In 2018, myriad extreme weather events wreaked havoc across the globe. Dire, authoritative reports were released, confirming unequivocally that the climate crisis is happening, that it’s driven by the burning of fossil fuels and that it requires immediate and bold action.
The first half of 2019 has already delivered more of the same undeniable climate chaos.
But dangerous climate denial still persists in our political institutions, funded by Big Polluters and fed to large parts of the populace by right-wing media, further contributing to ongoing and deadly inaction.
In the face of a crisis that threatens our very existence, the most watched cable news network in the country — the Fox News Network — is still promoting climate misinformation and deploying tactics to distract from the urgency of the climate crisis, ensuring that its viewers’ understanding of the issue is based on deliberately distorted facts and distractions.
The millions of Americans who tune into Fox News are regularly bombarded with messages intended to undermine climate science, cast climate advocates as hysterical and frame climate policy as dangerous and un-American.
A review of Fox News programs for the first half of 2019 reveals that the network continues to give ample airtime to long debunked climate myths and fringe deniers. Among Fox’s roster of contributors on climate issues, not one is a climate scientist, and none has appeared on any other major network to talk about climate during the period reviewed.
For this analysis, we searched Fox News Network television transcripts from the first six months of 2019 that mentions of “climate change” or “global warming.” We classified occurrences as a “brief mention” if the use of these terms was unrelated to the topic of the conversation or did not prompt further discussion of a climate-related topic. Otherwise, the occurrences were classified as “segments.”
Segments were evaluated for neutrality, climate change denial and anti-climate bias. They were deemed to include denial tactics or bias if any individual on the program downplayed the severity of climate change, denied the scientific consensus on climate change, spread scientific misinformation, redirected criticism to personal attacks on climate advocates or employed “big government” fear mongering tactics.
We used Nexis to search the television transcripts from Fox News Network. We used the “Group Duplicates” feature, set on “High Similarity.” The vendor of Fox News Network transcripts does not supply for full coverage for “Fox & Friends First,” “Fox & Friends,” “America’s Newsroom,” “Outnumbered,” “Outnumbered Overtime with Harris Faulkner,” “The Daily Briefing with Dana Perino,” “Fox Report Weekend,” “Shepard Smith Reporting,” “America’s News HQ,” and “Cavuto Live,” and therefore these programs are not included in the analysis. This analysis does not include Fox Business or local Fox stations.
- From January through June 2019, Fox News Network programs mentioned climate change or global warming 391 times, which amounts to roughly 65 mentions per month.
- Of those mentions, 247 involved considerable discussion of the issue. The remaining 144 mentions were brief.
- Of the 247 segments, 212 or 86% were dismissive of the climate crisis, cast warming and its consequences in doubt or employed fear mongering when discussing climate solutions.
- Two programs, “Special Report With Bret Baier” and “Fox News @ Night” together accounted for 24 of the 35 segments that were neutral when mentioning climate change or discussion of climate solutions. And four of the five segments on “Fox News Sunday” with host Chris Wallace were neutral.
- Fox News’s three top-rated programs for the first quarter of 2019 account for 35% of segments. They are “Hannity” (3.12 million total viewers on average), “Tucker Carlson Tonight” (2.98 million viewers) and “The Ingraham Angle” (2.43 million viewers).
- Fox News’s three top-rated programs ran 25 more segments, or four more per month, than MSNBC’s three top-rated programs. “The Rachel Maddow Show” ran 15 segments, “The Final Word With Lawrence O’Donnell” ran 10 and “All In With Chris Hayes” ran 36.
- In absolute terms, “Tucker Carlson Tonight” ran the most climate denial segments with 41 or approximately seven per month, followed by “Hannity” with 32 and “The Five” with 29.
- Fox News programs had 10 contributors who commented on climate related issues at least twice during the six-month period. None of these contributors is a climate scientist and none has appeared on another network.
- The Green New Deal, U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and the Democratic primary were the main drivers prompting discussion of the climate crisis on Fox programs in the first six months of 2019. Combined, they provide the context for 62% of the 247 segments.
Denial Is Alive and Deadly on Fox News
With 391 mentions of climate change or global warming on programs airing from January to June, Fox News Network is far from silent on climate.
In fact, Fox News three most-viewed programs are discussing climate more than their liberal counterparts at MSNBC. From January through June 2019, “Hannity,” “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” and “The Ingraham Angle” collectively mentioned climate change or global warming in 86 different segments. During the same period, “The Rachel Maddow Show,” “The Final Word with Lawrence O’Donnell,” and “All In With Chris Hayes” ran a combined 61 segments discussing the climate crisis.
