The Trump administration put out a major report on Black Friday warning of the deleterious effects climate change will have on the U.S. It was an obvious attempt to bury the findings, one that backfired spectacularly as the report garnered front page coverage. It also got the Sunday morning television treatment and that’s where things went off the rails. Broadcast and cable news alike reminded us that the political media is wholly unprepared to discuss the most pressing problem facing humanity.
Jon Whitehouse, Media Matters for America’s news director, chronicled how Sunday morning TV news shows handled the report and climate change in general in an excruciating Twitter thread. The video clips include Republican senators like Mike Lee and Ben Sasse (who have accepted $335,420 and $185,085 respectively from the oil and gas industry) gravely intoning about the need for innovation and fewer regulations, Senator Joni Ernst ($179,400 in oil and gas money) pulling out the “[o]ur climate always changes and we see those ebb and flows through time” classic, and someone from the Koch-backed American Enterprise Institute with tried and true “I’m not a scientist” before lying her ass off with “we had two of the coldest years, biggest drop in global temperatures that we have had since the 1980s.” Don’t get me started on the effluent Rick Santorum spouted on CNN.
All of this went largely unchecked by the show’s hosts. Nor were guests called out for their egregious past and present climate denial, of which there are many examples.
Even when Sunday shows did the right thing by talking to politicians and analysts who take the problem seriously, hosts still managed to screw it up. On Face the Nation, host Margaret Brennan asked Senator Bernie Sanders if it “would be more effective to take some of the politics” out of the climate discussion (to be fair, the show also had a NASA scientist on). When MSNBC analyst Elise Jordan rightly called out the fossil fuel industry’s sway on Republicans’ politicization of climate change, Meet the Press host Chuck Todd pivoted to some gobbledygook on “the environmental left.”
Overall, it was a depressing reminder that TV news serve as the perfect vehicle to launder Republican lies about climate change. While print and digital journalism have largely left the both sides approach to climate change behind, TV journalism is rigidly locked into framing it as a left-right issue (when they cover the issue at all). It’s a patently absurd approach when one party completely denies the reality of the issue.
And it’s dangerous. Because as the new report shows, the impacts of climate change will be profound, and with 12 years and counting to rapidly overhaul the economy, the clock is ticking. It’s clear we also need to overhaul the way the media treats climate change if there’s any hope of getting there.