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CNN's Anderson Cooper Cancels Segment With Climate Report Author to Give Rick Santorum More Air Time

After being interviewed for Anderson Cooper 360°, Katharine Hayhoe’s interview about the latest national report on climate change never aired

Santorum became a CNN senior political commentator in January 2017 and is paid to regularly espouse right-wing views, only occasionally disagreeing with the Republican line. (Photo: Screengrab)

Santorum became a CNN senior political commentator in January 2017 and is paid to regularly espouse right-wing views, only occasionally disagreeing with the Republican line. (Photo: Screengrab)

Katharine Hayhoe, the director of the Texas Tech Climate Science Center, has been vocal about the Trump administration’s shameful response to its own recent report on climate change. In part, that’s because she helped write it.

Hayhoe co-authored the report with federal scientists from 13 different agencies, who concluded that the U.S. will warm at least three to six more degrees by the end of the century unless fossil fuel use is reduced significantly. The report also warns that sea level rise will result in mass migration and details how global warming has greatly exacerbated wildfires in the U.S.

Someone who is so well-placed to rebut the lies being put out by the White House about its report would seem like an ideal person for cable news shows to feature. But cable news is, well, cable news. That could explain why a recent segment Hayhoe taped for CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360 didn’t air during the show’s initial broadcast, and instead got bumped  online. The show did, however, find time to air more climate-denying commentary from far-right former-senator-turned-CNN-commentator Rick Santorum. Priorities, right?

Hayhoe told Common Dreams in an interview that she had flown to Palm Springs to give a TED Talk when CNN asked her to go to a studio for the interview. The idea was to have her dispute recent claims made by Santorum on CNN that climate change scientists are “driven by money.” Hayhoe said CNN insisted on her coming in physically, rather than conducting a Skype interview like she had just done on New Day. The network even sent a car for her. Despite only having a two-hour window before an audio-visual check with TED, Hayhoe agreed, with the hope of fact-checking Santorum on the same network that aired his inaccuracies.

Yet instead of airing Hayhoe’s interview on TV, CNN allowed Santorum to repeat on the lie that climate scientists are in it for the money, while acknowledging “a crisis”. Santorum told Cooper, “There would be no chair of the head of climate studies at every university in America if we didn’t have a crisis. These people make money because there's a crisis.”

Santorum became a CNN senior political commentator in January 2017 and is paid to regularly espouse right-wing views, only occasionally disagreeing with the Republican line. Media Matters for America pointed out that, while Hayhoe was not paid anything for her participation in the creation of the National Climate Assessment, Santorum received $763,331 in Senate campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry between 1995 to 2007. Santorum also serves as a consultant for Consol, a gas and coal company in Pennsylvania.

“I did [the interview with Cooper] because I thought it was so important,” Hayhoe told Common Dreams. “I understand breaking news and this is absolutely not the first time this has happened… The kicker is that they gave more airtime to Rick Santorum instead. That was really the issue… I understand if something doesn’t fit in the program and you have to put it on later, but to say a climate scientist is on clearing the air and fact checking previous statements made on CNN—there’s no time for that but there is time for that same person to get on and provide further disinformation that was the problem… Why give somebody more air to say more false statements if you really are a news program and you care about factual accuracy?”

Hayhoe went on to explain that interviews she was meant to conduct for All In with Chris Hayes in the past had also been canceled three times, “once when I was literally in a chair with that earpiece in my ear.” In July of this year, Hayes actually tweeted that climate change was a “palpable ratings killer,” when explaining why one of her segments had been dropped for a breaking news story.

The idea that an issue of such global and national significance—which played a role in California’s deadliest wildfire on record, as well as the worst hurricanes the country has ever seen—could be dependent on ratings and replaced with outright climate denial should be of great concern to cable news audiences. But it’s also nothing new.

Media Matters reported that, in 2017, news shows failed to link major weather events to climate change, but focused instead devoted its climate coverage to actions of the Trump White House. And while wildfires devastated California, the media watchdog group found that, in over 100 segments from those same networks, only 3.7 percent referenced climate change as playing a role.

In 2016, Media Matters reported that CNN gave almost five times as much airtime to ads for the American Petroleum Institute as it did to record-breaking temperatures in 2015 and early 2016. This didn’t study didn’t even include ads for Koch Industries that also aired during that time. When told about these last numbers, Hayhoe said, “You know what ad came on before my segment online? It was an ad for Shell.”

About the idea that climate change was a “ratings killer,” Hayhoe told Common Dreams that she felt Hayes’ pain and appreciated his honesty, but did have suggestions as to how to make climate change interesting to the public. She took issue with the negative nature of the news in general, but highlighted the extreme nature of climate change in terms of scope and negativity in particular. 

Fear and panic and despair is not going to fix this thing,” she said. “Those are emotions that give us enough adrenaline to outrun the bear, but after that, it’s just debilitating.”

Instead, she believes the news could cover some of the positive steps being taken to address climate change, what she calls “rational hope.” She pointed to a number of instances in which small projects are being implemented to help transform our global fossil fuel-based society, including: a town in Texas that relies on 100% wind and solar energy, a Chinese wind company that’s hiring former coal miners in Wyoming to be technicians, a solar power firm manufacturer in San Antonio retraining unemployed oil workers, the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus in congress, and a 17-year-old creating algae biofuel in her bedroom. Hayhoe also underscored the fact that the latest National Climate Assessment actually does describe some of the initiatives being undertaken to reduce emissions.

“If you start going out and looking for these stories, you realize that we could fix this thing,” Hayhoe said. “That’s not a ratings killer. That makes you feel like wow, I didn’t know that. That’s great. Tell me more.”

When asked why cable news seems to neglect climate change, Max Boykoff, director of the Center for Science and Technology Policy Research, told Common Dreams that part of the issue with climate change reporting is that it can seem like a long-term, distant threat, which can easily be overtaken by “whiplash journalism.”

At the International Collective on Environment, Culture and Politics, Boykoff and others monitor 74 media sources in 38 countries about climate change coverage. Boykoff, said, “Often times people may think that this isn’t something that needs to be dealt with right now by me. Part of a larger conversation is important work that needs to be done to reframe the ways we’re considering how climate change is impacting us here in our daily lives and now in the present.”

Common Dreams asked Hayhoe what she would say in her ideal cable news interview, to which she responded, “Climate change is right here right now affecting all of us and the more carbon we produce, the more serious the impact, but our future is in our hands. The choices that we make today will have a profound impact on the consequences that we experience over the next few decades and the rest of the century. We can avoid the most dangerous impacts if we act now and—this is really important because it’s that rational hope—by doing so, we will create a better world for all of us where energy is abundant, where we have cleaner air and water, and a stable economy. It’s a world that we want to live in and that’s what fixing climate change is going to do for us.”

We have reached out to both CNN and MSNBC about the Hayhoe’s experience and will update this article if we hear back. Hayhoe’s segment from Anderson Cooper 360° can be found below:

CD Editor's note: This post has been updated from in an earlier version to include extensive new comment from Katharine Hayhoe.

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Michael Molitch-Hou

Michael Molitch-Hou

Michael Molitch-Hou is the founder of The Reality Institute, inventor of the why-to, a graduate of the MFA Critical Studies Program at CalArts, and an advocate of world peace. His work has been published in The Outline, Motherboard, Trop, and Entropy.

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