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Media Matters Exposes TV News Bias Against Climate Action: “76% Of Total Guests Were Opponents Of GHG Regulation”

By Stephen Lacey on June 7, 2011 at 11:27 am

"Media Matters Exposes TV News Bias Against Climate Action: “76% Of Total Guests Were Opponents Of GHG Regulation”"

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The EPA is currently considering new regulations of toxic chemicals, heavy metals and, of course, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from power plants. But these proposed regulations have spawned an aggressive group of opponents who claim that any new rules on power plant emissions would hurt businesses, drive up rates, destroy jobs and damage the economy –false claims, as we discussed yesterday (see “Turns out Cleaning up Mercury and Coal Ash are Good for Health, Not Bad for the Economy”). So why does this group have so much sway in the public debate? According to a must-read new study from Media Matters, reposted here, the choices of guests on television networks over the last two years has been very heavily skewed toward opponents.

Media Matters analyzed television news guests who discussed the Environmental Protection Agency’s role in regulating greenhouse gas emissions from December 2009 through April 2011. Driven largely by Fox News Channel and Fox Business Network, results show that in 76 percent of those appearances, the guest was opposed to EPA regulations while 18 percent were in favor. Of the appearances by elected officials, 86 percent were Republican. Only one guest in 17 months of coverage across nine news outlets was a climate scientist — industry-funded Patrick Michaels.

Background

Responding to a lawsuit brought by states, cities, and advocacy groups, the Supreme Court  ruled on April 2, 2007, that the EPA has the authority to regulate greenhouse gases (GHG) under the Clean Air Act. The Court stated that “EPA can avoid taking further action only if it determines that greenhouse gases do not contribute to climate change or if it provides some reasonable explanation as to why it cannot or will not exercise its discretion to determine whether they do.”

The Bush administration ensured that a response to the ruling would be delayed until the following administration, and it wasn’t until December 2009 that the EPA issued a GHG scientific endangerment finding, the legal precursor to regulation. EPA subsequently announced GHG regulations for certain vehicles and stationary sources.

Meanwhile, Congressional Republicans have pushed legislation that would take the unprecedented step of repealing the EPA’s scientific finding and prohibit the agency from “promulgat[ing] any regulation concerning, take action related to, or take into consideration the emission of a greenhouse gas to address climate change.”

Opponents Of EPA Rules Vastly Outnumbered Supporters In TV Appearances

76% Of Total Guests Were Opponents Of GHG Regulation. Media Matters examined TV news coverage that included elected officials, members of advocacy groups, business leaders, pundits, and others discussing EPA regulation of greenhouse gases. Of these appearances, 152 out of 199 — over 76% — opposed regulation. The three outlets that hosted the greatest number of guests, Fox News (FNC), Fox Business (FBN), and CNBC, all featured opponents of GHG regulation at least four times more often than supporters.

[See a complete list of TV guests who discussed EPA regulation of greenhouse gases HERE.]

81% Of Fox Guests And 83% of Fox Business Guests Opposed GHG Regulation. Fox News hosted 52 guests who criticized the EPA’s decision to regulate greenhouse gases. In that same period they featured only 10 supporters and two guests who took a neutral stance. Fox Business hosted opponents 65 times, compared to seven appearances by supporters. MSNBC hosted four times more supporters of EPA’s action than opponents, but had far fewer guests commenting on the issue than did Fox.

Coverage by CNN, ABC, NBC, And CBS Relied Less On Opinionated Guests. As the chart shows, CNN and broadcasts on network television (nightly news and/or Sunday shows) were far less reliant on outside opinions in their coverage, often featuring straight news reports without live interviews with guests. However, Fox Broadcasting Co.’s Fox News Sunday hosted over three times more opponents than supporters of GHG regulation with more total guests commenting on the issue than the other broadcast networks and CNN combined.

