Two of Three Evening Newscasts Downplay Obama’s Global Warming Speech

On a big day for news, two of the three major networks downplayed President Obama’s global warming speech on yesterday’s evening newscasts. ABC and CBS reduced the story to a brief anchor-read blurb, while NBC included a sound bite and a full in-studio report from a correspondent.

The speech, delivered at Georgetown University, was notable for Obama’s threat to bypass Congress by directing the Environmental Protection Agency to impose tougher pollution standards on existing as well as new power plants. But on ABC World News Tonight, anchor Diane Sawyer failed to mention this costly power grab, opting instead for an innocent and simplified version of events:


"The president said the country needs to do more to prevent global warming. For the first time the president is calling for regulations on carbon dioxide from power plants. He also called for more renewable energy."
 

Sawyer's vision of Obama is far more passive than the president laid out in his speech.  The president did not just call for these things; he demanded that his administration implement them. As if to add dramatic effect, Sawyer also made sure to note that this speech was delivered “on one of the hottest days of the year.” Yes, generally the theatrical flourish of a hot day helps the optics of the announcement on a global warming initiative, but it's so cynical that it should induce eye-rolling by the professional press corps.

Meanwhile, on the CBS Evening News, anchor Scott Pelley used stronger language to describe the president’s actions: “President Obama said today he refuses to condemn future generations to a planet that is beyond saving. And with that, he ordered the Environmental Protection Agency to reduce pollution from power plants.”

Obama’s line about refusing to condemn future generations was probably the most dramatic part of his speech, so it’s no wonder that Pelley wanted to include it in his news brief. But his words make Obama sound like a hero rather than a president who is trying to skirt our system of checks and balances.

NBC Nightly News devoted by far the most time to this story. Anchor Brian Williams characterized Obama’s speech, quite appropriately, as a “strong statement” on the “politically charged issue of climate change.” He then played a clip of the president’s strongest statement from the address: “As a president, as a father, and as an American, I'm here to say we need to act. I refuse to condemn your generation and future generations to a planet that's beyond fixing.”

Unlike the other two anchors, Williams turned to his chief environmental affairs correspondent, Anne Thompson, for more details. Thompson admitted what the other two networks had not admitted: “President Obama is going to bypass Congress and he says he will direct the EPA to limit the carbon pollution that comes from power plants that burn coal and natural gas.

There’s the admission we’ve been waiting for: that our president plans to circumvent this nation’s elected lawmaking body and instead subject us to the rule of unelected bureaucrats. Thompson was very nonchalant about it, of course. She ran through a list of things the president “ordered” in his speech and then gave a nod to the other side of the issue: “Now as you can imagine, the coal lobby is not very happy, Brian. Because they say that this is in effect declaring war on coal.”

Thompson attempted to undermine this position using one power company CEO who is sympathetic to the president’s goals: “But I spoke to one power CEO today, power company CEO Tom Farrell from Dominion Resources, and he says that with enough time and the right technology, he thinks the power industry can make this work.”

At no point, however, did Thompson find a dissenting voice, leaving viewers the impression that leaders in the energy industry have no concerns with the Obama plan.

Below are transcripts of the full segments from each of the newscasts:

NBC Nightly News
June 25, 2013
7:10 p.m. Eastern

BRIAN WILLIAMS: President Obama made a strong statement today on the politically charged issue of climate change, announcing a sweeping plan to reduce greenhouse gases, saying Americans are already paying the price for inaction.

BARACK OBAMA: As a president, as a father, and as an American, I'm here to say we need to act. I refuse to condemn your generation and future generations to a planet that's beyond fixing.

WILLIAMS: The president's been under a lot of pressure on this topic. Our chief environmental affairs correspondent Anne Thompson here with us in the studio with more on this today. Anne? 



ANNE THOMPSON: Good evening, Brian. President Obama is going to bypass Congress and he says he will direct the EPA to limit the carbon pollution that comes from power plants that burn coal and natural gas, just like it does mercury or arsenic. Now those power plants are responsible for 40 percent of the nation's carbon pollution, which fuel climate change. The president has also ordered that fuel efficiency be increased on heavy duty vehicles such as trucks and buses. And he has also ordered that renewable energy double on federal lands, and that federal agencies do more to support local governments in trying to improve coastlines and roads to defend against climate change. Now as you can imagine, the coal lobby is not very happy, Brian. Because they say that this is in effect declaring war on coal. That’s what the president is doing. But I spoke to one power CEO today, power company CEO Tom Farrell from Dominion Resources, and he says that with enough time and the right technology, he thinks the power industry can make this work.  

WILLIAMS: And there's that critical pipeline that's been a part of this debate as well?

THOMPSON: That's right, the Keystone Pipeline bringing oil from Canada. That the president has yet to rule on. He said today Brian that he would only approve it if it did not significantly exacerbate carbon pollution. We know the oil that comes from Canada is more carbon intensive. The question tonight is what does significantly exacerbate mean?

WILLIAMS: Anne Thompson here with us with the president's speech and the outflow from it. Anne, thanks.

***

ABC World News w/ Diane Sawyer
June 25, 2013
6:38 p.m. Eastern

DIANE SAWYER: On one of the hottest days of the year, President Obama is tackling the issue of climate change, speaking at Georgetown University today. The president said the country needs to do more to prevent global warming. For the first time the president is calling for regulations on carbon dioxide from power plants. He also called for more renewable energy.

 ***

CBS Evening News w/ Scott Pelley
June 25, 2013
6:42 p.m. Eastern

SCOTT PELLEY: President Obama said today he refuses to condemn future generations to a planet that is beyond saving. And with that, he ordered the Environmental Protection Agency to reduce pollution from power plants. More than 40% of America's electricity comes from coal which is a big producer of greenhouse gases.

Paul Bremmer
Paul Bremmer is a Media Research Center News Analysis Division intern.