New Study: 72 Percent of Fox News Climate Segments Are Misleading

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This post first appeared at Mother Jones.

According to a Pew study released last year, 38 percent of US adults watch cable news. So if you want to know why so many Americans deny or doubt the established science of climate change, the content they’re receiving on cable news may well point the way.

According to a new study by the Union of Concerned Scientists, misinformation about climate science on cable news channels is pretty common. The study found that last year, 30 percent of CNN’s climate-related segments were misleading, compared with 72 percent for Fox News and just 8 percent for MSNBC. The study methodology was quite strict: segments that contained “any inaccurate or misleading representations of climate science” were classified as misleading.

By far the worst performer was Fox (this is hardly the first study to associate this channel with sowing reams of doubt about climate change). Notably, the UCS report found that “more than half” of the channel’s misleading content was due to The Five, a program where the hosts regularly argue against climate science. For instance, Greg Gutfeld, one of the show’s regular co-hosts, charged on September 30 that “experts pondered hiding the news that the earth hadn’t…warmed in 15 years, despite an increase in emissions. They concluded that the missing heat was trapped in the ocean. It’s like blaming gas on the dog if the ocean was your dog.” (To understand what is actually going on with the alleged global warming “pause,” and why the deep oceans may well explain part of the story, click here.)

You can watch Gutfeld’s comments here:

As Gutfeld’s statement suggests, one of the standard Fox practices was sowing doubt about scientists themselves. On February 13, 2013, for instance, Sean Hannity commented, “I don’t believe that this global warming nonsense is real,” and then went on to mention “phony emails” from climate scientists. (If you want to know what was actually up with those emails, read here.)

Fox’s two most accurate programs with respect to climate science were The O’Reilly Factor and Special Report with Bret Baier. As the UCS study put it, “O’Reilly and Baier’s programs, although also airing a number of segments containing inaccurate statements about climate science, were responsible for nearly all of the network’s accurate coverage.”

In contrast to Fox, the study found that MSNBC was overwhelmingly accurate in its coverage, and also devoted a great deal of attention to climate change. That was particularly the case for programs hosted by Chris Hayes, whose All In With Chris Hayes featured 30 segments about climate change. When MSNBC did err, the study found, it was because hosts or guests “overstated the effects of climate change, particularly the link between climate change and specific types of extreme weather, such as tornadoes.”

CNN provides the most interesting case in the analysis. In general, the network was usually accurate; when it erred, however, it tended to be because climate-denying guests had appeared in “debates” the network hosted over the reality of climate change. Take a January 23 debate on Out Front with Erin Burnett, for instance, in which Erick Erickson of RedState (then a CNN contributor) claimed that “the 1950s had more extreme weather than now.”

Overall, the UCS report calculated that if CNN had not hosted misleading science debates, it would have improved its accuracy rating to 86 percent. “The biggest step that CNN could take to increase the accuracy of the information it provides to its viewers,” the study concluded, “is to stop hosting debates about established climate science and instead host debates and discussions about whether and how to respond to climate change through climate policy.”

Chris Mooney is a science and political journalist, podcaster and the host of Climate Desk Live. He is the author of four books, including the New York Times bestselling The Republican War on Science.
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  • Anonymous

    You mean that nearly three quarters of Fox News’ reports on climate were inaccurate? I’m shocked (not). It seems pretty clear which station you should watch if you want facts over opinions. Put this together with the report that showed that those who denied climate change were also more likely to believe irrational conspiracy theories and you have clear evidence that Fox News is the Weekly World News of TV.

  • Anonymous

    So the UNION of Concerned Scientists study is simply saying that Fox News had more segments that disagreed with the Union’s opinion, and MSNBC had more segments that agreed with the Union’s opinion.

    That is quite a leap for the headline and the article to equate disagreeing with the Union with being inaccurate.

    When Galileo disagreed with the scientific consensus of his day, he too was called inaccurate and a heretic.

    When many Americans disagreed with the US Peak Fossil Energy scientific consensus of just a few years ago, they were called “clueless” and “in denial of reality”.

    When many Americans disagreed with the mass starvation that was sure to come with the “Population Bomb” scientific consensus, they too were called ostriches.

    Well, guess what, the earth is not flat, there is a glut of Fossil energy in the US, the population of the world is not starving, instead, it is becoming increasingly obese.

    And so it shall be with climate change. Whatever happened, we, as smart, resourceful, rich people will solve it with late 21st century technology. Just like we solved food demands with mechanization and fertilizers and solved the energy needs with framing and horizontal drilling.

    Global warming, if it does happen, will be a jobs program. Building seawalls around NYC, will create “good American jobs”.

    I can understand why the Union is frustrated. They try to alarm the population, but are basically ignored. American’s can’t get scared easily.

  • Dano2

    So the UNION of Concerned Scientists study is simply saying that Fox News had more segments that disagreed with the Union’s opinion, and MSNBC had more segments that agreed with the Union’s opinion.

