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Some TV Networks Continue To Lag In Covering Link Between Hurricanes And Climate Change

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters.

After failing to note the impact of climate change on hurricanes in their coverage of Hurricane Harvey, ABC and NBC both discussed the link while covering Irma, Media Matters has found in a new analysis of coverage of the more recent storm. But NBC did a better job: It ran a segment that featured a scientist explaining the climate-hurricane connection, while ABC’s sole mention of climate change was cursory and failed to provide viewers with much information.

Media Matters also analyzed weekday prime-time cable news coverage of Irma and found that Fox News continued its pattern of dismissing climate change, while MSNBC provided extensive coverage of the link between climate change and hurricanes.

This new analysis of Irma coverage builds on a recent Media Matters study that looked at broadcast and cable news coverage of Hurricane Harvey.

Climate scientists have explained how climate change exacerbates some of the worst impacts of hurricanes like Harvey and Irma: Rising sea levels lead to worse storm surges; warmer temperatures increase the amount of moisture in the atmosphere and lead to more rainfall; and warmer ocean waters make the storms more intense.

Broadcast networks: After dropping the ball with Harvey, NBC covers link between climate change and hurricanes in Irma coverage, and ABC gives climate a brief mention

Media Matters found that during Hurricane Harvey coverage from August 23 to September 7, ABC and NBC completely failed to discuss the link between climate change and hurricanes on any of their morning, nightly, or Sunday news shows. NBC did notably better during its coverage of Hurricane Irma, while ABC made only slight improvement, according to a new analysis of coverage from September 4 — two days before Irma reached Puerto Rico — to September 13.

On September 9, an NBC Nightly News segment featured an interview with Oscar Schofield, chair of the Department of Marine and Coastal Sciences at Rutgers University, who explained, “The ocean is going to continue to warm, and the predictions from a lot of the climate scientists are that we’re going to get more and more of these extreme events.” On that same day’s episode of NBC’s Today, correspondent Kerry Sanders introduced a segment about sea level rise by saying, “Whether you accept or don’t what scientists say that global warming is raising our world’s oceans, there’s an undeniable fact here on Miami Beach: They’ve had to raise the sidewalks and roads … [because] much of Miami Beach goes under water.”

On the other hand, ABC’s sole mention of climate change during Irma coverage was brief and uninformative. After ABC meteorologist Ginger Zee answered viewer questions about Irma on the September 11 episode of Good Morning America, host George Stephanopoulos said, “I want to throw out one more question, because a lot of people look at these two back-to-back hurricanes — two powerful hurricanes back-to-back — and think there must be some connection to climate change.” Zee responded, “And I think it’s irresponsible not to talk about the warmth of the earth, and you have to get that,” but then she went on to another subject and said nothing about how climate change influences storms.

In Irma coverage on the other broadcast networks, CBS aired two segments discussing the impact of climate change on hurricanes on CBS This Morning, while PBS aired none (though it did discuss how climate change worsens storm surges in a September 4 segment on flooding in Bangladesh on PBS NewsHour). During their coverage of Hurricane Harvey, CBS and PBS each aired three segments highlighting climate change’s impact on hurricanes.

Prime-time cable: MSNBC provided extensive coverage of the link between climate change and hurricanes, while Fox attacked those who made such a link

Media Matters’ analysis of Hurricane Harvey coverage on the major cable networks’ prime-time weekday shows found that MSNBC and CNN each aired five segments noting climate change’s impact on hurricanes. A follow-up analysis of the prime-time cable news networks’ Hurricane Irma coverage found that MSNBC aired more segments discussing the climate-hurricane link and CNN aired fewer.

From September 4 to September 13, MSNBC aired 13 prime-time segments that discussed climate change’s impact on hurricanes, in some cases including multiple discussions of climate change in a one-hour block. For instance, on September 8, the 8 p.m. broadcast of MSNBC Live on featured three segments in which host Chris Hayes brought up climate change with guests, and the 10 p.m. broadcast featured two instances of host Ali Velshi raising the topic of climate change. MSNBC hosts also brought up the climate-hurricane link on the September 6 and September 11 episodes of All In with Chris Hayes; the September 7September 8, and September 13 episodes of Hardball with Chris Matthews; the September 13 episode of The Beat with Ari Melber; and the September 8 and September 12 episodes of MTP Daily.