Overall, the right-wing network ran 247 segments. The vast majority — 212 or 86% — were dismissive of the climate crisis, cast its consequences in doubt or employed fear mongering when discussing climate solutions. A mere 35 segments were neutral on the issue or represented straight reporting on the climate crisis or solutions absent editorializing.
Two programs, “Special Report With Bret Baier” and “Fox News @ Night,” accounted for 71% of segments that were neutral when mentioning climate change or global warming.
Fox Whistles: Top Three Messages Used by Fox News to Undermine Climate Action
A common tactic Fox News uses to undermine climate science, action and advocacy is to frame the climate crisis as a political construct. In these cases, the host or guest assigns values to climate that are misaligned with the network’s largest demographic — those who identify as conservative and Republican. These commentators rarely, if ever, address the body of scientific evidence or climate events directly, but rather project the issue through a political lens. Viewers are left to form opinions about the issues in the absence of facts and evidence.
In the past six months, the following three messages have been invoked repeatedly, in some form, across the majority of Fox News programs, but were highly concentrated in the network’s most popular opinion programs. They are intended to elicit a negative response to the climate crisis and those who advocate the changes needed to address it.
Message 1: Climate Change Is a Vehicle for the Democrats’ Radical Big-Government Agenda
Seventy-two segments discussing the climate crisis (34%) suggested that responding to climate change, especially through policies like a Green New Deal, will result in government control over our lives.
“Hannity” had the most segments featuring this message with 18, or 56% of total segments, followed by “Tucker Carlson Tonight” with 13 (32%) and “The Five” with 12 (41%).
Message 2: Responding to the Climate Crisis would Kill Our Economy and Send Us Back to the Stone Age
Closely associated with the “Big Government” message and often used in the same breath is the suggestion that climate action would mean extreme individual sacrifice and the demise of prosperity. Fifty-five segments (26%) equate climate action, including the transition to a clean-energy economy, with economic collapse.
“Hannity” leads again, using this message 11 times (in 34% of segments on climate), followed by “The Five” using the message 10 times (34% of climate segments). “Fox News @ Night” uses the message six times (26% of climate segments).
Message 3: Concern About the Climate Crisis Is Liberal Hysteria
Rounding out the top three messages is one intended to undermine the urgency of the climate crisis by painting climate advocates or climate scientists as “alarmists”, “hysterical”, “chicken littles” and a “doomsday climate cult.” These labels not only deepen the political divide; they send a clear message to viewers to interpret the latest science on climate as exaggerated and to view scientists and advocates with distrust. Twenty-six segments, or 12% of discussions on the climate crisis used this form of name calling or used the terms “hysteria” or “alarmism” when referring to climate science.
“Hannity” used these labels eight times or during 25% of segments on climate. “Tucker Carlson Tonight” used them six times or during 15% of segments and “Fox News @ Night” used them five times or during 22% of segments.
Fox Fallacies and Tricks
In addition to these partisan signals, Fox News Network employed a number of other false arguments and tricks to keep climate denial and doubt alive during an era when climate catastrophe is becoming increasingly apparent to Americans.
Ad Hominem Attacks
In the past six months, those who advocate climate action have been subjected to personal attack by Fox News hosts.
U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) has served as a regular punching bag for Fox News hosts and their guests. In one exchange between Sean Hannity and former Democratic National Committee Chair Donna Brazile, she jabs the network for its obsession with AOC, joking that programs have mentioned ”AOC well over 3,000 times.” For Ocasio-Cortez’s acknowledgment of the climate crisis and support for the Green New Deal, Fox News has accused her of “capitalizing on a fear” and “pushing doom and gloom day and night.” She’s been called a “radical nut job”, “Scary-o-Cortez” and “dumb and totally ignorant of everything.”
While Ocasio-Cortez is by far the most vilified and attacked climate advocate, she is not the only one. Another example is provided by science communicator Bill Nye. After appearing on John Oliver’s HBO program, “Last Week Tonight,” Nye was Hannity’s “Villain of the Day.” A guest on “The Ingraham Angle” suggested that calling Bill Nye a scientist was akin to referring to “George Clooney as a doctor or Harrison Ford as an archaeologist.” Tucker Carlson suggested that Nye’s appearance was just a stunt to get his own Netflix series.
