Primetime coverage of global warming at Fox News is overwhelmingly misleading, according to a new report that finds the same is true of climate change information in the Wall Street Journal op-ed pages.
Both outlets are owned by Rupert Murdoch's media company News Corporation. The analysis by the science-policy nonprofit Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) finds that 93 percent of primetime program discussions of global warming on Fox News are inaccurate, as are 81 percent of Wall Street Journal editorials on the subject.
"It's like they were writing and talking about some sort of bizarre world where climate change isn't happening," study author Aaron Huertas, a press secretary at UCS, told LiveScience.
"It's clear that we're not having a fact-based dialogue about climate change," Huertas added.
The report, available online, focused on Fox News and the Journal because of both anecdotal and academic reports suggesting high levels of misleading climate chatter in each. UCS researchers combed through six months of Fox News primetime programs (from February 2012 to July 2012) and one year of Wall Street Journal op-eds (from August 2011 to July 2012), for discussions of global warming.
Fox's climate problems
The researchers found that Fox News and the Journal were consistently dismissive of the established scientific consensus that climate change is happening and that human activities are the main driver. For example, a statement aired on a primetime Fox News show on April 11 says, "I thought we were getting warmer. But in the '70s, it was, look out, we're all going to freeze."
The statement refers to some research in the 1970s that suggested a cooling trend, exacerbated by pollutants called aerosols (also known as smog). However, a greater number of papers, which represented consensus in the science community, in the 1970s predicted warming, according to Skeptical Science, a climate change communication website maintained by University of Queensland physicist John Cook. Temperature records have since improved, revealing the cooling trend was confined to northern landmasses. [10 Climate Myths Busted]
The most common climate mistakes on Fox News involved misleading statements on basic climate science, or simple undermining and disparaging of the field of climate science. For example, on March 23, one on-air personality referred to global warming as a "hoax and fraud." (The analysis did not look at non-primetime broadcasts or FoxNews.com.)
The misrepresentations in Wall Street Journal op-eds similarly twisted the science and disparaged the field, UCS said, though there were also examples of disparaging individual scientists, including calling NASA climate scientist James Hansen a "global-warming alarmist."
One March 9 column by Robert Tracinski called global warming a "bubble" and decried the "failure of the global warming theory itself" and "the credibility of its advocates."
Fox News and the Wall Street Journal did not respond to LiveScience's requests for comment. The organizations have not responded to UCS either, Huertas said, though they were informed of the report before it was made public.
The goal of the report, according to the UCS, is not to shut down legitimate debate on the appropriateness of various climate policies.
"It is entirely appropriate to disagree with specific actions or policies aimed at addressing climate change while accepting the clearly established findings of climate science," the authors wrote. "And while it is appropriate to question new science as it emerges, it is misleading to reject or sow doubt about established science — in this case, the overwhelming body of evidence that human-caused climate change is occurring."
The organization called on News Corp. to examine their climate-change reporting standards and to help their staff differentiate between opinions on global warming and scientific fact.
"This is happening no matter what, so we can have a sober adult conversation about it and figure out what to do, or we can turn it into another hot-button ideological issue," Huertas said. "Frankly, we already have enough hot-button ideological issues. I don't think we need another one."
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Stephanie Pappas is a contributing writer for Live Science, covering topics ranging from geoscience to archaeology to the human brain and behavior. She was previously a senior writer for Live Science but is now a freelancer based in Denver, Colorado, and regularly contributes to Scientific American and The Monitor, the monthly magazine of the American Psychological Association. Stephanie received a bachelor's degree in psychology from the University of South Carolina and a graduate certificate in science communication from the University of California, Santa Cruz.