    False.

    You may want to learn what the scientific consensus is, and what ‘misleading’ means.

    Good luck.

    Best,

    D

  • Anonymous

    Excellent topic, excellent headline. Then I followed the link to this page and the next paragraph quotes a Union of Concerned Scientists study? Really?

    In my experience the UCS are a bunch of fear mongerers. They pick an outcome to a scenario, and any studies that contradict their stance is ignored or ridiculed rather than debated and considered. A true scientist would be open to all new data and theories – they are generally close minded. Which is why I would group UCS with FoxNews; and just below The Onion News Network.

    Moyers & Co; surely you can find better sources.

  • Tina Peterson

    Climate Change is such a huge problem. For Fox to mislead and deny it is treasonous.

  • masmpg

    Just another way to steal our hard earned tax dollars! Do any of you know what would happen if we eliminate greenhouse gasses? The idiocy of global warming is astounding! Those who believe these mainstream megaliars are in for a real treat when you are put in a position where you will actually have to speak for yourselves instead of just quoting something because you heard it on TV. @nobrains

  • beam-me-up

    “Cable News” is an oxymoron. If most of what people “know” or rather more truthfully “believe” is coming from the cable box, the pulpit or the politician, we’re all in for some hard lessons. Science in the mainstream today truly is a candle in the dark as Carl Sagan so aptly pointed out.

  • Anonymous

    You would also have to “assume” that I believe everything that Bill Moyers says is true. He’s a journalist, and they have all shown themselves to be biased.

  • Invasive Evasion

    FOX “News” is not a news organization, it is a political organization. It’s a political organization whose secondary function (after making Rupert Murdoch wealthy) is to spread the warped views of Roger Ailes. He sends his morning memo to his minions who repeat whatever lie they told to sell to their gullible audience. Political advertisements are almost universally dishonest. The question we should be asking is why such a large percentage of the public can’t distinguish between news and political propaganda.

  • Invasive Evasion

    It’s no leap at all to use scientists as a benchmark for science. People with advanced degrees in science, who have committed their lives to science, are the only people qualified to determine scientific consensus. In your analogy, the FOX political organization would be the Catholic church, not Galileo. Fossil fuel is finite, human overpopulation is depleting the planet’s resources, and neither of these is a valid comparision to the certainty of scientific consensus on global warming. Creating man-made environmental disasters is an obviously foolish idea for a jobs program. That’s like arguing that we should shoot ourselves in the face to justify more doctors, and thus improve our health.

    Do you really think that your poor attempts at right wing trolling are actually changing anyone’s mind on this site?

  • Anonymous

    Required reading for policy wonks: Doubt is Their Product: How Industry’s Assault on Science Threatens Your Health by David Michaels. While the subtitle is a little tabloid-y the book is very solid – actually a little heavy on government acronyms and parties to lawsuits you’ll never hear about again. But it make a compelling and disturbing case about how well-resourced industry hires… ” Product defense consultants… increasingly skewed the scientific literature, manufactured and magnified scientific uncertainty, and influenced policy decisions to the advantage of polluters and the manufacturers of dangerous products. To keep the public confused about the hazards posed by global warming, second-hand smoke, asbestos, lead, plastics, and many other toxic materials, industry executives have hired unscrupulous scientists and lobbyists to dispute scientific evidence about health risks. In doing so, they have not only delayed action on specific hazards, but they have constructed barriers to make it harder for lawmakers, government agencies, and courts to respond to future threats. The Orwellian strategy of dismissing research conducted by the scientific community as “junk science” and elevating science conducted by product defense specialists to “sound science” status also creates confusion about the very nature of scientific inquiry and undermines the public’s confidence in science’s ability to address public health and environmental concerns Such reckless practices have long existed, but Michaels argues that the Bush administration deepened the dysfunction by virtually handing over regulatory agencies to the very corporate powers whose products and behavior they are charged with overseeing.

    In Doubt Is Their Product Michaels proves, beyond a doubt, that our regulatory system has been broken. He offers concrete, workable suggestions for how it can be restored by taking the politics out of science and ensuring that concern for public safety, rather than private profits, guides our regulatory policy.”

  • Right

    You’ve got to be joking. The Union of Concerned Scientists… This is an organization whose sole purpose for existence is promoting the AGW hypothesis. They have no objectivity on the matter whatsoever. For Bill Moyers to cite this is a disgrace to journalism.

  • James Kirk

    Assuming global warming is a huge hoax, would you not be better of if your home could be retrofitted with solar panels, which would allow you to generate your own electricity without relying on the power grid and the utility companies.
    Further, would you also not be better off, if your car could go 50-100 miles on a gallon of gas then the current approximately 30-35 MPG.
    Is private enterprise a better master than big government?

  • Dano2

    Do you have any evidence that the data they analyzed was flawed, or their analysis was flawed?