A favorite distraction tactic used by Fox News hosts is to pivot any discussion about warming to the “hypocrisy” of “elites” and “liberals” who advocate climate solutions. The argument is that, if climate change is an existential crisis, then climate advocates would reduce their own carbon footprints to zero. But because climate champions like U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) fly on private jets and Ocasio-Cortez uses Uber instead of public transportation, the crisis must not be real or very urgent.
The hypocrisy argument takes many forms, but on at least 11 occasions in the past six months, Fox News hosts have referenced the use of air travel to discredit those concerned about climate or to question the reality of human-induced warming, like this example from Tucker Carlson on January 14:
Elites love to impose gas taxes on everyone else while flying private to conferences in Switzerland, where they worry about melting ice caps. That’s obviously a scam. Let’s just be honest about it.
Whether or not driving or using other forms of private transportation is hypocrisy is not the point. In reality, while individual action on climate is important, it is wholly inadequate for addressing the scale of the climate crisis. The crisis requires, above all, systemic policy responses that can be implemented only by governments.
Another oft-repeated argument directed at climate scientists is that “they have been wrong before, so they must be wrong now.” The most common version of this argument is the myth that climate scientists predicted in the 1970s that there would be a dramatic period of global cooling. As Sean Hannity said in a typical segment, “Look at that, the big freeze, the next Ice Age is coming.” That’s what they told us in the ’70s. That then evolved into, uh-oh, the world has a fever, as Al Gore said and scaring people.” The reality is that a small pocket of scientists suggested the Earth could enter a new ice age in the next few centuries. At the time, 62% of climate scientists predicted warming. Forty years of observation and analysis have brought that number up to 97% of climate scientists agreeing that human beings are causing global warming.
In the past six months, Fox News has not once referenced the scientific consensus around the climate crisis. According to recent polling, one in four Americans (25%) think there is a lot of disagreement among scientists about whether or not global warming is happening, and a mere 17% understand that there is a scientific consensus that human-caused global warming is happening. This lack of public understanding cannot be pinned solely on Fox News, but the media plays a role in public perception and understanding of issues. And no other major media outlet is pushing out climate doubt, to so many viewers, as often as Fox News.
Frequently during the first half of 2019, Fox News hosts latched on to singular comments by Democratic politicians and what they deemed to be extreme responses to the climate crisis. These topics were brought up and mocked repeatedly in an attempt to deny the climate crisis, discredit policymakers and vilify climate policy.
The most common use of this tactic is the repetitive mention and mocking of Rep. Ocasio-Cortez’s claim that “the world is going to end in 12 years if we do not address climate change” (a claim she later deemed “dry humor + sarcasm”). The comment was made in reference to the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C, which asserts that global temperature warming will likely reach 1.5°C by the year 2030.
Fox News hosts referenced Ocasio-Cortez’s world-ending comment 56 times in the first six months of 2019. Out of 56 references, the IPCC report was mentioned only five times. On only two occasions did the network discuss the staggering conclusions of the report that informed Ocasio-Cortez’s remarks. A premade video segment from correspondent Peter Doocy identified that the report “doesn’t call for the end of the world in 12 years, but rather irreversible damage to the planet in a decade if emissions aren’t quickly curbed” and was aired on two seperate programs immediately following Ocasio-Cortez’s comment.
The video clip of Ocasio-Cortez’s claim was played eight times during the remainder of January and continued to be replayed 12 more times, with the last showing on June 4.
Sixteen references to the world ending in 12 years did not reference Ocasio-Cortez. These mentions were used to mock advocates of climate policy, deny the climate crisis and criticize Democrats’ attempts to enact climate policy.
Fox News Climate “CON”tributors
Assisting Fox News Network in climate denial and misinformation is a roster of long discredited climate contrarians whose views are solicited only by Fox News. None of the following men have appeared on other major television news networks to speak on matters related to climate.
When discussing climate change in the first half of 2019, the Fox News Network repeatedly featured and legitimized contributors whose climate views contradict the consensus of the climate science community. Many of these contributors have ties to the fossil fuel industry and have been criticized for spreading misinformation about climate change. Notably, none are climate scientists. The following contributors each appeared on the Fox News Network to discuss climate change at least twice in the first six months of 2019.
Joe Bastardi is a meteorologist and a climate skeptic. He is currently the chief forecaster for WeatherBell Analytics LLC. He also works as a senior advisor at the Energy & Environment Legal Institute (formerly known as American Tradition Institute), a group denounced by the American Association for the Advancement of Science for contributing to an “environment that inhibits the free exchange of scientific findings and ideas.” Bastardi insists that carbon dioxide is not a major player in determining global temperatures: “I believe the sun, ocean cycles and stochastic events play a much more significant role.” He has been a contributor on Fox News Network for more than a decade.
