STUDY: How The Media Is Covering Presidential Candidates' Climate Science Denial
Research ››› ››› KEVIN KALHOEFER
Several months into the 2016 presidential campaign, the media is frequently failing to fact-check statements by presidential candidates denying the science of climate change. Seven major newspapers and wire services surveyed by Media Matters have thus far failed to indicate that candidates' statements conflict with the scientific consensus in approximately 43 percent of their coverage, while the major broadcast and cable news outlets other than MSNBC have failed to do so 75 percent of the time.
Newspapers Frequently Failed To Fact-Check Candidates' Climate Science Denial
43 Percent Of Newspaper Coverage Failed To Note That Candidates' Climate Statements Conflict With Scientific Consensus. From March 23 -- when Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) became the first candidate to announce his presidential bid -- to June 22 of this year, newspapers and wire services surveyed by Media Matters published 54 news stories (in print and online) that included a presidential candidate denying either that climate change is occurring or that human activity is largely responsible for it. But the newspapers and wires failed to indicate that the candidate's position conflicts with the scientific consensus in 23 of those stories, or 43 percent of the coverage.
Six Of 10 Associated Press Articles Failed To Fact-Check Candidates' Climate Denial. Out of the 10 Associated Press articles featuring presidential candidates denying climate science, only four noted the scientific consensus on climate change. For example, a March 23 article countered Cruz's claim that satellite images show that there has been "zero global warming" for the past 17 years by noting that "scientific experts say satellite data is the wrong way to measure global warming, which the vast majority of scientists say is happening and is caused by the burning of fossil fuels." In contrast, a June 4 AP article summarizing Gov. Rick Perry's (R-TX) stance on climate change reported that Perry called climate change science "unproven" and that he doesn't "believe that we have the settled science by any sense of the imagination," but failed to note that his statements do not align with the opinion of the vast majority of climate scientists. [Associated Press articles that fact-checked candidates' climate denial: 6/17/15, 5/27/15, 4/17/15, 3/23/15; Associated Press articles that did not: 6/18/15, 6/4/15, 6/4/15, 4/23/15, 4/13/15, 3/23/15]
Reuters Failed To Fact-Check Candidates' Climate Denial In Three Of Seven Articles. Out of seven Reuters articles that included climate science denial by presidential candidates, only four indicated that the candidates' statements contradict the findings of climate scientists. For instance, a May 20 article quoted former Gov. Jeb Bush (R-FL) as saying: "I don't think the science is clear what percentage [of climate change] is man-made and what percentage is natural. It's convoluted." The article also noted that "many scientists believe humans are largely to blame for climate change." Reuters published another article about Bush's comments the next day, which noted that "[t]he United Nations panel of climate scientists, which is composed of thousands of the world's leading climate change experts, says it is at least 95 percent probable that most of the warming since 1950 is caused by man-made greenhouse gases." However, three Reuters articles failed to mention the scientific consensus, including an April 22 article reporting that Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) "has said humans are not responsible for climate change," and a May 14 article reporting that Cruz has said he "does not see evidence that global warming is occurring." [Reuters articles that fact-checked candidates' climate denial: 6/16/15, 6/14/15, 5/21/15, 5/20/15; Reuters articles that did not: 6/8/15, 5/14/15, 4/22/15]
The Wall Street Journal Twice Failed To Rebut Climate Denial By A Presidential Candidate. The Wall Street Journal failed to note the scientific consensus in either of its two articles featuring a presidential candidate denying climate science. An April 22 article in The Journal's Washington Wire blog stated that Rubio "recently questioned humans' role in climate change" during his appearance on CBS' Face the Nation. The article reported that the Obama administration "say[s] the debate about this issue is settled," but did not affirm that the debate about humans' role in climate change is indeed settled within the scientific community. Additionally, a March 23 Journal article failed to note that Cruz's claim that climate change "isn't supported by science" contradicts the views of the vast majority of scientists studying the issue. [Wall Street Journal articles that failed to fact-check candidates' climate denial: 4/22/15, 3/23/15]