CNN’s prime-time weekday Irma coverage featured two segments about the relationship between climate change and hurricanes from September 4 to September 13. Erin Burnett discussed the Trump administration’s refusal to talk about climate change in the wake of the hurricanes on the September 13 episode of Erin Burnett OutFront. The same topic came up on the September 12 episode of CNN Tonight during Don Lemon’s interview with Bob Inglis of RepublicEN and climate denier Myron Ebell, who dismissed the link between climate change and hurricanes by citing an overblown statistic about the lack of major hurricanes to make landfall in the U.S. since 2005.

Fox News’ prime-time Irma coverage included four mentions of climate change, but they were not informative. The network’s hosts discussed the climate-hurricane link the same way they did during Harvey coverage: by criticizing those who raised the issue. The September 11 and September 13 episodes of Fox’s The Five both featured lengthy discussions in which hosts accused people who brought up climate change’s impact on Hurricane Irma of behaving inappropriately, saying that they were making claims based on “anecdotal evidence,” acting out of liberal “guilt,” and attempting to shame people. The five-minute group rant on the September 11 episode ended with co-host Dana Perino claiming that actress Jennifer Lawrence had blamed Donald Trump for the hurricanes — a mischaracterization of her actual statement. Fox ran another misleading segment about Lawrence’s comments on the September 8 episode of Tucker Carlson Tonight. According to The Daily Beast, Lawrence’s comments also came up on four other occasions during Fox’s weekend coverage of Irma.

Fox’s final prime-time mention of the link between climate change and Hurricane Irma came during the September 13 episode of The Story with Martha MacCullum, in which MacCullum said “things got political” during a celebrity telethon for hurricane relief when Stevie Wonder brought up climate change.

Methodology

Media Matters ran the search terms “Irma AND (climate OR warming OR emission! OR carbon OR CO2 OR greenhouse gas!)” in Nexis and searched for “climate change” and “global warming” in SnapStream to identify segments between September 4 and September 13 that mentioned both the hurricane and climate change.

On the broadcast networks, we examined the morning, evening, and Sunday news shows on ABC, CBS, and NBC, as well as PBS NewsHour, the only PBS program archived in Nexis. For CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News, we examined the networks’ prime-time shows that air on weekdays from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m.

We counted instances of network hosts, anchors, correspondents, and recurring guest panelists mentioning climate change but excluded instances when other guests brought up climate change unprompted.

Header image by Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

So Far, ABC And NBC Are Failing To Note The Link Between Harvey And Climate Change

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters.

Of the three major broadcast networks, CBS is the only one that discussed climate change’s role in exacerbating Hurricane Harvey’s impacts, while ABC and NBC have overlooked climate change in their coverage of Harvey so far.

Since it made landfall last Friday, Harvey, which has been downgraded from a hurricane to a tropical storm, has brought massive devastation to southeast Texas. By Tuesday, Harvey had already become the most extreme rain event in U.S. history. The storm brought so much rainfall that the National Weather Service had to add new colors to its weather maps to represent Harvey’s deluge. An early estimate of the storm’s cost stands at $190 billion, which would make it the nation’s “costliest natural disaster.”

number of climate scientists have commented on the ways climate change intensifies storms like Harvey. While climate change did not cause Harvey, according to scientists, it made such extreme weather events “more likely to occur.” And Kevin Trenberth, senior scientist at the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research, said of Harvey: “The human contribution can be up to 30 percent or so of the total rainfall coming out of the storm. It may have been a strong storm, and it may have caused a lot of problems anyway—but [human-caused climate change] amplifies the damage considerably.”

