Media Mayhem: Fox bursts my bubble
The global media’s response to the climate change bill shows how much influence Fox News has on the debate in the United States.
Mon, Jul 06, 2009 at 05:17 AM
SELF CONGRATULATORY: House leaders discuss the American Clean Energy and Security Act, aka the climate bill. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
I was so proud of the House of Representatives for its recent passage of legislation to tackle climate change. Finally.
Sure, the Waxman-Markey bill is weaker than the science says it needs to be. And, yes, it’ll be tough to work a bill through the Senate without weakening it further.
But at least it’s a start. At least, I reckoned, the United States finally is in the game. And, now, American ingenuity will take over. Wind farms. Solar. Energy-efficient light bulbs! Watch out, world! We’re gonna solve this problem!
Then, I started reading the foreign press.
China Daily exclaimed, “The United States set the bar too low and offered the world a poor example when it passed its climate change bill.” Live Punjab reported that Minister for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh called the bill "anemic.” “The targets,” he continued, “are very unambitious.” Great Britain’s Financial Times argued that, “There is little to celebrate … the bill makes political compromises that undermine its effectiveness. Even so it passed by just seven votes. What this says about the prospects of a more forceful measure -- one that dares to confront consumers with significantly higher energy costs -- is discouraging.”
What a downer.
I guess the urgency of climate change action looks different depending on where you sit. If the Indian Ocean is lapping at your front door on the Mauritius Islands, you might be getting a bit impatient.
But if you’re Juan Williams, and you’re guest-hosting America’s most popular cable “news” show, why worry? You’re thinking this is great fodder for the kind of inside-the-Beltway, endless red-versus-blue patter that you’ve built your career upon. You’re thinking: Maybe O’Reilly will let me guest host his show again if I act conservative enough.
So you throw a bunch of leading questions to a guest whom you already know agrees with Fox News’ party line: “Is the liberal media advancing his energy agenda by spreading global warming propaganda?”
And the guest -- a guy named Bernard Goldberg, who’s only on the show because he, without fail, will express rightwing outrage over any subject -- says: “If they did some reporting, they would learn that the number of skeptics of man-made global warming is rising.”
I’m not so sure about that, Bernie. But one thing that is rising is the sea level. In fact, a New Scientist article published last week reported that it appears to be rising much faster than the U.N. projected
That’s OK. Don’t worry. What actually happens in the physical world is quite remote if you’re inside a studio.
Fox’s studios weren’t the only ones last week to rehash all the talking points that have kept this country’s climate-change debate running around in circles for two decades while other wealthy nations at least started grappling with the issue.
On talk radio, cap-and-trade is known as “cap-and-tax,” and each host seems to have a higher estimate for its cost than the next, as well as the more dire warnings about its supposed impingements on our freedoms. And some of the junk science being pedaled by phony think tanks inevitably finds its way into the mainstream media.
It’s significant, though, that Fox is playing the role of mythmaking central. Within six days of the bill’s House passage, the liberal watchdog group Media Matters had catalogued 19 of the Fox’s wildly inaccurate climate-change segments on a special global warming page. And I happened to catch a few that Media Matters missed.
There were claims that it was socialism and Marxism, and that it would hurt poor more than rich people; that climate change isn’t a scientific theory and that scientists cooked it up just to get grant money.
Although the EPA says the bill will cost as little as $80 a family and the Congressional Budget Office says it’ll end up costing around $175, Fox News’ hosts have used the magic of the echo chamber to escalate the cost to $500, $750, $1,500, $3,000 and finally “as much as $4,000.”
Why am I picking on Fox News? One reason is that it’s just grating.
Think about it: China Daily surely was towing the party line when it amplified Chinese officials’ complaints about the U.S., without of course raising questions about China’s own policies. But the bottom line is that China Daily -- a Communist Party propaganda organ -- was more accurate in its climate-change reporting than America’s most popular cable news network.
More importantly, Fox has had and continues to have an uncommonly powerful influence on the climate change debate in the United States. The station’s reporting on the issue tends to march in lockstep with the virtually unanimous position of Republicans in Congress.
In that way, the Republican caucus and Fox News tend to reinforce each other. So long as Fox drums up populist outrage among conservative constituents against action to solve climate change, congressional Republicans must keep those constituents happy by trying to block any action. And so long as congressional Republicans block action, Fox has an outrage to report upon.
The Republicans may be the minority in both chambers of Congress. But a lockstep block on any issue makes it difficult for Democrats to build a coalition among their own geographically diverse members. So the Waxman-Markey bill ended up with a load of giveaways to such special interests as the coal and agribusiness that will make the legislation less effective than it could have.
I suppose I can see why the media and the leaders in other countries are expressing their disappointment. In a way, though, it impresses even more that the House managed to pass Waxman-Markey. Flawed as the bill is, at least it’s a step in the right direction.
Related on MNN: Our blogger debates global warming on FOX News.
Journalist Ken Edelstein writes the Media Mayhem column for the Mother Nature Network. He blogs about media, pop culture and the environment at cultofgreen.com.
(Illustration of television on homepage by DivaNir4a/iStockPhoto.)