The New York Times Failed To Fact-Check Candidates' Climate Denial In Four Of 12 Articles. The New York Times published 12 articles that included candidates denying climate science, but only eight of those articles included references to the consensus among scientists that climate change is happening and driven mainly by human activity. For instance, in an April 27 article stating that most of the Catholics running for the Republican presidential nomination are at odds with Pope Francis because they question the science of human-caused climate change, The Times mentioned that "the vast majority of scientists" agree that "climate change is induced by human activity." By contrast, a June 16 Times article reported that Donald Trump called climate change a "hoax," but didn't mention the scientific consensus on climate change. [New York Times articles that fact-checked climate denial: 6/17/15, 6/16/15, 6/16/15, 6/5/15, 5/28/15, 4/27/15, 4/23/15, 3/23/15; New York Times articles that did not: 6/16/15, 4/27/15, 4/13/15, 4/4/15]
USA Today Failed To Noted Scientific Consensus In One Of Three Articles Containing Climate Science Denial By A Candidate. USA Today referenced the scientific consensus in two of the three articles it published in which candidates denied climate science. For example, in a March 27 article, USA Today reported that Bush has "raised skepticism about human-induced climate change ... which scientists say is already leading to sea-level flooding in South Florida." Additionally, a June 15 USA Today article reported that while former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) accused the pope of being "alarmist" on climate change, "[s]cientists, however, applaud the pope for urging moral choices in a discussion dominated by the recitation -- or among deniers, the misrepresentation -- of facts." However, USA Today's On Politics blog did not mention the scientific consensus in a May 29 article which stated that Santorum "compared scientists convinced of climate change to those who once called the world flat." [USA Today articles that fact-checked climate denial: 6/15/15, 3/27/15; USA Today articles that did not: 5/29/15]
The Washington Post Failed To Fact-Check Candidates' Climate Denial In Seven Of 20 Articles. Out of the 20 news stories published by The Washington Post (including online print) that included climate science denial by a presidential candidate, 13 articles indicated that the candidate's position conflicts with the views of the vast majority of climate scientists. For example, a March 26 article on The Post's Fact Checker blog cited numerous reasons why Cruz's statement that there has been "zero global warming" over the last 17 years is inaccurate. The article also stated that "[t]he notion that concerns over global warming is no longer backed by science is not an accurate portrayal of the issue," and assigned Cruz's comments Three Pinocchios, a rating reserved for "[s]ignificant factual error and/or obvious contradictions." However, in a May 20 article, The Post reported that "Jeb Bush believes that the Earth's climate is changing -- but don't just blame humans." The article quoted Bush saying that climate science is unclear "on what percentage is man-made" and that it is "arrogant" to "say the science is decided," but did not indicate that his remarks conflict with the scientific consensus that human activities are the primarily cause of climate change. [Washington Post articles that fact-checked climate denial: 6/15/15, 6/10/15, 6/4/15, 5/21/15, 4/18/15, 4/15/15, 4/14/15, 4/7/15, 3/26/15, 3/26/15, 3/25/15, 3/24/15, 3/24/15; Washington Post articles that did not: 6/1/15, 5/20/15, 4/23/15, 4/22/15, 4/20/15, 3/23/15, 3/23/15]
The Los Angeles Times Did Not Publish Any Articles Containing Candidates' Climate Denial During The Time Period Covered In This Study.
TV Networks Other Than MSNBC Failed To Fact-Check Candidates' Climate Denial Three-Quarters Of The Time
Outside Of MSNBC, Major TV Outlets Failed To Fact-Check Candidates' Climate Science Denial 75 Percent Of The Time. From March 23 to June 22, the major broadcast and cable news networks aired 37 segments featuring a presidential candidate denying climate science, and 12 of these segments (32 percent) failed to note that the candidate's position contradicts the scientific consensus on climate change. MSNBC accounted for the vast majority of television coverage noting the scientific consensus, as TV outlets other than MSNBC collectively failed to fact-check candidates' climate science denial 75 percent of the time.