CBS was the only major network to discuss this connection, which came up during an interview with physicist Michio Kaku on the August 26 episode of CBS This Morning and an interview with environmental engineering professor Jim Blackburn that aired on both the August 30 episode of CBS Evening News and the August 31 episode of CBS This Morning. Additionally, the August 30 episode of PBS NewsHour featured a segment in which correspondent Miles O’Brien interviewed climate scientists and experts about the connection between climate change and extreme weather events. These experts explained that climate change both warms waters, which fuels hurricanes like Harvey, and increases moisture in the air, which leads to more rainfall. ABC and NBC, however, have ignored the relationship between climate change and hurricanes like Harvey.

Conversely, CNN and MSNBC have both aired multiple segments on Harvey’s climate connection, including interviews with meteorologists Jason Samenow and Paul Douglas, who explained the climate science behind Harvey on the August 30 episode of CNN’s New Day and the August 26 episode of MSNBC Live, respectively.

The major broadcast networks’ nightly news shows air for just half an hour each day compared to their 24-hour cable news counterparts, and thus far, they have focused their reports on updates related to Harvey and ongoing rescue operations. But the broadcast networks have a history of ignoring climate change’s impact on major storms. For instance, when a storm that brought record-breaking rainfall struck Louisiana last year, PBS was the only network that aired a segment detailing climate change’s connection to extreme rainfall.

Given the magnitude of Harvey’s destruction, some journalists have been making forceful calls for a discussion about climate change. Naomi Klein wrote an article in The Intercept headlined “Harvey Didn’t Come Out of the Blue. Now is the Time to Talk About Climate Change,” and Eric Holthaus wrote in Politico, “If we don’t talk about the climate context of Harvey, we won’t be able to prevent future disasters and get to work on that better future.” Let’s hope that when the immediate danger of Harvey passes, broadcast networks will start having that conversation.

Correction: This post originally stated that CBS had run just one segment on the connection between climate change and Hurricane Harvey. A subsequent search found two other such segments that CBS aired in which the impact of climate change is mentioned. The term “climate change” was not mentioned in the transcript, but it was included in Nexis’ “subject” category. Media Matters regrets the error.

Header image by Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

Why Does USA Today Keep Publishing Op-Eds That Dispute Climate Science?

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters.

USA Today has once again invited a climate denier onto its opinion pages to cast doubt on mainstream science, and the paper failed to disclose the author’s numerous industry ties.

On August 14, USA Today‘s editorial board wrote a well-reasoned editorial highlighting the scientific consensus around climate science, titled “Case for climate change grows ever stronger.” The board noted that the findings of a draft federal climate report provided “ever more troubling evidence” that “humanity is responsible for a dangerously warming planet.”

But on the same day, the newspaper also published an op-ed by Chris Horner of the Competitive Enterprise Institute that disparaged the draft report, dismissing it as the work of “the career (and holdover) federal employee ‘resistance’” and part of the “big business” of climate change:

Another week of the Trump presidency, another bout of fevered reporting on claims promoted by the career (and holdover) federal employee “resistance.” But particularly when it comes to climate change, it seems the ordinary way of doing things is simply too much to ask.

“Climate” has become very big business since Congress first requested quadrennial “National Assessments on Climate Change” in 1990. A big part of that business is government. Another is the news media. Both of which thrive on the end-of-days narrative.

The two met this week to ride the latest national assessment, a draft of which prompted excited reportage and a particularly embarrassing correction by The New York Times.

Readers would have taken Horner’s attack with more than a grain of salt had USA Today disclosed his deep ties to oil and coal companies. He claimed that climate change has become “big business,” but Horner’s own work has been funded by big fossil fuel corporations for years. Horner has gotten payments from Alpha Natural Resources, one of the largest coal companies in the U.S., and has numerous ties to the coal industry. And Horner’s employer, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, has received more than $2 million from ExxonMobil over almost two decades, as well as funding from Marathon Petroleum, Texaco, the American Petroleum Institute, the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers, Koch Industries, the David H. Koch Charitable Foundation, and the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation, among others.

In his USA Today op-ed, Horner provided no evidence to support his claim that writing reports on climate change is “big business.” According to a ProPublica article, the draft federal climate report was authored by “a mix of government and academic researchers,” and lead author Katharine Hayhoe noted that the academic contributors were not paid for their work. Horner also didn’t give any compelling evidence or argument to dispute the findings of the draft report.

