Thank God for Fox News…

Research concludes that Fox News leaves its viewers significantly misinformed about climate change, while a leaked internal memo suggests the channel has actively deceived its viewers about the subject.

A reader of this blog suggested in a comment recently that US media outlets such as CNN and the New York Times had somehow been tricked into covering climate change — as if it was not a real topic of concern but some kind of hoax.

He concluded: “Thank God for Fox.”

I wonder then what he makes of the study published this week concludes that Fox News leaves its viewers significantly less well-informed about climate change than viewers of other news channels — or the leaked email memo that suggests Fox News has been willfully deceiving its viewers on this subject.

The study [PDF] comes from from the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland. It found that 60% of US voters who watched Fox News almost daily believe — incorrectly — that most scientists think climate change is not occurring or that scientists are evenly divided on the subject.

In reality, close to 100% of climate scientists say that climate-change is happening. What’s more, most scientists, scientific associations and academies of science have gone further and stated that they think human activities are playing a role in the warming that has been observed in recent decades (there is a fairly detailed list here).

The Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change, said in 2007 that it was 90% likely that most of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid-twentieth century was due to human activities that emit greenhouse gases.

So why would Fox News viewers be so poorly informed about the global state of knowledge on this issue? One clue came this week in a leaked memo sent by the Fox’s Washington managing editor Bill Sammon during last year’s UN climate-change summit in Copenhagen.

The memo (published this week on the Media Matters for America blog) instructed reporters to cast doubt on the warming that has occurred globally in recent years. It told reporters to:

“refrain from asserting that the planet has warmed (or cooled) in any given period without IMMEDIATELY pointing out that such theories are based upon data that critics have called into question. It is not our place as journalists to assert such notions as facts, especially as this debate intensifies.”

The memo was not asking reporters to question humanity’s role in climate change, but to question the very existence of climate change. Or more pointedly, to ignore a vast body of scientific evidence and balance it with an unfounded opinion.

When people see the Fox News slogan “fair and balanced” they might ask who Fox is really being fair to. If I was a Fox News viewer I would be concerned. I would want to know why my TV news would intentionally deceive me? What did it have to gain from keeping its audience misinformed about something as big as climate change?

Some answers are more obvious than others. They all need more light shed upon them. As do the comments that Fox’s owner Rupert Murdoch made in 2007.

He said then that: “Climate change poses clear, catastrophic threats. We certainly can’t afford the risk of inaction.” But what does that mean really, and who stands to gain in the long-run if millions of Americans are kept in the dark?

To answer that, we need to look into the future and see where this story could be taking us.

4 thoughts on “Thank God for Fox News…

  1. Good article, Mike. Part of the issue here is that Fox News is not actually a news program. I won’t get into the politics, but it’s clear that Fox is basically in fact a forum for airing opinion and commentary on news. Fox does not report the news, it opinionates on it. So whether it is “fair and balanced” is neither here nor there, since it doesn’t care in the slightest about being fair. Fox cares about two things: (1) ratings and (2) advancing Rupert Murdoch’s agenda. They certainly do not care about anything that falls victim to these two priorities, such as the truth or objective analysis, providing data to allow people to judge for themselves.

    Our one solace is that social media is rapidly subsuming cable news as a source of information. Witness Larry King’s recent departure from CNN. Thank God for social media!

  2. As an old media hand, I know that most media tend to reflect the prejudices of their audiences – right or wrong – for purely monetary reasons. However there is something else going on here which your irate correspondent’s tirade perfectly illustrates.
    The four stages of grief are denial, anger, acceptance and resignation.
    Different humans are at different stages of the cycle in acknowledging that the civilisation we have built in the last 250 years has very little chance indeed of surviving the next 200, at current rates of consumption and pollution. In short, our curremt system for ‘wealth creation’ implicitly contains the seeds of its own destruction and, ipso facto, cannot endure.
    Many are still locked in the phases of denial and anger, although the majority of humans, government and corporations now appear – fortunately – to be moving to acceptance. Whether this is in time to avoid accelerated global warming (10 degrees or more) driven by uncontrolled methane release, polar melting and ocean overturning, the next three generations will find out. Whatever the case, all surviving humans will need eventually to resign themselves to adapting to whatever sort of a world remains to them. The old world of the 18th century, in which modern concepts like economics – which ignore the natural world, calling it ‘an externality’ – were born, no longer exists.
    Interestingly, according to US defence thinktanks, worsening global climate conditions can be expected to be accompanied by a rise in irrationality and religious cultism in large parts of the population, suggesting that a proportion of humanity will never actually progress to acceptance but will hide from physical realities behind invented beliefs.

    • Thanks for sharing this link Gabriela. In that clip CCN’s Becky Anderson makes a journalistic error that is too common in media coverage of climate change.

      By trying to appear balanced and neutral she fails to be impartial and report the reality, which is that nearly all climate scientists agree (and have done for a long time) that climate change is happening and that human activities are playing a role.

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