BOB GARFIELD: From WNYC in New York, This is On the Media. I'm Bob Garfield.
[MUSIC UP & UNDER]
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And I'm Brooke Gladstone. As global temperatures continue to rise, so does the number of Americans willing to acknowledge the threat of slow apocalypse. A Monmouth University poll released Thursday found that about eight in 10 Americans, including almost two-thirds of Republicans, believes that climate change is causing hotter heatwaves and harsher storms. The Monmouth poll, if it reflects reality, suggests that the trend towards denial found by a Gallup poll in March is reversing. So good bad news, you could say. This latest poll was conducted before the White House released the National Climate Assessment on Black Friday for maximum obscurity. But word did get out.
MALE CORRESPONDENT: Government scientists saying climate related threats to America's physical, social and economic well-being are rising.
MALE CORRESPONDENT: The report says extreme weather in the US just in the past three years has cost nearly $400 billion.
FEMALE CORRESPONDENT: Stronger hurricanes and more frequent flooding for the Midwest and agricultural catastrophes. Extreme heat destroying crops. [END CLIP]
BROOKE GLADSTONE: This was the fourth congressionally mandated National Climate Assessment. Sixteen hundred pages derived from the collective expertise of 13 government agencies. I'm no scientist but it sounds pretty scary. Scarier still after the self-described very good brain and the White House reacted with four of his very best words.
PRESIDENT DONALD J. TRUMP: Yeah I don't believe it. No, no, I don't believe. [END CLIP]
BROOKE GLADSTONE: That refusal to believe is backed up in many precincts by vast ice flows of oil industry cash. Lisa Hymas, director of the climate and energy program at Media Matters for America, watched TV's broken bifurcated coverage of the National Climate Assessment. Welcome to the show.
LISA HYMAS: Thank you for having me.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So, the National Climate Assessment dropped on Black Friday.
LISA HYMAS: It looked like a pathetically blatant attempt by the Trump administration to keep it out of the public eye. But it didn't work, a lot of the print media did better than TV. The New York Times and The Washington Post they have really strong climate teams. They did great coverage. But you saw it in smaller papers all around the country. The Columbia Journalism Review found that at least 140 newspapers around the country put it on their front pages. That includes places like the Chicago Tribune and The Miami Herald, 20 different papers in California and many of those papers also looked at the local impacts. The Portland Press Herald in Maine they had a big story about the national implications but they also on their print front page had a big story about the impacts in New England specifically. But I think TV was a mixed bag. Sometimes the coverage was good and sometimes it was not. And in cases where the coverage is poor, we probably would have been better off without it.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: You said that Sunday was the first time this year that the five major Sunday shows discussed climate change on the same day. We're talking about ABC's This Week, CBS's Face the Nation, CNN's State of the Union. Fox News Sunday and NBC's Meet the Press–they all had segments. The most talked about one on Sunday was probably on Meet the Press.
LISA HYMAS: Yes. NBC's Meet the Press featured Danielle Pletka of the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank that's supported by the Koch brothers. She used a favorite climate denier line.
DANIELLE PLETKA: I'm not a scientist, I look at this as a citizen and I see it. So I understand it. On the other hand, we need to also recognize that we just had two of the coldest years, biggest drop in global temperatures that we've had since the 1980s. The biggest in the last hundred years. We don't talk about that because it's not part of the agenda. [END CLIP]
LISA HYMAS: No, climate scientists have been very clear that the global climate has consistently been warming and the hottest years have been the most recent ones.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Yeah NOAA said that 2015, '16 and '17 were the warmest on record. But 2017, was only the third warmest.
LISA HYMAS: I don't really find that comforting. You know, if you're not a scientist you ought to listen to scientists. To say, 'I'm not a scientist but I don't believe this.' That's nonsense. I mean one thing that was frustrating about this last episode of Meet the Press, host Chuck Todd later in the same show interviewed Tom Steyer who got his start as an activist by focusing on climate change. And Todd didn't ask him anything about the report. The focus was just on the 2020 presidential race.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Let's look at how Fox News handled the report. On the day it was released. Here's CNN's Brian Stelter with recap.
BRIAN STELTER: The network actually spent more time talking about Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's shoes on Friday. Now to be fair, the network's newscast did air several segments about climate change about the crisis on Saturday. But on the Presidents favorite talk shows–nada, not a word. [END CLIP]
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Meanwhile, Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace also did not invite a climate scientist to discuss the report. He spoke with Republican Senator of Nebraska, Ben Sasse, who dodged the topic of climate action and spoke vaguely about the need for innovation.