    Best,

    D

  • JJ042804

    Or if your Car wouldn’t need any Gas at all, unless you love to pay high Gas Prices!? (just a little support for you, James! :D )

  • unsavedheathen

    “Well, guess what, the earth is not flat, there is a glut of Fossil energy in the US, the population of the world is not starving, instead, it is becoming increasingly obese.”

    Yes, the world is not flat. But that fact was a understood scientifically as far back as ancient Greece. The Earth-centric view of the universe was pushed by the RCC. Wow, religion suppressing science! Who knew!

    I assume that the fossil fuel glut you mention refers to tar sand oil and natural gas obtained through fracking. To extract the fossil fuels you allude to, we seem determined to destroy our air and freshwater aquifers.

    The population of the world is not growing obese. The population of nations eating the processed swill produced by the Cargills and Monsantos of the world are growing fat. A huge percentage of the world lives with food insecurity, not knowing with certainty that they will have enough food day to day. And to manufacture the cheap food that America has grown obese eating, we have only had to sacrifice our topsoil and poison ourselves with pesticides and herbicides.

  • Bwigbwadbwob

    Faux news watchers/believers will jump on the 8% misleading chunk that MSNBC has rather than look at how misleading Fox is. Some will say “See, both sides are wrong!” in an effort to minimize the blow that Faux News is by far the most misleading.

  • http://www.facebook.com/RPManke.solar RevPhil Manke

    Actually, we need the proper function of both. Private enterprise to expand economies, and the oversight of government limitation and law enforcement to assure safety for all people. When Govt works in league with private enterprise, the way is made for corruption and oppresive Fascism.

  • Anonymous

    CNN, as all journalists, will improve their standing when they challenge assumptions from their contributors. I’m not at all surprised about Fox “news”, and oxymoron if there ever was one. I don’t know of any other “news” organization that successfully defended itself in a wrongful termination lawsuit by saying they have the right to fire journalists who refuse to participate in lies because FCC policies against “intentional falsification of the news” has no legal standing. The Florida judge ruled in their favor and said their defense is despicable, but there’s nothing in our legal system to protect journalists when they refuse to participate in lies. Journalists are supposed to tell the truth whether the truth is fair or balanced.

  • Right

    Absolutely, James. There are several good arguments that can be made for reducing fossil fuel consumption. Reducing our reliance on Middle Eastern oil is a great one.

  • Right

    Yes, I do, Dano. It’s right here, from their own “methodology” document.

    Segments marked as “misleading debates” included segments in which hosts or guests argued about established science on climate change, such as whether or not climate change is occurring or largely human-induced

    So, if you have a segment in which there is even debate as to whether climate change is “largely human-induced” (lots of scientific precision in that term, eh?), it is characterized a “misleading”. This means that the AGW hypothesis, which has still yet to be validated (and the horrendous model prediction inaccuracy has certainly not helped), is to be taken as scientific fact, as settled as F=ma, and any discussion that even questions that orthodoxy puts the entire segment in the “misleading” category.

    Conversely, segments that don’t debate the subject at all, and simply agree with the UCS’ stated position, earn the “accurate” label.

    There is nothing here that even remotely resembles objectivity. There is still considerable room for debate on the subject of AGW and climate science in general. The UCS is in the science-is-settled camp, and they are simply labeling any statement that doesn’t line up with their advocacy “misleading”.

  • Dano2

    Sounds like you’ve found a crumb and are declaring a feast.

    What you’ve given is not evidence, just wishes and speculation and motivated reasoning.

    No evidence.

    Thanks!

    Best,

    D

  • Right

    Ha! A “crumb”. Sure – a major flaw in their “methodology” is but a crumb.

    And “wishes” and “speculation”?? What on Earth does that mean?

    Sounds like you got called on your challenge, and now you’re trying the la-la-la-I-can’t-hear-you approach.

  • Dano2

    Again, you have no evidence.

    Just wishing and waving your hands around.

    Best,

    D

  • Right

    Dano, you crack me up. I do have evidence, and I posted it. It’s right there in black-and-white. I provided an excerpt of their own methodology, verbatim, and an explanation as to why it’s flawed. That is “evidence” that their methodology is flawed. Unless perhaps, you were looking for some complicated statistical analysis, or a mathematical proof, or secretly-taped audio, or carbon-dating, or something else that in your mind constitutes “evidence”.

    What you don’t have is a rebuttal that employs any facts or logic, so you’re making a silly attempt at proof-by-assertion: it is so because I claim it is.

  • Dano2

    Opinion: not evidence. For 2300 years.

    Best,

    D

  • Right

    Opinion: not evidence.

    Hey – you just debunked the UCS “study”. You know, the one in which they arbitrarily designate shows as “misleading” if they even debate whether mankind is “largely” responsible for climate change. Good job!

  • Trees

    These are probably the same people who would have preached the tobacco industry’s denial of their products causing cancer. Money corrupts and accepts even dumbing down.