GOP Candidates' Climate Views Challenged

Media ‘Fact-Checkers,’ Home State Papers Give Candidates Thumbs-Down

National news media ‘fact-checking’ operations and candidates’ own home state dailies are generally faulting GOP presidential candidates’ climate views, saying they are inconsistent with scientific evidence.


News media “fact-checking” operations went into overdrive in early September when Texas Governor and Republican presidential hopeful Rick Perry said climate change science is not “settled” and said more and more scientists each day are expressing similar concerns.

With newspapers tapping into their somewhat-mothballed watchdog function, even GOP candidates’ home-state newspapers entered the fray in evaluating what appears to be the would-be nominees’ nearly lock-step approach to climate change.

Here is a review of how some newspapers have assessed several of the leading GOP candidates’ views.

Rick Perry

A September 8th article in the Houston Chronicle‘s “fuel fix” section juxtaposed Perry’s statement that the science on climate change is unsettled with a vastly different interpretation:

“The scientific consensus on climate change is about as settled as any major scientific issue can be,” the article said, arguing that Perry’s opinion runs counter to that of most scientists. The piece cited a National Academy of Sciences report which concluded that climate change is occurring, is likely caused by humans, and poses significant risks to humans and the environment.

A Chronicle article two days later by Kate Shellnutt, “Rick Perry and Galileo: The Religious Beliefs Beyond Global Warming Skepticism,” featured Perry on the campaign trail saying that global warming has been politicized, and alleging that scientists are manipulating data to get more grant dollars. Shellnutt’s news report didn’t question these accusations but rather quoted a founder of the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation supporting Perry’s view. God has designed a climate system that is “robust, resilient, self-regulating and correcting,” this source was quoted as saying.

Providing commentary on August 17 after a “politics and eggs” breakfast in Bedford, New Hampshire, Jason Embry of the Austin American-Statesman didn’t hesitate to insert a dig, in this article, “Perry Is Making a Play in New Hampshire, But It Won’t Be Easy.” Embry wrote that Perry got a “lukewarm reception,” an indicator that he “has a lot of work ahead of him.”

National newspapers weren’t any kinder in evaluating Perry’s climate change comments. An October 21 opinion column in The New York Times by liberal Nobel Prize economist and columnist Paul Krugman, “Party of Pollution,” takes issue with Perry’s claim that relaxing restrictions on oil and gas extraction — a central element of the energy plan he unveiled on October 14 — will create 2.1 million jobs. Writing that most of those jobs would not be created until the end of the decade, Krugman argued that the Perry plan would create jobs at the expense of more pollution.

A September 8 Washington Post blog by Jena McGregor, “Rick Perry and the Science of Leading America,” took Perry to task for his statement that “Galileo got outvoted for a spell,” calling the comment “nonsensical.”

“Even if there are some scientists toiling in obscurity to disprove a theory that 97% of scientists believe, Perry couldn’t name them,” McGregor wrote. She went further: “Leaders like Perry, who object to the overwhelming majority of scientists, risk making this country appear to be anti-science,” a recipe for being “anti-competitive.”

The Washington Post‘s designated fact checker, Glenn Kessler, in “Rick Perry’s Made Up Facts About Climate Change,” on August 18 wrote that Perry’s statements suggest he is willfully ignoring facts and making false accusations based on little science.

A televised debate on October 11 hosted by The Washington Post and Bloomberg Television focused on Perry’s having not yet issued an economic plan, and on his seemingly singular focus in calling for more energy independence. An October 12 Houston Chronicle article, part of the newspaper’s, “Perry Presidential” series, was headlined “Rick ‘Piñata’ Perry Stands on the Sidelines as Cain Surges Ahead at the GOP Economic Debate.” That article criticized Perry for simply calling for less regulation and more energy exploration instead of putting forward a concrete economic plan.

An October 11 Austin-American Statesman article by Jason Embry and Chuck Lindell echoed those sentiments, targeting Perry for a lack of specifics, and for relying on a job-creating energy plan as his main solution for fixing the economy.

The next day, an AP article, “Regulations Not a Huge Job Killer,” by Calvin Woodward and Christopher Rugaber, also challenged Perry’s assertions. The AP piece focused on the argument that burdensome regulations are “strangling American entrepreneurship” and impeding energy development. The piece cited Labor Department data that only a tiny percentage of U.S. companies say they have experienced large layoffs as a result of government regulations.

Mitt Romney

Coverage of candidate Mitt Romney and other early leaders for the Republican nomination has focused largely on how their energy and climate views compare with those of Perry.

In an August 17 Washington Post article, “Rick Perry, Global Warming and Those Durn Scientists,” Alexandra Petri defended candidate Mitt Romney’s more nuanced views on climate change, and she was particularly critical of Perry’s saying that scientists are manipulating data on climate change.

“Whether we like it or not, climate change is happening. Science says so,” Petri wrote. She wrote that she finds it “incredible” that Romney is being “pilloried” by some Republican partisans because he has acknowledged that global warming exists and that it might be man-made, a position he later appeared to qualify somewhat (see below).