In Only CBS Segment Featuring Climate Denial By A Presidential Candidate, Face The Nation's Schieffer Failed To Fact-Check Rubio. In an April 19 interview, Face the Nation host Bob Schieffer asked Rubio to clarify an earlier statement where he said that humans are not responsible for climate change. Rubio responded: "What I said is that humans are not responsible for climate change in the way some of those people out there are trying to make us believe, for the following reason: I believe the climate is changing, because there's never been a moment where the climate is not changing. The question is what percentage of that -- or what is due to human activity." Schieffer quickly moved on to a discussion of social issues without noting the consensus among climate scientists that human activity is the primary cause of global warming. [CBS segment that failed to fact-check climate denial: Face the Nation, 4/19/15]
In Only NBC Segment Featuring Climate Denial By A Candidate, Meet the Press' Todd Failed To Challenge Huckabee's Anti-Science Claims. On the June 21 edition of NBC's Meet the Press, host Chuck Todd failed to note that former Gov. Mike Huckabee's (R-AR) position on climate change runs counter to the view of the vast majority of climate scientists. When asked by Todd whether he believed in man-made climate change, Huckabee responded, "Whether it's man-made or not, I know that when I was in college, I was being taught that if we didn't act very quickly that we were going to be entering a global freezing. And, you know, go back and look at the covers of Time and Newsweek from the early '70s and we were told if we didn't do something by 1980, we'd be popsicles. Now we're told that we're all burning up. Science is not as settled on that as it is on some things." Todd simply responded, "Alright, so, if president, climate change is not in your top of your agenda." [NBC segment that failed to fact-check climate denial: Meet the Press, 6/21/15]
CNN's Jake Tapper Fact-Checked Climate Denial, But Three Other CNN Segments Failed To Note Scientific Consensus. The March 23 edition of CNN's Anderson Cooper 360 featured two separate segments that referenced climate science denial by Cruz. In one segment, Cooper said Cruz "mock[s] the notion of global warming," and in the other segment, correspondent Jeff Zeleny called Cruz a "climate change skeptic." Additionally, on the March 23 edition of CNN's Erin Burnett OutFront, Zeleny stated that Cruz has made "controversial comments about the science of climate change" and aired Cruz's remark that "many of the alarmists on global warming, they've got a problem because the science doesn't back them up." While Erin Burnett OutFront did air a clip of California Gov. Jerry Brown criticizing Cruz's climate remarks, none of these CNN segments informed viewers that Cruz's statements contradict the overwhelming scientific consensus on climate change. By contrast, on the June 4 edition of CNN's The Lead with Jake Tapper, Tapper told Santorum that he was contradicting "the overwhelming majority of scientists" by disputing that "humans are contributing to climate change." (After the date range of this study but before its publication, Tapper also fact-checked Trump's climate denial on the June 28 edition of CNN's State of the Union -- a weekend show not surveyed in the study -- by noting that "the overwhelming majority of scientists say [climate change is] real and it's man-made.") [CNN segments that fact-checked climate denial: The Lead with Jake Tapper, 6/4/15; State of the Union, 6/28/15; CNN segments that did not: Anderson Cooper 360, 3/23/15, 3/23/15; Erin Burnett OutFront, 3/23/15]
On Fox Broadcasting Co., Chris Wallace Rebutted Santorum's Denial -- But On Fox News, Hosts Defended Candidates' Anti-Science Remarks. Santorum's climate science denial was forcefully refuted on Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday, but it was a different story on Fox's cable outlet Fox News Channel. Fox News Channel aired four segments that included statements by Rubio or Cruz denying climate science, and in every instance, the hosts either defended the candidates or attacked media coverage of their statements.
On the June 7 edition of Fox News Sunday, host Chris Wallace conducted an interview with Santorum, in which Wallace noted that Santorum said the pope "should stay out of the debate on climate change," and aired a clip of Santorum saying: "The Church has gotten it wrong a few times on science, and I think that we probably are better off leaving science to the scientists." Wallace then challenged Santorum's climate science denial, noting that the vast majority of "scientists who have studied this say that humans, man -- human activity, contributes to climate change." Wallace then added: "So, I guess the question would be, if [the pope] shouldn't talk about [climate change], should you?"
