed political advocacy.
Taken in tandem, the two studies paint a bleak picture of how mainstream newspapers' coverage of climate change can breed cynicism among its readership. Indeed, Lauren Feldman -- the lead author of the Rutgers study -- said to Media Matters that while the studies "can't establish a definitive causal relationship between media coverage and public cynicism toward climate," the two combined "are certainly suggestive of the role of mainstream media in breeding pessimism about climate change."
And Shane Gunster -- a co-author of the Canadian study -- agreed with Feldman, telling Media Matters that there is "a strong connection between both studies" and that they show how "decisions which news media make about how to frame climate change have a significant impact upon how or if the public engages with the issue." Gunster, a professor at Simon Fraser University's School of Communication, added:
The efficacy emphasis is especially important given how easily one can otherwise be overwhelmed by the magnitude of climate change as a problem. And if one thinks of journalism as playing a crucial role in facilitating public engagement with the critical issues of the day, a much greater focus upon how efficacy can be cultivated and strengthened is in keeping with that mandate.
But Gunster said that one of his study's goals was "to move beyond simply criticizing media for their failures and shortcomings," and identify "constructive suggestions about how journalists could approach this topic differently." These include, among other things: "[s]uccess stories about climate politics"; "stories of entrepreneurial activism and everyday heroism"; "localized information about the causes and consequences of climate change"; and "[i]nformation about how to engage politically."
Gunster summed up his study's findings to Media Matters as follows: "There is a strong desire for a different kind of news about climate change, which provides people with inspiring and compelling stories about how others just like them are becoming active and engaged in climate politics."
He also pointed to a previous paper he published in 2011, illustrating that such reporting exists, though it may not be not the norm. That paper, which examined media coverage of the United Nations' climate change conference in Copenhagen, found that alternative and independent media often frame climate change in ways that can promote political agency and efficacy, offering "a much more diverse and optimistic vision of climate politics as a place in which broad civic engagement on climate change can challenge and overcome institutional inertia as well as model democratic and participatory approaches to the development of climate policy." Gunster wrote that such stories "can affirm our sense of how effective news media could be in motivating broader civic engagement with climate change." From the report:
[I]t is equally important to explore existing media institutions and practices which are communicating about climate change in a more effective and engaged manner. Just as success stories about (some) governments getting climate politics right can invigorate our sense of political efficacy, success stories about (some) media getting climate politics right can affirm our sense of how effective news media could be in motivating broader civic engagement with climate change. Identifying best media practices can also sharpen the critique of mainstream media insofar as it provides concrete evidence that a more radical approach to environmental journalism is not simply idealistic speculation, but, rather, already being actively practiced.
The Florida agency tasked with investigating Planned Parenthood clinics in that state found no evidence that they were mishandling fetal remains, but Gov. Rick Scott's office altered the agency's statements to remove language that exonerated Planned Parenthood, and added new language that made the organization look guilty of wrongdoing. Several media outlets unwittingly quoted the statements before the misleading edits were discovered.
Media outlets reported on congressional Republicans' plan to delay implementation of the landmark nuclear agreement with Iran by alleging President Obama inappropriately failed to provide details of the "side deals" between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to Congress. But those outlets failed to note that the IAEA deal with Iran is confidential, which is "standard operating procedure" for agreements of this type.
The Wall Street Journal published an op-ed denying the fact that reducing ozone pollution -- the key component of smog -- will result in public health benefits. Medical and environmental experts castigated the op-ed as "completely outside of scientific understanding," "blatantly false," and "a sad and shallow screed."
Two recent major analyses project a positive outlook for renewable energy, bolstering President Obama's recent initiative to implement more clean energy. But the media have largely ignored these reports -- and conservative media have instead seized upon an Inspector General report on Solyndra to cast doom on the future of renewable energy.
In July, the U.S. Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) released a report examining and applying methods for estimating the current and future economic potential of domestic renewable energy. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), which recently crunched the numbers, NREL's analysis shows that renewable energy sources have the potential to supply anywhere from "35 percent to as much as 10 times the nation's current power needs." As UCS noted, NREL found that solar and wind power have the greatest economic potential.
On August 31, a joint report from the International Energy Agency (IEA) and Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA) found that renewable energy sources "can produce electricity at close to or even below the cost of new fossil fuel-based power stations." The report stated that over the past five years, there has been a "significant drop in the price of solar and wind generation costs, especially for solar photovoltaic (PV) installations, as a result of sustained technological progress."
In the meantime, on August 24, President Obama announced new executive actions intended to support renewable energy and encourage energy efficiency in households nationwide. The actions included supporting projects to improve solar panel energy production, bringing solar energy to more homes, making it easier for residents to invest in clean energy technologies, and making $1 billion in additional loan guarantee authority available for clean energy ventures.
