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.