Wallace's remarks stand in stark contrast to the way that candidates' climate science denial was handled on the Fox News Channel. On the May 11 edition of The O'Reilly Factor, host Bill O'Reilly showed a clip of Rubio stating, "I don't agree with the notion that some are putting out there, including scientists, that somehow there are actions we can take today that would actually have an impact on what's happening in our climate. Our climate is always changing." O'Reilly claimed that a subsequent Los Angeles Times headline, "Marco Rubio says human activity isn't causing climate change," was evidence of the mainstream press attempting to "marginalize anyone with strong opinions" and brand conservatives as "kooks and extremists." O'Reilly added that candidates who are "skeptical of climate change" are "brutally assaulted" because they don't submit to "uber-liberal thought."
O'Reilly also claimed on the March 25 edition of his show that Joy Behar, the co-host of ABC's The View, was being "foolish and unfair" by arguing that Cruz is unfit to be president because he believes that "the facts do not prove man-made global warming."
On the March 25 edition of Hannity, host Sean Hannity brought up Cruz's climate change denial only to criticize the media's coverage of it, claiming "it didn't take long for the mainstream liberal media and those on the left to attack him" for "his stance on climate change." And on the June 19 edition of Special Report with Bret Baier, senior national correspondent John Roberts reported that Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ) has "declared climate change is real, he just doesn't know how much is man-made," but failed to mention that the vast majority of climate scientists agree that human activity is chiefly responsible for climate change. [Fox Broadcasting Co. segment that fact-checked climate denial: Fox News Sunday, 6/7/15; Fox News segments that did not: The O'Reilly Factor, 5/11/15, 3/25/15; Hannity, 6/17/15, 6/16/15, 3/25/15; Special Report with Bret Baier, 6/19/15, 3/23/15]
ABC's The View Twice Addressed Candidates' Climate Science Denial, And Hosts Debunked Denial Both Times. ABC's The View twice discussed candidates' climate science denial and each time noted that their comments contradict the scientific consensus on the issue. During a discussion of Cruz's candidacy announcement during the March 23 edition of The View, co-host Whoopi Goldberg described Cruz as a "vocal skeptic of climate change," which prompted co-host Rosie Perez to say of Cruz: "You cannot exaggerate and falsify the facts. And for him to say that the scientists are not onboard in regards to climate change was wrong." And on the April 14 edition of the show, co-host Michelle Collins said that Rubio "goes against the science of 97 percent of scientists [who] say that we're going through this climate change. He's not on board." [ABC segments that fact-checked climate denial: The View, 4/14/15, 3/23/15]
MSNBC Consistently Debunked Climate Science Denial In All 21 Segments That Referenced Candidates' Anti-Science Remarks. While other TV outlets largely failed to fact-check presidential candidates' climate science denial, MSNBC consistently challenged candidates' remarks by pointing to the scientific consensus. The network did so in all 21 segments that referenced anti-science remarks by a candidate, with The Ed Show airing 12 such segments, followed by PoliticsNation (3), All In with Chris Hayes (3), Hardball (2), and NOW with Alex Wagner (1).
For example, the May 6 edition of The Ed Show featured a segment on the threat that climate change-induced sea level rise poses to Miami Beach, and included footage of Rubio stating, "I do not believe that human activity is causing these dramatic changes to our climate." Rubio's remarks were followed by a discussion between host Ed Schultz and University of Miami geological science professor and department chair Harold Wanless. When asked by Schultz to respond to what he called "the blanket comment that's made out there by the deniers, that human activity is not causing climate change," Wanless replied: "Well, they're simply wrong. Since about 1950, the buildup of greenhouse gases has been driving our climate."
