Fox News’ planned 24-hour weather channel has climate experts worried

Fox News Media, the company that owns the reactionary, climate crisis-skeptical Fox News, is launching a weather channel this year – a development that has climate crisis experts worried.

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Fox Weather, a 24-hour channel devoted to all things meteorological, promises “cutting-edge display technology”, according to a press release, with “forecasting experts surrounding every major weather event”.

But it is Fox News’ output, and the potential for Fox Weather to adopt a similar tone to its sister channel, that has onlookers concerned. Hosts on Fox News have spent years rubbishing or undermining the idea of manmade climate breakdown, and the fact that two Fox News-linked executives are behind the weather channel launch doesn’t bode well.

“Fox News has access to and is highly trusted by a wide range of conservative Americans – which is precisely the audience that least well understands the serious threats that climate change poses to the safety, security and health of all Americans,” said Edward Maibach, director of George Mason University’s Center for Climate Change Communication.

“If Fox chooses to use its access and credibility to inform viewers about the realities of climate change and its impacts on the weather, it could be a game changer. Conversely, if it opts to perpetuate misinformation to advance political goals, it will be a huge disservice to all Americans – conservative, liberal and moderate,” Maibach said.

Last year, Tucker Carlson rubbished the idea that forest fires on the west coast were a result of climate crisis – serious climate scientists, however, agree that the fires are very much linked to the breakdown – and suggested environmental hazards were a liberal conspiracy.

Carlson’s colleague Laura Ingraham has insisted, contrary to experts’ findings, that the planet is in a “natural” cycle of warming, and suggested that environmental activists like Greta Thunberg had been “brainwashed”, while Sean Hannity said the left’s “obsession” with the climate was a “political tool”.

“The danger of [Fox News Media] running a weather channel is that if they pervert news about the weather anything like how they’ve perverted news about climate change and energy politics, millions of Americans will be further misled about this crisis,” said Geoffrey Supran, research fellow at Harvard University’s department of the history of science.

“It’s been shown that the most important predictors of public support for climate action are understanding that this crisis is real, human-caused, serious and solvable,” Supran said.

“If, as I and I’m sure others fear, [Fox News Media’s] weather channel downplays the links between global warming and extreme weather, it will only solidify their viewers’ existing biases against climate action.”

The tenor of Fox News hosts’ commentary matches with data from Public Citizen, a non-profit thinktank. In 2019, Public Citizen found that in the first half of the year Fox News devoted 247 segments to climate crisis. Of those, “212 (86%) were dismissive of the climate crisis, cast warming and its consequences in doubt or employed fearmongering when discussing climate solutions”, Public Citizen reported.

Fox News has been a powerful engine of climate misinformation for years – so powerful, in fact, that its influence has been named the ‘Fox News Effect’,” Maibach said.

“One of our studies, for example, showed that before Fox News began its attack on the Green New Deal, most conservatives supported its core policy proposals. Six months later – after Fox had relentlessly attacked it and its sponsors – support for those proposals dropped to near zero among frequent Fox viewers.”

Fox Weather has already poached meteorologists from around the country, according to the New York Times, including the Weather Channel’s “senior weather product architect” Shane Brown. The channel, based in New York City, will be advertiser-funded, and stream 24 hours a day.

Sharri Berg, formerly the executive vice-president of news operations for the Fox News channel, will oversee Fox Weather, along with Suzanne Scott, CEO of Fox News Media. In announcing the channel last year, Berg said “weather is a vital component to news”.

“Combining our trusted reporters and expert meteorologists from Fox News and [Fox Television stations] nationwide, the Fox Weather products will be built to serve our audiences in a customized fashion,” Berg said.

In a statement, a Fox Weather spokesperson said:

“With a dedicated team of leading meteorologists and experts stationed across the country, Fox Weather will provide in-depth reporting surrounding all weather conditions and we are excited to showcase to viewers what a full-service comprehensive weather platform can deliver beginning this fall.”

If Fox Weather does not interfere with the weather information its new staff is putting out, then Maibach said there is hope – for the weather channel at least.

“I don’t expect that Fox News will change its ways or its views about climate change anytime soon, but Fox Weather has the opportunity to get the facts right. Let’s hope it chooses to,” Maibach said.

Viewers will have to wait and see what approach Fox Weather takes, but in the meantime, there is serious concern given the damage the American right has already done to efforts to mitigate the climate crisis.

“We’ve already seen the ways in which 40 years of disinformation in the United States has stifled both climate action and the narrative around climate,” said Lily Gardner, a community organizer with the Sunrise Movement, a youth-led organization which aims to stop climate crisis.

“Nancy Pelosi [the Democratic House speaker] and Newt Gingrich [a Republican former House speaker] went from releasing an ad together in 2007 that indicated that they were interested in working on climate policy, to climate becoming a deeply partisan issue in which the facts are debated as opposed to the solutions.

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