Views Of TV News Guests At Odds With Public Opinion

CNN/Opinion Research Poll: 71% Say EPA Should Move Forward With GHG Regulations. An April 2011 CNN/Opinion Research Poll asked respondents if they “favor legislation that would prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from spending any money to enforce regulation on greenhouse gases and other environmental issues, or do you think the federal government should continue to provide funding to the Environmental Protection Agency to enforce those regulations?” Seventy-one percent said “government should continue to provide funding,” 28 percent said they “favor legislation to prevent spending,” and one percent had no opinion. [CNN/Opinion Research, 4/11/11]

Wash. Post/ABC News Poll: 71% Support Government Regulation Of GHG Emissions. A June 2010 Washington Post/ABC News poll asked, “Do you think the federal government should or should not regulate the release of greenhouse gases from sources like power plants, cares and factories in an effort to reduce global warming?” Seventy-one percent of respondents said government should regulate greenhouse gases, including 52 percent who felt “strongly” in favor of regulation. Twenty-six percent said government should not regulate GHG emissions. [ABC News, 6/10/10]

Stanford Survey: 76% Say Government Should Limit GHGs From U.S. Businesses. A June 2010 Stanford survey asked, “Do you think the government should or should not limit the amount of greenhouse gasses that U.S. businesses put out?” Seventy-six percent of respondents said “government should limit greenhouse gasses from U.S. businesses,” while 20 percent said it should not. [Stanford University, 6/9/11]

Republican Appearances On Cable Channels Outnumbered Democrats 6 To 1

Cable News Outlets Hosted Republicans 30 Times, Democrats 5 Times. Of the 35 cable news appearances by elected officials who discussed EPA regulation of greenhouse gases, 30 were Republicans and five were Democrats. The only cable network that hosted more Democrats than Republicans was MSNBC. CNBC featured eight elected officials, all of whom were Republicans.

Democrats Hosted By Fox News And Fox Business Opposed GHG Regulation. Fox News and Fox Business each hosted one Democrat who discussed EPA regulation of greenhouse gases during their appearance. However, those Democrats, then-Sen. Evan Bayh (D-IN) and then-Gov. Joe Manchin (D-WV) both expressed opposition to EPA’s GHG rules. By contrast, every Republican who discussed the regulations on cable news opposed the EPA’s actions.

Elected Officials Who Criticized GHG Regulations On TV Received Millions From Fossil Fuel Interests

The Elected Officials Who Opposed EPA Regs In TV Appearances Received Over $3 Million From Fossil Fuel Companies. According to our analysis, 26 elected officials and candidates for office have discussed EPA regulation of greenhouse gases in TV appearances since December 2009. Of those 26, 23 opposed the EPA’s action on greenhouse gases. These 23 politicians collectively received $3,026,041 from companies that generate, produce, or refine fossil fuels from 2007-2010. The three elected officials who supported the EPA received a total of $202,000. On average, the opponents of EPA’s regulation of greenhouse gases received approximately $131,500 from fossil fuel companies, while the supporters received, on average, about $67,300.

Methodology

This report analyzes guests who appeared on Fox News, Fox Business Network, MSNBC, CNBC and CNN, and on the nightly and/or Sunday news programs of ABC, CBS, NBC, or Fox Broadcasting Co. between December 1, 2009 and April 30, 2011 (inclusive) and who discussed the EPA’s role in regulating greenhouse gas emissions during their appearance.

For the primetime shows on Fox News, Fox Business, and MSNBC; CNN’s coverage; ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox Broadcasting Co.’s nightly and/or Sunday news programs, we searched the Nexis database for “epa and greenhouse or carbon or climate change or global warming or co2″ to identify relevant guest appearances. For shows that did not appear in Nexis, we searched closed captioning transcripts from our video archive for “carbon,” “greenhouse,” and variations of the term “epa.” Anchors, hosts and correspondents on the show were not included, but paid contributors and hosts of other shows brought on to express an opinion were included.

Guests who expressed support for the EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gases were labeled as supporting the EPA regulations, while those who expressed opposition to the regulations or questioned the EPA’s authority over greenhouse gas emissions were labeled as opposing the EPA regulations. Guests who did not express a position for or against the regulations were labeled as neutral.

Political donations from fossil fuel interests were calculated based upon totals reported by the Center for Responsive Politics since 2007. For non-federal office holders, financial disclosure forms from each state were consulted. Only donations from companies that actively produce, refine, or generate power from natural gas, oil, or coal were included. The total for each candidate only includes donations from companies’ PACs, not individual employees, though donations from employee PACs were included.

— J.K.F. & F.J. of Media Matters

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