In March, while appearing on “Hannity,” he suggested that human activity is not “controlling the climate,” which is effectively contrary to the conclusion of nearly 200 worldwide scientific organizations and the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
Justin Haskins is an editorial director and a research fellow at the Exxon Mobil and Koch Foundation-funded Heartland Institute. With a background in communication and political science, Haskins is largely involved in publications and productions by Heartland. In 2017, he published a piece detailing six reasons he was a climate skeptic and was criticized for the falsehoods they presented.
In April 2019, Haskins told a Fox Business reporter that he saw “no evidence that modest warming is creating any sort of a [sic] environmental crisis.”
Chris Horner is a senior legal fellow for the Energy and Environment Legal Institute (E&E Legal). Horner formerly served as a senior fellow for Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), one of Washington, D.C.’s top conservative think tanks. CEI has received at least $2.1 million from fossil fuel giant Exxon Mobil. Bankruptcy filings for Alpha Natural Resources in 2015 exposed Horner’s deep financial ties to the coal industry and work he has done on behalf of big polluters.
In March, he went on “Hannity” to revive the debunked argument, intended to discredit climate scientists, that the same scientific community that is predicting warming predicted global cooling in the 1970s.
Rush Limbaugh is a conservative political commentator and host of the radio talk show “The Rush Limbaugh Show.” He does frequent segments on his radio show pushing his conspiracy theory that climate change is the creation of agenda-driven scientists who develop computer models that exaggerate scientific findings in efforts to prove climate change. He has proclaimed himself as “an expert in debunking this whole leftist political argument in man-made climate change.”
In February, he appeared on “Fox News Sunday” again asserting that climate change is a hoax. “Climate change is nothing but a bunch of computer models that attempt to tell us what’s going to happen in 50 years or 30,” Limbaugh stated. “Notice the predictions are never for next year or the next ten years. They’re always for way, way, way, way out there, when none of us are going to be around or alive to know whether or not they were true.”
Bjorn Lomborg is a political scientist, author, and the founder and president of the Copenhagen Consensus Center. Lomborg has published three books that downplay the risk of climate change, despite having no background in climate science. Lomborg has frequently asserted that the risks of climate change are not great enough to justify large-scale policies to reduce carbon emissions, instead arguing that “drastic carbon cuts would be the poorest way to respond to global warming.” Claims made by Lomborg in his books have been frequently criticized. His first book, “The Skeptical Environmentalist,” drew criticism for failing to “meet basic standards of credible scientific analysis” and his second book, “Cool It,” for being “riddled with small inaccuracies” and “displaying a pervasive bias in its coverage and evaluations of climate issues.” Lomberg has ties to both the Heartland Institute and CEI and received an award from CEI in 2003.
In April, Lomborg appeared on Tucker Carlson’s show and stated, “They’re telling us global warming is a problem. But it’s also a moderate one…”
Steve Milloy is the founder and publisher of junkscience.com and self-described as exposing “faulty scientific data and analysis used to advance special interests and hidden agendas.” In addition to spreading doubt about the science of the climate crisis, he is a senior policy fellow at the Energy & Environment Legal Institute and former director of internal policy and strategy at Murray Energy, the largest privately held coal producer in the U.S., and the co-founder of “Burn More Coal.” Milloy has financial ties to the tobacco, chemical and oil and gas industries, having gotten his start as a denialist for the tobacco and chemical industries in the 1990s. In 1998, he helped write the American Petroleum Institute’s strategy to challenge climate science. Milloy previously served as an adjunct scholar at both the Cato Institute and the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) and currently serves as a policy advisor to the Heartland Institute.
In February 2019, Milloy appeared on “Special Report with Bret Baier” and claimed that climate change was just the Democrats’ pretext for advancing radical political agendas. “We always knew climate was a stalking horse for socialism, communism, totalitarianism, whatever you want to call it,” Milloy said.
Patrick Moore is a nuclear energy advocate and the founder of Greenspirit Strategies, a PR company that works “with many leading organizations in forestry, biotechnology, aquaculture and plastics, developing solutions in the areas of natural resources, biodiversity, energy and climate change.” Moore self-identifies as a founding member of Greenpeace, but the organization has denied this claim, stating that Moore “often misrepresents himself in the media as an environmental ‘expert’ or even an ‘environmentalist,’ while offering anti-environmental opinions on a wide range of issues and taking a distinctly anti-environmental stance.” Greenpeace also identified him as “a paid spokesman for a variety of polluting industries for more than 30 years.” Moore denies the role of carbon dioxide in climate change and has previously encouraged the celebration of carbon, stating, “carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels is the stuff of life, the currency of life, indeed the backbone of life on Earth.”