So then why did USA Today publish Horner’s op-ed? The paper’s editorial board has a long-standing practice of publishing “opposing view” counterpoints to its editorials. As Media Matters has documented on multiple occasions, this “opposing view” format leads the newspaper to publish climate denial and misinformation, and go out of its way to find authors willing to dispute the well-established science of human-caused climate change.

A 2016 Media Matters study examining four major newspapers’ opinion pages found that USA Today published six opinion pieces featuring climate denial or misinformation from January 1, 2015, through August 31, 2016 — five of which were “opposing view” responses to editorials. Only The Wall Street Journal, which is notoriousfor pushing climate denial on its opinion pages, published more. All six of these misleading climate opinion pieces were written by individuals with fossil fuel ties, but USA Today did not disclose any of those ties to readers.

The “opposing view” format is all the more dangerous now that Environmental Protection Agency administrator and climate denier Scott Pruitt is calling for a “red team” of climate deniers to debate mainstream “blue team” scientists. The Trump administration is even reportedly considering having a “red team” vet the draft climate report that Horner criticized. This sort of approach should not be getting an endorsement from the most widely read newspaper in the United States.

Header image by Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

Will Bret Stephens’ Climate Denial Threaten The Integrity Of The NYT Opinion Section?

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters.

 

A Media Matters study conducted last year found that over a year-and-a-half period, The New York Times was the only one of four top U.S. newspapers that did not publish climate science denial and misinformation about climate change in its opinion pages. But the paper’s recent hire of Wall Street Journal columnist and climate denier Bret Stephens may tarnish the Times’ otherwise stellar record when it comes to covering climate change.

On April 12, the Times announced that it was hiring Stephens as its newest columnist. The paper’s editorial page editor defended the decision, saying characterizations of Stephens as a climate denialist were “unfair” because “millions of people” agree with him (an argument that has rightly been criticized for presenting a false equivalency on the reality of climate change). In a statement to The Huffington Post regarding his hiring, Stephens described himself as “climate agnostic,” adding that it “seems to be the case” that “man-made carbon emissions” are “probably largely” causing the earth to warm (an understatement given that the overwhelming majority of climate scientists say human activity is the primary cause of global warming).

But Stephens’ attempt to cast himself as occupying some sort of middle ground on climate change belies his lengthy record of outright climate denial in The Wall Street Journal, where he often made extreme comments about climate change, calling it a “sick-souled religion,” comparing those who accept and are concerned about global warming to “closet Stalinists,” and declaring in 2010 that “global warming is dead.” Stephens has also promoted the myth that climate scientists predicted global cooling in the 1970s and cited fiction writer Michael Crichton to discount the scientific consensus on global warming. And as recently as 2015, Stephens dismissed climate change as an “imaginary enemy.”

Stephens’ hiring is especially worrying considering that a Media Matters study examining the opinion pages of four national newspapers — the Times, the Journal, The Washington Post, and USA Today — found that the Times was the only one that avoided publishing climate science denial in its opinion pages. Notably, for the newspaper with the next-lowest amount of climate science denial, The Washington Post, all three instances of denial came from a single columnist: George Will.

In addition to tarring the Times’ opinion pages, the paper’s hiring of Stephens could also mar the The New York Times’ stellar climate coverage. The Times has provided readers with explainers on the position of 2016 presidential candidates and current administration and elected officials on climate change, employed visual storytelling to detail on-the-ground climate impacts, chronicled local responses to climate change, and conducted an in-depth investigation of the troubled Kemper project in Mississippi to build a first-of-its-kind “clean coal” power plant.

Just this week, the New York Times magazine devoted an issue to climate change that covered topics such as geoengineering, climate change-induced migration in regions around the world, the threat rising sea levels pose for coastal properties, and an increase in “the potential for viruses like Zika” due to climate change.

And at a time where broadcast network coverage of climate change is seeing a drastic decline, the Times has been expanding its climate team. While announcing that Hannah Fairfield was joining the paper as the new climate editor in January, Times editors wrote, “No topic is more vital than climate change. … With Hannah’s appointment, we aim to build on what has already been dominant coverage of climate change and to establish The Times as a guide to readers on this most important issue.”

