On Sunday, November 14, Fox News set aside its status as the best network for coverage of the global warming debate and for one night became one of the worst. According to the Fox special The Heat Is On, The earth is sending out a desperate alarm. Now, conservative and free-market groups as well as climate change skeptics are sending out their own alarm.
Climatologist Patrick J. Michaels has pointed out that predictions of climate disaster are overblown and we now know with considerable confidence that warming within the foreseeable future will be modest, he said in a November 15 Cybercast News Service story. But Michaels added an important note: The other side, which I now include Fox News on, seems to do everything it can to suppress that story.
There is no question Michaels is right about the latest Fox broadcast. It began with all the hype of a Hollywood movie trailer. Flickering scenes of smokestacks, trucks and cars whizzing down the highway and dead fish in a stream filled the screen as the program began. The Heat Is On went downhill from there, piling on a steady stream of left-wing activists, Hollywood celebrities, inaccuracies and exaggerations to paint a picture of a global climate apocalypse. It even included clips from the left-wing propaganda film The Day After Tomorrow as well as an interview with Jeffrey Nachmanoff, one of its screenwriters.
Jamie Colby of Fox News introduced the special by saying, Youll hear primarily from those experts and citizens who believe that global warming is a crisis. Colby added that Many people disagree with that statement. Thats very true, including many scientists, but none of them was cited in the hour-long documentary. In all, the Fair & Balanced network included nearly 30 people in the broadcast and almost all were strong believers in climate change. The only other people represented were a few environmentally friendly speakers who took no public position on the issue.
Thats quite a departure for Fox. A Nov. 8, 2004,Business & Media Institute (BMI) study found Fox News the best of all five major TV networks in its news stories about global warming and the Kyoto Protocol. BMI analyzed news coverage from Jan. 20, 2001, until Sept. 30, 2004, and found The Fox News Channel delivered better and more balanced reporting on global warming.
But that sure wasnt what viewers received with the latest broadcast. Reporter Rick Folbaum, who hosted the documentary, went so far as to describe the U.N.-sponsored Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change as the place where policy makers turn for the last word on global warming. What he left out is that the only policy makers who do that are the ones with a global warming agenda.
The heat was on Fox News for several days before the broadcast as climate change critics heard reports about what was planned. Several groups weighed in and tried to get Fox to present both sides. Instead, what Fox News delivered was worse than a similar broadcast from CNN in March.
CNNs Melting Point: Tracking the Global Warming Threat at least delivered some arguments from the other side of the contentious issue. Although host Miles OBrien did his best to undermine the credibility of those spokespeople, at least he included them.
The Fox program even added errors to the debate. Folbaum claimed that Eight years ago, the Kyoto Protocol was pushed as a solution. The agreement required the U.S. to cut emissions by 7 percent by 2012. That is completely incorrect. The U.S. would have been required to cut emissions 7 percent below 1990 levels nearly 20 percent below 2004 estimates.
He also claimed the Bush White House said Kyoto would cost companies and the American taxpayers too much money. Actually, the massive cost and job loss figures for Kyoto dont come from the Bush White House. They come from the governments Energy Information Administration and were calculated during the Clinton administration. According to EIA, Kyoto would cost the United States a couple hundred billion dollars per year. And it wasnt only Bush who rejected the treaty, either the Senate opposed it 95-0.
No network is perfect. And no viewer will ever be happy with a news network 100 percent of the time. But they should expect a network to live up to its principles. Now the challenge is for Fox News to do just that, stand by its Fair & Balanced motto and air a similar special expressing the opposing views on the subject.
Dan Gainor is a career journalist and The Boone Pickens Free Market Fellow. He is also director of the Media Research Centers Business & Media Institute www.businessandmedia.org .