Last Friday, the Trump administration tried to bury a climate change report by releasing it the day after Thanksgiving, a day when Americans historically don’t pay attention to TV news, much less politics. This is no accident—the report was originally slated to be released next month, but was moved up at the last minute.
The report, which was compiled by more than 13 federal agencies and over 300 climate scientists, suggests that not only is the earth’s climate rapidly changing, but also that humans are playing an active role in that change. This is something that the Trump administration would no doubt want to bury—the Republicans are consistently in favor of affording protection to corporations over human lives, and Trump himself believes climate change is a hoax, “created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.”
Many major news networks caught wind of the report, and the sneaky Friday news dump was not as quiet as the administration would have liked. But the consistent mishandling and misreporting by major news network talk shows has obfuscated the importance of the report. Networks like Fox News, NBC and CNN have consistently allowed voices onto their programs that are deliberately untruthful, and their antics with the climate report are just the latest in a long history of bad-faith arguments and “both-sides”-ism. Cataloguing the ways in which they mishandle the climate change report is valuable, because it provides a blueprint for the way that every issue is made into a partisan one.
Media Matters editor John Whitehouse on Twitter provides the example of a Meet the Press panel in which a panelist, who is not a scientist, is given the opportunity to weigh in on whether climate change is indeed a fact, saying, “We need to also recognize we had two of the coldest years, biggest drop in global temperatures that we have had since the 1980s, the biggest in the last 100 years. We don’t talk about that.” On the same program, GOP Senator Mike Lee said that climate change would need to be combatted not with legislation, but with “innovation,” once again shifting the blame onto citizens rather than government.
Whitehouse goes on to point out how after Lee’s statement, anchor Chuck Todd goes on to interview Tom Steyer without once bringing up climate change again for the rest of the program. It speaks to an unwillingness to dialogue deeply about the issues, and rather allow “both sides,” meaning people who either believe or blatantly disregard truth, their chance to speak “their opinions” on the scientific facts of climate change.
On Fox News, the truth is not even obfuscated—it’s outright ignored. Whitehouse points out a CNN report that shows how Fox News spent more time covering Democratic Senator Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s shoes than the report.
CNN, too, is complicit in this blurring of objective reality. On State of the Union, they interviewed GOP Senator Joni Ernst on the topic of climate change, with Ernst pulling out the classic Republican hand-wave, “Our climate always changes and we see those ebb and flows through time … We need to always consider the impact to American industry and jobs.” CNN also brought on noted Tea Party loon Rick Santorum, who praised the Trump administration for trying to bury the report and echoed Trump’s claim that climate change is made up by scientists “driven by money.”
Most damning, however, is when Whitehouse points out that not a single Sunday talk show segment on climate change featured a scientist throughout 2016 and 2017.
By allowing pundits who are funded by corporate interests to continually obfuscate just how bad the risk of climate change is, news networks like Fox News and CNN have mishandled the severity of the climate report, even when they are covering it.