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Author of report on global warming calls out CNN for bumping her for climate denier Rick Santorum

Katharine Hayhoe's interview was reportedly nixed for breaking news, but CNN's move highlights a troubling trend


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Rachel Leah
November 29, 2018 5:29PM (UTC)

Katharine Hayhoe, climate scientist and co-author of the damning U.S. National Climate Assessment, was coaxed by CNN to appear on "Anderson Cooper's 360" for an interview Tuesday night. The network sent a car to pick her up. Hayhoe got her makeup and hair done in preparation, and the interview went well, she said. The whole ordeal lasted about three hours.

Then, "they don’t air the interview. Instead, they give more airtime to Santorum, so he can to continue to spread disinformation," Hayhoe wrote in a Twitter thread that detailed her experience with CNN Tuesday night. But it also had a more evergreen message on the troubling pattern of cable-news networks bumping actual climate scientists for likely higher-rated climate deniers.

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In the thread, Hayhoe claimed that this was far from the first time that this has happened with a cable news network and how personally frustrating it is for the sake of her time and productivity. But the bigger implications in her tweets were: What are cable news network's priorities, and what disinformation are they feeding the public?

"Both CNN’s Dana Bash and NBC’s Chuck Todd were derelict in the performance of their most basic duty to viewers on their most recent Sunday shows," Salon's Melanie McFarland wrote on Monday. "Each handled Friday’s congressionally mandated report on climate change, the Fourth National Climate Assessment, in the way to which they’ve become accustomed. That is, employing people with opinions to politely yell and sneer at one another as opposed to calling upon accredited experts."

As part of one of these programs, former senator and now paid CNN contributor Rick Santorum made news for sullying the motivations of climate scientists, by falsely claiming that they get rich by publicizing the dire warnings of climate change during an appearance on CNN's "State of the Union" over the weekend. It was the kind of unsubstantiated, anti-science conspiracy theory that went viral on social media, and according to Hayhoe, CNN bumped her interview on Tuesday night for more of that from Santorum.

"Let me share a sad reality," Hayhoe wrote. "[Anderson Cooper 360] asked if I could join them tonight or talk #NationalClimateAssessment." She added that she initially denied the network, because she had an upcoming Ted Talk that she needed to practice for. After they pleaded her to reconsider, offering to send a car for her, Hayhoe agreed.

"I get my hair and make up done, we drive across the city, I do the interview, Anderson is lovely, the whole thing takes three hours .... and they don’t air the interview," she continued. "Instead, they give more airtime to Santorum, so he can to continue to spread disinformation."

"I don’t get paid for any of this - but I think he does, doesn’t he?" Hayhoe wrote, (he does.) "And this is not the first time this has happened. Chris Hayes’ program canceled three times, once when I was literally in a chair with that earpiece in my ear. When MSNBC called me again this week, I said... I would be delighted to talk to you, but in order to be a wise steward of my time, I need a guarantee the interview will air, barring a major disaster, an assassination, or the end of the world. They did not reply."

Hayhoe insisted that she is "not whining or complaining" and is "enormously grateful for any and all media who wants to talk climate, and equally grateful for the opportunity to do so." But, she added, "time is the most precious resource we have, and there is not enough to go around – so when we choose how to spend our time, it just makes sense to be sure it will be used profitably and not squandered."

A source from CNN, who declined to go on record, told The Daily Beast that Hayhoe's interview was dropped for "breaking news" about Paul Manafort allegedly communicating with President Donald Trump on his discussions with special counsel Robert Mueller, rather than Santorum's commentary. And CNN did post Hayhoe's interview with Cooper on its website.

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But, as McFarland wrote, there are real consequences to treating the already tangible and looming perils of climate change as a political debate rather than "legitimate, data-informed scientific studies," one in which all the major networks are culpable.

When Media Matters analyzed 2017 climate change coverage among Sunday morning news programs, including NBC's "Meet the Press," ABC’s "This Week with George Stephanopoulos," CBS News’ "Face the Nation" and "Fox News Sunday," they found that none of the segments featured scientists or even journalists who cover climate change. Instead, networks are empowering partisan commentators like Santorum to speak with authority on climate change, while actual climate scientists are seemingly deemed as disposable.

"Applying the so-called 'debate' format to every headline, placing charlatans on the same level as historians and specialized reporters, and leaving specialists out of the conversation almost entirely doesn’t merely degrade our increasingly tenuous relationship with the truth," McFarland added. "In the arena of man-made climate change, it plays a role in muting the alarm about a dire crisis that is of our own making. It is, in a real way, helping to end us."


Rachel Leah

Rachel Leah is a culture writer for Salon. You can follow her on Twitter: @rachelkleah.

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