As expected, conservative media have been seizing upon defunct solar company Solyndra -- which received funding from the same loan guarantee program before going bankrupt -- to dismiss the president's clean energy actions and renewables as a whole.
This time, Solyndra mentions did not come out of the blue -- but they still don't work to cast doubt current or future renewable energy policies. The Department of Energy's (DOE) Inspector General released a report on August 24 finding that Solyndra officials misled DOE officials to receive its loan. The report found that DOE officials felt pressured to approve the loan, but the IG report stated that "the actions of the Solyndra officials were at the heart of this matter, and they effectively undermined the Department's efforts to manage the loan guarantee process." Further, a 2014 DOE audit found that the department has sufficiently implemented recommendations to improve oversight and management of the program.
But the new Solyndra report should not be used to cast doubt on the future of renewable energy as a whole.
Conservative media may never stop talking about Solyndra to smear other clean energy programs. But problematic Solyndra reporting has not been limited to the right-wing; mainstream media also have a history of uncritically reporting inaccuracies and airing one-sided coverage.
Hopefully, in coverage of Obama's clean energy actions, media will discuss the prominent forward-looking reports, which unequivocally show a bright future for renewable energy.
Image at the top via Flickr Creative Commons.
News outlets are calling out a misleading conservative media claim that Hillary Clinton's email use mirrors the improper acts of former CIA Director John Deutch, who intentionally created and stored top secret material on unsecure systems. By contrast, "State Department officials say they don't believe that emails [Clinton] sent or received included material classified at the time," which is why experts conclude the Deutch case does not "fit the fact pattern with the Clinton e-mails."
Major media outlets are turning to former attorney general Michael Mukasey to launch smears against Democratic presidential contender Hillary Clinton without disclosing the fact that Mukasey is an adviser on Republican Jeb Bush's presidential campaign.
Expertos conservadores están aclamando el plan propuesto por el candidato presidencial republicano y gobernador de Wisconsin, Scott Walker, de derogar y sustituir la Ley de Cuidado de Salud Asequible (ACA por sus siglas en inglés), que abrumadoramente ayuda a los latinos. Mientras tanto, los medios de comunicación y expertos señalan que los altos costos de la propuesta de Walker afectarían desproporcionadamente a estadounidenses de bajos ingresos y aquellos con condiciones preexistentes.
In coverage of the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) newly-proposed standards to lower methane emissions from the oil and gas industry, several major media outlets uncritically quoted oil industry officials who claim that the new rules are unnecessary because the industry is already effectively limiting its emissions. By contrast, other outlets mentioned a new study by the Environmental Defense Fund showing that methane emissions are far higher than official estimates, part of a body of evidence that undercuts the industry's claim.
Conservative pundits are hailing Republican presidential candidate and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker's proposed plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA), while mainstream media and experts are pointing out how the costly proposal would disproportionately harm low-income Americans and those with preexisting conditions.
On August 12, FoxNation.com republished portions of a post by The Gateway Pundit headlined, "Letter to Editor PREDICTED COLORADO EPA SPILL One Week Before Catastrophe So EPA Could Secure Control of Area." Fox Nation highlighted the portion of the Gateway Pundit post in which author Jim Hoft wrote: "The letter detailed verbatim, how EPA officials would foul up the Animas River on purpose in order to secure superfund money. If the Gold King mine was declared a superfund site it would essentially kill future development for the mining industry in the area. The Obama EPA is vehemently opposed to mining and development."
Examiner.com also cited the letter in an August 12 post claiming "[e]vidence suggests that the EPA's Animas wastewater spill was purposeful for gaining Superfund money." The conspiratorial letter was also republished in The Wall Street Journal, although The Journal described the spill as an "accident" and only cited the letter to suggest further EPA action "may make the situation worse."
When it comes to covering climate change, it's not just The Wall Street Journal's editorial section that is problematic in the Rupert Murdoch era -- a new study shows the paper's newsroom has misinformed readers on the issue, too.
A new joint study from researchers at Rutgers University, the University of Michigan, and the University of Oslo appearing in the journal Public Understanding of Science (PUS) found major differences between the climate change reporting of The Wall Street Journal and other major U.S. newspapers. The July 30 study, titled "Polarizing news? Representations of threat and efficacy in leading US newspapers' coverage of climate change," examined non-opinion-based climate change articles in The Journal, The New York Times, USA Today, and The Washington Post from 2006 to 2011.
The study found some disturbing trends in The Wall Street Journal's news reporting on climate change, including that the Journal was less likely than the other newspapers to discuss the threats or impacts of climate change and more likely to frame climate action as ineffective or even harmful. The authors of the study concluded that, given the Journal's conservative readership, the negative nature of its climate reporting "could exacerbate ideological polarization on climate change."