The March 23 edition of All In with Chris Hayes featured footage of Cruz's appearance on Late Night with Seth Meyers, where he stated: "Many of the alarmists on global warming, they've got a problem because the science doesn't back them up." Hayes then cited Cruz's position on climate change as one of the reasons he didn't believe Cruz should be president, adding, "Ted Cruz is, even by the low standards of the Republican field, one of the most forcefully ignorant politicians on climate change that we have. He is an outright denialist and a symbol of a much, much larger problem. It's 2015. There`s robust -- robust -- scientific consensus that climate change is real."
And on the May 21 edition of Hardball, host Chris Matthews aired footage of Bush declaring of climate change, "I don't think the science is clear of what percentage is man-made and what percentage is natural." Matthews responded: "There's an overwhelming consensus among the scientific community that climate change is, in fact, man-made. Among peer-reviewed scientific literature since 1991, 97.1 percent have endorsed the consensus position that humans are causing global warming." [MSNBC segments that fact-checked climate denial: The Ed Show, 5/29/15, 5/27/15, 5/22/15, 5/20/15, 5/18/15, 5/7/15, 5/6/15, 4/14/15, 4/13/15, 4/9/15, 4/7/15, 3/24/15; All In with Chris Hayes, 6/17/15, 5/21/15, 3/23/15; Hardball, 5/22/15, 5/21/15; PoliticsNation, 6/3/15, 4/22/15, 3/23/15; Now with Alex Wagner, 4/22/15]
PBS Newshour Did Not Air Any Segments That Contained Candidates' Climate Denial During Time Period Covered In This Study.
Vast Majority Of Climate Scientists Agree That Human Activity Is Driving Climate Change
Study: 97 Percent Of Peer-Reviewed Scientific Literature Affirms Man-Made Climate Change. A peer-reviewed paper published at Environmental Research Letters found that the vast majority of the scientific literature that stated a position on climate change acknowledged that human activity is driving it:
We analyze the evolution of the scientific consensus on anthropogenic global warming (AGW) in the peer-reviewed scientific literature, examining 11 944 climate abstracts from 1991-2011 matching the topics 'global climate change' or 'global warming'. We find that 66.4% of abstracts expressed no position on AGW, 32.6% endorsed AGW, 0.7% rejected AGW and 0.3% were uncertain about the cause of global warming. Among abstracts expressing a position on AGW, 97.1% endorsed the consensus position that humans are causing global warming. In a second phase of this study, we invited authors to rate their own papers. Compared to abstract ratings, a smaller percentage of self-rated papers expressed no position on AGW (35.5%). Among self-rated papers expressing a position on AGW, 97.2% endorsed the consensus. [Environmental Research Letters, 5/15/13]
Intergovernmental Panel On Climate Change: It Is "Extremely Likely" That Human Influence Is Dominant Cause Of Recent Warming. In its fifth assessment report on the state of climate science, the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) stated that "[w]arming of the climate system is unequivocal, and since the 1950s, many of the observed changes are unprecedented over decades to millennia ... It is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century." The IPCC defines "extremely likely" as having 95-100% probability. [IPCC, Summary for Policymakers, 2013]
Nearly 200 Scientific Organizations Acknowledge Human-Caused Warming. NASA states that "most of the leading scientific organizations worldwide have issued public statements endorsing" the position that recent global warming is very likely due to human activity, including "nearly 200 worldwide scientific organizations." [National Aeronautics and Space Administration, accessed 6/11/15]
- Posted In
- Elections, Environment & Science, Climate Change
- Fox News Channel, The Washington Post, MSNBC, FOX Broadcasting Company, CBS, NBC, The New York Times, ABC, CNN, USA Today, Associated Press, Reuters, Now with Alex Wagner
- Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity, Chris Matthews, Chris Wallace, Bob Schieffer, Chuck Todd, Jake Tapper, Anderson Cooper, Erin Burnett, Ed Schultz, Chris Hayes
- The O'Reilly Factor, FOX News Sunday, Meet the Press, Hardball, Anderson Cooper 360, Face the Nation, The View, The Wall Street Journal, Hannity, Special Report with Bret Baier, The Ed Show, PoliticsNation, Erin Burnett OutFront, The Lead with Jake Tapper, All In With Chris Hayes