Let’s just hope that Bret Stephens’ “agnosticism” doesn’t misguide those very same readers.

 

Weather Channel Meteorologist Calls Out Breitbart On Climate Change

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters. 

The Weather Channel criticized Breitbart.com for falsely claiming that global warming temperatures have “plunged,” describing a Breitbart article as “a prime example of cherrying picking” data and pointing out that Breitbart denied the findings of “thousands of researchers and scientific societies.”

In a video accompanying a December 6 article, Weather Channel meteorologist Kait Parker explained to Breitbart, “Science doesn’t care about your opinion. Cherry-picking and twisting the facts will not change the future, nor the fact — not opinion — that the earth is warming. ”

The Weather Channel video and article roundly debunked the false and misleading claims in the November 30 Breitbart article by James Delingpole. In response to Delingpole’s claim that “[g]lobal land temperatures have plummeted by one degree Celsius since the middle of this year,” Parker pointed out that Delingpole had cherry-picked one set of data, adding in the video that “land temperatures aren’t an appropriate measure” and that the temperature decline disappears when you also account for sea surface temperatures. Delingpole also cited the science editor of the Global Warming Policy Foundation, David Whitehouse, to claim that “without the El Niño (and the so-called ‘Pacific Blob’) 2014-2016 would not have been record warm years,” yet Parker noted in the video that even if you “take out the El Nino spike in temperatures, 2015 and 2016 still come in as the warmest years on record,” as Carbon Brief has shown. Finally, Parker debunked Delingpole’s claim that a likely drop in global temperatures in 2017 is evidence against global warming, writing: “There is nothing unusual about a drop in global surface temperatures when going from El Niño to La Nina. These ups and downs occur on top of the long-term warming trend that remains when the El Niño and La Niña signals are removed.”

Parker also lamented the U.S. House Science Committee’s endorsement of the Breitbart article on Twitter and concluded her video with a helpful suggestion for Breitbart and a rallying cry for fellow scientists: “So next time you’re thinking about publishing a cherry-picked article, try consulting a scientist first, and to all my fellow scientists out there: Let’s make the facts louder than the opinions.”

Here is the video and full transcript of Parker’s comments (which are well worth watching):

KAIT PARKER: So last week, Breitbart.com published an article claiming that global warming was nothing but a scare and global temperatures were actually falling. Problem is, they used a completely unrelated video about La Nina, with my face in it, to attempt to back their point. What’s worse is that the U.S.Committee on Space, Science, & Technology actually tweeted it out. Here’s the thing: Science doesn’t care about your opinion. Cherry-picking and twisting the facts will not change the future, nor the fact — not opinion — that the earth is warming. So let’s break it down.

Their first claim is that “Global land temperatures have plummeted by one degree Celsius since the middle of this year — the biggest and steepest fall on record.” Now, that was based on one satellite estimate of global land temperatures, not a consensus. And second of all, land temperatures aren’t an appropriate measure. The earth is 70 percent water, and water is where we store most of our heat energy, so when you look at sea surface temperatures, and you combine that with land temperatures, you actually get a record high for November of 2016.

Their second claim: “It can be argued that without the El Nino … 2014-2016 would not have been record warm years.” Now, if you’re taking a look at the Arctic sea ice melting here in this video from NASA — when you actually normalize the data, aka take out the El Nino spike in temperatures, 2015 and 2016 still come in as the warmest years on record.

So that brings me to claim number three: “Many think that 2017 will be cooler than previous years.” Now, it is typical, yes, for temperatures to drop in a post-El Nino environment, but certainly not to record lows. If that claim was correct, we would have had global record lows all over the last century, and we haven’t seen that since 1911. The last time we fell below the 20th century average was in 1976, and guess what? That was directly following the 1974-1975 strong El Nino. So next time you’re thinking about publishing a cherry-picked article, try consulting a scientist first, and to all my fellow scientists out there: Let’s make the facts louder than the opinions.