Are You Smarter Than a Fifth-Grader?: Climate Change Edition

Karl Frisch

By Karl Frisch

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Are You Smarter Than a Fifth-Grader?: Climate Change Edition

Cold weather has come to almost inevitably yield reflexively mindless right-wing media attacks on the scientific consensus about global climate change. Yes, when it’s chilly outside, particularly if it happens to snow, media conservatives go into hysterical fits — declaring the idea that global climate change actually exists and is at least in part caused by humans a complete farce.

Before we get into the worst examples of Are You Smarter than a Fifth Grader?: Climate Change Edition, it bears noting that there is a very real difference between weather (what we feel outside on any given day) and climate (the study of weather over a long period of time). Now that we’ve got that out of the way, on with the show.

Perhaps no one delights in cold weather more than Steve Doocy. On Tuesday, the Fox & Friends co-host said, "That global warming thing is really kicking into high gear, isn’t it?" The same day, Doocy took to Twitter and Facebook to further muddy the scientific waters, writing, "News flash, it’s FREEZING in NYC, I wonder if Al Gore is shivering somewhere," and later, "I was writing … I wonder if Al Gore is shivering somewhere … this global warming thing is really starting to kick in." Over the following two days, Doocy declared, "It’s not global warming, I’ll tell you that," and agreed with a misinformed guest who claimed, "There is no global warming going on."

Doocy was hardly alone.

Internet gossip Matt Drudge was predictably back to his old tricks — hyping news of cold weather, and Fox News’ Sean Hannity again falsely claimed that 2009 was the "coldest year on record" (it’s actually among the warmest) before touting later in the week an Al Gore ice sculpture in Sarah Palin’s home state that just wouldn’t melt to claim that global warming "hasn’t exactly reached Alaska."

Other right-wing hacks got in on the fun too, baselessly claiming that under President Obama, the CIA has "diverted" resources to climate research, or "spying on icebergs instead of terrorists," as the Fox & Friends folks put it while passing along an Exxon-funded front group’s press release. Heaven knows this isn’t a national security issue the agency has been looking at since at least the Bush years. Oh wait, it is.

Funny, we never seem to hear much from media conservatives about warm weather in relation to global climate change. Perhaps their collective scientific sensibilities are like migrating birds — they only return during warm weather.

Other major stories

America’s Mayor? More like Amnesia’s Mayor

It’s a new year, but conservative media figures are up to their old tricks. And that, of course, means politicizing terrorism.

You might remember that former White House spokeswoman Dana Perino was once forced to admit that she didn’t know anything about the Cuban missile crisis. More recently (last November), she conveniently forgot that 9-11 occurred while George W. Bush was president.

It’s no wonder why. For the right, terrorism is a political tool to be used against progressives, whom they work to portray as weak, vacillating, and incompetent on national security. That tendency has been on stark display since December 25, when Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a 23-year-old Nigerian, allegedly attempted to bomb a Northwest Airlines jet using explosives hidden under his clothes.

Since then, numerous conservatives both in and outside of the right-wing media have been hard at work rewriting history, blaming Bill Clinton and Barack Obama for any and all acts of terrorism committed against the United States, all while ignoring the presidency of Bush. It was Mary Matalin who claimed on CNN that Bush "inherited the most tragic attack on our own soil in our nation’s history." Similarly, on January 3, the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s Sherman Frederick wrote that "in the wake of fierce criticism, Obama now talks tough about keeping America safe. But in the two cases of domestic terrorism since 9/11 — both on Obama’s watch — red flags flew aplenty."

Frederick’s argument was a perfect encapsulation of the willful amnesia of the right, which has chosen to ignore some or all of the six attempted (and in some tragic cases, successful) incidents of terrorism that occurred during Bush’s watch. Indeed, the conservative figure to do so most recently was none other than America’s Mayor himself, Rudy Giuliani, who on Friday took a page from Perino’s history book. "We had no domestic attacks under Bush," he told George Stephanopoulos on ABC’s Good Morning America. "We’ve had one under Obama."

Unfortunately, statements such as these are just the tip of the iceberg. Conservatives have been pushing numerous falsehoods and distortions concerning terrorism and national security, among them: the idea that trying Abdulmutallab will endanger U.S. security (as Dick Morris and Sarah Palin claimed); that Obama was too slow (three days) to publicly respond to the Abdulmutallab attack (according to Karl Rove, who must have forgotten it took Bush more time to publicly respond to the attempted "shoe bomber" Richard Reid); and that racial profiling will enhance national security (Giuliani again and numerous Fox News personalities). As usual, the right-wing media have been in lockstep, as Fox’s Doocy, Brian Kilmeade, and Bill Kristol, among others, have all advanced similar fictions.

Indeed, the media have a crucial role to play in all of this, and since conservative outlets have no interest in delivering honest analysis of national security issues to the public, that responsibility falls to more respectable and responsible journalists. For that reason, Stephanopoulos’ failure to correct Giuliani’s statement on GMA was particularly disappointing. Much to Stephanopoulos’ credit, he quickly apologized for the error, whereas a spokesman for Giuliani offered only the excuse that he misspoke. Regardless, the public is counting on reporters of integrity to cut through the baseless accusations peddled by the right — especially on an issue as pivotal as this one.

Limbaugh loves "socialized" medicine and unionized hospitals?

Over the holiday, Rush Limbaugh was rushed to the hospital with chest pains while on vacation in Hawaii. Predictably, he used the event to espouse his vision of how America’s health care system should function — and it’s even more far-right than you might imagine. Rush isn’t just against government health insurance plans. He’s against all health insurance plans. It turns out that Rush isn’t insured, and he doesn’t think anybody else should be, either. He explained that he had "opt[ed] out" of the insurance system, and that by doing so, he was "providing leadership" for the rest of America’s tens of millions of uninsured individuals, who presumably also have $400 million, 10-year radio contracts. According to El Rushbo, health insurance isn’t that expensive after all. In fact, he said, his hospital stay cost less than half of what an average SUV costs. In his view, everyone should simply pay out of pocket for their health care bills, like he does. This laughable analysis was roundly criticized on Howard Kurtz’s CNN program Reliable Sources and by MSNBC’s Chris Matthews.

Rush also said that he considered himself lucky that he had gone into the hospital before 2013, after which the Democratic health care reform measures will have taken effect — an observation replayed with a smile by Fox’s Greta Van Susteren. What’s more, he claimed the treatment he received was so good that it proved that there isn’t "one thing wrong with the American health care system. It is working just fine, just dandy." Ironically enough, Hawaii is so progressive when it comes to health care that the Senate bill excludes the state from some provisions — how absolutely socialist! Additionally, Hawaii has among the highest percentages of unionized workers in the country. In fact, all nurses at the Queens Medical Center where Limbaugh received treatment are members of the Hawaii Nurses Association. "On behalf of the labor movement and health reform advocates everywhere," wrote SEIU blogger Jessica Kutch, "THANKS FOR YOUR SUPPORT, Rush!"

This week’s media columns

This week’s media columns from the Media Matters senior fellows: Jamison Foser writes that Time’s Mark Halperin wants a prom king, not a president; and Karl Frisch offers up some potential New Year’s resolutions for the right-wing media machine.

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Special thanks to John Santore, who contributed to the production of this week’s wrap-up.

This weekly wrap-up was compiled and edited by Karl Frisch, a senior fellow at Media Matters for America. Frisch also contributes to County Fair, a media blog featuring links to progressive media criticism from around the Web, as well as original commentary. You can follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube, or sign up to receive his columns by email.