When it comes to climate disinformation, there are two basic flavors. One is organized denial, spread by people who work on behalf of the fossil fuel industry (directly or indirectly) through one of the vast web of non-profit organizations, academic institutions, and media outlets that are the beneficiaries of the industry’s so-called philanthropy. The other kind is what can be considered disorganized denial, referring to content coming from sources that aren’t necessarily “on-script” with the industry’s talking points, but still oppose climate action for other reasons (usually to “own the libs”.)
In the (fake) news space, the influence of Koch funding is becoming increasingly clear, as the Daily Caller, once a regular vessel for its fellow Koch-funded groups to place quotes and stories, is still reliably rightwing and conspiratorial (particularly from general assignment reporter Varun Kukeri). After losing its main Koch connection, Mike Bastasch in 2019 (who’s now writing for Laura Ingraham), and given the drops in Koch funding and supposed animosity between Daily Caller founder Tucker Carlson and the Koch empire, it now occasionally looks like a normal outlet.
Take a look at a piece covering President Biden’s recent speech on climate change and the Build Back Better agenda, in which Daily Caller’s Shelby Talcott didn’t quote a single Koch-group denier, or otherwise try to inject any (false) balance into the story!
So while we haven’t seen the latest 990 forms from the Daily Caller, our guess is that they are no longer running on Koch cash like they were a few short years ago (but instead apparently running their own shady self-dealing tax scheme). It’s no longer particularly plugged into the “organized” denial, and so it remains reliably conservative, but lacks the talking-points-as-news qualities it once had.
Not to worry though, those Koch pieces are still finding a home online. RealClear Energy appears to have thoroughly usurped the Daily Caller, and is constantly running pieces from people who pump out disinformation professionally for the organized climate denial industry.
But that’s not to say that disorganized denial outlets aren’t also covering climate poorly!
Take the Gateway Pundit, a far-right fake news site famous for stoking school shooting conspiracies, as well as the lie that Donald Trump won the 2020 election. Its coverage of Biden was every bit as bad as the Daily Caller’s used to be, with a pair of stories by Cristina Laila that very plainly misrepresented the very footage embedded in them.
The first headline was ‘“Watch Your Foot!’ - Joe Biden loses his footing while shaking a giant windmill blade in Colorado,” so you might expect to see the President tripping and falling down.
“At one point during his visit, a maskless Joe Biden shuffled over to a giant windmill blade outside the lab,” Laila writes, and “A lab worker shook the giant windmill blade back and forth to demonstrate its technology and flexibility. Idiot Biden thought it would be a great idea to shake the blade too. ‘Watch your foot!’ an official said as Biden lost his footing and almost got hit in the head with the windmill blade.”
Being suckers for slapstick comedy, we will admit to being intrigued, and clicked through to the video tweet embedded from The Hill of Biden’s tour of the National Renewable Energy Lab. Oddly, neither it nor any of the comments made any mention of the supposedly embarrassing episode of Biden falling down on the job that Gateway Pundit deemed headline-worthy.
Alas, dear reader, if you blink, you’d miss it as Biden takes what amounts to an extra-large step when the headline-generating “watch your foot!” exclamation was made.
So why the deception? Probably because Gateway Pundit is firmly entrenched in Trumpism, and because Trump actually did seem to have trouble with, and a fear, of stairs, they’re sensitive about the issue.
The second Biden piece Laila did also requires one to remember the Trump presidency, with the headline as “Biden’s Communist Green New Deal Pitch: Windmills don’t cause cancer.” But again, the video tweet embeded from The Hill the story is based on makes it clear that it was obviously a joke at Trump’s expense that Biden made as an aside after going on at length about the climate and health benefits of wind.
As you can see, while organized denial is focused on lawsuits and lobbying, there’s still plenty of disorganized denial deceiving itself and readers.