SEN. BEN SASSE: Cause you can't legislate or regulate your way into the past. We have to innovate our way into the future. And right now you don't hear a lot of the people who put climate as their number one issue. You don't hear a lot of them offering constructive innovative solutions for the future. It's usually just a lot of alarmism. [END CLIP]
LISA HYMAS: You know, notably Fox is big name personalities didn't dig in on the report at all. They just stayed focused on their pet issues. So you had Sean Hannity this past week ranting about Hillary Clinton's supposed scandals and crimes. I mean, he's still doing that more than two years after she lost the presidential election. And you had Lou Dobbs scaremongering about the migrant caravan and the Russia investigation as a witch hunt. That got a lot of coverage this past week but the climate report didn't.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Margaret Brennan of CBS's Face the Nation did speak to a scientist about the report–NASA's Steven Clark. But that exchange was very brief and it was buried in a segment that was almost entirely about NASA's Mars probe.
LISA HYMAS: Yes, so on the one hand I was glad to see that Face the Nation actually asked a scientist about the climate report. We track how often the Sunday shows incorporate or talk to scientists when they're discussing climate change and it's been almost three years since any Sunday show has asked a scientist about climate change.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: What?
LISA HYMAS: Yes.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Seriously?
LISA HYMAS: The last time was in December of 2015. It was also on Face the Nation.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So many opportunities, so many national conferences, so many elections so many extreme weather incidents and nothing?
LISA HYMAS: There are climate scientists who are really good public speakers and who do a great job of explaining the science in terms that normal people can understand–but they don't get the airtime.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: I think the winner of the week's booby prize though would probably be CNN.
LISA HYMAS: I think that's true. Rick Santorum was on CNN claiming scientists are in it for the money.
RICK SANTORUM: If there was no climate change we'd have a lot of scientists looking for work. The reality is that a lot of these scientists are driven by the money that they receive. [END CLIP]
LISA HYMAS: The next day we saw Tom DeLay the former House majority leader.
TOM DELAY: The report is nothing more than a rehash of age old, 10 to 20 year assumptions, made by scientists get paid to further the politics of global warming. [END CLIP]
LISA HYMAS: He's the disgraced former House majority leader who had to resign after he was convicted of money laundering and conspiracy. Why is this guy qualified to discuss a scientific report about climate change? We saw Stephen Moore, a Trump loving economist making the same ridiculous claim on CNN.
STEPHEN MOORE: Billions and billions and billions of dollars at stake, a lot of people getting really really really rich off the climate change issue. [END CLIP]
LISA HYMAS: Then on Tuesday morning John Avlon did a good segment on CNN where he completely debunked this notion that there's a big climate industrial complex and that scientists are just doing it to get rich.
JOHN AVLON: Now that talking point you're hearing is a classic bit of distraction and deflection. In fact, one of the scientists who worked on the climate change report, Katharine Hayhoe, confirms that she and her colleagues were paid quote 'zero dollars for their work.' And could easily make 10 times their salaries by working for something like big oil. [END CLIP]
LISA HYMAS: But later that same day on Tuesday just hours after Avlon's fact checking segment ran, CNN again had on Stephen Moore to make that same claim. And what was so frustrating about CNN having these climate deniers on to make ridiculous claims is they didn't disclose the fact that Rick Santorum and Tom DeLay when they were in Congress they got more than $700,000 each from the oil and gas industry in campaign contributions. Stephen Moore works for a number of groups that are funded by the Koch brothers. Last month, Stephen Moore gave a speech to the Oklahoma oil and gas association. These things were not disclosed but those men were allowed to accuse scientists of being in it for the money.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Why does CNN pay people like Rick Santorum to lie to the public it's supposed to be serving?
LISA HYMAS: I will never understand why CNN pays Rick Santorum. Cable TV likes to have conflict and they like to have sparks fly. But there's much better ways where you can do it even if you do want the conflict. I mean, it's absurd in 2018 for a discussion about climate change to include someone who contends that we're actually in a period of global cooling. Get people who all recognize the challenge of climate change but proposed different responses and solutions to it. There are plenty of conservatives who proposed carbon taxes. Let's see them discuss and debate people who are proposing a highly progressive green new deal or a carbon fee dividend approach. There's a lot to debate it just doesn't have to be a denier against someone who accepts the reality of climate change.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Lisa, thank you very much.
LISA HYMAS: Thank you it was my pleasure.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Lisa Hymas is the director of the climate and energy program at Media Matters for America.
[MUSIC UP & UNDER]
BOB GARFIELD: Coming up more theaters in the war over reality. Next stop a place we haven't been for a while.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Fox News in the post-Ailes era.
BOB GARFIELD: This is On the Media.