Fox News Channel founder Rupert Murdoch purchased The Journal in 2007, so this flawed reporting largely happened on his watch.
Here's how The Journal differed from other major newspapers in its climate reporting:
The Journal was far less likely than the other newspapers to mention at least one impact of climate change on the environment, public health, national security, or the economy. The Journal only mentioned climate change impacts in 21.6 percent of its climate stories, far less frequently than The New York Times (40.3 percent), Washington Post (48.8 percent) and USA Today (58.2 percent). In particular, The Journal was far and away the least likely newspaper to mention the impacts of climate change on the environment and public health.
The Journal was also least likely to cover climate change as a threat -- particularly as a present-day threat. The study found that The Journal discussed present-day threats from climate change in only 12.7 percent of its articles, whereas The Times, Washington Post, and USA Today discussed climate threats in 28.3, 39.5, and 40.3 percent of their climate coverage, respectively. Recent Pew polling shows that Americans consider climate change less of a threat than people in many other countries do, a trend that may be exacerbated by The Journal's coverage.
The Journal was by far the most likely newspaper to discuss climate change actions, particularly government actions. The Journal mentioned at least one action that could be taken to address climate change in 93.3 percent of its coverage, and mentioned government actions in 81.3 percent of its stories. By contrast, the other newspapers discussed climate actions in 82.1-83.6 percent of their climate coverage, including government action in 60.9-66.4 percent of their climate stories.
But that's not actually a good thing, because The Journal tended to frame those actions as difficult or ineffective. The study found that The Journal included "positive efficacy" -- framing climate actions as manageable or effective -- in just 20.1 percent of its climate coverage. It included "negative efficacy" -- framing climate actions as unsuccessful or costly -- in 33.6 percent of its climate stories.
The New York Times was the only other newspaper to frame climate actions negatively more often than positively. The Times included "positive efficacy" in 16.8 percent of its climate coverage, and "negative efficacy" in 23.9 percent.
Finally, The Journal was the most likely newspaper to use "conflict" framing -- presenting the issue as "a conflict or power struggle between politicians or stakeholder groups (e.g. Democrats and Republicans battling over legislation, international disputes over climate policy, climate change as an election issue)." It did so in 53 percent of its climate coverage.
Conservative media are embroiled in a blame game over the rise of Donald Trump as a legitimate contender to be the 2016 Republican nominee, and while many on the right promoted his candidacy, Trump's greatest ally has been Fox News itself.
After Erick Erickson disinvited Donald Trump to his annual RedState Gathering over Trump's sexist attacks on Fox News anchor and debate moderator Megyn Kelly,The Wall Street Journal editorial board called out Erickson for helping legitimize Trump's candidacy in the first place. Erickson "trumpeted the businessman as a political tonic," the Journal wrote, noting how the conservative blogger is part of "a strain on the right that has put Trumpian bluster above political reality" and "helped to create Trumpism." And yet it's these conservative media pundits "who indulged him [that] now claim to be embarrassed."
Right-wing bloggers like Erickson have definitely played a role in hyping Trump -- just refer back to Erickson's blog titled, "Yes, I Would Vote for Donald Trump For President" -- but Trump's rise has been sanctioned by a much bigger ally: Fox News.
Fox, a corporate cousin to The Wall Street Journal, has played perhaps the largest role in the promotion of Trump as a legitimate candidate, a fact that is suspiciously missing from the Journal's editorial (despite the fact that Erickson is a contributor on the network). Within the past three months, Trump has far exceeded any other GOP candidate in regards to airtime on Fox News, enjoying 4 hours and 45 minutes on the national platform over the course of 31 appearances.
Until he turned on one of their own, Fox hosts have been quick to praise Trump and defend him from controversy in the past. Fox's entire primetime line-up rallied to defend Trump and his anti-immigrant comments after NBC severed business ties with the presidential hopeful for unapologetically referring to Mexican immigrants as "rapists" and criminals. The network then led the charge crediting Trump for igniting a national debate on immigration.
Eric Bolling has repeatedly gone to bat for Trump, praising him for "making the rest of the [GOP] field better," while Sean Hannity championed Trump as the "direct result of a weak and timid ... Republican party." Bill O'Reilly gave Trump a platform to continue calling Latin American immigrants rapists and criminals and justified Trump's vitriol as simply an attempt to inartfully "highlight a problem." Others like Gretchen Carlson lashed out at the RNC following reports chairman Reince Priebus had scolded Trump about his inflammatory rhetoric.
There was also the cycle of back-patting that occurred between Fox's morning show Fox & Friends and Trump, where the program and the candidate repeatedly traded compliments on the network and at campaign events.