While a guest on “Fox News @ Night” in March, Moore claimed a lack of evidence that carbon dioxide in contributing to climate change, stating “the climate crisis is not just fake news, it’s fake science.”
Marc Morano is the front man of the anti-climate-science website ClimateDepot.com and author of “The Politically Incorrect Guide to Climate Change.” Morano has no scientific training nor educational background in climatology. The website is a fabrication of the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow (CFACT), a conservative and anti-regulation think-tank based in Washington, D.C., where Morano works as the communications director. CFACT receives funding from the Koch Brothers, ExxonMobil and Chevron, and gets hundreds of thousands of dollars from foundations associated with dirty energy tycoon Richard Mellon Scaife. Morano was in Rolling Stone’s article, “The Climate Killers,” listed as one of “17 polluters and deniers who are derailing efforts to curb global warming.”
In May he appeared on “Special Report With Bret Baier” attempting to discredit the United Nations’ climate reports, claiming their sole interests reside in politics and not science. He called the U.N. “a self-interested lobbying organization.”
Mark Steyn is a Canadian author and columnist of SteynOnline.com. Steyn attended the King Edward’s School in Birmingham, U.K., leaving in 1978 when he was 18 years old. Steyn is often a featured speaker at climate denial conferences hosted by groups such as the CO2 Coalition, The New Criterion and the Heartland Institute. These events, with titles such as The Climate Surprise: Why CO2 Is Good for the Earth and the Tenth International Conference on Climate Change, are funded by Exxon Mobil, DonorsTrust and the Koch Brothers. He is infamously known for attacking Michael Mann’s “Hockey Stick” graph, which predicted a sharp rise in global temperatures as carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere increased. He went on to call Mann “the Jerry Sandusky of climate science” and claim he “has molested and tortured data in the service of politicized science that could have dire economic consequences for the nation and the planet.”
While a guest on “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” on April 22, Steyn deflected the climate crisis while claiming Democrats merely use it as a platform to appeal to voters. “Climate change is essentially a boutique issue, it’s almost like an accessory for Western liberal politicians to flaunt how much they care while actually doing nothing about the people and the jurisdictions for which they’re actually responsible.”
Daniel Turner is the founder and executive director of Power the Future, an energy advocacy organization that supports the fossil fuel industry. Despite its focus on energy, the nonprofit has no official stance on climate change. However, Turner previously told climate change campaigners in a blog post that if they “are so anti-energy, don’t use it.” Turner is an alumnus of the Charles Koch Institute and previously worked for the Koch-tied non-profit, Generation Opportunity. After earning a degree in Philosophy, he went on to specialize in communications and public affairs. He is also an affiliate of the Heartland Institute.
During a June appearance on “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” Turner criticized Democratic Presidential Candidate Joe Biden’s announced climate plan which aims to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, calling it “nonsensical.” He went on to claim that “every proposal that involves climate change, usually enriches their donors and their donor base, or it takes away individual rights and individual liberty.”
This year we experienced the hottest June ever recorded. In India, deadly temperatures reached and stayed above 120 degrees for days. France experienced its most brutally hot day in recorded history, at nearly 115 degrees.
The rapid overheating of our planet from the burning of fossil fuels is a clear and present threat. There is no debate that the climate crisis is now.
One should be hard pressed, in this era of climate catastrophe, to find climate denial in legitimate media sources. In fact, the presence of regular deniers and dissemination of misinformation about the climate crisis should disqualify a news outlet as a fair and balanced source of information – and most importantly, should not be trusted.
The Fox News Network and its hosts, with few exceptions, are peddling climate denial to millions of Americans on a regular basis.
This review began with the hypothesis that Fox News Network might be using newer, more nuanced and sophisticated forms of climate denial to keep audiences doubting the reality playing out before their eyes. This hypothesis was wrong. This review shows that Fox News’ denial handbook has not been updated. The misinformation the network is pushing out and the deniers it gives a platform to are long debunked and well exposed. The tactics they use, from naming calling to mockery, are transparent and inflammatory.
More than that, denial, like our rapidly warming climate, is becoming increasingly dangerous. By keeping doubt alive and deniers in business, Fox New Network is contributing to U.S. climate inaction.