Coverage of Romney’s stance on climate change has focused primarily on how he earlier in his campaign had sought to differentiate himself from Perry as someone who believes humans contribute to climate change.

In an August 25 article by Stephen Stromberg in The Washington Post, Romney is reported saying at two different events that the world is getting warmer and that humans contribute to that warming, though he couldn’t say how much. “So Romney has been more consistent than I gave him credit for,” Stromberg wrote.

Still, he was critical of Romney for what he sees as timidity on the science when it comes to what Stromberg called the “unequivocal” current temperature record. He credited Romney for having supported, as Massachusetts governor, emission reductions of greenhouse gasses and other pollutants.

“That’s not a resounding endorsement of the science, but it’s certainly better than Rick Perry’s speculations about scientists deliberately falsifying data,” Stromberg wrote. He added, however, that as Perry’s poll numbers were rising, Romney softened his stance, saying he “didn’t know” if the world was getting warmer, and saying he is unwilling to spend trillions of dollars on an issue that remains unsettled.

Responding to Romney statements at a Lebanon, New Hampshire, town meeting on August 24 that he thinks the world is getting hotter, but didn’t know if it’s mostly caused by humans, Dan Berman of The Washington Post accused Romney of backpedaling from his stance taken two-and-a-half-months previously.

Times columnist Krugman, in an August 28 op-ed, “Republicans Against Science,” criticized Romney for “running away” from his earlier call for action on climate change. Krugman pointed to polling data, finding only 21 percent of Republican voters in Iowa accept global warming science. “Within the GOP, willful ignorance has become a litmus test for candidates, one that Mr. Romney is determined to pass at all costs.”

John Huntsman

At no point in the GOP campaign so far has former Utah Governor John Huntsman been shown to be among the party’s front runners for the nomination, and speculation for some months has focused on when he might have to give up his campaign. Huntsman is alone among the GOP candidates to express concern over climate change and humans’ role in warming.

“Not all Republicans are stuck in the Middle Ages when it comes to attitudes about science,” Huntsman said at the September 7 presidential debate, a quote repeated in a Los Angeles Times editorial, “Rick Perry: He’s No Galileo.”

That editorial praised Huntsman and his statement in the debate that “In order for the Republican party to win, we can’t run from science.” The editorial also credited Romney for at least recognizing the problem and the need for action, but pointed out Romney’s criticism of carbon taxes and cap-and-trade without proposing any other solutions.

Huntsman won praise for his more “moderate” stance on climate change from his home state’s largest newspaper, the Salt Lake Tribune, which has consistently expressed concerns over climate change. A September 13 opinion piece declared Huntsman “does Utah proud,” by not “standing apart like the crazy old uncle.” It applauded him for not taking a “fringe” view, but acknowledged that his stance on climate change contributed to his difficulties in the campaign polls.

Herman Cain

As Herman Cain began his fast rise in the polls, he joined the ranks of other climate deniers, with his website saying there’s no proof that humans cause the problem and that it’s not a crisis situation. He has made few public statements about this issue.

Christopher Mims, writing in Grist, called Cain a “climate zombie,” who has been taken in by a “conservative culture of anti-science nonsense.”

While not speaking much about climate change, Cain has been critical of what he sees as overly burdensome regulations, which he sees impeding pursuit of domestic energy resources.

The Atlanta Journal Constitution didn’t go easy on the Atlanta resident. Its “PolitiFact Georgia Truth O-Meter” took issue with environmental policies outlined in his book, This is Herman Cain, My Journey to the White House, which calls for drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and expanding nuclear capabilities. The newspaper also challenged his claims that solar and wind power can meet no more than 5 percent of the nation’s energy goals. Based on its own reporting, the article quoted scientific experts who say there is ample wind and sunshine to supply the nation’s energy. It cited an Energy Department report that finds wind energy alone could satisfy up to 30 percent of the nation’s energy needs by 2030.

“All in all, Cain has it wrong on solar and wind energy,” the paper’s fact-check column reported, earning him a “false.”

Obama: The ‘Other’ Candidate

With no Democratic primary, incumbent President Barrack Obama does not figure into this news analysis … but he is unlikely to long escape journalistic scrutiny, and criticism, on his climate change policies once the primaries are over.

While there are good chances that his views will generally be seen as more sympathetic to climate change concerns than those of any eventual Republican nominee, Obama is likely to face tough analysis for not pushing more aggressively for federal legislation and for not more effectively using his “bully pulpit” on the issue. His administration’s eventual decision on the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is likely to be another focal point in those media evaluations.

Julie Halpert

Julie Halpert, who has covered the environment for more than two decades for national publications, is a freelance writer based in Ann Arbor, Mi. She is a regular contributor to The Yale Forum. (E-mail: julie@yaleclimatemediaforum.org, Twitter: @julhalps)
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