Americans have a voracious appetite for weather news, and as climate change
increases the frequency and severity of weather events, Rupert Murdoch
's Fox Corporation, a media
conglomerate with a long history
of peddling climate disinformation
, is entering the world of 24-hour weather coverage.
According to The New York Times
, the billionaire media mogul plans to launch Fox Weather
later this year, with the goal of competing with the popular Weather Channel, and it has been poaching meteorologists from other networks.
Scientists and watchdog groups are understandably skeptical of the new venture, fearing that the network's weather arm will be just as skewed, politicized, and disconnected from reality as its cable news
programming. Fox News
commentators and guests are constantly downplaying and denying the global threat of climate change, even in the face of historic and deadly heat waves
, and draughts.
Susan Joy Hassol, director of the nonprofit Climate Communication and co-author of three National Climate Assessments, has spent years working with journalists
and TV meteorologists to better communicate the links between extreme weather
and human-caused climate change. Given Fox's track record, she is extremely concerned about what the new weather-focused channel will mean for the pubic.
“Unless Fox changes its stripes, this could be a real step backward, not only failing to make the necessary connections, but also shouting them down and spreading more misinformation
to an audience that trusts them,” she said.
According to Hassol, a 2010 University
survey found that the more people
watched Fox News, the more likely they were to be misinformed about climate change, and a more recent Public Citizen analysis found that 86% of climate segments aired on Fox News in 2018 included claims dismissing or casting doubt on the global threat.
Many climate experts and activists see the network as little more than a mouthpiece for fossil fuel industry
talking points – an industry that has not only played a disproportionate role in exacerbating global warming
, but has also spent decades spreading misinformation in order to stymie efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions
According to Michael Mann, a climate scientist at Pennsylvania
State University, Fox News has been "the greatest promoter of climate change disinformation over the last two decades."
Its popular commentators, such as Tucker Carlson
, Sean Hannity
, and Laura Ingraham
, have bombarded their audiences with conspiracy
theories about how climate change is a ploy to destroy capitalism and control people's lives. Prominent climate deniers, such as former tobacco
and coal lobbyist Steve Milloy, are regular guests on Fox News.
There is no reason to trust Fox Weather after years of climate denial https://t.co/ggH1kQq5IN
pic.twitter.com/V2WAFJrmOB — Media Matters (@mmfa) July 6, 2021
Milloy, a Fox contributor and former member of the Trump administration
transition team, appeared on Ingraham's show this week to discuss the "war on air conditioning" and lament smart electric meters and electric vehicles.
During the segment, a chyron read, “Left uses climate change to control our lives.”
The new weather channel will be separate from Fox's other networks, according to a spokesperson, and its "dedicated team of leading meteorologists and experts" will provide "in-depth reporting on all weather conditions."
John Morales, an NBC
meteorologist in Miami
, is less concerned about the channel's unique ability to promote climate denial.
“Fox News weathercasters are reputable, and some, like Maria Molina, have gone on to accomplished careers in atmospheric research
,” he told Stardia. “As science
communicators, broadcast meteorologists should seek not just to deliver weather forecasts and warnings, but to educate their audiences about our changing climate,” he added.
The links between human-caused climate change and extreme weather are undeniably clear; for example, a study published Wednesday concluded that last week's grueling and deadly heat wave across the Pacific Northwest
would have been "virtually impossible" without climate change.
Ignoring, downplaying, or dismissing such connections would be a dangerous disservice — especially at a time when the country and the planet can least afford more misinformation and delay.
“We know that communication is most effective when it consists of simple, clear messages repeated frequently by trusted sources, and Fox News is nothing if they aren’t good at that,” Hassol said. “Surveys show that Republicans
trust Fox News more than any other major news network. We already have a partisan gap on climate change, and this stands to exacerbate it.”