Fox hosts and contributors have gone so far to instruct other Republican candidates to be more like Trump. Fox contributor Laura Ingraham lauded Trump for teaching other candidates "how to build a brand," while network judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano urged candidates to "take a lesson from the Donald" after exclaiming he's "thrilled" Trump is in the race. Andrea Tantaros once instructed GOP presidential candidates to "follow Donald Trump's lead."
Fox News is now seemingly following Erickson in backing away from Trump, since the bombastic candidate they helped build is turning his vitriol on Megyn Kelly, one of their own. But if outlets like the Journal are calling out those conservative media outlets culpable for his rise in the first place, Fox News should be first on the list.
A Wall Street Journal editorial conflated the public charity known as the Clinton Foundation with the private, personal Clinton Family Foundation in a misleading attack on Hillary Clinton's charitable giving -- and their misinformation made its way straight to Fox News primetime.
Clinton recently released her tax returns as part of her presidential campaign, and the returns reveal that she and her husband Bill donated nearly $15 million to charity from 2007-2014. The vast majority of that money went to their private philanthropic Clinton Family Foundation.
As Nonprofit Quarterly explained, the Clinton Family Foundation acts "a clearinghouse for the family's personal philanthropy." According to the Family Foundation's 2014 tax filing, Hillary and Bill Clinton are the only donors, and the Family Foundation distributes their money to various charities and nonprofits, including New York Public Radio, the American Nurses Foundation, the American Heart Association -- and the separate William J. Clinton Foundation.
The William J. Clinton Foundation -- which was recently renamed the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation -- is the highly-respected international charity that has garnered significant media attention since Clinton announced her run for president. It is the foundation that helps AIDS/HIV sufferers around the world get better medicine, and battles global health crises, economic inequality, childhood obesity, and climate change.
But in its August 4 editorial, the Journal conflated the two charities in their attack on Clinton's giving.
The Journal suggested that it was inappropriate for the Clinton family to give the vast majority of their charitable contributions to their own foundation, because, they claimed, the foundation "isn't exactly the Little Sisters of the Poor," and instead "While the foundation does contribute to charitable causes, it also doubles as a vehicle to promote the first family's political ambitions and public profile."
Though they correctly named the "Family Foundation," the Journal went on to claim that the foundation spends "an outsized portion of its money, for instance, picking up the travel and other expenses for the whole family":
The foundation has also functioned between campaigns and stints in public office as a jobs program and financier for various Clinton operatives. Sidney Blumenthal, who was banned by the White House from a job at the State Department, was paid by the foundation while he was dispensing bad advice on Libya to Mrs. Clinton. Foreign governments, unions, wealthy Democrats and corporations donated to the foundation knowing its political importance to the woman who could be the next U.S. President.
The Clintons play by their own political rules, and taking a nearly $15 million tax write-off to assist their electoral ambitions is merely the latest.
The problem is that the Family Foundation -- which received the nearly $15 million -- doesn't appear to have done most of those things. The global Clinton Foundation is the one which reportedly paid for some travel expenses and for the salaries of some Clinton advisers, but it received only a portion of the family's total charitable giving (a little over $1.8 million out of roughly $3.7 million in contributions in 2014, for example).
As Michael Wyland explained at NonProfit Quarterly (emphasis added), "it's understandable that the two foundations could be confused. However, a national publication expressing its official opinion about a presidential candidate's charitable activities should be expected to perform some due diligence."
Unfortunately, Fox's Bill O'Reilly also failed to perform that due diligence. Picking up on the Journal story, O'Reilly blasted Clinton's charitable giving during his August 5 show:
The Wall Street Journal reporting today in an editorial that although the Clintons donated about $15 million to charity between the years 2007 and 2014, all but 200,000 of that was given to the Clinton Foundation. Which pays travel and other expenses for the Clinton family and gives them a forum to promote public policy, in addition to helping various causes like combating world hunger. The Clintons wrote off $15 million in charitable deductions on their taxes.
The email situation's murky, and we're glad the FBI is finally involved. But the charity situation is not confusing. For seven years the Clintons funded their own foundation, which in part benefits them, and took a huge deduction in doing so.
I have a foundation. I know what I'm talking about.
Donating to their own internationally-renowned public charity seems like a logical thing the Clintons would do -- the fact is much of the Clintons' contributions also went to a variety of other charities, through their private Family Foundation.
Major U.S. newspapers ran front page stories about devastating California wildfires alongside reports on the Environmental Protection Agency's newly-finalized Clean Power Plan, President Obama's flagship policy to address climate change. Yet with only one exception, these newspapers' wildfire articles ignored the documented role that global warming has played in worsening wildfires.