Massive heat waves, devastating droughts, killer hurricanes—we've seen it all this year. The summer of 2012 was the warmest on record, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and Americans are aware that our weird, hot weather is being caused by climate change.
A June 2012 poll by the Washington Post and Stanford University found that six in 10 Americans understand that the climate is warming. But you probably won't see that attitude reflected on Fox News or in the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal, according to a new report, "Got Science? Not at News Corporation."
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"Based on some previous peer-reviewed assessments, we expected to see some misleading claims, but almost all the discussions about climate change and global warming [in these news outlets] were ideologically driven dismissals of an entire body of science," says Aaron Huertas, press secretary at the Union of Concerned Scientists and lead author of the report.
The Union of Concerned Scientists is a science-based environmental advocacy group that works to promote the scientific consensus on climate change, among other issues. Huertas chose News Corporation because two of its properties are leaders in their respective fields; Fox News is the top-rated news network on TV and the Wall Street Journal currently has the largest circulation of any newspaper in the U.S. He and his coauthor analyzed six months of primetime programming on Fox News, when the channel gets its highest viewership, and a year's worth of opinion columns from the Wall Street Journal.
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At Fox News, the representation of climate science was misleading 93 percent of the time (37 out of 40 references to climate change), while over in the Wall Street Journal's opinion section, 81 percent of the representations of climate science (39 out of 48 references) were deemed misleading.
The most common example of this, the authors said, was the news agencies' broad dismissal of the scientific consensus that climate change is occurring and is human induced, calling climate science "pseudoscience" or a "hoax" when 97 to 98 percent of climate change scientists agree that it's fact. In other cases, the news organizations called climate change scientists "alarmists" or ridiculed their findings. On Fox News, hosts would include climate change scientists on panels, but their voices were often drowned out by climate change skeptics.
Huertas adds that all this is at odds with the actions of Fox News' and the Wall Street Journal's parent company, News Corporation, which has made no secret of its efforts to reduce climate-changing greenhouse gas emissions at the corporate level and whose chairman and CEO, Rupert Murdoch, has said that climate change is "real" and "a fact of life." "One of the reasons we did this was because we wanted to focus on corporate accountability," Huertas says. "News Corp has taken a lot of steps good towards sustainability, but you're not seeing that reflected in their news outlets." Neither Fox News nor the Wall Street Journal returned requests for comment for this story.
Not all hosts were misrepresenting the facts, though. Huertas called out Bill O'Reilly, of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor, as one person who did the most for representing climate science accurately while still disagreeing with government policies meant to combat it. "Expressing acceptance of the science while questioning of policy is perfectly appropriate," he says. It's when ideology gets in the way of fact, he says, that viewers and readers lose out. "People who have a strong ideology, like the Wall Street Journal editorial board and Fox News hosts, communicate their strong ideological viewpoint, but we can't let that overwhelm how we talk about science."
"Science is meant to help people see truth and reality around us," he says.